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25 Years of Final Fantasy

December 17th, 2012 by Tony Garsow

tiles

Today marks 25 years since the original Final Fantasy released on the Famicom in Japan. By now, most fans are familiar with the origin story: Square’s last hope at making a hit before they packed up their bags was met with solid success, and thus, a franchise was born. It became the unmistakable face of Square, Squaresoft, and then Square Enix. Most fans on this side of the pond weren’t along for the full 25-year ride, myself included, but everyone starts somewhere. As any fan of any Final Fantasy game knows: there are a lot of good points to jump in.

So here we are, on the cusp of 2013, getting ready for another year of new Final Fantasy announcements, reveals, and releases. This week we’ll see more of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII making a proper debut, and throughout the first part of 2013 we’ll be invested in details from the game as well as the forthcoming release of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. There’s definitely a lot to look forward to.

But, as anniversaries are, it naturally has us looking fondly to the past to compare that to our present and the future. As someone who’s been following the Final Fantasy series news for years going back to days of downloading the Square Millennium Event videos over dial-up, I have a few observations I’d like to share with you — especially ones that involve the state of the franchise lately.

One of these subjects that I see crop up in conversations is the “Final Fantasy feel” and how recent titles have lacked that feeling. What is it exactly? Who does that feeling belong to? Personally, I think this expression is a bit weak getting the underlying emotion across — so let me try to interpret it as I see it.

We’ve come to understand the Final Fantasy series as one that changes with each major iteration while keeping a specific formula — that core “feel”. Do you get this feeling by sticking in a world map or a mascot characters? Do you get this feeling from having a specific person direct or score the title?

Perhaps. But I think that’s a small part of it.

All of the elements of Final Fantasy titles: story, music, combat, art style — they are key to its execution and success which isn’t dissimilar to any other beloved video game series. But, what I think Final Fantasy has going for it is an approachability, getting people to bite, and taking them on an adventure they weren’t expecting. Over the years, Final Fantasy has maintained an image that appeals to a teenage audience demographic, and many of us were teenagers ourselves when we first became acquainted.

Is that to say that longtime fans have become dissuaded by newer Final Fantasy titles because of their seemingly sophomoric approach? Are they “getting too old” for Final Fantasy? No and no. When I think of Final Fantasy in respect to this, I think of some of the animated films of Disney’s Renaissance in the late 1980s to 1990s. You might think the concept of a bunch of animated cartoon animals was a ploy to get children into the theater, but as anyone who has seen them knows: the living and breathing heart of the films is that they have something — a story in them for everyone.

I feel that from a video games perspective, that this is a role Final Fantasy has played well.

A fandom at odds with itself seems to come with the territory when you have so many viable “entry points” into the series. Which is best? What is the ideal? Many bill themselves as a theory-crafter, expert, or the voice of the community levying judgment on each new title. Title versus title, ad nauseum. Why not sweep that kind of discourse under the rug? As a fan of the series fan, I used to despise it, thinking: “all of these titles people bicker about are great and through the nature of the internet there is only vitriol”. While it’s still true to some respect, over time, I began to pry in between peoples’ statements to get what I really wanted to know — what interested me almost as much as the games themselves:

“What is it about this Final Fantasy game that makes it so special to you?”

In the end, I found it a more interesting pursuit than proving the merits and faults of each game.

With the above in mind, we undoubtedly need to take a look at where we are now. We have two major releases in the coming year: Lightning Returns and A Realm Reborn. We have a third game in a trilogy, and the reboot of a MMORPG that released two years ago. When I wrote earlier about Final Fantasy fans expecting titles to take them to new places, it obviously puts these games between a rock and a hard place. We’re well familiar with the Final Fantasy XIII and its reception by now, and Final Fantasy XIV is essentially a face-lift (meant in the strongest sense) of a previous game that disenchanted many with the idea that Final Fantasy would continue to be a great series in its current hands.

You could easily use my own words against me in this situation.

“These new Final Fantasy games aren’t special because they’re taking us to the same games again (that we may not have liked anyway), so what’s there to be excited for?”

It’s no mistake to assume that Lightning Returns and A Realm Reborn were met with a controversial and lukewarm reception. Final Fantasy Type-0 and Bravely Default: Flying Fairy also remain in limbo, new titles that had initial enthusiasm that has waned over months of no localization details. We haven’t even mentioned Final Fantasy Versus XIII yet. When some refer to the current state of franchise as weak, it’s not hard to agree. Is that a reason to give up entirely? Hardly.

