If there's one series out there that has seen more ups and downs than any other, it's Final Fantasy. Without a doubt, some of the greatest RPGs of all time have been released under the series' banner. At the same time, however, there have been several Final Fantasy titles which have been underwhelming at best. The series is interesting, because it puts on display both the best and worst aspects of the genre. With the recent release of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, is the stage clear for Square Enix to reinvent the series and return it to its former glory, or will the company continue developing the series as it has been for the past decade?
The main issue with the Final Fantasy concept is which direction to go next. Some cry out for a return to the series' traditional fantasy roots. In today's market, I don't know if that type of JRPG would fly very high, especially when you consider that handheld titles such as Bravely Default seem to have that market cornered. Additionally, Final Fantasy should be a trendsetter, not a brand that falls back on old tricks. No, if the series is going to reclaim its former glory, it's time for for it to reinvent itself.
Just what does that mean? Let's start from the ground up. First, the series would need a fresh visual style and setting. No more pseudo-sci-fi, no more spiky haircuts. The developers should give players something they haven't seen before, just as they did with the first game, the sixth (or third, here in the states), and then again with the seventh. It's plain to see that Square Enix has relied on the visual motif of Final Fantasy VII ever since its release, and while that's understandable given that game's impact on the industry, it's time to move on.
Next up, the series needs a new approach to character development, plot, and storytelling. If you want to bring in a fresh audience, you have to make things both relatable and understandable. Tweens and teens may have kept the franchise alive and fed off of the vague emotional nonsense and cliches of past titles, but they're growing up and moving on.
Imagine being wowed—moved, even—by a Final Fantasy game's reveal and the subsequent playing of that game. Remember those days? I think Square Enix has lost sight of the impact that the series used to make, and if they intend to keep the brand going, it's time for them to take it back. Just give people something they didn't know they wanted or needed: the sales will follow.