The Evolution Of Final Fantasy Games: From Trend Setters To Trend Chasers 

Final Fantasy games are regarded as one of the biggest gaming franchises in history. With over 16 mainline games and almost double the number of spin-off games, it cements itself as one of the most influential gaming franchises of all time, with Final Fantasy VI and VII being two of the greatest games of all time, cementing the popularity of the JRPG genre globally.

However, as someone who has played every Final Fantasy game, I believe the series has lost its touch. I was sure of this feeling when I played the latest game in the series – Final Fantasy XVI – which didn’t even feel like a Final Fantasy game.

Has the series fallen from its grace? At one point in time during the 1990s, each game introduced new concepts and mechanics that revolutionized the JRPG genre and became industry trendsetters. Now, it does the very opposite – chase gaming trends set by other games for more popularity and acceptance.

Let’s look at how the series evolved, the various gaming trends it set, and the trends it’s trying to follow now.

The Evolution Of Final Fantasy Games

The Evolution Of Final Fantasy Games

As someone who has played every Final Fantasy game (barring a few spin-offs), I have been a big fan of the series. Therefore, after researching these games, I discovered that most earlier games were revolutionary in the gaming industry. No wonder the series had managed to sell over 185 million copies worldwide!

However, while the newer games like Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy XVI did manage to sell millions, I (and most of the fanbase) were not happy with the direction the series was heading.

Most believe that the series has lost its identity over time, now creating high-quality games that are derivatives of other famous games. The series was renowned for evolving and revolutionizing the JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) genre globally. Now, it’s just playing safe, changing its gameplay formula so much that newer games don’t even feel like Final Fantasy games.

The current Final Fantasy game director Naoki Yoshida also voices the same opinion. He said: “We’re now at a point where we receive a wide variety of requests regarding the direction of our game design. To be honest, it’d be impossible to satisfy all those requests with a single title. My current impression is that all we can really do is create multiple games, and continue creating the best that we can at any given time.”

The only way to show this change in the series is to track what every Final Fantasy game brought to the industry. Therefore, here’s a detailed breakdown of how Final Fantasy fell from glory – and became trend chasers instead of trendsetters.

Final Fantasy

Release Date(s)December 1987 (NES)
PlatformsNES (Original), iOS, Android, Windows, Switch, PS4 (Pixel Remaster)

Final Fantasy’s legacy started with the release of Final Fantasy on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System).

The story of this game follows four “Warriors of Light” tasked with saving the world from the evil knight Garland. Garland wishes to corrupt the four elemental mana crystals (the source of magic) with four elemental Fiends to gain world domination.

Turn-Based Combat

This game was revolutionary at its time because it introduces the party-based turn-based combat system that has defined JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Games) games till now.

Final Fantasy had turn-based combat, where your team members attack and defend in turns against enemies. Once a battle ends, your team gains XP (Experience Points) to level up and strengthen. This is the main gameplay loop of all Final Fantasy and JRPG games.

During the battle, you can either attack physically with the equipped weapon or use magic spells and items to heal allies and do damage.

Overworld Open World

Regarding exploration, this game has an open overworld for you to traverse freely. However, all interactions with characters and enemies occur in towns and dungeons. Furthermore, when you traverse the open overworld, you will automatically fight enemies in random encounters.

Final Fantasy was monumental in establishing the fundamental gameplay loop of a JRPG game – a ragtag group of heroes who save the world from peril while facing their internal struggles.

Trivia: This game was later reimagined as Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin for the PS5. It serves as an “alternate universe prequel” showcasing the origins of the main villain, Chaos, and the four children of light. However, it’s an action RPG game like Dark Souls.

Final Fantasy II

Release Date(s)December 1988 (NES)
PlatformsNES (Original), GBA, iOS, Android, Windows, Switch, PS4 (Pixel Remaster)

Released a year after Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II is an oddball in the entire series. This was one of the first Final Fantasy games released only in Japan. This game was released globally when it finally launched on Game Boy Advanced in 2003.

The story follows Firiel and his friends as they rebel against the emperor of Palamecia. This happens right after the emperor summons Hellspawns to gain power and become a tyrannical ruler.

Customizable Stats

Finlay Fantasy II expands upon everything that we found in the first game. Unlike Final Fantasy’s traditional XP and leveling system, FF II allows your characters to level up various stats individually, depending on how you use their skills.

For example, if you physically attack with characters, they will gain more Strength. Conversely, if characters take more damage, they will gain more HP. Modern RPGs like Borderlands and the almighty Elder Scrolls series follow this innovative level-up system. This free-form system lets you build your character however you want, allowing your tactical creativity to shine.

Trivia: The English version of the game was initially planned. However, the localization was shut down mid-development since Final Fantasy IV had already begun development.

