This is something that's been weighing on my mind since the first FFXV gameplay trailer was shown. It's a bittersweet issue for me. Saying goodbye to one of your first loves in gaming is never easy and the difficulty has been compounded by Square Enix's efforts to remain relevant and compete for your time in an era dominated by online multiplayer.
I'll start with a brief history of my relationship with the series and genre. I first got into video games when I was around 7 and my grandmother bought me a SNES as a present. I spent a lot of time mostly playing Mario games. However, it wasn't until nearly half a decade later that I stumbled upon Final Fantasy thanks to my cousins who had been playing FFVI. Not wanting to be left out of the conversation, I downloaded an emulator (tut tut, I know) and began playing; I was hooked within the first few hours. Everything about the game appealed to me; the depth of the equipment and combat system, the enormous and diverse party, the plethora of hidden stuff to find, the madman, Kefka, Nobuo Uematsu's incredible score. I could go on, but it really was the perfect jumping off point to get into JRPGs.
One of the standout moments while playing the game was reaching the zenith of the Tower of Fanatics in the World of Ruin. For whatever reason, I'd created a save state in the emulator just before you face the boss, Magimaster. If you've never played the game or chose not to do the optional dungeon, Magimaster was a heartless bastard whose special ability would keep changing his elemental weakness. To make matters worse, when you finally dropped his HP close to 0, he would cast Ultima as a parting gift, pretty much annihilating your party. Anyways, so after numerous frustrating attempts resulting in having my head handed back to me, I finally devised a strategy for my under leveled party to defeat him. Right before he died I would use the esper, Palidor, who essentially gives your entire party the dragoon's jump command, causing them to jump down one by one. After numerous attempts at getting the timing right, it finally worked! The feeling of jubilation, success, and relief will forever be etched in me. Of course, if I had read a walkthrough I'd have found out that you can make the moment leading up to him casting Ultima a lot easier simply by casting berserk on him.
After finishing FFVI, I had to sate my appetite for turn-based JRPGs and went on to devour the likes of FFIV, Chrono Trigger, and Earthbound. That was truly a magical era. One that was made possible by the technological limitations of the hardware. Sure, there were some action RPGs, like Secret of Mana, but that period was heavily dominated by turn-based games. For good reason too, when you consider the amount of stuff that was crammed into the cartridges of games like FFVI and Chrono Trigger. The 8-bit and 16-bit (mainly the latter) era were perfectly tailored for the meaty, single-player experiences found in JRPGs. This carried over to the PS1 and PS2; however, things started to change during the PS2/Xbox/GCN generation. The PS2 was the undisputed console of choice for JRPG aficionados, but the Xbox and Halo marked the beginning of a change in the gaming landscape. This was fully realized once internet adoption reached critical mass and speeds were able to handle the requirements of online multiplayer. When I think of the PS3/360/Wii generation, JRPGs don't really spring to mind; the console generation was heavily dominated by the multiple iterations of CoD, Battlefield, Halo, etc.
In addition to the technological changes, gamers' habits have changed, especially the new, younger generation. I'm going to generalize a lot here, but the generation colloquially referred to as the "ADD generation," is accustomed to faster paced experiences and instant gratification. With the advent of social media and casual gaming on phones and tablets, time is at a premium and developers are aware of this conundrum. So a faster-paced Final Fantasy that ditches the active time battle system in favor of real-time action makes sense. In retrospect, Final Fantasy XIII seems like Square Enix experimenting with this idea, but being restrained by the previous generation's technological limitations. If the FFXV gameplay demo was anything to go by, they seem to have gotten the mix between high quality visuals, an open world experience, and seamless, fast-paced battles right. Fingers crossed, obviously.
But don't let this read like an obituary for turn-based JRPGs. If anything, we've seen a renaissance over the past few years. The previous console generation had some standouts such as Lost Odyssey. Square Enix seem to have conceded their position as the posterboy of turn-based JRPGs with Final Fantasy and passed the baton on to Atlas and the Persona series. I haven't even mentioned the plethora of JRPGs found on handhelds. With the 16-bit Final Fantasies having found a spiritual successor in Bravely Default and Atlas choosing to release the long-awaited numbered Shin Megami Tensei title on the 3DS, it seems like there will always be a home for JRPGs in the palm of your hand.
However, starting with FFXII and as recently evidenced by the FFXV trailer, it looks like we can bid adieu to the turn-based numbered Final Fantasy titles of old. Here's to new experiences!