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Final Fantasy

Entry updated 19 December 2017. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1987). Square. Designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi. Platforms: NES (1987); MSX (1989); WSC (2000); PS1 (2002); PSP (2007); vt Final Fantasy Origins PS1 (2002); vt Final Fantasy Mobile Phone (2004); vt Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls GBA (2004); vt Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition PSP (2007); iOS (2010).

The series that began with Final Fantasy is the most commercially successful sf-like Videogame franchise to 2012, outstripped in worldwide popularity only by the various Young Adult games based on the Mario and Pokémon properties, the Wii Sports series produced for the eponymous console, the Tetris puzzle game (see Videogames), the Grand Theft Auto sequence of underworld action games and the social simulation series beginning with The Sims (2000) (see Toy Games). It could be loosely described as the Star Wars of Videogames, both for its flamboyantly romantic tone and for its broad appeal. Members of the sequence are not, however, set in a single consistent universe. Instead, they have in common an emphasis on Anime influenced ensembles of playable characters who live in a fantasticated world, as well as a number of recurring character names and iconic creatures. Several leitmotifs also tend to reappear within the games' strongly linear stories (see Interactive Narrative), including the need for a balance to be struck between nature and technology and the hero's journey as experienced by a moody, androgynous protagonist. Within this framework, every major game – those denoted by a suffixed Roman numeral, as in Final Fantasy VII – is set in its own unique milieu, which may be shared by associated works including Videogames, Anime and written fiction. With a few exceptions, all of the Videogames are Console Role Playing Games (see Computer Role Playing Games). As is typical for members of the form, their gameplay depends on a combination of exploration, combat, character interaction and puzzle solution, typically experienced through predesigned characters whose abilities can be improved by various means. Particular characteristics of Final Fantasy's various descendants include the appearance of Psionic or magical creatures which can be summoned for assistance in battles and a tendency to experiment with the systems used to enhance characters' powers and simulate combat; many innovations introduced by the series have proved influential on other Console Role Playing Games. It is noticeable, however, that in recent years the flow of new worlds and gameplay ideas has slowed considerably, with many of the more recent entries in the franchise being derivatives of or associated with previous works; it is possible that creative exhaustion is setting in.

The original Final Fantasy is of largely historical interest today. The setting is Heroic Fantasy with some sf elements, based on a conflict between four "light warriors" and the forces of darkness. As with its predecessor Dragon Quest (1986) (see Computer Role Playing Games), the gameplay resembles that of many contemporary Western CRPGs. As in the Western games, players' actions are largely focused on turn-based combat in a two-dimensional overhead view, but with fewer options than would typically be offered in the computer games and a more strongly directed storyline. The name of the game was a reference to Sakaguchi's belief that this would probably be the last Videogame he worked on, since the developers were experiencing financial difficulties. In the event, Final Fantasy proved to be extremely popular, spawning a wide range of sequels and spinoffs sharing its designation. The first of these, Final Fantasy II (1988 Square, NES; 2001 WSC; 2007 PSP; vt Final Fantasy Origins, 2002 PS1; vt Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls, 2004 GBA; vt Final Fantasy Mobile Phone, 2005; vt Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition, 2007 PSP; 2010 iOS) designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, Akitoshi Kawazu, is similar, but with a markedly better developed (though still rudimentary) narrative. This game and its contemporary Phantasy Star (1987) first introduced the emphasis on story and characterization that has become a dominant feature of Console Role Playing Games. Final Fantasy II is also notable for its use of a mechanic which improves the abilities of characters depending on how much they are used, an approach which has often been employed in pen and paper Role Playing Games but received mixed reviews here. Final Fantasy III (1990 Square, NES; rev 2006 NDS; 2011 iOS) designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, Hiromichi Tanaka, Kazuhiko Aoki largely returned to the design of the original game, though its Heroic Fantasy storyline placed a greater degree of emphasis on characterization.