Final Fantasy III

Release Date(s)April 1990 (NES)
PlatformsNES (Original), Nintendo DS, iOS, Android, Windows, Switch, PS4 (Pixel Remaster)

Like FFII, Final Fantasy III is the second Japan-exclusive Final Fantasy game. It was finally released globally as Final Fantasy III 3D on the Nintendo DS.  Additionally, it’s also a part of the Pixel Remaster collection.

FF III follows our hero, Luneth, and his friends – Arc, Refia, and Ingus, from the floating continent of Ur. These four friends fall into a cave where they find a magic crystal. However, they are soon given magical powers and are tasked by the crystals to save the world from an impending cloud of darkness.

Change Jobs, Change Fate

Moreover, while FF III retained turn-based combat from the previous games, it introduced the revolutionary job-change system. This allows you to change the classes of all four characters whenever you want! This gave birth to the “Build Respec” feature in most modern RPGs, allowing you to change all your character’s stats and skills.

Now, the option to remake your build from scratch midway through the game has become quite common. Dark Souls, Elden Ring, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, and more modern RPGs allow you to do so.

Trivia: Final Fantasy III was the first game in the series to introduce us to our favorite flightless birds to ride on – Chocobos. They soon became mainstays in all future Final Fantasy games.

Final Fantasy IV

Release Date(s)July 1991 (SNES)
PlatformsSNES, GBA (Original), DS (3D Remake), PSP (Enhanced), iOS, Android, Windows, PS4, Switch (Pixel Remaster)

Square Enix went the extra mile as their developers got their hands on the successor to NES – the Super NES (SNES). The result? One of my personal favorite FF games is Final Fantasy IV.

Video Game As A Storytelling Medium

I will always consider Final Fantasy IV a game-changer for the series. For the first time, the focus was not on a group of people trying to save the world. Sure, the story eventually saves Earth from destruction by the Moon’s inhabitants. However, it’s the characters and the drama that surrounds them that gets the spotlight here.

Each character had a fleshed-out backstory, making characters like Cecil Harvey (the main protagonist) and his friend Kain Highwind relatable. Their camaraderie with the other characters, humane emotions, and the surprise twist in the middle – instantly struck a chord.

Therefore, Final Fantasy IV gave birth to video games as a storytelling medium. It had many cutscenes, dialogues, high melodrama, and everything you need to tell a good story. Moreover, its influence can be seen in RPGs with good stories like Chrono Trigger and one of my favorite games of all time – Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy.

More Characters, More Drama

However, unlike the first three games, where you had only four characters in your party, FFIV pushes this boundary to include 12 characters. Therefore, you can create a four-person death squad with Cecil and three other characters! This made gamers tactically think of combinations unlike anything before!

Active Time Battle

Moreover, this becomes better with much more dynamic combat, thanks to the introduction of Active Time Battle (ATB) – a mainstay in all the upcoming Final Fantasy games. Therefore, time never stops between turns nw. It flows naturally now, allowing enemies to attack you if you take too long to think of your next move!

This natural flow of the battle was soon adopted and expanded by classic RPGs like Larian’s Baldur’s Gate games and Bioware’s Dragon Age games.

Trivia: Since Final Fantasy II and III were not initially released in the USA, this game was titled Final Fantasy II for the North American and European markets.

Final Fantasy V

Release Date(s)December 1992 (SNES)
PlatformsSNES, GBA (Original), Android, iOS, Windows, Switch, PS4 (Pixel Remaster)

Final Fantasy V is another oddball in the franchise for two main reasons. First off, it was released as Final Fantasy V globally. Therefore, non-Japanese gamers were dumbfounded when they got FFV directly after FF II (FFIV in Japan). They were left thinking: What happened to FF III and IV?

A Step Backwards

Moreover, FFV’s story was less ambitious than the epic heights of FFIV. Though characters like Bartz (the main protagonist), Lenna, Galuf, Faris, and Krile were interesting – these were the only five playable characters. FF IV had 12 characters to play with!

Moreover, the main villains – Gilgamesh and Exdeath – were not charismatic (unlike Zemos from FFIV). Overall, it’s a decent Final Fantasy game, but a step down from FFIV.

Job System Revamped

In addition, its gameplay has one major improvement – the Job System. All the previous FF games had characters with their unique classes. However, FF V allows you to change the class of all five characters whenever you want. This gives a lot of customizability since all five characters can potentially master all 22 classes in this game!

The Job System influenced Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and future RPG games since it allows you to build your character however you want. Therefore, you can mix and match different classes to suit your playstyle.

Trivia: Series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi calls this his second favorite Final Fantasy game after Final Fantasy IX.

