First some disclaimers, I have not played Final Fantasy XV and my opinions are influenced by third-party information. My opinion may change once it comes out on PC. Now for my credentials, I have been a long time fan of the series. I have played all of the Final Fantasy games in one form or another (excluding Final fantasy XV).
I first started playing the series when I got Final Fantasy VII (Yay! Remake FTW!) back on the PlayStation, I remember the awe I felt at the scale of the story. I remember enjoying the puzzles and the various secrets that you could discover and have other fond memories of the whole game. Dressing poor Cloud up in a dress, or owning the various Jenova bosses and unravelling the mystery of Cloud’s past. When I finished, my first thought was “I want more!” and that set me up to get every single game in the series that I could as a kid during the ‘90s.
However, after Final Fantasy XII. I was dismayed that my favourite game series turned into a linear corridor simulator. Graphics wise and orchestrally, Final Fantasy XIII was well made but that is where it ended. The story was overly convoluted and made me want to bash my skull into the nearest wall, the battle mechanics were oversimplified and turned into pressing auto ninety percent of the time. You didn’t have full control over the party and the final nail in the coffin was, if the character you control died? Game over! No revives like in previous games and with the difficulty rating ramping up way too fast, power-levelling was an absolute necessity. As such the game was a slog to play.
So began the decline, at least from my perspective. As I grew weary with each new game, the sequels to XIII kept largely to the same formula as XIII tweaking it each time.
The first version of Final Fantasy XIV was a mess at launch, hopeful as I was I had gotten the collector’s edition naively. When I got in the game, I found the combat a chore as well as finding the controls awkward. The gathering of materials was interesting, albeit poorly executed. I remember trying to mine and the whole mini game made things overly complex and made gathering materials horribly slow.
This of course made me quit, hence why after falling subscriptions, Square Enix decided to remake it and call it Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2013, which I played. I found the new version of the game featured a radical change from the original system, the gathering system was simplified, the jobs system was made easier to understand and the combat was streamlined.
My hope for the series was restored for the most part, until once again they were dashed by Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. The motion blur was over used and was giving me headaches after a while and the control system was awkward (although understandably this was due to it being a PSP game originally). The controls weren’t intuitive on PC, even with a XBox controller.
With Final Fantasy XV the story was contrived, Noctis had to leave on a road trip to be wed to Lunafreya. The one character control that FFXIII had started, returned, albeit with the ability to give your party simple orders. The magic system is a chore as you have to create the individual spells which are consumed.
What caused this perceived decline was, in my opinion, a foolish attempt to pander to western audiences, ignoring why previous games were successful in the west in the first place. I hope the series can, in future, return to its roots and recapture my and others’ attention. Otherwise it will fade into obscurity like other niche JRPGs like Star Ocean, Ys and Phantasy Star.