The next three Final Fantasy games continued to use two-dimensional displays, while experimenting with the gameplay and adding increasingly sophisticated character interactions and some degree of moral ambiguity. Their combat system replaced the turn-based mechanics of the earlier games with a design in which actions must be taken within a time limit, combining real time and turn-based approaches. Some confusion is created by the fact that the original US releases used a different numbering system to the Japanese versions. Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy V were not initially made available outside Japan; thus Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI were known as Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III internationally. Later releases correct this discrepancy, using the Japanese designations worldwide. Final Fantasy IV (1991 Square, SNES; 1997 PS1; 2002 WSC; vt Final Fantasy IV Advance, 2006 GBA; 2007 rev NDS; vt Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, 2011 PSP) designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, Takashi Tokita and Final Fantasy V (1992 Square, SNES; 1998 PS1; vt Final Fantasy V Advance, 2006 GBA) designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, Hiroyuki Itou are both set in pseudo-medieval fantasy worlds, though Final Fantasy IV makes much use of magical devices which are analogous to technology, including an Airship on which the characters can travel to an artificial moon. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (2008 Matrix Software [MS] / SE, Phone; 2009 Wii; vt Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, 2011 PSP) designed by Takashi Tokita is a late sequel to Final Fantasy IV, released episodically in Japan. Final Fantasy VI (1994 Square, SNES; 1999 PS1; vt Final Fantasy VI Advance 2007 GBA) designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yoshinori Kitase, Hiroyuki Ito, by contrast, is the first truly science-fictional game in the series. The setting is Science and Sorcery, with a story in which a strong cast of diverse characters attempt to overthrow an evil empire which intends to combine its existing scientific knowledge with an almost forgotten magic. Part of the way through the game the entire world is devastated; in the end it seems that it will recover, but the magic has gone away forever.

With the release of Final Fantasy VII (1997 Square, PS1; 1998 Win) designed by Yoshinori Kitase, Hironobu Sakaguchi the numbers used for Japanese and international versions were synchronized, so that this and all later entries in the series bear the same designations worldwide. Final Fantasy VII preserved much of the gameplay of Final Fantasy VI, while introducing a new, more flexible system for character improvement, but changed the main displays to employ three-dimensional views and made extensive use of Full Motion Video sequences to present its story. The game retains the Science and Sorcery approach of its predecessor, but shifts the setting to a society dominated by advanced technology fuelled by vital energies extracted from the spiritual essence of its world. Robots, hostile Aliens and Genetic Engineering coexist with biological defense mechanisms created by the planetary life force and a magically induced meteor strike; almost every character has their own personal weakness to confront and overcome. The overall effect is lushly melodramatic and curiously compelling, strongly reminiscent of such Anime films as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) or the television series Blue Gender (1999-2000). Final Fantasy VII has proved to be the most commercially successful entry in the series to date, and did much to popularize the Console Role Playing Game form outside Japan. Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII (2004 Square Enix [SE], Phone) designed by Yoshinori Kitase is a prequel, while Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (2006 SE, Phone, PS2) designed by Yoshinori Kitase, Takayoshi Nakazato is a sequel which received mixed reviews; unusually for the series, Dirge of Cerberus is a Third Person Shooter, albeit one with role-playing elements. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2007 SE, PSP) designed by Hajime Tabata is another sequel, but one presented as a Console Role Playing Game. Final Fantasy VII Snowboarding (2005 SE, Phone) is a version of a snowboarding sequence found in the original game.