Final Fantasy VI

Release Date(s)April 1992 (SNES)
PlatformsSNES, GBA (Original), Android, iOS, Windows, Switch, PS4 (Pixel Remaster)

I have lots of fond memories of playing Final Fantasy VI. First off, this was where it all started for me. FFVI was my first Fantasy, which I played on my GBA. When I saw the credits roll after finishing this game, I asked myself: What did I play right now?

As the last 2D Final Fantasy game, it ends FF’s pixelated 2D era with a bang. It expands upon everything that came before – a bigger open world, more drama than FFIV, tactical combat, and a memorable roster of 14 characters!

It’s A Mad Mad World

I loved all the characters in FFVI. Everyone was awesome, from the amnesia-inflicted main heroine Terra, our handsome heart-stealer Locke, the charming King Edgar, his brother Sabin, the oh-so-silent Shadow, the disciplined Cyan, and the cute Mogwin!

However, the main attraction of this game is its main antagonist – Kefka Palazzo. This clown…. is evil as hell. He is a maniacal psychopath with a penchant for violence. Moreover, his nihilism is what makes him truly evil, as he will do everything to control the world, even if it means becoming a tyrannical god.

The infamy and cruelty of Kefka made its way into future RPGs. Kefka’s cynical and morbid humor inspired villains like Handsome Jack from Borderlands 2 and Vaas Montenegro from Far Cry 3.

Runes And Magic

In addition, the gameplay was amazing, with the new Runic system allowing all your characters to learn every magic spell in the game.

Overall, FFVI is still my favorite RPG game of all time, a conclusion even you might come to after playing this game! Moreover, I would award it the best Final Fantasy game of all time.

Trivia: This was the final mainline Final Fantasy game released for Nintendo consoles. Moreover, it was released as Final Fantasy III globally (since II, III, and V didn't get a global release initially, and IV was titled Final Fantasy II).

Final Fantasy VII

Release Date(s)January 1997 (PS1)
PlatformsPS1, Windows, iOS, Android, Switch (Original), PS4, Xbox One, PS5 (Remake, Rebirth)

Every gamer knows about Final Fantasy VII. Upon its original release for the PS1 console in 1997, it became the best-selling and the highest-rated game of its generation. This was the first 3D Final Fantasy game and the first one on the PlayStation.

Opening The Third Dimension

FFVII was a video game that was ahead of its time. In contrast, like the previous FF games, its use of 3D graphics made the game feel more visceral and action-packed. It used 3D polygonal character models over a 2D pre-rendered background. While this may look super odd right now, it was the best in video game graphics during its time.

However, if you play the original version now, you will notice how it hasn’t aged well! Therefore, I believe the best way to enjoy this game now is to play Final Fantasy VII: Remake and Rebirth on Windows, PS4, and PS5.

It recreates the game with modern 3D graphics and action-packed gameplay, ditching the older turn-based JRPG combat. Moreover, the game has been heavily expanded and released as the FFVII trilogy. Remake and Rebirth are the first two parts, with the final part to be released a few years later.

A Story For The Ages

The main selling point of FFVII is its story and characters. I believe a good director can easily turn this into a blockbuster Hollywood movie with ease.

The story takes place on a fictional Earth where Shinra (a megacorporation) mines the surface for Mako, a form of magical energy.

However, the excessive mining of Mako is slowly rotting the world from the inside. Therefore, a group of Rebels (the Resistance) comprising Cloud (the main protagonist), Syd, Tifa, and more have decided to take up arms.

While the premise is simple, what starts as a simple resistance movement evolves into a fight to save Earth. This happens alongside Cloud trying to regain his lost memories while trying to find his connection to the main antagonist – Sephiroth, who many publications claim to be one of the best video game villains of all time.

Moreover, there is a scene roughly two-thirds into the game where Sephiroth brutally kills off one of your playable characters. During its time, this was considered one of the most shocking and iconic moments in video game history.

Milking Success

However, the unprecedented success of this game has led to the “success milking” strategy in the gaming industry. Therefore, if a video game becomes super successful, the publishers will start milking the game for more revenue.

Here, developers create spin-off games, multiple ports, remakes, anime, movies, and related media to keep the fanbase hooked on the game’s world for years and raking in millions.

This is like how Todd Howard (Director of Bethesda Games) milks The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, one of the greatest RPG games. This game was re-released multiple times, influencing the fan base to keep buying the same game repeatedly for marginal upgrades – which they are happy to do!

Trivia: I highly recommend playing Final Fantasy: Crisis Core for the PSP. It expands upon the character of Zack, who plays an important role in the game and serves as its prequel.

