[Editorial Tuesday] The History of Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy, a video game series that needs little introduction. Spanning over 50 games, movies, anime, and much more, Final Fantasy has been capturing the hearts of gamers for over 30 years. With expansive stories, beautifully designed music and worlds, and innovative battle systems, Final Fantasy managed to not only make a name for itself but was one of the key games in bringing RPGs into the mainstream. If you ever found yourself wondering about the origins of the series but been overwhelmed by the 30 years of history to go through, you're in luck. Today, we will go over how Final Fantasy began and recounting the major ups and downs of the series on its journey to becoming one of the most popular and longest running video game franchises of all time.

Origin and Early years

Final Fantasy started out as nothing more than a pipe dream for a young member of Square's development team, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Hironobu Sakaguchi and fellow Square designer, Akitoshi Kawazu had wanted to create an RPG but, many of the higher-ups at Square were worried that the game wouldn't be a financial success. Hironobu Sakaguchi's dream would finally be given a chance after the 1986 release of the RPG Dragon Quest. After seeing the commercial and financial success of Dragon Quest, Hironobu Sakaguchi was finally able to begin work on his own RPG. The team that was assembled to work on the game was fairly unknown at the time, but many of the people would go on to become big names thanks to the series. Akitoshi Kawazu, who worked on the battle system for the game, decided to incorporate elements from western RPGs like elemental weakness into the game. Artist Yoshitaka Amano was brought in to do the key visuals and character designs. Square composer Nobuo Uematsu was tasked with creating the soundtrack for the game.

On December 18, 1987, Hironobu Sakaguchi's dream finally came to fruition when Final Fantasy was released in Japan for the Famicom. Final Fantasy received praise from fans and critics alike. The game featured a 4 character cast and a job system allowing the player to customize their party however they wanted and battle animations where you could see your characters moving, casting spells and attacking. With all of these elements, Square had created an RPG that nobody had ever seen before. This combination of Japanese and western RPG elements had set itself apart from traditional RPGs and its formula would later become the norm for all Japanese RPG's. Due to Final Fantasy's success, Square decided to release Final Fantasy II, a standalone sequel to Final Fantasy that would incorporate the elements and settings of the original, but would have its own story and battle elements. While not as successful as the original, Final Fantasy II did well enough for Square to release a third entry in the series, that returned the battle system to what was seen in the original and added an expansive job system.

Heading West and the Jump to a New Console

After a trio of Japanese only releases, the original Final Fantasy was released for western audiences in the summer of 1990. The game was met with the same praise it had seen in Japan. However, due to the life cycle of the NES coming to a close, the next two games in the series weren't released outside of Japan until much later. Now with a series that had been well received around the world, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Square set out to improve on Final Fantasy with the July 19, 1991 release of Final Fantasy IV on the Super Nintendo. With the jump to new hardware, The team was able to improve many facets of the game, with simple things like the improved character graphics, and the ability to explore new story ideas that wouldn't have been feasible before. Final Fantasy IV also introduced the Active Time Battle System that would be a staple in many of the future titles. Final Fantasy IV was released as Final Fantasy II in the west on November 23, 1991.

Final Fantasy V was released in Japan on December 6, 1992, bringing back the job system seen in Final Fantasy III. Final Fantasy VI featured the first major change for the development team of Final Fantasy. Hironobu Sakaguchi moved from the director role he had since Final Fantasy II to being the producer of Final Fantasy IV. This change in director allowed longtime Square employee Hiroyuki Ito and Yoshinori Kitase to direct the game. Both men would go on to take turns directing the next six main series titles. Final Fantasy VI combined everything Square had learned from their previous games, creating a title that started to move their series from being a niche game to being a cult classic.

Moving to Sony and Achieving Cult Status

Square had begun work on Final Fantasy VII for the Nintendo 64, but Square was unhappy about the limits working on cartridges presented. Square turned to Sony, a new face in video game development, that had been working with Nintendo on a compact disc based video game console but was forced into making their own system. The move to the PlayStation allowed Square to create a game that was graphically better than anything they had ever made before and featured an expansive world that spanned 3 discs. With an early 1997 release in Japan and a late 1997 release for the rest of the world, Final Fantasy VII had reached an entirely new audience by being the first main series Final Fantasy game to be released in the PAL region. The response to Final Fantasy VII was huge, culminating in an expanded universe for Final Fantasy VII including a movie, multiple spin-off games, and much more. This boom in popularity would be just the beginning of a series that had found its new home on the PlayStation.

