Metallica and Final Fantasy. At first glance, the RPG franchise and heavy metal band may not seem to have much in common other than often being labeled as “The World’s Most Popular” in their respective realms. However, their histories are strikingly similar, with both starting out fairly obscure but with loyal fan bases, then enjoying increasing popularity until each became one of the biggest names in their business. After that peak, each underwent stylistic changes that kept their sales numbers high for a while, but alienated a lot of longtime fans and drew the occasional poor review from critics. Today, both are still well-known, but not quite as popular or relevant as they used to be.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a brief history of the Final Fantasy series, with a Metallica Album Equivalent (MAE) listed for comparison. Take note of how much of what is written about each game could just as easily be said about the MAE as well. Then consider that, in all but a few instances, the Final Fantasy games and the Metallica albums that they are most similar to were released in the same order. It’s uncanny.
One quick note: Because some of the games weren’t released in the US, Final Fantasy V was actually called Final Fantasy II when it first came out in the States, and VI came out as III. I have used the original Japanese numbering to try to avoid much of the confusion that Square has wrought upon us with their insane concept of how numbers work.
One of the earliest RPGs released on consoles, the first Final Fantasy game was kind of unique for its time, but when compared to any of the later entries in the series, it’s easy to see that this title still had a long way to go. The game had some high points, but for the most part was simplistic, unpolished, and repetitive. It also didn’t sell particularly well at first; however, as later games caused the series to become more popular, demand for this title increased accordingly. Considering that fact, it’s probably safe to say that most people are interested in the original Final Fantasy more for its place in the history of the franchise than for its gameplay.
Metallica Album Equivalent: Kill ‘Em All
Final Fantasy II & III
These two games were never released in the U.S. (except for the recent reissues on Gameboy), but feature similar gameplay to the original, with minor improvements. Of course, the few people who managed to obtain a Japanese copy here probably didn’t care much about that anyway. Let’s face it, if you’re playing through a story-driven, text-heavy game in a language you can’t even read, you’re not really in it for the gameplay. You’re just doing it to prove to all the other nerds that you’re King Dork of the Final Fantasy Fanclub.
Metallica Album Equivalent: Foreign Versions of Kill ‘Em All with Bonus Tracks
Final Fantasy IV
Drastic improvements were made for this game, resulting in a title that was praised by critics and beloved by the handful of gamers that actually bought it. A lot of the hardcore Final Fantasy fans say this is their favorite, though it’s hard to know for sure how many genuinely feel that way, and how many are just snobs who say that to be different from all the mainstream fans that prefer the better-known Final Fantasy VI or VII. Just like with the original, interest in this title increased drastically once later games in the series made the franchise famous.
Metallica Album Equivalents: Ride the Lightning; Master of Puppets
Final Fantasy V
Though the few who have played it consider it one of the best of the series, this game was not originally released in the US. Its rarity later turned the game into a thing of legend as the series grew in popularity, and sometimes gamers even questioned whether it truly existed or was just a myth. Those few who had played the game were considered the most elite of all hardcore Final Fantasy fans…at least until it was reissued in 1999, as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology.
Metallica Album Equivalent: The $5.98 E.P., Garage Days Re-Revisited
Final Fantasy VI
Hailed by critics as a masterpiece, and considered by many (though certainly not all) fans to be the best game in the franchise, Final Fantasy VI was an important step in the history of the series. Besides being a deeper, better designed, and just all around better game than the previous entries, it was also the start of Final Fantasy’s rise to fame. After years of putting out good games that were enjoyed a small, but loyal fanbase, the series finally started to get some mainstream recognition with FF6. Strategy guides were written for the game, magazines dedicated editorials and features on it, and a growing number of gamers took notice. Superstardom was still a game away, but this was the title that moved the series of out the realm of the obscure.
Metallica Album Equivalent: …And Justice for All
Final Fantasy VII
While the previous installment may have started to give the series some name recognition, this was the game that truly made it famous. No other RPG, and very few games in general at the time, ever had the massive tidal wave of hype and publicity that surrounded Final Fantasy VII’s release. It was also the first real “crossover RPG”, a role-playing game that appealed to people normally not interested in the genre. While good marketing certainly helped, one cannot overlook the quality of the game itself, as FF7 was considered by many to be one of the best games to be released not only that year, but of all-time. But not everyone was happy, as some fans felt that the series was “selling out” and straying from its RPG roots in order to sell more copies. This was a small number of dissidents at the time, but their numbers would grow as later installments continued this trend.
