The Final Fantasy Marketing Strategy: Nostalgia & Back Catalogue Introduction

Note: I’ve tried to keep this spolier-free, but if you’ve yet to start playing Final Fantasy XV and you want to be kept 100% surprised at what’s in store, then it might be best to hold off from reading this post. You have been warned, dear reader.

I recently bought and started playing Final Fantasy XV (FFXV for short), having been a life-long fan of the Final Fantasy series (my first taste was with FFVIII in the late 1990s, in case you were wondering – don’t worry, I discovered FFVII later on, it’s ok). 😉

One thing that’s really grabbed my interest while playing it is how Square Enix (its creators) are framing it: when you start loading FFXV ready to play it on a PS4, you’re greeted with this message:

FFXV intro tagline

“A FINAL FANTASY for Fans and First-Timers.”

It’s the “First-Timers” bit that especially got me thinking. It’s pretty much a given that fans of previous games of the series will dive right in – so it’s interesting to see that they’re also targeting and marketing the game to complete newbies to the franchise.

In this post I talk about how Square Enix’s marketing strategy for FFXV is two-pronged…

First… a bit about Final Fantasy and Square Enix

FFXV cover artFor those of you who are reading this but haven’t ever played a Final Fantasy game before, it’s important to know that they’re not ‘true’ sequels in a series. For example, the characters of Final Fantasy XIII don’t appear in FFXV – it’s a new set of characters, a new world, a new story. However there are similarities – and expectations from fans – of each new FF game, as I’ll talk about below. It’s similar to games series’ like Elder Scrolls (i.e. Skyrim) and Grand Theft Auto – in the case of the latter, the protagonist of GTA IV does not appear in GTA V, although there are certainly ‘nods’ to previous games.

Square Enix has been pumping out FF games since FFI was developed way back in 1987. In recent years however, it has been no real secret that the company has been struggling financially. Some were theorising that they were banking – maybe even relying – on FFXV being a hit, a make-or-break game in the series which may determine their future. Well, reviews of FFXV are good, sales have been strong (in the millions of units), and in the last few days they’ve struck a deal with Marvel, so it looks like they’re gonna be ok (phew). But given this on-the-brink-of-catastrophe feeling they’ve had in recent years, it looks like they have really been pulling out all the stops to try and make their later releases accessible to fans old and new.

Let’s start with the former – us old-timers…

For fans – it’s all about the nostalgia, baby

FFXV carries with it what other games have had in the past… There’s monsters such as flans and behemoths and iron giants. There’s spells like Fire and Blizzard and Thunder. There’s chocobos! There’s a Cid! The gameplay mimicks the previous versions (you have HP and MP, you encounter enemies in the big open world, you level up and get stronger)… You get the idea.

Yes, there’s nods to previous games. The beauty here is that something in the game will happen and remind you of a previous game and you’ll think “man, I’d love to play FFX or FFVII again…” – and you can. Compared to previous games however, I think they’re really pushing this – and one of the ways they’re doing so is through the car soundtrack choices. In the game, you can drive a car around the world, and while it comes with some FFXV-specific music made especially for the game, you can also listen to soundtracks from previous games. You can drive around while listening to “Clash on the Big Bridge” from FFV; or “Servants of the Mountain” from FFX; or “Boss Battle” from FFXII… It’s freakin’ epic. And you know what? I want to play all those old games again. Ha…

It’s not just FFXV where we’ve been seeing this from Square Enix: two recent iOS/Android games include Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy Record Keeper. In both games you hear old songs from all the old games and unlock old characters, who can ‘cross games’ and fight with each other (so FFVII‘s Cloud can swing swords alongside FFXIII‘s Lightning) – in fact I’m actually still playing FFRK on a daily basis, even though it came out well over a year ago. It is nostalgia-pushing to the max.

The beauty of all this though? It’s much easier these days to purchase an old game than it used to be. When I (finally) discovered FFVII back in 2008, I had to fork out £40-ish to buy it second-hand from someone on eBay. Nowadays you can get it for £13-16 from the PlayStation Store, iOS or Android. In fact, given that backward compatibility doesn’t work on PlayStations, for the lazy among us it may even mean that we buy the game more than once: do I whip out and dust off my old, knackered PS1 or PS2 to play FFVII again?* Heck no! I’ll just buy it from the PlayStation Store. So much easier. And of course, it means that Square Enix is making more from their old back catalogue, which they wouldn’t do if people were to buy them second-hand (or if they didn’t make them available again as updated releases)… They’re making money again from something that they created long ago, at a relatively low cost (the cost of porting it over to a new console/device).

* Oh and uhh… did I mention the Final Fantasy VII Remake? Cha-ching.

For first-timers – it’s an ‘back catalogue introduction’ to the whole series

As for people who are new to the game, there’s elements of it that seem relatable to other non-FF games – not just other FF games (the latter being more true of the FF way).

I’d argue that this could mean that someone trying out FFXV as their first ever FF experience may be more inclined to try earlier games – sort of like a ‘soft’ introduction to the rest of the series. I’m only partway through the game (around Chapter 5), but I’ve already come across the following:

  • Its vast, sprawling open world is reminiscent of Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft AutoFF games usually have big worlds to explore, but it’s usually the case that they open up and become fully explorable much later on in the game. In FFXV however, it’s pretty much fully explorable right from the get-go.
  • While the fighting style is still true to earlier FF games, it’s not turn-based and there aren’t random encounters – two big ‘traditions’ of FF battles. If anything, its fighting style is closest to the Kindgom Hearts series (another Square Enix game). For lack of a better way of explaining it, it feels very ‘non-RPGy’, which I can see being a lot more accessible to non-RPG gamers (and those new to RPGs).
  • You can drive around in a (fancy) car. Although you can’t go ‘off-track’ in the way that you can in GTA, it still feels reminiscent of those types of games. You can even customise how it looks (which reminds me of Need for Speed and other similar racing games).
  • It has the occasional QTE (quick time event), similar to Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and some of the Telltale Games releases (e.g. The Walking Dead). You can also make decisions that (I think) may affect later events in the game, which is also the case with those aforementioned games.
  • Then there’s… extra stuff. The FF series is no stranger to mini-games and side-quests, but you can go fishing, take photos, learn new food to cook and even choose what clothes your characters wear. Admittedly a lot of these elements appear in a variety of games, but there’s something that feels a lot more ‘real’ about deciding what your characters eat and what they wear, rather than just going around bashing monsters with swords…
  • It’s also tied-in with a standalone movie (Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV), which itself has a star-studded voice cast, including Sean Bean, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones). A little different to the above points, given that it’s not ‘in-game’-related, but still important to mention I feel – it’s also a cool example of transmedia storytelling, which we don’t see enough of if you ask me.

It’s that ‘something for everyone’ feeling that’s being offered to players.

So when a FF newbie gamer powers up his/her PS4 and sees that it’s a game for “First-Timers,” combined with the aspects listed above, they might think “hey, let’s try some of those fourteen older games in the series…”

What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Drop a comment below or tweet me!

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