There's no doubt in my mind that the RPG landscape is going through a period of transition. Since the early PC days, RPGamers have purchased the latest platforms and reaped the benefits of continually supporting their favorite long-running franchises. It's been good, but there are now fewer active series to speak of and the platforms themselves have changed in such a drastic way that many traditional RPGamers no longer feel the need to adopt. It's hard to say whether this can simply be attributed to the industry itself changing or video game publishers altering their business strategy, but one thing is clear: what few nostalgic series rear their heads in today's modern landscape are far too often marginalized in spite of their lineage.
It's a bit hard on the heart. Many of us have grown up alongside our favorite RPG franchises, and to see them now dip into mediocrity with mobile, browser, and free-to-play MMO releases can be difficult to watch. That's not to say that I feel every entry in every RPG franchise deserves a AAA release, but now what we are usually given is a subpar and lazy title with only vague ties to its namesake. You only have to look as far as the GREE network to see a few of the worst cash-ins on RPG nostalgia available.
When the Circle of Mana trademark first appeared, I and many other Mana series fans rejoiced. Secret of Mana was not only the first RPG I played as a child, but it was the game to get me into playing video games in the first place. Without this one RPG, I wouldn't have spent countless hours on this hobby and I certainly wouldn't be writing about it on a regular basis today. In retrospect, the Mana series has helped define my interests, friends, and aesthetic taste. It's been through its ups and downs, as many franchises have, but I never stopped being dedicated fan. Even during the mixed bag that was the World of Mana campaign, I remained faithful. GREE crushed that faith. Circle of Mana was a social card-based RPG which ripped off the art style of earlier Mana titles and reused the character assets of previous entries. It was a Mana game in name only.
The SaGa series has suffered a similar fate. Though I can't claim to be as big a fan of this off-beat RPG franchise as many of my RPGamer colleagues are, I can understand the distress that accompanies watching a cherished series peter off. Exactly a year ago at TGS, our Japandemonium columnist Michael Baker informed us with great regret about Emperor's SaGa. A longtime fan of SaGa, he had initially been hopeful at the news of a new entry in the series. Like Mana, SaGa too had many highs and lows, with a period of franchise hibernation ending in another GREE social card-based RPG release with reused assets and little fan consideration. You only have to read his RPGamer impression of the GREE title to get an idea of how let down he felt.
I wish I could say that only a few RPG franchises have compromised their roots to turn a quick buck, but I would be lying. Over the past three years, we've seen the free-to-play browser MMO Lords of Ultima, a half-hearted and Japan-only MMO entry in the Grandia series, a Suikoden themed slot machine, the in-app purchase infused bastardization of the Final Fantasy ATB battle system, Japan-only PSN Wizardry releases, and a third-person shooter reboot of the Front Mission franchise. Hilariously enough, several of these titles were noted in Mike Moehnke's Series Left Adrift feature for RPGamer. It's almost as if the caretakers of these cherished IPs recognized the good will that still lingered with long-time fans and decided to teabag it to turn a quick profit.
Viewing this franchise milking phenomenon in such crude terms likely won't seem eloquent to most, but that doesn't make it an inaccurate parallel. Time presses on and less-than-earnest sequels continue to populate on the horizon. A new Mana game has been trademarked this year and Capcom has even entered the fray by resurrecting the beloved Breath of Fire series after a decade-long hiatus for a mobile and PC-based online RPG as its sixth main entry. It's a little depressing. Whatever faith I had in several major RPG developers has been replaced with a sense of dread. I now sincerely dread the possibility of card-based Chrono games, mobile phone Jade Cocoons, and Might & Magic hack-and-slash titles. It may be profitable for publishers, but nothing has devalued any RPG franchise more to me than shameful sequels. For the sake of long-term franchise profits and continued fan support, I'm of the persuasion that quick cash-ins should be avoided and any sequels produced are done so true to form. Honestly, I'd much rather see a franchise die or enter prolonged hibernation than become subject to the whims of empty corporate wallets. Then again, I'm also an idealist.