Final Fantasy VIII

Release Date(s)February 1999 (PS1)
PlatformsPS1, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Xbox One, PS4, Android, iOS

From Final Fantasy VI onwards, it has become apparent that director Hironobu Sakaguchi wanted to tell bigger and more ambitious stories. FF VII was bigger and bolder than FF VI in terms of everything. However, Square felt that the game was a bit too dark.

Therefore, Final Fantasy VIII was the opposite, harkening back to its vivid fantasy roots. It had lush locales and colorful characters. This was the opposite of what I saw in FF VII, which had more dread and gloom in its world and the eyes of its characters.

The Final Fantasy 8 story follows Squall Leonhart and his mercenary group getting involved in a high-stakes mission to take down the tyrannical sorceress Edea Kramer, who usurped the throne of a powerful military state. I found the story well-written and executed, with elements of time travel also thrown in the mix.

Revamped Spellcasting And Summons

The biggest change in Final Fantasy VIII was in its gameplay. The traditional JRPG combat system lets you use mana points to cast spells, summon creatures, and heal allies. Eventually, you will run out of mana points and cannot cast spells the longer the battle continues.

However, Final Fantasy 8 completely removes mana points. Instead, there was a new command called Draw. This lets you draw Magic Cards from enemies, acting as depletable resources. Moreover, you can stack Magic Cards up to 100 cards per spell. Additionally, each playable character has 32 different spells to draw.

Furthermore, FF VIII focuses more on summonable creatures. While most games let you summon creatures as allies, here you equip them. Doing so affects your character’s stats, letting them use unique battle commands.

A Change In Experience

But the biggest change was its EXP level-up system. Most RPG games strengthen your character by defeating enemies and gaining EXP levels. Here, the amount of EXP you need for the next level increases every time you level up.

Moreover, enemies give the same EXP point when defeated, letting you kill specific enemies repeatedly and effectively “farm” EXP points.  Your enemies also have the same stats and power throughout

However, in Final Fantasy 8, the characters level up after gaining 1000 EXP points, which doesn’t increase per level gained. Additionally, enemies become stronger according to your level. Therefore, even the weakest enemies at the start of the game will become stronger and give more EXP as well!

This system of the same enemy getting stronger over time is known as Level Scaling. This was soon imbibed by the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games a decade after Final Fantasy VIII. Even The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has this as an optional setting that you can turn on!

Trivia: The kiss between Squall and Rinoa at the end is dubbed as one of the most iconic and romantic Final Fantasy moments.

Final Fantasy IX

Release Date(s)July 2000 (PS1)
PlatformsPS1, Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Android, iOS

Final Fantasy IX harkens back to the roots of the Final Fantasy series. While VI, VII, and VIII show us a steampunk world where sci-fi technology meets a medieval world, IX goes back to the tradition of a medieval world full of monsters, might, and magic.

Final Fantasy 9 follows the story of the thief Zidane, who gets the task of kidnapping Princess Garbet of Alexandria. However, after he kidnaps the princess, various events unfold, resulting in Zidane and his party squaring off with the evil Queen Brahne, who starts a world war.

Less Innovation, More Polish

Regarding gameplay and world-building, Mr. Sakaguchi pulls no creative strings here. This is Final Fantasy at its roots, laid bare in its truest form. We see the traditional FF gameplay set by Final Fantasy IV return, ditching the complexity of Final Fantasy VIII.

Real-Time Events

However, the only innovative aspect that IX introduces is storytelling and exploration. We now have Active Time Events (ATE), where NPCs (non-playable characters) take actions themselves, like arguing or fighting amongst themselves.

While these events happen, your party can watch them, which helps you learn more about the world and its people. However, if you ignore these missable real-time events, you might not get to see and learn a lot about its world.

This concept was later taken by other modern RPGs like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Here, many optional story beats were centered around such events.

For example, while wandering the woods, you might see a thief mugging a farmer. You may decide to help the farmer or the thief, each having different consequences. However, you can completely ignore this event, resulting in the thief killing the farmer and fleeing.

Such random events amongst NPCs help make the video game world livelier and more lived in. This was also expanded to great depths by Stardew Valley, where every NPC has its fixed routine. You won’t see the same NPC in the same place repeatedly.

Trivia: Game director Hironobu Sakaguchi considers Final Fantasy IX to be his favorite Final Fantasy game.

Final Fantasy X

Release Date(s)July 2001 (PS2)
PlatformsPS2, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Windows, Switch, Xbox One (HD-Remaster)

Final Fantasy X was another evolutionary step for the series – and the whole gaming industry. There are many reasons for this.

The story centers around Tidus, a Blitzball player from Zanarkand. When his city was attacked by a mysterious beast called Sin, he was “isekai’d” to the world of Spira, where this game takes place. Here, he meets Yuna, a mage, and her group, and he decides to become her guardian and fulfill her pilgrimage to defeat Sin.

