I've been thinking a lot about SE's business model, in regards to the Final Fantasy series. It's painfully obvious that the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, was always
meant to be a trilogy, which means that SE's focus has shifted from one-off individual instalments, to compilations and sequels.
On paper, the Fabula Nova Crystallis, as the massive project, which features such games as the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and Final Fantasy Type 0 is titled, sounds like a great idea. You have variety in gameplay, using the JRPG style of play as a base, and combining it with Western RPG influences. Then you have continuity, with Type 0 and the elusive Versus XIII both share similar mythos and gameplay elements with the XIII trilogy, despite each game being set in different worlds with different characters, an "expanded universe" if you like. The trouble is, it hasn't really taken off with the hardcore fanbase, particularly outside of Japan.
All energy has been seemingly poured into this project (Square Enix even created a new, cutting-edge games engine known as "Crystal Tools", specifically for the project), which could explain why Final Fantasy XIV (the latest attempt to break into the MMORPG market) was so terrible at launch.
Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, (XIII-2 was OK, but seemed to borrow many of the dreadful, lighthearted, and forced humour aspects from X-2) but I don't feel it was significantly "epic" enough to be a main game in the series. I don't think any game since X (and that's at a push), has been epic enough when it comes to storytelling, characters, and gameplay elements. Furthermore, XI and XIV should NEVER have been part of the main series, since both severely deviate from the essence of Final Fantasy (being MMORPG's).
I can see from a marketing perspective why they were given titles as per the main series, (spin-offs generally receive much less attention) I can certainly see this being justified as an experiment for Final Fantasy XI, but it should never have extended to XIV, particularly a game that was unfinished, messy and a terrible effort, so much so, that SE had no choice, but to acknowledge the lacklustre quality of the game.
So where do things go from here? Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (as the final part of the XIII trilogy is titled) should be enjoyable, but it delays SE from focusing on the next title in the main series, given that LR is being built from scratch, unlike it's predecessor, which re-used pretty much everything from XIII, with new models, renders and tweaks, added as needed. It seems that Versus XIII has gone the way of Duke Nukem Forever, although it wouldn't put it past SE, to drop everything and finally develop the game, following the completion of LR. SE should view the FNC project as an experiment, and get back to doing what they do well, from a quality and innovation perspective (not economic, since they will make money, regardless), the FNC concept has already alienated international gamers, given that Type 0 will probably never be released outside of Japan, which means that international fans of the series (who cannot speak/read Japanese and/or don't have access to the software and hardware necessary to play the game) are not going to benefit from any expanded universe, that may or may not have been the idea behind the series.
Arguably, the most successful spin-off (from a critical perspective) is Final Fantasy Tactics. It's shares the name of the series, similar gameplay elements, and much of the same staff, but the game is so far removed from one would expect from a Final Fantasy game, since it's a Tactical RPG. It was never considered to be a part of the main series (apart from being set in the same world as XII, which was later), and never introduced to gamers as such. This wasn't the case with XI and XIV, and even though XI has been recieved as a solid MMORPG, it has recieved tons of backlash for being such a departure from the Final Fantasy series, likely because it was intended as a main entry in the series.
Anyway, getting back to where they go from here. Presumably, FFXV is already at the conception and storyboard stages, if not already being developed (Final Fantasy XIII was in development as far back as 2005). It would appear that Microsoft and Sony plan to announce their 8th generation consoles in 2013/14, with a possible 2014/2015 release, which means that Final Fantasy XV will probably be an 8th generation release. SE have recently said that they probably won't consider a FFVII remake (which almost every fan of the franchise, including myself, really want to happen) unless/until a new release surpasses the quality and acclaim of VII. Despite that, they could very well be working on such an idea, to take advantage of the 20th anniversary in 2017. Again, if such an idea goes ahead, it will be an 8th generation release. So with all that in mind, is the FNC series to be considered "complete" following the release of LR?
There are many ways they can go, but these seem most likely from a business aspect:
- Final Fantasy XV, wherein an entirely new universe is created, along with returning to a "Final Fantasy" familiarity, whilst also being innovative
- Neo-Final Fantasy VII, a complete remake, with new and expanded story elements, major improvements, with the battle and materia system elements from the original game, enhanced and brought up to date. In effect, an entirely new game with the same characters and plot.
- Fabula Nova Crystallis Part 5, which could be the elusive Versus XIII, or an entirely new entry designed to be more "Final Fantasy" than the other games in the FNC series.
- Final Fantasy MMORPG 3.0, the MMORPG market is still profitable and people will still buy such a game, but it's still a risk that would receive a number of groans from the fanbase. It would also mean having 3 active MMORPG's.