I want you to stop for a second and think about your favourite entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. Why exactly did you like that game? Sure, you likely enjoyed the gameplay mechanics (or at least tolerated them), but what made the experience feel truly engrossing for you? Most people don't play Final Fantasy games because they have the best battle systems or gameplay mechanics. In fact, I find that many more conversation regarding an entry's quality are focused more on their narratives, main characters, themes, music, and overall presentation. I'd argue that very few of us come back exclusively for the gameplay. Because of this, I'd also argue that Final Fantasy XV could still be a strong series entry even if it doesn't feature command selection and other RPG elements.
When Final Fantasy XV was revealed, a number of gamers were surprised. It was apparent that many individuals had written Final Fantasy Versus XIII off as vapourware, and didn't expect the long-in-development title to ever see the light of day — certainly not as a main series entry. The news brought with it a tremendous amount of internet hype, as all major announcements do, and several notable industry spectators were quick to take the edge off this news for several of the practical reasons I listed in my previous editorial: a tremendously long development cycle, the perception of Versus XIII as being a "spin-off" or "gaiden," and a pre-existing disappointment with the Fabula Nova Crystallis chronicles. However, it was clear after the hype dust had settled that the larger story — at least in the eyes of several RPGamers — was the new action-oriented approach. I can honestly say that issues stemming from Final Fantasy XV's action-oriented approach never crossed my mind. Mostly because they're not rational.
Of the many complaints which can be levied against this yet-unreleased title, "It looks like the genre has changed to that of an Action RPG or Action title, which means that all future Final Fantasy entries will probably be as well" holds the least ground. To begin, how much footage of Final Fantasy XV have any of us seen, really? As of the posting of this editorial, there has been a 4:14 minute announcement trailer and another video featuring 3:48 minutes worth of "suggested gameplay" (which likely means that gameplay is subject to change and/or that we haven't seen all gameplay mechanics). Not even ten whole minutes of Final Fantasy XV have been shown and the many denizens of the internet have already decided that Final Fantasy XV (a) is an Action game and therefore any RPG elements will be downplayed, if present at all, and (b) will set a precedent for the rest of the Final Fantasy series. It's possible that these people will be correct on both assertions, but it's simply too early to say for certain. Not only is Final Fantasy XV clearly still in development, but it's kind of hard to make any statement on exactly what the game will be like and what kind of impact it will have before Final Fantasy XV is actually released.
But let's posit for a second that Final Fantasy XV is in fact an Action RPG or even an Action title with only a handful of RPG elements. How would that kind of change affect the entirety of this beloved RPG franchise?
Well, it's not as though this is the first time an entry has come under scrutiny for gameplay design. Final Fantasy XII had a number of detractors upon initial release for being too "MMO-like." Much like the knee-jerk response to Final Fantasy XV's announcement, people saw this gameplay shift, along with the release of Final Fantasy XI, as being a major determinant of where the franchise was "going." Interestingly enough, Final Fantasy XIII featured a return to isolated battle sequences, a lack of open-world roaming, and story-driven pacing, which then prompted numerous complaints of how the series was "going backwards." When it comes to the Final Fantasy series, there seemingly is no way to please everyone. For the most part, this can be attributed to its roots.
Change is and has always been a constant of the franchise. Any series veteran will tell you that no matter how similar a few of the games may look on the outside, each of them sport a number of variances on the inside. The distinctions are clearer in the modern entries, but the series has been subject to formulaic alterations since the beginning. In terms of presentation, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, and Final Fantasy III appear to be almost identical. However, Final Fantasy II abandons the traditional character level progression for a use-based system and Final Fantasy III focused more on a diverse job system than it did actual characters or a central narrative. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System releases also seem very similar on the outside, but each feature their own unique flavour on the inside. Final Fantasy IV was a medieval opera, Final Fantasy V focused on a more advanced job system to save the fate of two worlds, and Final Fantasy VI was an ensemble piece set in eras modern, medieval, and post-apocalyptic. The argument that a change in gameplay genre for Final Fantasy XV means a new precedent for further series entries is somewhat nonsensical, considering that Final Fantasy's main selling point is that there is no precedent.
Including direct sequels and spin-offs, the Final Fantasy franchise spans well over thirty titles. There is no way the franchise could have continued for as long as it has or become as massively popular without trying new things. Maybe you'll like those new things when you actually play Final Fantasy XV. Maybe you won't. Only time will tell. While not every new franchise entry can be made to better suit your RPG tastes, the important thing to remember is that some of them already do — and you can enjoy those fantasies whenever you wish.