We know little about Lightning Returns yet. From what Square Enix has divulged it seems that the game’s experience will be quite different from its predecessors. Sure, that’s not enough to sell people nor convince them that it’d be worthwhile for Square Enix to attempt. However, as more information comes out, we should hold it to reasonable expectations — we should consider that if the game itself is in earnest trying to deliver a new experience that a second look isn’t going to hurt.

A Realm Reborn all the same. Director/producer Naoki Yoshida has made it no secret that he feels the Final Fantasy brand has been significantly damaged, and is doing everything in his power to regain fan trust, albeit through a major “redo” of Final Fantasy XIV. However, this shouldn’t equate to bowing to the big voices in the fandom saying “FFXIV should be like this”; a strong creative vision as well as an understanding of the Final Fantasy experience is going to deliver without resorting to sticking old tropes in for a few veterans’ sake.

I believe these two games will serve as a “competency test” for Square Enix going into the future, as Lightning Returns represents older talent trying to do something new with a twice-used experience and Final Fantasy XIV being in the hands of relatively talent that has everything to prove to a skeptical and cynical audience.

Much is at stake. As much cynicism and doubt flows through the Final Fantasy community today, the fans know the “Final Fantasy feel” when they see it. I’m confident that in its presence, the fans’ praise will return. As we head into the 25th year of the Final Fantasy series, one thing should be certain: Square Enix needs to convince us that it knows how to make a Final Fantasy they and fans can be proud of.

So, to celebrate the series I invite you to share what about the Final Fantasy series interested you in the first place. That extends to respectful discourse about why your favorite Final Fantasy is what it is compared to the others, or your general expectations for Square Enix going forward. I’ll enjoy reading your responses!

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  • KohaN

    For me, I can remember Final Fantasy all the way back to when VII came out, which was when I was 2. It’s been a long time after that until I actually tried to dig deeper into what Final Fantasy was and I started where I left off-with VII. I really liked Cloud and I felt like I could relate to him in some ways, so thus VII was my favorite so far. This was in ’08, so I’m a pretty new fan compared to other people. After I got my VII fix, I started looking into the newest game that was coming out which was XIII. Since I really liked Cloud, I started to really like Lightning because I read things that said Lightning is a female Cloud in some way. During the time when XIII was being released in Japan, I was going through a very hard time. I won’t get too personal, but Lightning and XIII helped me get through it and I’m so thankful for it. XIII is my ultimate favorite because it made life shine a bit brighter for me and Lightning is probably the best thing that has entered into my life. I really love what the Final Fantasy series has to offer and to me it’s just a notch above everything else. To me there’s nothing else that can really top it and I think that it gets less credit than it deserves. I want it to go on for years to come because I’ve just started and I’m not ready for it to end. I’m quite optimistic for what Square Enix has planned for the future of Final Fantasy. Happy 25th, FF :))))

  • AgitoXIII

    I agree LR and FFXIV: ARR are compentency tests for SE. That was well put.

    Heres the thing. SE has stretch this brand for too thin. There too many goddamn spin offs going every which-a-way. Too many FF games being announced FAR TOO LONG b4 they can realisticly come out.

    They have also strectched the brand across too many platforms without proper planning. There are 3 good looking FF games that still can be universally enjoyed. Type-0, VersusXIII, and I’m going to include FF Dimensions. FFD is only on iOS??? Really? But we get odd looking bravely default games?

    Put all the focus of THESES games and put it into THAT game and we’ll see a FF that is mostly universally enjoyed again. We’ve not seen that since FFX.

  • AgitoXIII

    Anyway, to not be totally negative, I do expect SE to make FFXV the next best FF game. Ima go out on a limb and say I think they’ll look back at what made past FF games good and mix in the new and make a good FF game.

    And if I had to bet, I think Agni has -something- to do with it. Her name afterall is another weather/elemental name… isn’t it??? XD

  • For me, it was when I got a bunch of games from my grandpa. All 4 NES Dragon Warrior games were there, but Final Fantasy interested me more (and Final Fantasy II on SNES even moreso). I tried playing FF1 first; that was hard. I tried FF2/4 and fared much better; fell in love with the music too. Battle 2 and Battle with the Four Fiends still rank among my all time favorite VG tunes to this day. I also enjoyed the music of FF7 when I was gifted that by my uncle.

    It was actually One-Winged Angel that turned me completely to the VGM side of things. My brother had a friend who was nerdy as well, and he urged me to use Napster (which was free back then) and get One-Winged Angel because it was AWESOME. He was so hyped up about it, and for good reason. When I got FF9 and fell in love with that soundtrack, I looked for the boss theme to listen to whenever.

    That old computer only had 20GB on the hard drive, so I had to be careful not to get too much. Also we had 56K so yeah. Regardless, it was Final Fantasy and Nobuo Uematsu’s masterful compositions which slowly placed me on the path I am today.

