It’s a big year for the Final Fantasy franchise! 30 amazing years, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Since its debut in 1987, Final Fantasy has continually set the bar for RPGs and storytelling over a multitude of games. With currently over 40 titles spanning all of the major console systems, AND many mobile platforms, Final Fantasy is a force to be reckoned with.
It’s success comes from the level of heart and detail put into each game.
As most of the games are not connected, each entry starts as a clean slate. A chance to build and craft a whole new world with it’s own vast lore and mythology. Although the story differs from game to game, world to world, it has recurring elements that repeat throughout it’s history. Different characters and story elements reappear in the games, in different variations. Names and classes. Weapons and creatures. Themes centering around crystals are pervasive in the series, in fact, one could say that they all share the same universe, and are just different facets of the same crystal.
Reflections of itself in a different order.
The franchise has garnered the respect and adoration of countless fans around the world. It has gone beyond it’s original medium and into the world of cross-marketing. Toys, movies, clothing, cosplay and even food!
Rumored to have been named “Final Fantasy” because it was potentially creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s last attempt to create a hit game, the first entry was a major success. Taking inspiration from other game franchises at the time such as Ultima, Wizardry and even the table-top Dungeons & Dragons, Sakaguchi and team created a story both familiar and unique. Centering around the 4 “Heroes of Light”, they would bring balance by restoring the light of four elemental crystals. Fire, Air, Earth and Water. In doing so they would banish the darkness that was consuming their world. A very simple story, but one that established a foundation for the series, and introduced many of the elements that still survive in the franchise today.
Released in Japan in 1987, it wouldn’t hit American shores till 1990.
Also established in the very beginning was the importance of the musical score and artwork incorporated into these games.
Nobuo Uematsu joined Square in 1985 and would craft the music for this first title, and would remain on the series until 2004. Over his almost 20 years with Final Fantasy he has almost single handedly been responsible for the amazing music heard while playing, and some of the largest soundtracks in gaming history.
As for the look and feel of the series, and it’s continuity of style, is mostly due to artist Yoshitaka Amano. Even though he stepped down as lead designer in 1994, he has remained on for the title art, which makes for a great stretch of cover artwork from beginning to now. His art is still used to influence current styles, much the way that Ralph McQuarrie’s work is still used to inspire the Star Wars universe.
The next installments would only be released in Japan, on their NES counterpart; Famicom. It wasn’t until Final Fantasy IV that America would get another. Titled Final Fantasy IV, it sold under Final Fantasy II stateside. Along with Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan), these two became the most popular in this era. In these early years, crystals and their role in sustaining life for their respective worlds was solidified. Favorites such as Chocobos, Moogles and airships also sprung from these first games. By Final Fantasy VI, technology would also be shown to coexist with the more traditional RPG concepts like magic and swords.
The real game changer was with the release of Final Fantasy VII. By far the most memorable amongst fans, it produced the most iconic characters of the franchise to date. Not to mention an amazing story involving cataclysm, cloning experiments and a resistance out to restore their planet. It is still lauded as one of the most popular games today, and not just within its own series. VII would go on to produce multiple spin-offs, which was unique for a time, the games usually opted for the one and done approach on these stories.
Final Fantasy VIII and IX would build off of VII’s massive success on the Playstation before releasing Final Fantasy X on the Playstation 2. X would introduce voice acting into the series, along with fully 3D environments, a new battling system and a modern leveling system.
In 2002, the series would join the world of MMORPGs. In Final Fantasy XI, players roamed the world of Vana’diel, and because of it’s popularity in franchise and out, would do so until 2015 as more expansions were released.
The last for the PS2, Final Fantasy XII, introduced a controllable camera and an open world.
Fabula Nova Crystallis
Bring on lucky number XIII.
Final Fantasy XIII was released on Playstation 3 in 2009, and for the first time in its history released on a competing console; the Xbox 360.
Aside from updates on technology, the series would unveil a central female protagonist. Lightning. Lightning and crew would attempt to stop their world’s destruction from the hands of malevolent l’cie. XIII would also garner two sequals; Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Together they make up the core of the Fabula Nova Crystallis; a mythos consisting of several games with varying levels of interconnectedness.