Revolutionary 3D Graphics And Animations

Being the first Final Fantasy game released for the newly released PlayStation 2, the graphics are fully in 3D. It ditches the pre-rendered backgrounds of the PS1 entries for a fully realized 3D world. At its release, it had the best graphics in any video game – and voice acting (first time).

However, it was in its open world that we saw the higher graphical power of the PS2 put into good use. The previous Final Fantasy games had an overworld map with miniature icons of towns and dungeons, which you can click to enter.

Final Fantasy 10 ditches this for a seamlessly explorable 3D open world like modern games. This was one of the first games to set new standards by creating a freely explorable 3D open world.

Its open-world structure soon became an industry norm, replicated by future games like Grand Theft Auto III, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Dark Souls, Elden Ring, and every other open-world game you can think of! Therefore, Final Fantasy X single-handedly revolutionized 3D open-world exploration in gaming.

However, this isn’t the only thing FF X revolutionized in gaming. It’s also the first game to use motion capture for character animations.

This helped the team create realistic facial animations and body movements since a real actor did them. Soon, this became an industry norm since all AAA 3D games started to use it for character animations.

New Combat System

Another major change was its combat. FF X ditches the flawless ATB battle system the series had followed since FF IV.

Instead, we get a more tactical battle system called Conditional Turn-Based Battle (CTB). Here, you can pre-set all the moves your party will carry out individually. Moreover, you can see whose turn comes next, including when the enemy will attack.

CTB removes the waiting time and natural flow of combat that the ATB system provides. In addition, you can now swap your party members in the middle of a fight! Therefore, if you think you have the wrong three-member party for the fight, you can easily change it while battling. Technically, you can now use all characters while battling.

Moreover, we see an overhaul of the summoning system. Unlike the previous entries, where your summons attack once and leave, your summons here replaces your entire party. Therefore, it battles on behalf of your team until it gets defeated, gets dismissed by you, or wins.

Changing Spheres For Unparalleled Customizability

Have you played a game called Path of Exile? If you did, you would remember its super complicated skill tree, presented as interconnected grids.  This grid-like skill tree was first introduced in Final Fantasy X.

For the first time in the series, you can completely revamp the builds of characters. For example, Yuna is a mage adept at casting healing magic. Moreover, the grid system allows you to turn her into an assassin or even a warrior if you wish to. This form of build customization has never been seen before in this series.

However, I was never fond of this system. While on paper it’s cool, I felt that it’s unnecessarily complicated in presentation.

Trivia: This game has a standalone sequel called Final Fantasy X-2, where Yuna is the main protagonist.

Final Fantasy XI

Release Date(s)May 2002 (PS2)
PlatformsPS2, Windows, Xbox 360

When I said that Final Fantasy as a series has been revolutionary in the gaming industry, I was referring to Final Fantasy I to X. For me, the “final fantasy” was Final Fantasy X. I believe the series went completely downhill from Final Fantasy XI onwards.

The biggest reason for this might be the departure of producer and director Hironobu Sakaguchi. He was paramount in giving the first nine games their evolutionary direction. He was Final Fantasy.

Therefore, Final Fantasy XI was not a traditional single-player JRPG game, unlike its predecessors. Instead, it’s an MMORPG game like World of Warcraft and Old School Runescape. Therefore, this game focuses heavily on online multiplayer – a first for the series.

A Story Not Worth Telling

Moreover, unlike its predecessors, you get to create your character. I didn’t feel like playing Final Fantasy when I last played this game. It just felt like something else entirely.

I love Final Fantasy and other JRPG games for their amazing storylines. Since this game has no proper character, it doesn’t follow a set story.

The game takes place in Valisthea, a continent divided into different nations. You are a soldier in one of the nations of your choice, doing quests for them and winning a war of the worlds. I never felt invested in the story and its uninteresting NPCs at all.

A Different World

Unlike previous titles, Final Fantasy XI did not have battles on a different screen. Instead, all battles take place in real time.

This was a good step in the right direction in game design since you can now move around while batting. After FF XI, all the games in this series feature this. The constant bombardment of random encounters with monsters finally ended.

Therefore, you get to choose who to fight and when to fight. This exploration and combat initiation design was introduced in Pokémon years later when Pokémon X and Y came out in 2013 (a decade later!) However, another SNES-era Square Enix masterpiece – Chrono Trigger – did this way earlier.

Moreover, it ditches the turn-based combat for straight-up action. This is because you only control one character – the one you create.

However, while I liked this change, I felt it was not what Final Fantasy was meant to be. This series is best enjoyed as a single-player character-focused adventure where you and your team work together strategically to overcome all odds.

There were no heroes, teammates, or a set story – I got bored after some time and stopped playing this game. I didn’t enjoy it at all.