Final Fantasy VIII (1999 Square, PS1; 2000 Win) designed by Yoshinori Kitase, Hironobu Sakaguchi has a similar structure to its predecessor, but takes a markedly more realistic approach to the visual design. Several changes were made to the gameplay, including the addition of an interesting and complex new mechanic for handling character abilities and some alterations to the combat system, which can unfortunately prolong battle sequences considerably. The setting again combines fantasy and sf elements, in a world resembling an alternate version of the historical 1960s in which spiritual forces appear to play a role similar to those of guardian angels; the overall effect is somewhat reminiscent of that of the film Wings of Honneamise (1987) (see Oneamisu no Tsubasa). While the main storyline sets a group of elite teenage mercenaries against an aggressive nation ruled by a time-travelling sorceress (see Time Travel), the main focus of the narrative is the affecting love story between two of the major characters. Final Fantasy IX (2000 Square, PS1) designed by Hiroyuki Ito, Hironobu Sakaguchi abandons Science and Sorcery for the Heroic Fantasy which dominated the earlier games in the series. Many details of the gameplay were also conceived as part of a deliberate attempt to recapture the spirit of such predecessors as Final Fantasy IV, though the three-dimensional displays of the later games were retained. The story concentrates on a war in a pseudo-medieval setting which makes use of limited – often magically powered – technologies. Eventually, it emerges that the entire planet is threatened by an invasion of souls from a dying world which is its analogue in a parallel dimension.

Final Fantasy X (2001 Square, PS2; 2002 rev vt Final Fantasy X International PS2) designed by Motomu Toriyama, Toshiro Tsuchida included a number of innovations. The combat model was turn-based, an approach that had not been used in the series since Final Fantasy III, another new system was introduced for describing character abilities, and Asian cultural influences figured strongly in the milieu for the first time. The game is dominated more by Sorcery than Science; it is set in a fantasy world where technology has been banned, and is employed only by a single pariah culture. The storyline focuses on attempts to defeat a monster known as Sin, created to protect a dream-like recreation of a ruined city. One of the major characters, Tidus, is a citizen of this illusory metropolis; in the end, city, Tidus and Sin must all be lost. The game succeeds in generating a genuine sense of melancholy; unusually for the series, its central love story is a doomed one, since Tidus cannot be saved. Final Fantasy X was the first member of the main series to receive a direct sequel, in the form of Final Fantasy X-2 (2003 Square, PS2; 2004 rev vt Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission PS2) designed by Yoshinori Kitase, Motomu Toriyama. This game is much more exploratory in nature than any of its predecessors, with a broadly modular plot rather than the deep linear storyline typical of Console Role Playing Games (see Interactive Narrative). While it is set in the same milieu as Final Fantasy X, it contains many more sf elements; the game world is presented as rapidly evolving from an ancient, highly spiritual civilization towards a more modern and materialist one, represented by frequent references to modern Japanese pop culture. A group of female characters must attempt to resolve the conflicts engendered by this complicated transition. The mood of Final Fantasy X-2 is far more cheerful and light-hearted than that of the first game; it is even possible to resolve its predecessor's downbeat ending by recreating Tidus.

Final Fantasy XI Online (2002 Square, PS2, Win; 2006 XB360) designed by Hiromichi Tanaka, Koichi Ishii is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, the first such work which allowed players using different types of computer hardware to participate in the same virtual world. As with Phantasy Star Online (2000) (see Phantasy Star), a library of pretranslated phrases is supplied to simplify communication between players of different nationalities and those who do not have access to a keyboard. Final Fantasy XI Online could be described as a well crafted but unexceptional MMORPG, featuring real-time combat in a Heroic Fantasy milieu; its most distinctive feature is perhaps its inclusion of such iconic Final Fantasy elements as the Chocobos, flightless birds which can be ridden in the manner of horses. There have been four expansion packs to date: Rise of the Zilart (2003 SE, PS2, Win), Chains of Promathia (2004 SE, PS2, Win), Treasures of Aht Urhgan (2006 SE, PS2, Win) and Wings of the Goddess (2007 SE, PS2, Win, XB360).