    The games and the stories helped too, of course. 😀

  • schen

    I came to the Final Fantasy franchise a lot later than most people. My first FF game was actually FF13. Before I first got into the franchise, I didn’t think much of it. Every game except FF10 didn’t seem to appeal to me, not even FF7 or FF8. However, it wasn’t until I saw the first trailer for FF13 and Lightning that I got interested. When the game was first released in Japan, I followed a guy who lived in the country on Youtube play the game. After watching those videos, I was hooked and I couldn’t wait to play for myself. Eventually, when I finally got the game, I couldn’t stop grinning as I played. People will moan and bitch about the problems of FF13, and I won’t deny there were issues. But the goods outweigh the bad. To this day, FF13 holds a special place in my heart and Lightning is one of my all time favorite characters. I would love it if the next FF game follows the route FF13 was going for, a sci-fi fantasy game or at least something more modern. Anyway, congratulations to Square Enix and the Final Fantasy franchise for their 25th anniversary.

  • lalik

    For me the first FF I’ve ever play was FFVI. I feel in love with Terra and all the characters in that game. At the time I was quite young and thought all the FF connects so when FFVII came out I thought it was the sequel to FFVI. lol But turned out it didn’t. Ever since FFVI I started playing the FF series throughout my childhood. I always enjoy what Square puts in them and was always anticipating for the next one. It was after I beat FFX that I started going backward and looked for the older FF to play. I’m glad I did cause FFIV turned out to be my all time favorite FF game. I’ve never had any problem with the FF development, I loved FFXII and FFXIII. I have heard many people complains that only people who didn’t play FF back in the days will like FFXIII but that’s not the case.

  • Wyvern

    I had actually never heard of Final Fantasy till 2007 from a friend who mentioned 2 trailers about XIII and Versus. I had watched them through and through and was absolutely amazed. I knew there was a long wait ahead for these games so I quickly bought X, X-2 and XII and played through them. X turned out to be my absolute favorite with X-2 following.

    Then I went through VI, VII and VIII. I did not like VII as much as everyone else. Maybe because I played it a bit too late, but I was absolutely enamored by VI. A beautiful and epic tale. By this time I was well invested into the series and XIII had come out and despite a lot of negativity, I loved it and made sure to explore everything about it. XIII-2 improved further and it also shared a beautiful tale and a great antagonist who’s motive was unique to me which only made me love the characters more and even reminded me a bit of how I felt when I first played VI. Since then I have been a fan and I eagerly await LR:FFXIII, ARR and eventually Versus. I’m glad I look forward to all that are upcoming and seemingly enjoy each entry that releases.

    In terms of expectations, I belive LR, ARR and Versus represent what the series is turning into. These may not be “main-line” games but in interviews they have shared following such a vision and this may be a bit of a departure (especially Versus, I feel), but I expect and have faith they can succeed and will keep making magical titles.

  • DragonRider

    The thing I love most about every Final Fantasy game I’ve played was the story, the exploration as well as the memorable characters. My favorite Final Fantasy game has to be the Fourth. Kain and Cecil are my all tiime favorite characters in the series.

  • I can remember FInal Fantasy all the way up to FF1 on the NES and it was just a goal to get it complete it and hope your game dosent freeze or bring all these weired images on to the screen. But FFII was very wounderful and story of kain and cecil (btw FFIV-FF2 in NA) I really enjoy the series up untel XI and so far am loving ARR. I really got to say Square enix touch me in ways i couldent imagen story wise. Not only Final Fantasy but Seiken Densetsu and chrono series. i really enjoy these series as well to the fullest.it’s good to see Final Fantasy mark’s it 25th. Really looking forward to the next installment XV. btw happy 20 anniversary FF2 as being 31 years old am still enjoying FF series to the fullest. Cheers to Square japan!!

  • Ryulu Draconis

    Final Fantasy holds a special meaning to me, since it was “born” in the same time I was, December of 1987, but that’s just a small detail to it.
    I’ve had many “moments” to be summoned into the vast worlds of FF, the 1st time probably when I watched a demo of VIII for PC, but later I played Tactics Advance, followed by I&II DoS and VI Adv, also played quite a bit of VII on PC, but dropped all the series, until this present year, when I entered the world of Eorzea with XIV, and with it came together all of the numbered series, from I to IX on my PSP, and the rest of it on their respective Sony platforms.
    Currently I’m playing XI on PC and IV:TAY on PSP.
    My favorite ones are so far IV, VI and IX.

