I'm just going to say it: Final Fantasy needs to stop
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. That was the last great Final Fantasy game. Released in 2010, The 4 Heroes of Light provided a gripping gameplay experience that harked back to old school RPG design, all the while featuring pleasant visuals, nice sound design, charming characters, and a fun story. Oh, but the thing about The 4 Heroes of Light: It was a freakin' spin-off! That's right, the last great Final Fantasy game wasn't even a part of the main series. Seriously, there's something wrong here.
There have been a lot of franchises that withstand the test of time, delivering consistently enjoyable gameplay experiences for a long time. Sure, they may hit a bump or two in the road, but they stay consistently strong. The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest are perfect examples of this, as are Mario and Grand Theft Auto. The thing about those franchises is that they are constantly evolving. And if they're not exactly evolving, their mechanics are fine tuned to continue appealing to older fans all the while bringing in a new audience.
Final Fantasy can't evolve. Well, maybe it can, but it hasn't thus far, and it really seems that the series has lost most of its touch. I got a lot of flak when I listed Final Fantasy as the number one franchise that needs a reboot a good while back. People whined and complained about how "every Final Fantasy is a new story," and how "technically every game is a reboot." Bullsh*t. If every Final Fantasy game was a reboot, then the series wouldn't be as stale as it is.
Final Fantasy XIII was utter garbage. The game wasn't fun, and it was totally contrived. It didn't push the series forward, it pushed it back. Way back. Now we have Final Fantasy XIII-2, the game that was supposed to remedy the disaster shoved in our faces by Final Fantasy XIII. Surprisingly, the game managed to deliver on practically all fronts. While not perfect by any means, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has received a ton of praise for fixing the problems from the first game and delivering an experience that fans can actually give a damn about.
But what's going to happen with the next game? In all honesty, I think Square Enix needs to let Final Fantasy take a break, because one great game doesn't necessarily mean a stellar follow-up is coming. Longtime hardcore Final Fantasy fans should probably be a bit skeptical right now, because it's really hard to tell what Square Enix will deliver with the next entry. Will Final Fantasy stay strong? It's possible. Will it fall back into mediocrity? Maybe, and that's a scary thought.
Square Enix needs to let Final Fantasy rest, because it's not the strong franchise it once was. The company needs to hold off on releasing so many entries so soon so fans can gain an appreciation once more. Nintendo doesn't release Zelda games very often, and that keeps fans stoked to play the next iteration of the franchise. I truly believe that Square Enix should let Final Fantasy rest for a few years and deliver other titles in the meantime. The company can release new entries in existing franchises or even launch new IPs. It certainly has the know-how as far as RPGs are concerned.
I recently listened to a very interesting discussion on Final Fantasy and its constant numeration. If almost every new game in the series tells a different story, what's the point in numbering them? Not only does this make it seem as though the series has gone into serious overkill mode, it's also completely pointless. Super Mario World wasn't called Super Mario Bros. 4, because, to put it bluntly, after a certain point, game numeration is just sloppy, lazy, and stupid.
The numeration of Final Fantasy also brings up another point. If almost every game in the series tells a new tale, why have spin-offs? Is The 4 Heroes of Light really a spin-off if it does what the main series has been doing all along, which is telling a different story? If Square Enix was able to give this "side story" a title of its own, why not do that for the rest of the series? I'm sure a lot of fans won't miss the numbering of Final Fantasy games, because it's nothing really special to begin with. It's just a damn number--one that adds to the stale state of the series.
I really want to care about Final Fantasy, but I can't. I don't know how anyone can care about the series at this point. Final Fantasy XIII-2 may be a good game, but the declining quality of the series over the past several years really diminished any interest I may have had in playing it. I'd much rather revisit The 4 Heroes of Light, because that game was original, and it was awesome. Whether you agree with me or not, Final Fantasy needs some sort of reboot or revamp, and it needs it badly. But first, it needs a good 10-year break. Final Fantasy just needs to stop for now.