The central conflict in every installment of the “Final Fantasy” series pits an assembly of characters against some evil and, sometimes, an ancient antagonist who wants to destroy the world. The stories usually begin with a sovereign state battling a rebellion comprising the game’s protagonists. The heroes are often fated to defeat the evil force dominating their world, which is what causes the main heroes to unite.

You would think that after twelve installments (and a few sequels) with essentially the same basic plot, players would begin to think it’s the same game over and over. Well, actually, it’s not.

Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, and developed and owned by SquareEnix, the series blends of science fiction and fantasy. The enterprise began with the 1987 release of “Final Fantasy” in Japan and in America three years later. Two sequels, “Final Fantasy II” (1988) and “Final Fantasy III” (1990) were also released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Subsequent titles are numbered, usually with an unrelated story. (Think of them as volumes instead of sequels.)

The series was a huge success, branching into other genres such as third-person shooter, tactical role-playing and action role-playing.

Although the series remains successful, it is beginning to lose the appeal it once enjoyed. This isn’t because of poor presentation or graphics but because the series is beginning to give players a linear story and overly simplistic combat. “Final Fantasy” used to be a challenge; now it’s a shell of its former self.

Let’s examine “Final Fantasy XIII” and “Final Fantasy XIII-2.” Both games have elements of science fiction and fantasy with a few futuristic elements, but they strip players of the freedom to veer off the principal plot. No longer can a player explore caves, abandoned villages and small towns between elements of the main quest.

Not only has the exploration component of “Final Fantasy” taken a hit, combat has become almost effortless.

“Active Time Battle” is a trademark feature of the “Final Fantasy” series. ATB essentially concerns the flow of combat. Time bars are usually located near the character’s name, and during combat the bars gradually fill up. Once the bar is full, the character can act, choosing to employ skills such as attack, magic, item and so forth.

“Final Fantasy XIII” and “Final Fantasy XIII-2” maintain the traditional ATB concept, but also incorporate a subtle amount of AI. Winning a battle in “Final Fantasy XIII” and “XIII-2” requires no strategy; at the press of a button, the character selects what attacks and skills to use. The player could go into the menu and manually select what specific skills to use, but the AI is always faster and already knows what attacks to use as well as the creature’s weakness.

The only strategy element in “Final Fantasy XIII” and “Final Fantasy XIII-2” is the Paradigm System, which allows the player to change battle strategies during combat. For example, if you’re pinned by a tough boss, you can turn the situation around by switching to a defensive position by pressing a few buttons to have two characters jointly sustain the attack, protecting the medic and restoring the party’s hit points.

Although this article may appear to be genre bashing, it isn’t. The series is fantastic, and each new installment brings something new, whether it is characters, locations or story lines. This is what fans enjoy. Sure, “Final Fantasy XIII “and “Final Fantasy XIII-2” have simplistic combat and a linear plot, but every “Final Fantasy” is different, which means that this is far from the final iteration of the series.