  • Baby Kangaroo

    Well, I’m a late riser, having FF12 as my first Final Fantasy game. However before that I had been ‘researching’ the FF series and watched tons of videos (which I think is quite ridiculous now). I loved everything about FF12, and when I saw lots of comments badmouthing about the game, I was pretty shocked, since I’ve never thought ill of ANY FF game. The negative opinions may be because of the sudden change of gameplay and storyline… but I think SE was trying to improve the series’ gaming experience.

  • Slinky_Slink

    Ever since I got FF7 for Christmas in 1997, I’ve always been a Final Fantasy fan. The series is so special to me and holds the dearest place in my heart. I love all the Final Fantasy games in some way, when I was a teen after finishing FFX, I went back and got all the old entries and played through them. My all time favourite is FF8, the music, the setting, the characters, I love them all so so much. The moment when Rinoa and Squall are together in the bridge of the Ragnarok with eyes on me playing in the background brings tears to my eyes just thinking of the fond memories that game gave me. Then there’s the time that Yuna performed her sending in FF10, one of the most beautiful and tragic sequences I’ve ever seen. Or the moment Prishe opened up to my character, shedding the most heartfelt tears, in front of the ruins of Tavnazia in FF11, or the moment that all seemed lost for the L’cie of FF13, but a miracle happened and all of them came together to save cocoon. Or how about the time that Bartz and the other warriors of light saved the world in FF5, and rode off into the great blue sky on magnificent flying dragons with Bartz riding Boko trailing behind? All the Final Fantasy games are beautiful and special to me, and while I may like some more than others, they’re all amazing experiences in their own ways, and I love them, and will continue to love them for the rest of my days.

  • alexsam

    Firstly, congrats to Square Enix on Final Fantasy’s 25’th anniversary!

    As for me, I was brought into these worlds back in ’97 with FF VII, when a friend of mine from school invited me over to his house to play this “cool new game”. After a while, the whole school ended up having a copy, lol. But the first FF I actually played was IX. I brought a PSOne (the smaller, white edition of the PSX) and locked myself in my bedroom for days. It was mindblowing. When (spoiler alert) Brahne died, even though she was a villain, I still felt bad because Dagger was crying over it. Epic… I have been a faithful follower ever since, with the only slip-up being X-2 (I just couldn’t handle it’s playful attitude, no matter how much I wanted to know what happened to Tidus) and Tactics. To this day I have played and completed every single title, with each one of them bringing unique feelings and a special bond with the characters. Which is why I can’t wait for LR: FF XIII.

    As for expectations, I’m pretty confident that by the time we celebrate FF’s 30th, we’ll have a whole lot more titles released and even fans that have given up on the series will be coming back to it like mad. We’ve seen a lot from this series but I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

  • ff789n10

    First of all, a great article devoid of bias and very level headed, the internet debates over which FFs are best and which are best are incredibly annoying. Some fans can be so cynical and hard to please it’s unbearable listening to them whining or claiming their opinion is right.

    I started with FF 6, it was one of my first videogames ever, along with Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, Megaman X and Super Metroid, that I had played as a child. So I started off with the SNES and have become a semi-hardcore gamer (I don’t player everything, and my main favorite genre is RPG, but I’ll play almost everything…almost) since then. FF 6 contributed to that.

    Since then, I got into the series big time and over the years enjoyed, RELISHED, playing every single FF for the first time. It was all scattered, I didn’t get to do it in order, but I have been able to play everything except for FF XI, a few spin offs, and XIV when it first released but I plan to get A Realm Reborn and play it for months or even years (pretty much as long as I have a job and as long as SE supports it, I’ll play it). It had quickly become my favorite game franchise, and it still stands as such to this day.

    While the first XIII was somewhat disappointing, I loved it, and also liked XIII-2, and now I’m looking forward to Lightning Returns. While the prospect of a second XIII sequel seemed tiring and completely off putting to me at first, when I watched the conference and they spoke about how different it will be, I got excited. So while the XIII games have gone on too long, I’m okay with it since they’re trying something new.

    I feel positive about the series. Fans seem to think FF can’t be what it is without people like Nobuo Uematsu and Hironobu Sakaguchi, but that’s just not true at all. While Sakaguchi is the creator of the series, there are plenty of other inspired people who can take it in new directions while still keeping “that FF feel.” And to me the FF feel is an epic journey that the audience can relate to and take part in while being immersed in a brand new world that has things we are all familiar with and have come to love. It’s about a new world, a new experience every time.

    So I think the future looks bright for FF. We got Versus coming, XV will be next, and for the open minded fans like me, Lightning Returns and XIV ARR are something to anticipate.

  • TheBadass

    My first FF was FFVII. However, my fave FF is FFXII. Unlike most FF fans, I mainly play for the world exploration, battle system and character growth system. In other words, I mainly play for the gameplay.