Final Fantasy

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This article is about the Final Fantasy series as a whole. For the video game Final Fantasy, see Final Fantasy (video game). For the Toronto-based musical project Final Fantasy, see Owen Pallett.

Template:Portal Final Fantasy (Japanese: ファイナルファンタジー Fainaru Fantajii) is a popular series of role playing games produced by Square Enix (originally Square Co., Ltd.). It may be the most widely distributed game series of all time, including both standard console games and portable games, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, games for mobile phones, three anime series, and two full length CGI films. The first installment of the series premiered in Japan in 1987, and Final Fantasy games have subsequently been localized for markets in North America, Europe and Australia, on several modern video game consoles, including the Nintendo Entertainment System, the MSX 2, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the PlayStation, the WonderSwan Color, the PlayStation 2, IBM PC compatible, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo GameCube, and several different models of mobile phones. Future installments have been announced to appear on the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Revolution, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 game systems. It is Square Enix's most successful franchise, having sold over 60 million units worldwide to date.

As of late 2005, eleven games have been released as part of the main (numbered) series, as well as many other spinoffs and related titles.

Overview

Square Co., Ltd. first entered the Japanese video game industry in the mid 1980s, developing a variety of simple RPGs for Nintendo's Famicom Disk System (FDS), a disk-based peripheral for the Family Computer (also known as the "Famicom," and known internationally as the Nintendo Entertainment System). By 1987, declining interest in the FDS had placed Square on the verge of bankruptcy. At approximately the same time, Square designer Hironobu Sakaguchi began work on an ambitious new fantasy role playing game for the cartridge-based Famicom, inspired in part by Enix's popular Dragon Quest (known in the United States as Dragon Warrior). Hironobu Sakaguchi had plans to retire after the completion of the project so he named it Final Fantasy because it was his final game. Final Fantasy was also going to be SquareSofts final game and as a result, a half truth has been created over the origin of the word Final in the title. It's commonly believed it was named Final Fantasy because of Square and not Sakaguchi. Sakaguchi himself has confirmed it was named because he was retiring from the Game Industry. Either way, Final Fantasy turned out to be far from being Square's or Sakaguchi's last game. Final Fantasy reversed Square's lagging fortunes, and became their flagship franchise.

Following the success of the first game, Square quickly began work on a sequel. Unlike a typical sequel, Final Fantasy II featured entirely different characters, with a setting and story bearing only thematic similarities to its predecessor. This unusual approach to sequels has continued throughout the series, with each major Final Fantasy game introducing a new world, and a new system of gameplay. Many elements and themes would recur throughout the series, but there would be no direct sequels until the release of Final Fantasy X-2, in 2003. (After the merger with Enix however, real game sequels have become increasingly prevalent.) In a way, the Final Fantasy franchise has been a creative showcase for Square's developers, and many elements originally introduced in the series have made their way into Square's other titles, most notably two of its other major franchises, SaGa and Seiken Densetsu.

Common themes

File:Final Fantasy IV JAP Airship.png
Airships have appeared in every Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy IV shown).

Though each Final Fantasy story is independent, many themes and elements of gameplay recur throughout the series. From the strong influence of history, literature, religion and mythology on the story to the frequent reappearance of certain monsters and items, these shared elements provide a unifying framework to the series. Some key objects and concepts that have appeared in more than one Final Fantasy game include:

