R^2's excellent Let's Play Final Fantasy 4 Advance thread over at Brontoforumus has veered onto the topic of The After Years and its general wretchedness. I've never played it -- but yeah, it sure seems like a terrible idea, on principle.
And I get to thinking, what Final Fantasy same-world sequels are any good?
For my money, FF12 and Revenant Wings don't count -- that's a case of an established setting being worked into a numbered FF game, not a numbered FF game's setting being reused per se.
FF10-2 was pretty neat, partially because it was the first and partially because it was so utterly different from FF10 proper, in tone, plot, and gameplay.
And the only FF7 sequel worth a damn is Crisis Core.
I think a lot of that is because it has the good sense not to take itself as goddamn seriously as most everything in the FF7 universe -- but I think it's also because it's a prequel. FF7 has an ending. An ending whose appeal comes from its ambiguity. Setting games (or movies) after the ending misses the point. Badly.
So with FF4. FF4 puts a fucking bow on things. Everybody gets to be a king or queen. Even Yang, for no reason whatsoever.
How the fuck do you top that? You don't.
Most Final Fantasys have an ending that's pretty, well, final. (There's an ongoing fanboy talking point that that's why they're called "Final" and that's why you should stop making jokes about "Dur hur how can they be final if there's thirteen of 'em?" That's stupid fanboy talk. But you really should stop making that joke.)
But you know what? Plenty of them come with perfectly good backstories to play with, and ripe ground for prequels.
Let's start with FF5 and the Warriors of Dawn. You could play as a young Galuf, and Butz's dad, and...look, I forget the other two guys' names. The point of FF5 isn't really its plot, it's the jobs system. I'd be happy to play a game with an earlier war with Exdeath, revisiting some familiar locations and characters a la Dragon Quest 3.
And then there's FF6 and the War of the Magi. The backstory's dashed off in a few lines of exposition in-game, but it's got loads of potential -- three gods begin fighting, they mutate humans into magic users, other humans hunt the magic users to take their powers, and it leads to an all-out apocalyptic battle that rends the world asunder and ultimately wipes magic off the map and sends technology back to the Stone Age.
Given the timeline and the established power of the Warring Triad, the world wouldn't need to bear any kind of resemblance to FF6. (Though, hm -- maybe the map could start out looking one way and, after being torn asunder by the Triad, look like the World of Balance. Dramatic irony!)
And the final candidate I'd like to share is Final Fantasy 3. 3 has an even more barebones story than 5 (and isn't as good a game), but it has one idea in its backstory that could make for a wonderfully warped take on the traditional story.
3 relies on the D&D trope of Good and Evil existing in balance to one another, and the idea that if one becomes too strong, the other will rise to defeat it. Final Fantasy 3 has a world subject to the influence of a creeping evil -- and so the Crystals create four Warriors of Light.
But, it's clearly established in the backstory that the reverse happened a few hundred years before: Good got too strong, and the Crystals created four Warriors of Dark to restore the balance.
I'd love to play a game that does the Final Fantasy formula in reverse: burn villages, breed monsters, awaken ancient evils, start an evil empire and slowly take over the world.
I guess it would be kinda like the first half-hour of Final Fantasy 4, if Cecil had a much higher degree of job satisfaction.