Celebrating its 30th Anniversary, the far from finite Final Fantasy has become synonymous with gaming itself, establishing a global community of devout fans, an almost enumerable treasury of equally adored spin-offs and even a touring orchestra, the transmedia, global powerhouse has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
As a title intended to be Square’s swansong, a final farewell to the industry, the original and poignantly titled Final Fantasy laid the very foundations that would build an empire of monsters, mages and mechs. Originally inspired by western pen-and-paper roleplaying games, the franchise hit the ground running with tremendous success, which would later build to influence the genre of JRPGs as we know them today.
Tiny features and additions that were birthed in the series’ infancy would soon become iconic hallmarks of the franchise; the golden Chocobo first appearing in FFII and a job system debuted in FFIII. Players could choose classes for their characters to specialise in, allowing them actions and skills unique to them, eventually able to dip in and out of professions as players progressed. Each title would weave new chapters and characters into the sprawling tapestry of the Final Fantasy saga, FFIV gifting us characters with fixed, unchangeable roles to play, cementing them as characters both in the narrative and in battle.
A tortured Dark Knight, a “spoony” Bard, a pair of twin Mages, this was arguably the inception of the strong, defined, definite characters we’ve come to expect from the Final Fantasy universe. Adapting the tried and tested turn-based battle system we’re all familiar with, the “Active Time Battle System” was introduced, players now able to choose their actions in real time. This system would later be used in many titles after, becoming a staple of the gameplay. Landing a definite critical hit upon the hearts of gamers, IV was a major success that lead Final Fantasy to even greater heights.
With an improved job system in V and extensive item and skill customisation in VI, the series not only bloomed mechanically but also in the depth of their stories and characters. Another mascot, the Moogles, became commonplace in the series, the murderous harlequin Kefka was a truly memorable, maniacal villain and sci-fi themes began to slowly blend into the mythic lore of the games worlds. A line in the sand, pixels soon made way for polygons.
A true fan favourite featuring an iconic sword that defies all laws of reason and sense, FFVII leaped from Nintendo consoles to the first PlayStation, able to handle the new graphical overhaul and sheer scope of the title. Fully rendered 3D models, incredible for the time, and pre-rendered cutscenes were a first for the series alongside the addition of Final Fantasy legend Tetsuya Nomura, who gifted the world some of the series most enduring characters. Cloud Strife paving the way for other similarly moody protagonists with stoic, stormy names. The most popular entry of the series to date, the title was a global, worldwide phenomenon that spawned the CGI film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and is currently being remade for the PS4.
VIII brought a new weapon, the iconic gunblade, to the series alongside new battle mechanics and a tinkered summoning system, another long held series staple. Featuring characters with realistic proportions throughout, this soon became the norm as IX took us back to a more nostalgic realisation of the realms of Final Fantasy. Design elements and aesthetics pulled from the series outset, the designs and iconography of earlier iterations paved the way forward.
X then sprouted on the PS2, boasting the best graphics any game in the series had seen before and featured full voice acting, the title received a direct sequel and among its siblings, is particularly adored. XI then had the series enter the realm of MMORPG, a series first that boasted cross-platform play between the Xbox 360, PS2 and PC that received a multitude of expansions over the years and at its peak had 500,000 active players. XII and XIII returned to lengthy single player narrative affairs with the former offering an entirely new sandbox world and real-time battles and the latter featuring its own cluster of sequels and spin-offs, before XIV returned the series to the domain of the MMORPG.
The latest instalment, Final Fantasy XV, is now entirely an action-RPG set in a sprawling, sandbox world with towering enemies and a heavy reliance on bromance and comradery. As Prince Noctis, you and your pals fight to take back your kingdom while travelling in style, a convertible that can also take flight. Backed by the graphical power of the PS4, the game already has a prequel film, Final Fantasy XV: Kingsglaive.
It’s simply incredible to see a handful of pixelated turn-based RPGs unfurl, twist and expand into the breathing, evolving creature we have today 30 years later. Remembering its roots and to this day holding characters and features from the original titles decades later, one can only guess where we’ll see the series at FFXX or what form it might take. As the landscape of gaming shifts and changes, one thing is certain, there is nothing final about this fantasy.