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One of the oldest game franchises that’s still making entries (in spite of Square Enix’s best efforts as of late to force them into bankruptcy), right up there with Mario, Link, and Sonic, is, of course, the Final Fantasy series. When a game series has been around as long as this one, new gamers understandably “miss the roots”, not seeing where the series came from, where it’s going, and how it came into being. So, since doing extensive research on every game would take valuable Googling time, I figured: “Hey! I’m a fan with an entire section of my blog devoted to the Final Fantasy series from a nostaglic standpoint. Why don’t I handle those questions?”

So, in brief, I present to you for your quick-reference pleasure:

*SPOILER ALERT*

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO FINAL FANTASY – Volume One (I-X, no extras)

Overview:

Role Playing Games were nothing new in 1987, although they were still quite “basic”. The earliest form of RPGs were heavily influenced by the play mechanic of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs. It’s little surprise that they were text-based in nature, as a result. The Zork series was known for first trying to bring the experience to the video game world.

As the industry evolved to include 8-bit consoles and the Atari died out, non-computer video games gained enough capability to handle RPGs as well. However, these ones greatly eliminated the “exploration” aspect in favor of battle engines. The foundation for RPG type that would dominate the industry for the next couple decades was laid with “Dragon Quest”, and for many years you could say any other RPG simply “built on” that mechanic, including future entries in the series.

Around this time, the failing Japanese software company Square had a director named Hironobu Sakaguchi who, for his final game, decided to try out his own version of an RPG knockoff of “Dragon Quest II”. In addition to a pooled inventory as opposed to character-by-character and the introduction of a primitive “job” system, the game used a menu and turn-based combat that featured sprites of the characters on screen, as opposed to the more “first-person” view of the Dragon Quest series. Intending this to be the “swan song” of Square, the game was named “Final Fantasy”.

The rest was history, more or less. Far from being the last hurrah of the company, it breathed new life into it and made the company eventually shift almost exclusively to RPGs and RPG-like games for years. The series made Square for some time to come and allowed it to merge with its rivals…first Sunsoft and later Enix, producers of “Dragon Quest”, itself. Although the future of the company, and perhaps JRPGs in general, is in dispute, there’s little doubt that “Final Fantasy” was the most infamous and popular RPG series in the world for years, and always stood out strong in the industry.

So, now for a walk down memory lane…

Final Fantasy (1987)

Overview: The one that started it all, obviously. In terms of plot complexity, world exploration, and sophistication…this game had a lot to be desired. Compared to modern RPGs it was both basic as well as highly challenging due to lack of options, although still a vast improvement over the original “Dragon Quest”. The characters literally have no personality other than what the player decides to put on them in their own mind, and the story is ripped straight from a child fantasy playbook. Almost every “staple” of the Final Fantasy series that people have come to know and love was absent here. Nevertheless, the gameplay was still quite fun and just different enough from “Dragon Quest” to carve out its own niche and be a huge success.

Gameplay: At this point in time, RPGs were still quite “young” and afraid to stray too far from big daddy D&D. This is obvious in the fact that the game used the “level system” to simulate experience of characters and that enemies more or less correspond both to their names and ranking in a D&D Monster Manual. Sticking with the D&D mechanic, there were “jobs” in this first series. Rather than being isolated to certain characters and types as was in the “Dragon Quest” series, this game introduced a rudimentary class system that carried over into many installments. Similar to a real game of D&D, you would choose what type of specialty you wanted at the beginning: Warrior, Monk, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage, or Red Mage. Options were limited even then, though. The main difference between classes was what weapons and armor you could equip and what magic you could use. There was one “class change” that was available as a side quest, in which characters became improved versions of their original classes, but that usually only meant more weapons and more spells.

Characters gained experience to increase in levels, similar to D&D. Aside from the ability to fight, run, or use items, characters could use magic (except the Monk/Master). Magic was set up similar to the D&D system as well, with spells falling into “levels” and a character being able to cast “X number of spells at Y levels per day”. Similar to “Dragon Quest II”, certain items could use magic too.