Again dipping into the MMORPG realm, Final Fantasy XIV was released. This time, the game was a giant flop. Fan criticism and horrid reviews led to it’s cancellation while Square Enix went back to the drawing board. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the second attempt, was a return to what made their original venture great, and is still going strong today.
Last year, Final Fantasy XV debuted on PS4. There is a long and sordid history for this game. Development started in 2006, and it was originally to be part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. After years of work, the size of the game forced the company to axe it from the XIII mythology, and re-work it into the next numbered title.
After 10 years of anticipation, XV was released to great reviews. A darker story, it’s described as “a fantasy based on reality”. The story follows the protagonist Noctis and friends on an adventure/road trip to reclaim his throne.
The dust has barely settled on XV, and rumors abound as to what’s next. Hiring may have already begun for the inevitable Final Fantasy XVI!
From Cutscene To Big Screen
There have been several forays into the storytelling medium of television and movies. With the first major attempt being a complete flop.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within came out in 2001. A decent budget and some pretty good animation were not enough to make up for a lackluster story however. It was considered a box office bomb.
Thankfully it was not their last attempt.
In 2005, a film sequel to Final Fantasy VII was able to remove some of the embarrassment of Spirits Within with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. It dealt with some of the fallout from the end of VII. What happened to the city of Midgar and it’s inhabitants? A plague called “geostigma” was infecting residents, stemming from events prior to the movie. It brings back most of the characters from the game, including Aerith. Aeirth died in one of the most heart-breaking death scenes in video games, maybe of all time. Also returning was the iconic villain Sephiroth. Playing with the popular formula that made the game a success, the movie followed suit into the hearts of fans.
In the lead up to the release of Final Fantasy XV, Square and crew did it again with the incredible Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. Serving as a prequel of sorts, it set up the events that occurred just prior to the game and also overlaps it from a different point of view. The kingdom of Lucis is being overrun by the neighboring empire of Niflheim. King Regis and his elite guard, the Kingsglaive, attempt to fend off the invading force while protecting his son Noctis. The film hits it out of the park with the animation. And the voice talent includes some big names like Sean Bean, Lena Headey and Aaron Paul.
A Lasting Legacy
Not just resigned to games and film, the 30 years of Final Fantasy have produced an a massive range of other media and products. From radio dramas to novels to comics.
There have been several different animated television shows, mainly in Japan, but most are available to view here if you dig around.
Japanese culture has been responsible for producing some pretty unique items when it comes to various fandoms. Final Fantasy is no different. There have been drinkable Potions and chocolates resembling in-game items. For the 30th anniversary this year, they even released a line of high end wine and low end ramen! There have been action figures of many of the main characters from across the range of games, along with some rather high end statues and busts that are truly works of art.
The music has been such a huge part of the franchise, most of the scores for these games are available digitally or packaged together in some form of collectors edition. A rock group formed by Uematsu called The Black Mages has put out several albums and often tour playing renditions of fan favorite tracks with a heavy metal twist.
And speaking of tours, Distant Worlds is a production that is not to be missed. It’s a traveling symphony, usually with Nobuo Uematsu at the helm. A concert with music played from the games set to pictures and video to enrich the experience.
Square Enix and the team behind Final Fantasy hold their fans in very high regard. They’ve often said if there is enough demand for something, they’ll consider it. This is why several games from the past are getting a re-master, like X and XII, and VII a top to bottom remake.
Sporting a fanbase around the globe, people often gather together for the different conventions held every year.
From the official Final Fantasy XIV Festival to Kupocon, these events are opportunites for the fans to showoff costumes they’ve worked on or meet online friends face to face. It’s also a chance for fans to interact with content creators. To meet the people responsible for the years of stories and entertainment they’ve consumed.
30 years of Final Fantasy makes it one of the longest running and most popular video game franchises in the world. Here’s to another 30!
Mike Harris hails from the suburbs of Chicago and has been a fan for most of his life. Working as an industrial radiographer and raising a family with his wife take up most of his time, but there’s always room for Star Wars books and podcasts! Just looking to give back to Star Wars and the fan community, it’s been a source of fun and learning for him for so long.