Several recent Final Fantasy games have been set in the Ivalice milieu, which echoes the Final Fantasy IV background in its depiction of magically powered technologies in a pseudo-medieval world which includes elements of Arabian Fantasy. The first game to use this setting was Final Fantasy Tactics (1997 Square, PS1; 2007 rev vt Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions PSP; 2011 iOS) designed by Yasumi Matsuno, Hiroyuki Ito, a tactical RPG which emphasizes turn-based combat (see Computer Wargames). Direct sequels to this game include Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (2003 SE, GBA) designed by Yuichi Murasawa – set in an imaginary version of Ivalice – and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (2007 SE, NDS), both of which are also tactical RPGs. Final Fantasy XII (2006 SE, PS2; 2007 rev vt Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System PS2) designed by Yasumi Matsuno, Hiroshi Minagawa, Hiroyuki Ito was the first major entry in the series to be set in the milieu. Final Fantasy XII borrows much from contemporary Western Computer Role Playing Games, most notably its real-time combat system. Arguably, the design of this game can be seen as a mirror image of that of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), which blends elements drawn from Console Role Playing Games into the Western approach to development associated with personal computers. The narrative mood also differs from that of previous Final Fantasy games, focusing more on a realistic war story than operatic drama. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (2007 SE / Think & Feel Inc, NDS) designed by Motomu Toriyama is a loose sequel, a real-time variant of a tactical RPG which deals with the exploration of a floating continent by Airship. Crystal Guardians (2008 MSF / Winds, Phone), Crystal Defenders (2008 MSF / Winds, iOS; 2009 PS3, PSP, Wii, XB360; 2010 WinPhone; 2011 Android) and Crystal Defenders: Vanguard Storm (2009 MSF / Winds, iOS) are associational turn-based strategy games.

Final Fantasy XIII (2009 SE, PS3, XB360) designed by Motomu Toriyama returns to Science and Sorcery in its depiction of a technologically advanced flying city created by angelic beings to provide humanity with a refuge from the dangerous world below. The game's protagonists become involved with the angelic "God Machines" which sustain their home, making them into undesirable elements destined to be banished by the city's theocratic government. Meanwhile, one of the characters is searching for a way to restore her sister, who was transformed into an immortal crystalline form as a result of an earlier encounter with the angels (or Gods). Ultimately, some of the game's characters must sacrifice themselves to prevent the floating city falling from the sky. The game mechanics are greatly simplified compared to those of its predecessor, with an entertaining but generally undemanding combat system, and the story is highly linear; the impression must be that a decision was taken to abandon any attempt to integrate elements drawn from the Western CRPG tradition and instead create a mass market game firmly in the Japanese style. Interestingly, Final Fantasy XIII's most important character is a woman, exemplifying the trend towards more female protagonists seen in such recent members of the series as Final Fantasy X-2. Earlier Final Fantasy games were often popular with female players, as were their strikingly beautiful male leads; the appearance of women in the majority of leading roles may be a response to this enthusiasm. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (2012 SE, PS3, XB360) designed by Motomu Toriyama is a sequel in which a small group of characters must use Time Travel to save humanity from extinction in the distant future, while rescuing the lead character of the previous game, who has been left trapped in a world outside time. There is a kind of Changewar, fought against an enemy who wants to make history immutable by destroying time; the story ends on a cliffhanger. This game's plot is markedly less linear than of its predecessor, with a strongly modular Interactive Narrative; the design is otherwise similar to that of Final Fantasy XIII, with minor improvements. Unfortunately, this additional flexibility in the story may have come at the cost of some depth of characterization; it is possible that Square Enix's designers found it difficult to combine the creation of a compelling narrative with the player's possession of (at least an illusion of) free will. Final Fantasy Type-0 (2011 SE, PSP) designed by Hajime Tabata is a vaguely associated game in which an ensemble of heroes performs missions in a fantasy setting which is only thematically linked to that of Final Fantasy XIII. To date, it has only been released in Japan.