  • Airships — Powerful airborne vessels which usually serve as a primary mode of transportation for the player, enabling fast movement nearly anywhere in the overworld without the risk of random encounters. In many games, most notably Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy IX, the presence of airships is a key component to the story itself. In most of the titles, airships generally had the appearance of flying sailing ships with a series of propellors instead of sails. However, in some of the later games they look more technological, appearing to be zeppelins or even ornate space ships.
  • Character classes and the Job system — Playable character classes have included the Fighter; White, Black, Red, and Blue Mages; Monk; and Thief. Even in games where the player is not given the choice of choosing class alignment, these classes often play an important background role in the story. Additionally, several installments in the series (Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy Tactics) have utilized a "Job" system wherein the player is able to switch character classes in between battles. In Final Fantasy X-2, the "Dressphere" system actually allowed a player to switch a character's job during the middle of a fight. In addition to this, certain recurring "Legendary Weapons" may be granted to certain classes, such as the sword Masamune for the Fighter (also known as "Warrior"), or the Black Mage's Ultima spell.
  • Magical styles (see also Final Fantasy magic) — Magic in the Final Fantasy series is generally divided into different schools, which are usually named after a specific color. White magic and Black magic represent healing/support and attack magic, respectively, while Red magic incorporates elements of both healing and attack magic, at reduced effectiveness. Later additions have included Blue magic (sometimes referred to as Lore or Enemy skill), which incorporates specific special attacks learned from monsters, and Time/Space magic, which includes status affecting spells such as Haste, Slow, or Warp.
  • Status ailments and cures: Characters in Final Fantasy games are usually subject to a number of standard "status ailments" which cause deleterious effects, including silence, poison, petrification and confusion. While these are present in many console RPGs, Final Fantasy also has a standard list of items which may be used to cure specific ailments (for example, the "Echo Screen" cures silence, and "Soft" cures petrification), as well as magical spells, such as Esuna or Panacea.
  • Creatures/monsters — Fictional creatures such as Chocobos and Moogles have appeared in most games in the series. Certain monsters also reappear frequently, including Goblins, Tonberrys and Cactuars. Lastly, summoned monsters (also known as Espers, Guardian Forces, Eidolons, or Aeons) such as Bahamut, Shiva, Ifrit, Leviathan and Ramuh have appeared in almost every title in the series.
  • Character names — A character named "Cid" has been present in every Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy II (with a simple mention in Final Fantasy Origins and Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls). Although he is never the same individual, he is usually presented as an owner, creator, and/or pilot of airships. The motion picture Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within also featured a character named "Sid," presumably an alternate spelling of the more traditional "Cid." In a similar vein, characters named Biggs and Wedge (homages to the Star Wars characters Biggs Darklighter and Wedge Antilles) have appeared in Final Fantasy VI to Final Fantasy X-2. Other repeated names include Gogo (Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI), Gilgamesh (Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX), Lonewolf the Pickpocket (Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI), and Sara (Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy III, and Final Fantasy IX).
  • Plot elements — Many entries in the Final Fantasy series involve broadly similar plot points, such as rebellion against a major economic, political, or religious power, or a struggle against an evil which threatens to overtake or destroy the world. One of the most famous of such recurring themes involves elemental crystals, which have appeared in over half of the titles of the series (Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy IX, and Final Fantasy XI), as well as in several spin-off titles (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles).

Design

See also: List of Final Fantasy designers
File:Yoshitaka Amano Zidane FFIX.png
Yoshitaka Amano designed the characters for the first six Final Fantasy games, as well as providing some conceptual artwork for Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy IX (shown).

Artistic design, including character and monster design work, was handled by renowned Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano from Final Fantasy through Final Fantasy VI. Following Amano's departure, he was replaced with Tetsuya Nomura, who continued to work with the series through Final Fantasy X, with the exception of Final Fantasy IX, where character design was handled by Shukou Murase, Toshiyuki Itahana and Shin Nagasawa. Akihiko Yoshida, who served as character designer for the spinoff title Final Fantasy Tactics, as well as the Square-produced Vagrant Story, has been announced as the designer of the upcoming Final Fantasy XII.

In October 2003, Kazushige Nojima, the series' principle scenario writer, resigned from Square Enix to form his own company, Stellavista. He partially or completely wrote the stories for Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy X-2. Square Enix continues to outsource story and scenario work to Nojima and Stellavista.

Music

Main article: Final Fantasy music
File:Black Mages Above The Sky AfterShow.jpg
Nobuo Uematsu (middle) and The Black Mages, a hard rock band that has released two albums of arranged Final Fantasy music.

Nobuo Uematsu was the chief music composer of the Final Fantasy series until his resignation from Square Enix in November 2004. His music has played a large part in the popularity of the Final Fantasy franchise abroad. In the 2004 Summer Olympics, the American synchronized swimming duo consisting of Alison Bartosik and Anna Kozlova were awarded the bronze medal for their performance to music from Final Fantasy VIII. Uematsu is also involved with the rock group The Black Mages, which has released two albums of arranged Final Fantasy tunes. Other composers who have contributed to the series include Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano.

There have already been two successful runs of Final Fantasy concerts in Japan as of 2004. Final Fantasy soundtracks and sheet music are also increasingly popular amongst non-Japanese Final Fantasy fans and have even been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. On November 17, 2003, Square Enix U.S.A. launched an America Online radio station dedicated to music from the Final Fantasy series, initially carrying complete tracks from Final Fantasy XI in addition to samplings from Final Fantasy VII through Final Fantasy X. Many video game and MIDI world wide web sites offer renditions of Final Fantasy musical pieces.