Items were held in a limited-size “universal pool”, as opposed to various characters holding onto certain items. The size proved to be a major restriction that limited number of items that could be held. Travel was allowed world-wide but, unlike the “Dragon Quest” series which relied on the characters simply being too weak to go farther, “Final Fantasy” used which vehicles became available to the player to restrict movement so that characters would have to complete a specific chain of events that drove them through areas of appropriately increasing difficulty. This “forced linearity” quickly became a staple of the series and RPGs in general, although it would regress in “Final Fantasy II” temporarily.

Combat involved character sprites, unlike in “Dragon Quest”. Characters were visible on screen and would actually move to be able to do damage. Like “Dragon Quest II”, multiple enemies could be fought at a time. At this point, combat was purely turn-based. Although speed was a factor, the primary impetus for speed was implementing D&D like mechanics: “hits” vs. “damage”. A weapon had a certain amount of strength in a certain character’s hand that could do a certain amount of damage, but an equally valuable factor was “hits”, in that a character would be fast enough to do multiple hits and, therefore, more damage.

Also similar to D&D, character deaths were impossible to restore unless one had a White Wizard of sufficient level and power to cast a spell that could raise the dead. Otherwise, you would have to go to a special person in the town who was, presumably, a high enough White Wizard to do so.

What was introduced here: While the Final Fantasy series would eventually become iconic in multiple regards, few of the series favorites originated in the first game. Many enemies even involved horses…unlike the later chocobos.

However, this was the first appearance of the King of Dragons, Bahamut, who became a series regular, and whose name along with the names of many other enemies (including Tiamat) was ripped from D&D. The ultimate form of transportation in this game is the airship, another feature that would become synonymous with the Final Fantasy series. Also, this game introduced the idea of Four Crystals corresponding to the four Greek elements being the things that bound the world together, as well as the idea that they contained a dark nature known as the Four Fiends of the Elements.

In the true D&D vein, this game is the only one to feature elves (although a dark elf would appear in Final Fantasy IV). It was also the only one in the series with mermaids.

This game even featured “side quests” and “minigames”, although only a few. A hidden minigame existed by pressing a button series while on the ship involving a sliding puzzle. Bahamut, the Ancient Castle, and the Rat Tail (also a series quasi-staple) was used to increase the class power of your characters by giving them access to more weapons, armor, and spells. If one finds the Adamantite on the Flying Fortress and returns to the dwarves in Mt. Duergar, they can receive the second most powerful weapon in the game: the Excalibur. Finally, this game included the first “superboss” in the Final Fantasy series: WarMech, an enemy who appears randomly only in one chamber of the Flying Fortress yet is harder than Tiamat.

Although “Monster-in-a-Box”es, chests that are rigged with difficult enemies that guard special loot, are common to all titles after this one, there is none in this game, likely due to lack of interest in coding. Instead, there were “scripted enemy tiles”. Usually, the game would restrict the ways in which the player could face a chest to open it to one tile, and that tile would automatically set off a preset battle against a difficult enemy. In doing so, the game effectively created “Monster-in-a-Box” situations, but it also created a bug, as any time the player stepped on the tile again, the battle would occur once again. Because of this, it is possible to fight the Four Fiends an unlimited number of times in the final dungeon.

This game featured two songs, “Prelude” and “Main Theme”. Until “Final Fantasy X-2”, “Prelude” would appear in every game in the series, although the key wouldn’t be the same as it was in this game until “Final Fantasy XI”. “Main Theme” would appear in every game until then except for “Final Fantasy II” and “Final Fantasy X”.