Square followed up the strong release of Final Fantasy VII with Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX. The success of these three games carried Square through the rest of the 90's, allowing them to branch out and make different kinds of Final Fantasy games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Chocobo Racing. The success of Final Fantasy only got stronger during with the jump to the PlayStation 2 with the July 19, 2001 release of Final Fantasy X, the first game in the series to feature fully voiced cutscenes and was the first game to spawn a direct sequel and would be the last main series title to include turn-based battles. With the popularity of the series booming, Square decided to release updated versions of some earlier titles in the series. Square also showed their desire to work outside of the box with Final Fantasy XI, the first game in the mainline series to not be a traditional RPG, instead the game was an MMORPG, which allowed players to experience a brand new Final Fantasy world with their friends. Final Fantasy XI ended up being the last Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi would work on, as he elected to resign from Square to pursue other ventures. The PlayStation 2 era would come to a close with the newly formed Square Enix's March 16, 2006 release of Final Fantasy XII. While this game was heavily praised, it also drew the ire of some longtime fans for straying so far away from the traditional RPG formula.

Final Fantasy had been on a 19 year run that spanned games over four console generations and was looking to head in strong into the latest generation of console. In May of 2006, Fabula Nova Crystallis: Final Fantasy, a trio of Final Fantasy games that would have the same myths but be set in their own universe was announced. The first of these games, Final Fantasy XII would be released December 17, 2009, receiving more complaints and backlash than a Final Fantasy game had ever seen. Final Fantasy XIII had panned linear world and simplistic gameplay. This game would be the start of a downward spiral for the Fabula Nova Crystallis. Final Fantasy XIII had two spin-off games, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, with each one selling less and less despite attempts to improve the gameplay. The other titles of Fabula Nova Crystallis didn't fare much better. Although Final Fantasy Type-0 received good reviews, it received a Japanese only release on October 27, 2011 with Square Enix stating they had no plans to port the game to other countries, and Final Fantasy: Versus was stuck in development with little to no information coming out for the better part of a decade.

Final Fantasy XV and The Legacy of Final Fantasy

With the many setbacks and fans losing faith in Square Enix's ability to produce a quality Final Fantasy game, the future of the series looked bleak. However, things started to look up in 2013, when after seven years of development, Final Fantasy Versus XIII would be re-branded and turned into Final Fantasy XV. Final Fantasy fans would also be in for another treat when in 2014, a remastered version of Final Fantasy Type-0 would be released worldwide thanks to the support and desire of the fans. With the fans worldwide able to play Final Fantasy Type-0 and a steady stream of information coming out about Final Fantasy XV, fan interest had begun to rise again with things started to look up for the series. Finally, on November 29, 2016, 10 years after originally being announced, Final Fantasy XV was released worldwide for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Final Fantasy XV was the first Final Fantasy game to feature an open world, providing the player with less of a streamlined storytelling experience, and more of an adventure where you are bonding with the characters as you play through the game with them and feel you are part of the adventure. Although the game received some complaints about the lack of story and battle system, most of the fan reception was positive, and the game sold over 6 million copies in the first year.

Over the 30 years since the release of Final Fantasy, there are have been many ups and downs for the series. Final Fantasy's longevity has allowed it garner fans of all ages all around the world. As a franchise, Final Fantasy is not only become of the longest lasting franchises, it has also become one of the top ten highest grossing video game franchises of all time. Final Fantasy managed to become a household name, putting its name in with some of the most known video game franchises. Final Fantasy's popularity has risen to the level of even having people who have never played Final Fantasy recognize its name.

Final Thoughts

With over 30 years of history to go through, it’s easy to see common themes that contribute to Final Fantasy's success. Final Fantasy has always succeeded by having dedicated workers who truly love what they are making. Final Fantasy has been able to roll with the punches through the years, through the good times and the bad, Final Fantasy has managed to come out stronger than ever thanks to the love of both the fans and the people working on the game. When you start playing a Final Fantasy game, you can feel that love in the story, the world, the music, and all the other aspects of the series that has made it a cult classic and you can see how Final Fantasy has lasted so long.

Starting out as a niche game that re-defined the RPG genre, and ultimately becoming something much more than a just simple video game, Final Fantasy's longevity can be attributed to the series always being ahead of its time and not afraid to take risks when it comes to storytelling and game design. While many video game franchises have come and gone of the last 30 years, Fantasy has been one of the few games that have had a not only major impact on video games but a cultural impact as well. With the Final Fantasy series showing no signs of slowing down, the history of Final Fantasy will continue on into the future. Let us know in the comments how you got into the series and which Final Fantasy is your favorite.

by Robby