However, I do respect Square Enix to try out something different. It has then been fifteen years since the series first started! The only good thing about this game is its graphics. Everything looked amazing – the best in Final Fantasy until then.

And it Still Made Millions

After the success of Warcraft, the MMORPG boom started. Final Fantasy XI was one of its earliest adopters. In 2024, game developers and publishers are promoting gaming as a live service more than single-player experiences since it makes more money.

However, even if FF 11 was mediocre, it still attracted thousands of players and made millions in revenue. While FF XI did not create this trend, this was the first sign that it was trying to chase trends.

Trivia: The subscription to play this game has remained the same since its release - $11.95.

Final Fantasy XII

Release Date(s)March 2006 (PS2)
PlatformsPS2, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Windows

While I did say that Final Fantasy X was the last great Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy XII comes close to joining the list. Released four years after FF XI (the longest development period so far), this game ditches the MMORPG formula for a single-player experience (good grief).

Good Story, Bland Characters

The story occurs in Ivalice, where two of its biggest kingdoms – Archadia and Roazarria – are at war. However, Archadia gets caught up in the smaller kingdom of Dalmasca and annexes it.

The story follows Vaan, a young adventurer who dreams of being a “sky pirate.” He soon encounters Ashe, the widowed princess of Dalmaca, who wishes to regain her kingdom from Archadia. They start a resistance movement to drive Archadia out of Dalmasca.

Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, FF XII’s storyline was one of the most complicated. Moreover, while it has fantasy elements, the storyline has more political intrigue, which makes it complex. This was due to the involvement of Final Fantasy Tactics (a spin-off game) director Yasumi Matsuno.

However, while the story is good, the characters remain uninteresting. Vaan did not appeal to me as a good protagonist. Moreover, even the side characters and your teammates were bland as well. Furthermore, the main villain – Vayne – was not threatening in any way, making him lesser than Kefka and Sephiroth.

Active Dimension Battle: The Only Saving Grace

One of the best innovations of FF XII was its combat system. It perfected real-time turn-based combat, which was later adopted by many other RPG games.

Firstly, it continues the best of FF XI – no random encounters and battles taking place in the overworld. This was a good change since it made everything more immersive and action-packed.

The Active Dimension Battle (ADB) upgrades the CTB system from FF X. You can freely control the movement of Vaan in battle while the AI controls the other party members. Moreover, you can swap party characters mid-battle.

However, the biggest change came in the form of the Gambit System. I believe this was revolutionary for JRPGs since it allows automated attacks.

Therefore, you can assign certain actions that your party members will carry out automatically during the battle. For example, you can have your healer automatically heal allies once their HP falls below a certain percentage.

License Please!

Final Fantasy XII brought forth another change – the License Board. This allows you to customize your characters’ in-battle actions and skills, allowing them to use unique attacks based on their licenses.

While it sounds great, it makes the entire system more tedious and complicated. While it gives each party member unique customizable skills, it makes your entire party more role-oriented.

However, many RPG games later implemented it in a simplified format. This includes critically acclaimed RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins (2009)and Pillars of Eternity II (2018). Even modern JRPGs like Astria Ascending (2021) also use this system!

Trivia: Like FF X, this game has a standalone sequel called Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings on the Nintendo DS.

Final Fantasy XIII

Release Date(s)2010 (PS3, Xbox 360)
PlatformsPS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One X, Windows

Many critics and gamers say Final Fantasy XIII was the last “Final Fantasy” game. Unlike all Final Fantasy games before it (barring FF XI), we see Final Fantasy XIII take one step ahead (graphically) – and many steps back.

Two Steps Back – The Story And Its World

Final Fantasy XIII takes place in the floating futuristic sci-fi world of Cocoon. Its government – the Sanctum – wants to conduct a genocide of all civilians who met Pulse – the civilians of the world below.

The story follows former Sanctum soldier Lightning as she goes against the Sanctum to save her sister – enslaved by a mysterious entity from the Pulse – from getting butchered by the Sanctum.

When I finished this game – I was taken aback by how overtly complex and bad the story is. By the end, there were too many plot holes in the story.

Moreover, a bland protagonist like Lightning with an even blander cast of party members made the game a snooze for me. Furthermore, the antagonist – Barthandelus – only appears in a few scenes throughout the game and has no impact as a character.

However, I believe the world of Pulse and Cocoon is the main drawback here. It doesn’t feel like a “Final Fantasy” world – which is best set during medieval times. It’s too futuristic and sci-fi for Fantasy to take place.

Moreover, there is too much lore about the world, with all the various terminology appearing bizarre and forgettable. I mean, who remembers terms like fal’Cie, l’Cie, and Cie’th?

