Final Fantasy has been around for 35 years. Over several decades, it has become one of the most prominent video game series in the world. One of the wonderful things about the series is how each entry offers an entirely new story for players to enjoy. But in recent years, the series has stumbled with the mixed reception of games like Final Fantasy XIII and XV. To many fans, Final Fantasy X was the last great entry in the series. To bring back the glory days, Square Enix may have to do the unthinkable and start creating direct sequels.
Hironobu Sakaguchi created the Final Fantasy franchise and oversaw its development from the first game up through Final Fantasy IX. But after leaving Square Enix it was uncertain if the beloved series would maintain its relevance. Final Fantasy X proved Square Enix could still succeed. The positive response to the game led Square Enix to break tradition and release a direct sequel, Final Fantasy X-2.
FFX and X-2 have now passed 20 million sales, as Square Enix confirmed to Gematsu. This number was at 14 million in 2013, before the release of the FFX/X-2 HD Remaster. Over twenty years later fans are still invested enough in these characters that the HD Remaster sold nearly 7 million copies.
Yet each subsequent entry after FFX failed to reach the same heights. Each new Final Fantasy game sees Square Enix attempting to appeal to a more western and younger audience, changing the core of the series into something with mass market appeal. Final Fantasy XVI will be the newest entry, arriving in 2023. When talking about what it is like to develop a mainline Final Fantasy game, Producer Naoki Yoshida said that one of the biggest concerns for the development team was trying to appeal to those who have never tried the franchise.
Trying to make the game more mature and akin to western RPGs isn’t the way to do this. Ever since Final Fantasy XIII, the series has leaned towards more action-based combat and flashy visuals in hopes of appealing to new players. But at the heart of Final Fantasy are the characters that players become attached to. The love story of Tidus and Yuna is what resonated with fans so much that a sequel to FFX was developed.
Square Enix is already developing games that tell new stories in familiar worlds. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin revisits the first entry in a surprising way. Final Fantasy VII has such weight in the public consciousness that Square Enix started the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, a series of games building out the original world to give fans new ways to interact with beloved characters. But instead of this Star Wars approach of telling stories in the gaps of the main plot, Square Enix should return to making direct sequels that give players a chance to invest in stories.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Final Fantasy XIII and its subsequent sequels. Inspired by the success of FFX and X-2, Square Enix hoped they could pull off another multi-entry mainline game. But the numerous story and gameplay issues that plague FFXIII and its two sequels left a bitter taste in fans’ mouths and soured the idea of a Final Fantasy sequel. But with the massive success of Final Fantasy VII Remake being told over three games, now might be the perfect time to revisit this once unthinkable option. It just might help save the series.