Before I begin, I just wanted to mention two things:
First, since I am discussing Final Fantasy games, I will not be mentioning Final Fantasy XI or XIV, since they are MMOs, and don’t easily conform to my general theme.
Second, as usual, this article is an opinion piece, and explains my own personal views. As always, I am open to debate and discussion of the subject matter, provided it is done in a civil manner.
When we think about the success that has come from the Final Fantasy series, it’s hard to argue that it is one of the most talked about RPG series of all time. When someone mentions the term “RPG”, the first thing that someone typically thinks about is “Final Fantasy”. While this case is true, I have found that over the last several years, the interest in the series has declined for a lot of gamers. Now, this isn’t everyone. Square Enix is still releasing new games, and there’s always a demand for the next installment when it comes out. Even the recent delay of Final Fantasy XV has cheesed off a lot of gamers. Still, we can’t ignore the fact that a lot of people are less and less excited when a new title comes out.
So when did this decline begin to happen, and what reasons have been in place for this decline? Since Square Enix would likely never admit to there being a decline in the first place, all we can do is speculate and share personal observations and opinions on the matter.
So let’s tackle the when of it all. After the release of Final Fantasy VI, the consistency of successful titles began to degrade. Even today, Final Fantasy VII is the receiver of many mixed reviews. People praise it as being the best RPG of all time, while other people feel that the game had a number of issues that deemed all the praise unworthy. (I’ll admit, I am of the latter opinion, but hope that the upcoming remake addresses my issues with the game). Final Fantasy VIII was deemed a weaker entry in the series due to a weak story, and a poorly stitched together love story between Squall and Rinoa. Personally I agreed with this fact, but also felt the gameplay was something to be desired.
Final Fantasy IX was the point where someone slapped some sense into the developers, and created a successful title that played up the connections to the first Final Fantasy game with Vivi and the Black Mages. It was built on solid gameplay, and was a fun and engaging story.
Sadly, this success was short lived with Final Fantasy X. At this point, the graphics engines were amped up for the PS2, so Square Enix decided to care more about visuals than story and gameplay. This decision went on up until the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, and given the track record, I expect the same from Final Fantasy XV as well (I could easily be wrong though).
So with the when established, let’s move on to the why. What are some of the reasons that Final Fantasy started to decline? Well, if you ask me, the first thing that comes to mind is Square Enix’s drive for visual enhancement. From the first time they moved from 2D to 3D graphics with Final Fantasy VII, Square’s goal was to create a visual splendor. At the time, they did, and the enhancements to their 3D rendering improved with each new title. While making the best looking RPG is not a bad thing, it felt like there were some huge sacrifices being made to make these designs good. A weaker plot, character development and, to a lesser extent, gameplay all started happening in these 3D titles, and it felt like the developers cared more about the look of it all than anything else.
Another reason for this decline is something that has only been happening in recent years. Square Enix has taken a lot of time concentrating on ports of their older titles to be re-released to a new generation of gamers. They have also added new content so that older fans of the series have something new to experience. While this is inherently not a bad thing at all, sometimes it’s a bit overkill. For example, Final Fantasy VI has been released on multiple platforms at this point, starting with the Super NES, it has been ported to the PlayStation, GameBoy Advance, Android/IOS, and is available on Steam for PC. I have to say kudos for the accessibility, but could you not have allocated more resources to your other projects? I know there were delays with the release of Final Fantasy XIII and that XV has experienced delays as well. We don’t truly know why, but this is one speculation that I have about it.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Final Fantasy in a critical way. This does not mean that I think negatively of the series as a whole. It’s done a lot of fantastic things in its lifetime, and I believe it will continue to do more. I do think they should spend a bit less time thinking about the past and concentrating on new titles, but I understand their positioning for all the remakes at the same time. I think with a bit more forward thinking, and a bigger focus on story and character development, we could see something amazing in the future.