Thoughts on Final Fantasy

Few other franchises can, in whatever fashion, be spawned by another then completely overtake its progenitor in the public’s mind, yet that’s exactly what the Final Fantasy franchise did.  It took its lead from Dragon Quest—initially called Dragon Warrior—and has so overshadowed its de facto ancestor that some gamers, especially the younger ones, may not even know how much Final Fantasy owes to Dragon Quest, if they’ve even heard of the latter in the first place.

Before I go further, let me assure you I’m not here to “bash” Final Fantasy.  Far from it.  I love the series, and have played most of them, and I’ve even enjoyed most of the “core” games (the numbered ones).  Its history is interesting, if somewhat murky, and it’s that history we’re here to discuss.

To understand Final Fantasy, we have to understand Dragon Quest.  At the time the first title, the simply-named Dragon Warrior, was released, there really wasn’t such a thing as an R.P.G.  Compared to today, it was an incredibly simplistic title, but compared to its peers, well—it really didn’t have any true peers.

The story was somewhat simplistic—you took control of a knight as he went off to slay monsters, rescue a princess, and stop an evil warlord from using an ancient artifact.  Standard, even trite, fare by today’s standards, but there really wasn’t anything like it at the time, especially in Japan.  Small wonder, then, it took the nation’s gamers by storm.

The full history of Dragon Quest is interesting and incredibly well worth the read, but let me say one thing: Enix Corporation (publisher of Dragon Quest long before being bought out by Squaresoft who then became Square-Enix) managed to make their title known in the United States almost against gamer wishes.

While Dragon Warrior was wowing Japanese gamers, The Legend of Zelda was wowing United States gamers.  It had puzzles, quite a lot of action, and a vast world to work through.  As Enix Corp. didn’t have international offices, it wasn’t for a good few years until American gamers even saw Dragon Warrior, but by then The Legend of Zelda had made its mark.  Gamers were simply not easily going to take such a large lateral (or, in some eyes, backward) step.  Sure, Dragon Warrior offered grand exploration and by the end of the game you became insanely powerful—but compared to the only thing it really could be compared to, The Legend of Zelda, it was incredibly slow-paced.  That it lacked Zelda‘s puzzles et al. certainly didn’t help anything.

As such, it was initially panned by American gamers, which Enix Corp. didn’t expect.  Due to that miscalculation, Enix Corp. had crates of the game just lying around, so they ended up handing away copies of the game for free with issues of Nintendo Power—and that caught gamers’ attention.

This was before developers and publishers all but pelted gamers with free games, mind you.  These days, you can’t walk three feet in some game stores without tripping over a demo or downloadable content or whatever else.  Back then, we were happy if we just got our magazines in one piece.  As such, to have an actual, honest-to-goodness, totally-real-and-legitimate game just handed to us—at a time when not many kids could afford to get a new game every time they came out—we popped that sucker in and started playing.

It was love at first level-up.

Dragon Warrior swept through American gamers almost as forcefully as it did Japan’s gamers.  Remember, when my generation were but young nerdlings, the closest many of us came were the early days of Dungeons and Dragons, where we’d sit around, chugging soda and munching Cheetos, talking about things like “THAC0“.  Naturally, those of us into Dungeons and Dragons took to Dragon Warrior quite easily.

You also had gamers who didn’t have even the remotest clue about levels and beast-slaying and so on.  They were used to stomping ambulatory mushrooms and trying to shoot that infernal laughing dog who mocked us when we didn’t hit a duck.  They took to Dragon Warrior, too, as it offered depth they hadn’t seen before.

Then you had the Legend of Zelda players.  They were used to the fast-paced action-adventure and puzzle-solving of Zelda, so were the hardest to win over—but, hey, it was free.  You might be surprised how big a selling point that was.  The point, however, is that it worked.

Naturally, with the success of Dragon Warrior and its sequel, it wouldn’t be long before other companies would want to cash in on this blossoming market.  Two competitors would rise to the challenge, and both franchises had their first game debut in the same week: Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy.  We’ll find out how that worked and just what it took to get Final Fantasy into the hands of gamers—next time.

So tune in tomorrow, friends, as we continue to ponder and discuss the R.P.G. juggernaut that is the Final Fantasy series and its affect on gamers.


2 Responses to “Thoughts on Final Fantasy

  1. Elisa Michelle Says:

    It’s interesting to see the history behind Final Fantasy. I never knew any of this.

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