A Final Fantasy Retrospective: The Prelude
My relationship with Final Fantasy is a strained, distressing and complicated one. For a series with a title of such finality to have lasted 30 years is a morbid joke in itself, but its constant evolution and reinvention over that timeframe has, by turns, alienated and rejuvenated fan interest. Perhaps more remarkable than its sheer longevity is the disparity between each successive title; while the ultimate formula and gameplay mechanics usually remain intact, each subsequent instalment drastically alters its setting, characters and narrative, seldom resting on its laurels with a direct sequel retaining its predecessors’ assets. (Don’t worry – we’ll get to those.)
Having played over half of Square-Enix’s multi-million dollar, forever delayed Final Fantasy XV in the past month or so – spending most of my current 60-hour playtime going on repetitive hunts and listening to older games’ soundtracks – I found myself marvelling at just how much, and in some cases how little, had changed in the three decades between 2017 and 1987. Then I watched the Tokyo Square-Enix 30th Anniversary event, where a Cup Noodle-sponsored Ultima Weapon Fork was advertised as a thing. This is a thing. This exists. Square-Enix paid money for this to happen.
So, I had a stupid idea. I found myself wanting to go back and re-evaluate what made this series such a barnstorming success in the first place, and what made Final Fantasy synonymous with the Japanese-style role-playing game genre as a whole, and what the fuck happened to make an Ultima Weapon Fork exist. I wanted to find out what makes Final Fantasy so important to me and, hopefully, others who feel similarly to myself, though I’m mainly bringing you all along with me because I need moral support if I’m going to delve this deeply into something I’ve put an ungodly amount of time, love, frustration and, most importantly, money into. Mainly money. So much money.
I’m no longer the sort of slavish fanboy that buys the Complete Ultimania Omega Steelbook Collector’s Edition 2.8 Remixes, but I do have an undying affinity for a series that has mattered a great deal to me in my formative years and beyond. I’ll do my best to approach these games with as much objectivity as possible but I will inevitably be injecting my own personal feelings at times, where I feel necessary. Some of these games are inextricably linked to my actual development as a real human being, naff as that sounds, and such instances will be unavoidable.
It’s a labyrinthine, multi-media, generation-spanning behemoth (ha!) of a franchise, with ups as high as an Airship in flight and downs as catastrophic as a Malboro back attack, and I’ll be chugging through the whole lot of them. Because I can. Pour me a drink.
An important note to bear in mind: I’ll be looking at these games in their original forms and releases. Final Fantasy as a series didn’t even make it to PAL regions until VII, leading to many confused European gamers, so I feel I’m alright to get away with this and take liberties (A.K.A., rely on fan translations) where necessary. I’m currently undecided as to whether I’ll tackle the two MMOs. I will also be looking at the direct sequels, e.g. X-2, but nothing from the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, because even I know where to draw the line on that shit.
So join me, on this merry trip of ours, as I struggle to understand this clunking monstrosity of RPG legend. Who knows? I might well learn something.