After reading a very thought provoking article on 1Up about the uphill battle Final Fantasy XIII Versus will inevitably face, I couldn't help but think about the gradual fall the series has been experiencing. One of the first games I ever felt true emotion for was Final Fantasy X, and up until XIII, I was a diehard fan of the series (I even went back to play VII, VIII, and IX and loved them all). However, after buying and beating XIII, I was left confused, frustrated, and disappointed with the franchise I loved so much, and when XIII-2 came out, I had no desire to go out and buy the sequel on launch day (I still have yet to play it).
So what happened? Why had Final Fantasy, for me, fallen from grace? Why have the new installments failed to recapture the hearts of fans? Personally, I believe it all boils down to Square's desire to appeal to the masses rather than design games for their existing fans.
It's hard to deny the huge success of Western Games especially when they not only receive great reviews but crush sales records with every release, and from a business standpoint, it makes sense that Square-Enix wants to tap into this market. Problem is acquiring new customers that play games like GTA V, Call of Duty, and Red Dead Redemption may not be the type of gamers that want the same gameplay mechanics as previous fans of Final Fantasy.
This desire to make more money by making a product that is more accessible to everyone isn't a new thing, but what I hope Square-Enix is realizing is that by going out and trying to get new customers with gameplay mechanics the producers believe fans want--more action oriented, more linear, etc--they are throwing away the elements of a Final Fantasy game that fans have come to love. Final Fantasy game are known for their open world nature, stories that are grand but also grounded in characters that we can relate to, and above all else, the designers infuse their games with that inexplicable Final Fantasy-ness that was dearly missing from FF XIII.
There is a reason that when someone walks into Comic Con they are bombarded with cosplayers dressed up as Cloud, Squall, and Sephiroth. Fans empathized with these characters, and they represent a love for games that were revolutionary for their times. However, as the 1up article points out, there's a lot riding on FF XIII Versus, and if Square-Enix tries to make a game that caters toward what they believe are the desires of Western audiences, they may lose the respect of their entire fan base forever.
Update (4/11): Just to show how far Final Fantasy has fallen, Amazon has FFXIII-2 on sale for half off right now. The game has only been out for 2 months!