Final Fantasy XIV Online (2010 SE, Win) designed by Naoki Yoshida is another Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, set in a different but similar fantasy world to that of Final Fantasy XI Online. Initial reviews of this work were exceptionally poor; notably, the interface was considered to be highly confusing, and the environmental narrative undeveloped, leading to a sense that inhabitants of the world were offered only an endless series of mechanically repetitive tasks to complete (see Interactive Narrative). A considerably revised version, set five years in the future of the original milieu, was released in 2013 as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (SE, PS3, Win), to much improved reviews.

Related works: A wide variety of other works are associated with the franchise. Perhaps the most significant are the various Anime series and films of which the first was Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals (1994), a sequel to Final Fantasy V. The thematically interesting and visually appealing but commercially unsuccessful Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) is a science-fictional film which shares many of the tropes of the Videogames but is not set in any of their worlds. Final Fantasy: Unlimited (2001-2002) is a Sword and Sorcery series which is also not set in any of the established milieux, but makes use of many recurring elements of the mythos. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005) is a sequel to Final Fantasy VII, while the short Last Order: Final Fantasy VII (2005) is a prequel to it.

A number of Videogames have also been released which use the Final Fantasy name but are not associated with any of the major entries in the series, typically set in magical fantasy worlds. These include the Console Role Playing Games The Final Fantasy Legend (1989 Square, GB; 2002 WSC; 2007 Phone) designed by Akitoshi Kawazu and its sequels Final Fantasy Legend II (1990 Square, GB) designed by Akitoshi Kawazu and Final Fantasy Legend III (1991 Square, GB) designed by Kouzi Ide, as well as the more action-oriented Final Fantasy Adventure (1991 Square, GB; vt Mystic Quest in Europe) designed by Koichi Ishii and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (1992 Square, SNES; vt Final Fantasy USA Mystic Quest in Japan; vt Mystic Quest Legend in Europe) designed by Kouzi Ide, Chihiro Fujioka. Final Fantasy: Unlimited (2003 Amada, Win) and Final Fantasy: Unlimited (2002 Amada, Phone) are set in the same universe as the Final Fantasy: Unlimited Anime, and have only been released in Japan. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (2009 MS / SE, NDS) designed by Takashi Tokita, Hiroaki Yabuta is another Console Role Playing Game set in a fantasy world, one which is often reminiscent of the original Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy Legends: Warriors of Light and Darkness (2010 MS / SE, Phone) designed by Toshio Akiyama and Final Fantasy Brigade (2012 SE, Phone) are generally similar, but to date have only been released in Japan. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (2012 indieszero, 3DS) has a plot related to that of Dissidia: Final Fantasy (for which see below) but is played as a "rhythm game", in which players must simulate the performance of a musical score in order to achieve victory; this work has also not been sold outside Japan.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (2003 Game Designers Studio, GC) designed by Kazuhiko Aoki is another Console Role Playing Game which began a popular spinoff series set in a world covered with a poisonous fog in which cities survive with the assistance of magical crystals. Later games in the same milieu (some of which are set before the fog descends, or after its retreat) include Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates (2007 SE, NDS) designed by Mitsuru Kamiyama, the city building simulation Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King (2008 SE, Wii) designed by Kenichiro Yuji, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time (2009 SE, NDS, Wii) designed by Mitsuru Kamiyama, the strategy game Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord (2009 SE, Wii) designed by Hiroyuki Kaneko and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (2009 SE, Wii) designed by Toshiyuki Itahana. Another sub-sequence was begun with Dissidia: Final Fantasy (2008 SE, PSP) designed by Takeshi Arakawa. Dissidia is essentially a three-dimensional fighting game (see Videogames) in which characters from various works in the main series, from the original Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy X, are recruited by the Goddess of Harmony to wage a multidimensional war against chaos; there are echoes of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion cycle. Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy (2011 SE, PSP) designed by Mitsunori Takahashi is a similarly structured prequel.

Most of the written fiction associated with Final Fantasy has not been published in English, or has not been released separately to various game compilations. One work which is internationally available is Dean Wesley Smith's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001), the novelization of the film of the same name. [NT]

see also: Triple A.


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