Even More Thoughts on Final Fantasy

Welcome back, friends, as we continue our discussion on Final Fantasy and its impact on gaming and gamers alike.  Now, last time, we left off just as the series was gaining popularity.  The first game saved the company—or at least its founders—and proved to be wildly successful.  The franchise was still in competition with what was then still known as the Dragon Warrior franchise as well as the Phantasy Star franchise, and in those early days it was a stiff competition.

Phantasy Star, while not immediately left by the wayside, was indisputably damaged by Final Fantasy II debuting months ahead of Phantasy Star II.  Phantasy Star is possibly a better series than history might show, but in the world of video games quality isn’t the only factor in success—the games also have to get out, preferably before anyone else gets similar games out.  As such, those few months were the fork in the road; Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy took the high road, battling it out head to head, while Phantasy Star took the low road, becoming relegated almost to “underground” status.

As we said yesterday, it is at this point in the discussion, where we will talk about sequels and ports, that we must bid Phantasy Star farewell.  It’s a series that’s still running to this day, but we’re focusing on Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star could simply not put up a fight.  However, for those who wish to know more about it, I.G.N. has a nice article written about its history right over here.

With Japan’s gamers gobbling up R.P.G. titles as fast as they could be produced, it only made sense that the publishers would turn to the rest of the world and see if the games would be as successful as they were back home.  As we discussed Monday, when Dragon Quest was translated and ported to North America (where it received its new name of Dragon Warrior, incidentally), it didn’t do well.  They had to give it away for free, though when they did it took off like a rocket—but it would be a while before the rest of the world would see the adventure of Fighter and Black Mage.

In fact, it was so long until Final Fantasy reached American gamers that Phantasy Star II had already been ported over (I realize that we’d said we would have to leave Phantasy Star, but this is an important note).  R.P.G.s had basically become a set, defined genre by that time—but that didn’t stop gamers from flocking to it in droves.  It outsold the competitors by a large enough margin to ensure that if anyone at that point still believed Americans didn’t want R.P.G.s, they’d at least keep their opinions to themselves.

It was only a matter of time before they would port the rest of their sequels.

Without going into each and every game, there are a few things to note that make it clear why and how Final Fantasy pulled ahead of everyone else.  The second game started something that the series would be known for—lack of continuity.  In fact, until comparably recently, the games had next to nothing to do with each other; this contrasted (and, in a way, still does) with Dragon Quest, which essentially banks on nostalgia and familiarity.  The only elements common to the Final Fantasy games were what can almost be called “in-jokes” between Squaresoft and the gamers—the aforementioned addition of someone or something named Cid, for example.

Names, certain random N.P.C.s, and a few game-related concepts (such as getting an aircraft late in the game) were all that really connected the games, but the stories themselves were all stand-alone, as they were meant to be.  Hironobu Sakaguchi wanted the stories and the stories alone to entrance gamers.  He felt, rightly or wrongly, that saturating the market with tie-in merchandise would water down the “effect” of the games, so the merchandising of the franchise was tightly controlled.

Fast-forward to seven years ago, ‘Oh-Four (we’ll get back the earlier games, believe me).  For Final Fantasy fans, this was an important year, one which would leave a lasting, indelible impression on the franchise—not only was this the year that Squaresoft merged with Enix Corporation to form Square-Enix, this was the year that saw Hironobu Sakaguchi’s retirement from Squaresoft.  He didn’t retire from gaming as a whole, but he never again had the position of esteem and respect he had while at Squaresoft.

This can be traced to one thing—his love of cinematic storytelling.  It grew and grew as he was given more freedom in the game series, and by the time he finished Final Fantasy VIII he loved the idea of cinematic storytelling so much there was only one thing he felt he could do that might in any way be more enjoyable than helping to craft stories for games, and that was helping to craft stories for movies.

That was the worst decision he could have made, though no one—peers at Squaresoft to gamers and everyone in between—could have ever seen it coming.

Those of you who are familiar with this part of the story know what we’re going to discuss, and those who aren’t, well—come back Wednesday, when we’ll discuss the end of Sakaguchi’s reign over Squaresoft.  (Gotta love cliff-hangers, eh?)


2 Responses to “Even More Thoughts on Final Fantasy

  1. Elisa Michelle Says:

    I came into the Final Fantasy series around X and X-2, but I’ve heard enough about Sakaguchi and, of course, Nobuo Uematsu (who hasn’t heard of him or his Black Mages?). I love reading these! I get to see the almost inner workings of Final Fantasy, and I do love the series, though not all of the games.

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