Due to overwhelming demand, and the overwhelming success of the first Final Fantasy concert performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall on May 10, 2004, the Dear Friends: Music From Final Fantasy concert tour was established, starting February 2005. Music from Final Fantasy was first performed outside of Japan as a part of the Symphonic Game Music Concert series in Germany. The Final Fantasy soundtracks have also joined the catalogue of the iTunes Music Store.

While the music in the games offers wide variety, there are some frequently reused themes. The games often open with a piece called Prelude, which is actually based off one of Bach's preludes. It is a simple arpeggio theme in the early games, with further melodies added in later games. The battle sequences that end in victory for the player in the first ten installments of the series would be accompanied by a victory fanfare that used the same nine-note sequence to begin the fanfare, and it has become one of the most recognized pieces of music relating to the Final Fantasy series. Other memorable tunes include the Chocobo's theme, the Moogle's theme, and a piece originally called "Ahead On Our Way" in Final Fantasy I, which was in fact the opening theme and which is now usually played during the ending credits of the game and called "Prologue".

Graphics and technology

The 8-bit and 16-bit generations

Final Fantasy began on the Nintendo Family Computer (also known as the "Famicom," and known internationally as the Nintendo Entertainment System) as Final Fantasy in 1987, and was joined by two sequels, Final Fantasy II (re-released on the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance worldwide) and Final Fantasy III (only released in Japan). On the main world screen, small sprite representations of the leading party member were displayed because of graphical limitations, while in battle screens, more detailed, full versions of all characters would appear in a side view perspective.

The same basic system was used in the next three games, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy VI, for the Super Famicom (known internationally as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System). These games utilized updated graphics and effects, as well as higher quality music and sound than in previous games, but were otherwise similar to their predecessors in basic design.

The text of the Japanese versions of early Final Fantasy games was comprised purely of kana. Much of the dialogue was simply clumps of text, making it especially hard for older gamers and foreigners learning Japanese. Finally, in Final Fantasy V, the games began to use kanji. This would continue to get more advanced in Final Fantasy VI, and the trend would continue to make the games much more erudite.

CD/DVD-based generations

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Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series to incorporate full motion video.

1997 saw the release of Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation and not Nintendo 64 as many had originally anticipated. The characters and entire game world were now 3-dimensional, with fully pre-rendered backgrounds. Final Fantasy VII was also the first Final Fantasy game to use full motion video sequences, part of the reason why the game spanned a full three CD-ROMs. However, Final Fantasy VII's FMVs often lacked consistency, with characters appearing tiny and very indistinct in one scene, and extremely detailed in the next.

Released shortly after Final Fantasy VII, the spinoff title Final Fantasy Tactics, once again utilized sprites for the characters. As the only real user-interaction outside of battle was menu-driven, the developers saw no need for fully 3D-rendered overhead graphics.

Starting with Final Fantasy VIII, the series adopted a more photo-realistic look. The full motion video sequences utilized a display technique wherein video would play in the background while the polygon characters would be composited on top.

Final Fantasy IX returned briefly to the more stylized design of earlier games in the series, but maintained most of the graphical techniques utilized in the previous two games in the series.

Final Fantasy X was released on the PlayStation 2, and made use of the much more powerful hardware to render certain cutscenes in real-time, rather than displayed in pre-rendered video. Final Fantasy X was the first game in the series to use voice overs to any degree. Final Fantasy X-2 utilized the same game engine as Final Fantasy X, and was aesthetically not much different.

Final Fantasy XII is scheduled to be released on March 16th 2006 in Japan for PS2. Final Fantasy XII will utilize only half as many polygons as Final Fantasy X in exchange for more advanced textures and lighting. This will also allow the game to use a free rotating camera.

Gameplay

Game screens

The games typically have several types of screens, or modes of interaction, broadly categorized as:

