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The Final Fantasy franchise has always been synonymous with the JRPG genre. The first few titles helped define the genre, while VII is widely regarded as having popularized the genre among Western audiences.
However, with the past few releases, Final Fantasy has drifted away from what made it famous; with every major installment, a core feature would be modified, or even replaced. From game to game, it wasn’t much of a difference. However, over the course of five or six titles, it can completely change a franchise.
In the case of Final Fantasy, it means the change from classic JRPG to more of an action focus. And now, the two have seemingly converged, for lack of a better term; according to reports, the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake is being done with a focus on action. If the likes of Final Fantasy XIII are any indication, then the once beloved title could be nothing more than a bastardisation of the original. Simply a re-skin of the likes of XIII and its ilk.
However, this begs the question; is the Final Fantasy franchise doomed to fail?
By many accounts, the last few games in the franchise have been the least well-received of the lot. While many gamers would rank the games differently, general consensus among fans is that Square’s time is long past due; many fans would agree that the franchise’s golden age was between V and X.
Based on the franchise’s trajectory since its inception, many would believe that it’s on its way out; it started gaining popularity with each release, eventually gaining critical mass with VII, VIII and IX. Since then, the franchise has peaked and has slowly been declining in popularity since, and that mightn’t be down to just game quality. Since its peak, several great Final Fantasy games have been released.
However, they were released into a market full of JRPGs, and just RPGs in general, each inspired in part by the popularity of Final Fantasy. In a small way, the franchises success may be its undoing. Thanks to how it popularized the genre, it was now up against stiffer and stiffer competition, which undoubtedly hurt sales. Because of that, Square had to change tact and try differentiate the franchise even further; a brand name would only get them so far.
Hence the changing of key features over time. However, the plan doesn’t seem to have worked; though the franchise sees occasional bumps in popularity, it’s nowhere near the market force it once was. While once held up as the benchmark for any JRPG, it no longer lives up to its own reputation. That doesn’t mean that it can’t have a Renaissance; they just mightn’t have one with their current plan.
Many hoped that this would happen when Square began working on the Final Fantasy VII remake; however, instead of learning from what made the game so beloved, the publisher is instead ploughing through with their current strategy and giving the game an action focus; essentially forcing a square box into a round hole.
Every series ends, eventually. It’s amazing that Final Fantasy made it well into double digits for core releases. Now, though, it looks like it’s on it’s final flight.