The biggest drawback here was the linearity of the game. There are no open worlds to explore as you progress through the game. It’s just one corridor after another. This was a major step back over the freedom of exploration previous FF games had.

Another Step Back – The Gameplay

One of the better (or worse) changes Final Fantasy XIII brought was its combat. Instead of using CTB (FF X) or ADB (FF XII), FF XIII returns to using the original ATB system. However, this time, we got new changes in the form of Paradigm Shifts.

Here, instead of controlling all our character’s actions at every turn, you only control Lightning. I believe this was a major step back for the series, as the sense of accomplishment you gain from defeating a tough foe but tactically using your team is nowhere to be found here.

You can now assign Lightning several commands simultaneously (up to a maximum of six) per ATB gauge. Therefore, lightning can attack multiple times before her ATB gauge runs out, and she must wait for it to recharge.

Moreover, you can assign your AI party members six jobs or Paradigms – which you can change anytime outside combat. Therefore, your party members will automatically carry out actions depending on the Paradigm you have set for them. While the combat does feel fast, it mostly feels clunky.

As you can see, Final Fantasy XIII failed to live up to its potential compared to the legacy of the previous games. It brought nothing new, regressed to old features, and removed open-world exploration. This was the first sign of Final Fantasy’s downfall as a trend-setting RPG series.

Trivia: This game has two sequels – Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Both these games are as bad as FF XIII is.

Final Fantasy XIV Online/A Realm Reborn

Release Date(s)September 2010 (Original), August 2013 (A Realm Reborn)
PlatformsPS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows, macOS

As I said, Final Fantasy XIII was the first sign of Final Fantasy’s downfall. However, its biggest downfall came in Final Fantasy XIV – a bad and broken game that was released a few years later in a different light.

A Sequel To One Of The Most Forgettable Final Fantasy Games

Final Fantasy XI was a huge disappointment for Square Enix as an MMORPG title. They made the right choice by returning to being a single-player adventure with FF XII. However, they seem too adamant about creating another Final Fantasy MMORPG to earn more. This is why they released FF XIV Online.

Staying true to the mechanics and concepts introduced by FF XI, this was a bomb. It remained the same as FF XI, minus better graphics and a few improvements.

I won’t detail how bad everything about this game is. The combat, exploration, unfinished story, lack of memorable characters, poor optimization, …… and the list goes on.

Moreover, In the Final Fantasy XIV GameSpot review, the reviewer said: “Final Fantasy XIV is a notable entry to the genre but only for what it lacks.”

A Realm Reborn – But Not The Fantasy

Director Naoki Yoshida was adamant about reverting his mistakes with FF XIV. Therefore, three years later, Square Enix shut down all FF XIV servers and decided to release A Realm Reborn as its replacement.

This time – the result was a far better experience. Good graphics, decent combat, a largely forgettable storyline, and better multiplayer co-op experiences made this game somehow get many new players.

Moreover, with yearly expansions, it has released new features and systems that make it a robust MMORPG, like Word of Warcraft.

A Realm Reborn is a solid MMOROG that thousands of players still play. However, it’s still not the Final Fantasy experience that we enjoyed back in the day. There was no real innovation, and I believe this was simply a cash grab since it’s a paid MMORPG that many players still pay to play now.

With this game in hand, I thought: Will we get another Final Fantasy game? Or is the Fantasy over for all of us?

Trivia: A Realm Reborn has been successful so far, with many publications calling it “one of the best redemption arcs” in game development!

Final Fantasy XV

Release Date(s)November 2016
PlatformsPS4, Xbox One, Windows

Finally, a single-player Final Fantasy game! I thought I would never get to see this day! But wait a second – what is this? Is this an action RPG game that ditches the tactical turn-based battle the series perfected for decades?

Final Fantasy: Brotherhood

The game takes place in the world of Eos, which is very similar to our reality. It has big urban cities, skyscrapers, sports cars, and McDonald ‘s-like burger joints. As the developers call it, it’s “fantasy mixed with reality.”

The world is divided into two empires – Lucis and Niflheim. Moreover, all magical energy stems from the magical Crystal – guarded by Lucis’ royal family.

One day, amidst peace negotiations between Lucis and Niflheim, the latter attacked, killing Lucis’ king and stealing the crystal. This prompts Prince Noctis to go on a quest to retrieve the crystal and become the True King – prophesized to save the world from eternal darkness.

Looking at the gist of it, this seems like a typical Final Fantasy story, which it is. However, by the end of the game, I was disappointed by the plot progression. There were too many plot holes, with the game’s final act being as linear as Final Fantasy XIII.

However, its only saving grace was the four playable characters. Noctis, Prompto, Gladiolus, and Ignis. Unlike most previous FF games, FF XV only had these four playable characters available from the start.

