The name Final Fantasy is a venerable one among gamers. This long running franchise has spawned over a dozen main standalone entries, several direct sequels, a variety of spin-off titles, feature films, toys, and more. The franchise is widely regarded as being responsible for popularizing the JRPG genre with Western audiences and it's hard to imagine what our gaming landscape would look like today without that pivotal release back in December 1987.
But it almost didn't happen.
At the time, developer SquareSoft was hesitant to make a fantasy RPG because it was believed that it wouldn't sell well. Luckily, in 1986, another famous RPG was released called Dragon Quest, which was a wildly successful game despite not being hugely popular in the West. Sakaguchi got his wish and began development, but as the game neared its release at the end of 1987, SquareSoft was headed for bankruptcy. It was possible that Final Fantasy would be the last game that SquareSoft ever made.
It's ok, the world has nearly ended a lot in this series.
Instead, SquareSoft's Final Fantasy became a staggering success. Since then, the series has set the bar for quality storytelling and turn-based RPG mechanics. In 1996, it resurged to a new level of mainstream appeal with the release of Final Fantasy VII. Spurred by even greater recognition, three more of the massive games (as well as the acclaimed spin-off Final Fantasy Tactics) were released over the next five years, marking a Golden Age for the series and for Square.
Since the release of Final Fantasy X in 2001, the series has been in a gradual decline. While following games have occasionally found critical success, the franchise's turn towards more action oriented gameplay and narrower game worlds has left many long-time fans feeling alienated.
Things sure looked bright back then.
Here we find ourselves at the dawn of a new major entry. With the recent large scale event for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, it's clear that Square Enix is hoping that this will be the entry that will revitalize the franchise. While it's apparent that the company is putting a lot of faith in the newest entry's ability to revitalize the series, it could also serve as a turning point and a return to form for the company as a whole.
If Final Fantasy XV can go on to be the huge success for which they hope, it could mark a new era of the company, the likes of which haven't been seen since before SquareSoft merged with Enix back in 2003. This could bring a bright future of new content instead of more re-releases, remakes, and cash-ins such as All the Bravest.
I really want this, but I want an awesome new Final Fantasy even more.
But what happens if it fails?
There is certainly hope to be had in the new direction in which the franchise is heading. The focus on emotional storytelling in a huge living world is a great sign, but Square is still also clinging to some amount of the action gameplay that's been featured in its more recent, less popular games. It's unlikely to be a complete disaster -- even the much maligned Final Fantasy XIII trilogy has managed a mid-70's average on Metacritic, but if the story doesn't connect with audiences, or the world isn't quite as grand as it appears, or the gameplay turns out to be too much like Kingdom Hearts, things could go very poorly and this could turn into a very costly non-starter.
That's not a great spot to be in.
With Square Enix's stable of recognizable intellectual properties and the modicum of safety that being a world-wide publisher affords, a failed Final Fantasy XV would not sink the entire ship. It could still spell at least a temporary end to the main entries in the Western flagship franchise, however. Many of their properties are simply too large to die permanently, but this is by far the longest in-development game in the series and it's coming with a lot of very costly extras, including a CGI film, a short anime web series, and smaller free demos and mini-games. A flop could do a fair amount of damage to the franchise's perceived viability and reputation, and a hiatus will likely be in order while Square Enix licks its wounds waiting for the day when fans forget how they've been wronged.
The allure of the definitive fantasy experience will always win.
Whatever might happen, however, there will be a Final Fantasy XVI one day. It could be in 2-3 years, or it might be in ten years when tempers have cooled and nostalgia takes over, but the potential for another wild success like those during the company's heyday will be too tempting for developers and gamers alike to resist forever.
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