More Thoughts on Final Fantasy

Yesterday, we started our look at the Final Fantasy series and how it affected us and our hobby by looking at what came before.  Today, we’re going to continue the discussion by taking a look at the inception of the series itself.

Hironobu Sakaguchi is the undisputed father of Final Fantasy, as mentioned way back in our Tuesday Top Ten for movies based on video games.  Then-head of Squaresoft (at the time a company starting to flounder in the market), he decided to pull up his trousers and make something like Dragon Warrior only hopefully more awesome—and save his company in the process.

Now, the question every gamer new to the series has is, “…Final Fantasy?  But aren’t there, like, a million of them?”  That’s a fair question, however it’s not one that’s easily answered.  Every look into the history of the franchise has a different answer for why it was named what it was.  I.G.N.’s look back says that it was Sakaguchi’s “final fantasy” in that if it didn’t sell well, he was going to retire.  Squarehaven‘s look at the man himself says it was more a joint decision, if for similar reasons, between Sakaguchi and his then-partner Masafumi Miyamoto.  Until recently, a third idea was propagated that said it might have been the “final fantasy” of Squaresoft itself, though that one has fallen by the wayside.

Any way you slice it, it was going to be someone’s or something’s final fantasy (most likely both Sakaguchi’s and Miyamoto’s together), so that’s what they decided to name their possibly-if-not-probably last title.  It was something between paying respects to the hobby that was then still in its infancy, to the gamers who had financially helped Squaresoft, and perhaps a little bit to themselves.  It wasn’t easy to make video games back then, when even television as a medium was still barely starting to gain respect, so making video games was at times seen as even worse.

Obviously, though, it was no one’s final anything.

Now, that’s not to say the first Final Fantasy was much of a mold-breaker.  It took a lot of what had been done before and tweaked it—sometimes barely even doing that much.

On the other hand, it did provide something the first Dragon Warrior didn’t—an entire party.  In Dragon Warrior you controlled just one character, with the appropriate enough default name of simply “Hero”.  In Final Fantasy you had a group to throw at enemies, including “Fighter”, “Monk”, “Black Mage”, and more.  The ability to actually have a group of people specialized to certain tasks opened up a host of strategic possibilities, making Final Fantasy that much of a “deeper” game.

The plot was a bit—odd—in Final Fantasy, particularly the culmination.  I’m giving a light “spoiler warning”, here, so if you don’t want to know skip this and the next paragraphs—but come on.  It was released almost twenty-five years ago.  Anyway, as the world is in the middle of almost literally going to hell, the band of heroes travel hither, thither, and yon, slaying monsters, yadda yadda, and the Four Warriors of Light discover a time paradox had created the problems in the first place, so they put a stop to it, and by the end of it no one—including them—knows it ever happened in the first place, effectively making it all just a dream.

On the other hand, it was one of, if not, the first games to use that as a way to wrap up a story; this was before such a thing had become as trite as we now generally see it, remember (and while it was made most infamous on the then-smash-hit television show Dallas, I dare say you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who both played through Final Fantasy as well as watched Dallas with interest).

As mentioned before, it might have been the last game Sakaguchi and Miyamoto ever released, so they put their all into it.  Looking back, one can see how it was a gamble; R.P.G.s as a genre was barely really starting to coalesce in the video game world, even in Squaresoft’s (and Enix’s, for that matter) home of Japan.

So they had an interesting plot, music by the man every Final Fantasy series gamer worth their chocobo knows, Nobuo Uematsu, characters designed by the iconic Yoshitaka Amano, and more.  Dragon Warrior had been a smash in Japan (it hadn’t yet been released in North America), so it was time to see if Final Fantasy could do the same.

Obviously, it did.

To be fair, it was almost a success in spite of itself.  It had plenty of things going against it—Dragon Warrior II had come out and was well-received by Japanese gamers, and the first Phantasy Star had proven to be strong competition. Naturally, thoughts turned to making a sequel.  Final Fantasy II, debuting ahead of Phantasy Star II by only a few months, would see the introduction of a few elements that would soon become part and parcel of the brand, including the unholy amalgamation of an ostrich and a parrot, the chocobo, as well as Cid.  It also ditched the predecessor’s experience point-based system in favor of a system where skills increase based on usage (for example, someone who smacks a lot of things with a sword gets better at using a sword; someone who casts a lot of magic gets better at using magic, and so on).

In a momentary digression, let me say that whatever good can (and, dare we say, must) be said about the Phantasy Star series, the fact that its second game came out months after the second Final Fantasy game was the turning point.  It would forever be relegated to a near-“underground” status, always standing in the shadows of its spiritual “big brothers”.  It is, then, at this point in the discussion that we bid Phantasy Star adieu, for while Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy would continue to butt heads, that was a fight Phantasy Star just couldn’t keep up with.

Getting back to the second Final Fantasy game, to attempt to be succinct, the story concerned four young adventurers who try to save the world after an evil emperor summons monsters from hell itself.  By the end (spoiler warning again) the emperor is defeated, though there are hints at having to deal with the aftermath.  One party member (everyone has a default name of something more than just their class, this time around) even leaves the group, unsure of his future.

This, too, was a smash hit, as Enix’s Dragon Warrior II had been a year before.  The next few years would see more sequels and, finally, translations/ports to the rest of the world—but we’ll discuss that further Monday.

See you all then!


One Response to “More Thoughts on Final Fantasy

  1. […] here: More Thoughts on Final Fantasy « Retro-Ish Gaming Critic This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged and-our, continue-the, […]

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