  • Field screens — These are where the main interaction between the characters occurs, and indeed most of the exploration of the world occurs on these screens. Dialog mostly occurs on these screens. Final Fantasy VII marked the point that Final Fantasy would have realistic computer graphics, while Dragon Warrior stayed with anime style cel-shaded graphics. Prior to Final Fantasy VII, they were pseudo-orthographic, using a simple 2D engine. Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, and Final Fantasy IX used pre-rendered and pre-painted backgrounds over which 3D models were overlaid. Final Fantasy X used a completely 3D field screen system, which allowed the camera angle to change as the characters moved about.
  • Battle screens — Battles occur on a separate type of screen (or arena), usually with a change of scale and a backdrop "arena" that usually generically represents where the battle is occurring in the game. (For example, a random battle in a desert gets a desert backdrop.) Plot-relevant battles (as opposed to battling random monsters) may have a specially built battle screen/arena, however. In Final Fantasy VII and later, these screens are fully 3D, using higher resolution versions of the characters, but very restricted in size. Final Fantasy XII will do away with "scene-battles": battle sequences will occur on the main field screen.
  • World screen — A low-scale screen used to symbolize traveling great distances in times that would otherwise slow the game down unacceptably plot-wise. These are usually not scaled, as a character may appear the size of a small mountain. Relatively little plot occurs here, but there are exceptions. The world screen was eliminated in Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2.
  • Cutscenes — These scenes are non-interactive playback that usually advances the plot. They can either be pre-rendered video (FMV), or they can be executed in with the same engine as the field screens. In some cases, pre-rendered video was overlaid with real-time rendered field screen graphics (full motion video-3D).
  • Menu Screen — This screen is used for navigating your party's status, equipment, magic, etc. This screen is usually a very simple blue-table layout, with a gloved hand to select one's options. In some games, the option to change the color or texture of the tables is given.

The games often feature various minigames with their own graphical engines.

Battle system

Final Fantasy borrowed many gameplay elements from its primary rival, the Dragon Quest franchise. As such, Final Fantasy uses a menu-driven, turn-based battle system. Most games in the series utilize an experience level system for character advancement (although Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy X did not), and a point-based system for casting magical spells (though Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy VIII all featured different approaches). Most games in the series (from Final Fantasy III and on) feature a variety of "special commands," over and beyond the traditional "Attack," "Defend," "Cast Magic," and "Run" battle commands, such as the ability to steal items from enemies, or performing a leap attack. Often these special attacks are integrated into the "job system," which has appeared in several games in the series and spinoffs (Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy X-2).

Final Fantasy through Final Fantasy III all featured a traditional turn-based battle system. The player would input all battle commands at the beginning of each combat round, which would then be carried out based on the speed rating of each character. Starting with Final Fantasy IV, and continuing until Final Fantasy IX (and revived in Final Fantasy X-2), the "Active Time Battle" (ATB) system was introduced. The ATB system was semi-real time, and afforded every creature in combat a time gauge. When a specific character's time gauge was filled, the character could act, which would then reset the timer. Generally each of these games included both "active" and "wait" modes: when "wait" mode was chosen, then all activity relating to the time gauge would pause whenever the player was using a submenu to choose a magic spell, item, or special attack.

Final Fantasy X abandoned the ATB system in favor of the "Conditional Turn-Based Battle System" (CTB). In the CTB system, every creature in battle would be ranked according to speed. As this ranking was displayed on screen during battle, it was possible to know when a character and/or enemy would move several combat turns in advance, and to plan battles accordingly. The CTB system is always in wait mode, featuring no time gauge.

Final Fantasy XI featured a fully real-time combat system similar to that employed by the game EverQuest: when confronted with an enemy, a character would automatically perform basic physical attacks unless otherwise instructed by the player. Early details suggest Final Fantasy XII will adopt a similar real-time combat system. Unlike previous games, battles in both Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XII take place on the field screen, with no separate battle screen.

Criticism

Although the series is extremely popular, it is not without critics. Some accuse it of a lack of interactivity (overuse of full motion video), rigid and often linear story structure, and unoriginality. More recent installments are attacked in particular, especially those made after Final Fantasy VII. Defenders of these games often argue that the negative responses can be attributed to nostalgia.

Many long time fans of the series blame the fall in standards on the departure of character designer Yoshitaka Amano after Final Fantasy VI. Tetsuya Nomura, who has handled character design for the majority of the post-Final Fantasy VII series', has been criticized by the Amano fans, especially those who feel that Nomura's designs look too juvenile when compared to Amano's work. Similar complaints have begun to surface surrounding the departure of long-time series music composer Nobuo Uematsu.

Of the more recent installments in the series Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy X-2 have been most frequently singled out for criticism: Final Fantasy XI for switching to a MMORPG format and Final Fantasy X-2 for its status as the first direct sequel to a previous Final Fantasy game and for its supposed overreliance on fan service.

Another major criticism of Square, relating to the Final Fantasy series, is the apparent lack of support for games predating Final Fantasy VII, the game that brought the franchise to its current popularity. Though all of Final Fantasy I through VI (with the exception of III) have been re-released outside Japan in one form or another, nearly all spinoffs and inspired games primarily use material from VII and onward. This may be due to the fact that Nomura is responsible for most post-Final Fantasy VI material. As a result, while hardcore fans of the franchise have played most games in one form or another, newer fans seem unaware of the availability of Final Fantasy games predating the seventh installment.

See also

External links

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