Brief plot notes: Nothing too extreme here. The characters you have at the beginning of the game are under your control in terms of their names and classes, but that’s all. They have no lines or personalities. The objective of the game is to save the world by using the Crystal Shards in the possession of the main characters, the Light Warriors, to relight the dark Four Crystals of the world and bring harmony and peace back to the world. (Somewhat like “The Dark Crystal”, when you think about it.) This involves killing the dark natures of the crystals, the Four Fiends of the Elements, and completing many subquests that help people in true fantasy fashion straight out of tales of medieval yore. However, restoring the Four Crystals reveals a malevolent time loop in progress that is trying to get history to repeat itself to where the Four Fiends are summoned to darken the crystals again, prompting a “final act” where the characters must go back in time. In the first plot twist ever in the Final Fantasy series, it turns out the first boss, Garland, was chosen by the Four Fiends to go back in time and summon them in the past after being defeated by the Light Warriors before the game even officially “begins”. (The entire first subquest against Garland is technically the Prelude to the main game.) Powered by the chaos of the Four Fiends, he is the final boss.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy: A Cheap, Automatic, Dumbed-Down D&D

Final Fantasy II (1988)

Overview: Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. If you expected to find the SNES entry here, you’re looking in the wrong place. The USA didn’t see this game all the way until “Final Fantasy Origins” in 2003, when, of course, it was heavily redone. The only way to see it before that was via emulator. Or speaking Japanese.

After “Final Fantasy”‘s success, one would think Square would conform itself to a “standard”. But whether they were trying to distance themselves from “Dragon Quest” or they simply thought they had gotten lucky with the first game and decided to strike out on their own, “Final Fantasy II” ended up having the most “experimental” system of any entry in the series until, in my opinion, “Final Fantasy X” or even “XII”. Square tried a lot of new things in this entry to try and set themselves apart, and the far majority of the attempts crashed and burned or were never seen again. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say that necessarily makes it a “bad” entry, any more than “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” is a bad game…just not one that’s in the “series”, causing it to get an unfair amount of flak. However, this was also the first game in the series that created characters with personalities and an actual story that played out in a narrative format. Eventually the content seemed to be a bit too much for me (I never could swallow some wimpy boss somehow becoming strong enough to conquer Hell), but the benefits of having characters who actually had voices helped make a far better plotline than the original “Final Fantasy”.

Gameplay: In many ways, the gameplay was fairly the same as in the original “Final Fantasy”. Spells still had to be purchased, for one thing. Fights were still entirely turn based and the “multiple hit” system was still active. The game did have one change that would eventually become a fixture of this series: MP or magic points. It did away with spell levels and spells-per-day and instead gave a fixed number of MP that allowed spells to be cast many times. Oddly enough, this would be removed temporarily in “Final Fantasy III” before becoming set.

The biggest change was the fact that this game removed the “level system” common to Final Fantasy and many other RPGs; a move that would not be done again until “Final Fantasy X”. Instead, players would have to “work out” individual attributes. If a character wanted more strength, they would have to fight physically. If a character wanted more HP, they would have to get hit and lose some. All spells you obtain are initially at level 1 and cost 1 MP, but are ineffective and weak. To get use out of spells, they have to be used until they level up themselves, at which point they are more potent but cost more to use. Furthermore, advanced weapons could not be used until a character achieved mastery with them, making it hard to do damage in many cases with the latest weapons.

This game also did away completely with classes. All characters were completely configurable, although their initial stats tended to trend players toward certain development. As in the previous game, the major commands are fight or magic, and magic is in black or white type, although it is not listed. As an unusual difficulty, spells were “unlisted” as being black or white, with black magic needing more intelligence to be effective and white magic needing more spirit to be effective. The problem was that using one type increased one attribute while hurting the other, so you could select the wrong spells and frustrate your ability to advance.

This game was the first one to introduce the concept of “interchangable characters”, although it was purely uncontrollable at this point and would remain that way until “Final Fantasy VI”. Three of the characters in the group were fixed. The fourth position would either be vacant or filled by one of several temporary characters. This was good early on when the character would be more “developed” than the ones you started with, but eventually placed a handicap on the player when the new party member would be behind in many attributes.

The most interesting element attempted in this game but never used again was the “memory word” system, which was likely an attempt to make the game feel more like a true table-top RPG again. Characters could memorize keywords and tell them to other characters. Depending on which word they used, it would elicit different responses. It was an interesting system to say the least, and probably the most an 8-bit system could hope to use to try and create a true table-top RPG environment.