Metallica Album Equivalent: Metallica (aka “The Black Album”)
Final Fantasy VIII
Although eagerly awaited by gamers and the gaming media, the follow-up to FF7 left many feeling disappointed. The biggest source of outcry from fans was the game’s graphics, which were more realistic and modern-looking than any of the previous games in the series. While that may seem like a superficial change, many felt that the “new look” was symbolic of a deeper stylistic change in the series. But that was just one of many reasons why this game failed to impress; others complained that the characters were becoming unlikable, and that the gameplay was repetitive and uninspired. Another problem was that the RPG market had become overcrowded (ironically, this was due largely to the success of Final Fantasy VII), and FF8 failed to stand out much from the rest of the crowd. Whatever the reasons may have been, the bottom line was the same: this was the first Final Fantasy game that wasn’t very good. It remains a low point for the series even to this day.
Metallica Album Equivalent: Load
Final Fantasy IX
Following the backlash that VIII (and to a lesser extent VII) caused among fans, Square promised to get the series back to its roots with Final Fantasy IX. And while some token effort was made to this effect, the game never truly lived up to this promise. Instead, it felt almost as if they had taken some older, never-released game and “improved” it by making it play like one of the more recent titles, with grainy pre-rendered graphics, annoying secondary characters, boring side-quests, and a story that went absolutely insane by the third act. As a result, the promises of going back to their old style went unfulfilled, and this entry ended up feeling a lot more like one of the newer Final Fantasy games than any of the older ones.
Metallica Album Equivalent: Garage, Inc.
Final Fantasy X
After failing to recapture the old magic with FF9, Square decided to give up on clinging to the past and simply embrace what the series had become. Final Fantasy X was a virtual celebration of everything that old-school fans had hated about the more recent entries: a futuristic setting, throwaway characters, and horrible minigames that were given more attention than they deserved. While all these changes did manage to bring in some new fans, this was the last straw for many longtime fans. This game was basically Square’s way of telling them “Screw you, this is what the games will be like from now on, and we both know you’re going to buy it since it says Final Fantasy on the box.” Nevertheless, it ended up being one of the best-selling games in the series.
Metallica Album Equivalent: Load (again)
Final Fantasy X-2
One fairly unique thing about Final Fantasy is that none of the games in the series are true “sequels”; each takes place in its own world, with new characters, and a storyline that is completely unrelated to any of the previous games. This all changed with Final Fantasy X-2, which chronicled the adventures of Yuna after the events of FFX. The game had a lukewarm reception, as to a lot of critics, it seemed like it was just a lot of leftover ideas from FFX that were haphazardly thrown together into a new game in order to make a quick buck. Sales were relatively low for a Final Fantasy game, and many fans felt that if the franchise was going to break tradition and finally make a true sequel to one of their games, they probably could have chosen a better candidate than Final Fantasy X.
Metallica Album Equivalent: Reload
Final Fantasy XI
With its popularity declining and many accusing the franchise of becoming stale, Square decided to shake things up by making FFXI an online-only MMORPG. The problem is, the appeal of the other Final Fantasy was that they weren’t anything like online RPGs, so this was kind of the opposite of what most fans wanted. And even if it had been, FFXI still wasn’t as good as a lot of the other MMORPGs that were already out there. In fact, the effort to make Final Fantasy an MMORPG was so half-assed that it ended up being pretty much the same old Final Fantasy, except now you could play it with other people. Which is a great idea, since Final Fantasy fans are so socially well-adjusted.
Metallica Album Equivalent: S&M
Final Fantasy XII
Amid declining popularity and after a few years out of the spotlight, the series returned with its twelfth installment. Some fairly significant changes were made to keep up with the times (no more battle screens), but the game managed to retain a familiar feel. It was well-received by fans and met with moderate praise by critics, although the gaming public collectively responded with a surprised “Oh hey, I didn’t know they were still making Final Fantasy games.”
Metallica Album Equivalent: St. Anger
~ fin ~
(“Final Fantasy Band” featured image by batba)