By the end of the game, I felt like I had gone on a road trip with four brothers, sharing a bond stronger than blood. All the banter, interactions, and hardships they overcame left me with joy. I hope the Noctis-only third act did something better.

Less Tactics, More Action

Final Fantasy XV was a complete departure from the series regarding combat. Instead of turn-based combat, we get a full course of Y’s Seven– team-based hack n’ slash. Gone are the days of strategic turn-based battles. Now, you simply smash a few buttons, and that’s it.

Now, that’s not a bad thing at all. I enjoyed playing Final Fantasy XV from start to finish. It’s a great action-packed game with a decent story and amazing graphics. However, it’s not what I expected from a Final Fantasy game.

Final Fantasy XV proved that the series no longer were trendsetters – they have become trendchasers now. With the increasing popularity of action games over typical turn-based JRPGs, the series played it safe by trying what it’s not supposed to be – a typical action RPG game.

Final Fantasy XVI

Release Date(s)July 2023

Final Fantasy XVI is the latest entry in the series – and is the least Final Fantasy game. After playing this game a month ago, I had one question: Is this even a Final Fantasy game?

Dark Fantasy Naruto

Final Fantasy XVI occurs in Valisthea, where a war between nations is ongoing. Here, the main forces of power are various Eikons – mystical beings of immense power controlled by a Dominant. The country that controls the most Eikons and Dominants gets to turn the tide of war in their favor.

However, a plague called the Blight started spreading across the nations. Clive Rosefield, the elder prince of Rosaria, is tasked with protecting his younger brother Joshua – the Dominant of the Pheonix Eikon.

However, Joshua gets killed by another Eikon called Ifrit. This sets the revenge story in motion as Clive travels to find the murderer while uncovering many secrets about this world and himself.

It’s inspired by one of the most popular anime of all time – Naruto. Simply replace the eikons with tailed beats, Dominants as the Jinchuriki, and introduce the five elemental nations – you get Naruto!

Even though the story is more mature and darker than any Final Fantasy game before, it’s a good one, just not fantastic. It has awesome story beats and a satisfactory ending, which made me enjoy it till the end.

No Party

One of the major changes that Final Fantasy XV dared to undertake was its combat. Like Final Fantasy XV, it’s an action RPG game, ditching the Final Fantasy-like turn-based JRPG combat.

Regarding the combat, I believe that the game did a fabulous job. The hack n’ slash combat is weighty and visceral. In addition, the ability to use many magical skills and abilities makes it look fantastic. I have never seen any game that has such an impressive-looking combat! It’s colorful, it’s dynamic, it’s awesome!

However, there is one reason why I believe this doesn’t even come close to being a mainline Final Fantasy game – the lack of a party of other warriors to fight by your side. For the first time in Final Fantasy’s 35 years of legacy – there is only one playable character with a large skill tree – Clive. Therefore, the combat and gameplay are like other action RPGs, such as Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or Star Wars: Jedi Survivor.

The tactical team-based combat was one of the Final Fantasy game’s most easily identifiable factors. Completely removing it removed the very heart of what made a Final Fantasy game. While FF XV has similar action-RPG combat, you have a team of four impressively fleshed-out characters to carry the story forward.

When I finished this game, I was surprised it didn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game. I believe Square Enix tried to make this game more like Witcher 3 – one of the last decade’s greatest and most influential action RPGs.

Therefore, Final Fantasy XVI tries to follow modern gaming trends set by other games. It doesn’t try anything innovative of its own. I would have had a more favorable reception of this game if it didn’t have Final Fantasy in its title.

Conclusion: A Fantastic Fall From Grace

Modern Final Fantasy games don’t even feel like Final Fantasy games. Gone are the turn-based tactical combat in favor of straight-up numbskull action. The series is now busy trying to emulate what other games are doing instead of carving out a path of their own. As a gamer, I am not positive about the series’ direction. I wish they could rewind the time to stick true to their roots and give us a Final Fantasy game, not another Witcher 3 clone. It seems Final Fantasy suffers from the same syndrome Assassin’s Creed suffers from.

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Debamalya Mukherjee

Debamalya is a professional content writer from Kolkata, India. Constantly improving himself in this industry for more than three years, he has amassed immense knowledge regarding his niches of writing tech and gaming articles. He loves spending time with his cats, along with playing every new PC action game as soon as possible.

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      Debamalya Mukherjee

      Debamalya Mukherjee

      Debamalya is a professional content writer from Kolkata, India. Constantly improving himself in this industry for more than three years, he has amassed immense knowledge regarding his niches of writing tech and gaming articles. He loves spending time with his cats, along with playing every new PC action game as soon as possible.

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