As a final note, this game tried to utilize “item drops” from regular enemies, but the system was rather broken at the time, with item drops having very frequently compared to later entries in the series.

What was introduced here: As stated before, this was the first game in the series to indirectly use MP. It was also the first game to feature playable characters with personalities, and a storyline involving both them and non-playable characters (NPCs), many of whom were far more developed than the “information sprites” of the first game. Although Firion/Firionel was little better than a stereotypical fantasy hero, there was an attempt to give him more of a story than just some individual out to save the world in the hinted rivalry with Leon and the strain it puts on Maria. However, it was weakly developed at best. Essentially, a much better, more convincing, and more complete version of the Firion, Maria, and Leon plotline would be redone in “Final Fantasy IV”. Many of the NPCs, especially ones that end up becoming playable characters, have developed backstories and personalities. This game also includes the first incidents of NPC death, adding a new layer of emotional development to the series considering the first game played more like a board game.

“Final Fantasy II” was also the first game to feature a “final boss theme”. The previous game had the same battle music for all fights, including the final one with Chaos. The Emperor of Hell, on the other hand, got a unique track just for him.

During the cutscene with the fake Hilda trying to seduce Firion, the song playing is “Lake in Moonlight” from Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. This is one of the only incidents in the entire series where a song occurs that was not written by Nobuo Uematsu or another composer specifically for the game. Almost all other ones are during the “Let’s Play Piano!” segments such as in “Final Fantasy V”.

This game began to truly establish a Final Fantasy mythos. Bahamut did not appear in this game, oddly enough, but another series staple, Leviathan, did. So did the quasi-staple Mysidia, the town of mages.

This game deserves the honor of being the first to have a character named Cid, and also establishing him as being involved with airships.

This game was also the first to feature a chocobo and the “Chocobo’s Theme”, although it was more of an odd bonus than anything else. After a run to Palamecia, if the player wants to avoid the long, hard way back to Fynn, there is a small forest sprite to the west. Inside is an odd yellow bird going around that, if you talk to, will give you an encounter-free ride anywhere in the world it can run. More of an extra than anything, but something that soon caught on big. Horses were still used on many enemies sprites, although this was the last game to feature them. The first Wind Drake would appear in this game, which was also a quasi-staple.

The game introduced the spell “Ultima” as the ultimate magic as well as being the first spell to be a plot device. However, Ultima wouldn’t return as a usable magic until “Final Fantasy VI”.

Enemies that would become series staples included the Behemoth and the Malboro, including their various breeds. Similar to WarMech, a superboss known as Iron Giant can be found lurking in the game’s final stage, and the Excalibur can be found as a bonus weapon on a “side quest” by returning to the Dragoon Castle after the death of Gareth.

Last but certainly not least, this game would be the first to feature female playable characters. The rumor goes about that the White Mage in the original game is female, but that’s mostly sustained by things like “8-Bit Theater”. One needs only look at the game sprites. They can clearly see that the sprites for the male characters in “Final Fantasy II” are just recolors of character sprites from “Final Fantasy”, but Maria’s sprite is completely different and distinctly female.

SIDE NOTE: A “cheat” was present in this game in the form of a “broken weapon” bug. The Blood Sword was acquired relatively early in the game and was meant to siphon the health of whatever enemy it hit and give it to the character with the weapon. The problem was since advanced weapons were so hard to hit for good damage and consequently good healing, the game made it so that rather than have damage with this weapon be based on strength and proficiency, damage is proportional, so that the same number of hits from the weapon will roughly always kill an enemy no matter the strength. This was fine for regular enemies, because more advanced weapons would kill the enemy with one hit as opposed to several, negating the need to use the Blood Sword. Unfortunately, the developers made this apply to bosses as well, including the final boss, making him easy so long as you use a couple Blood Swords.

Brief plot notes: First off, this game is not a sequel. Each Final Fantasy game is supposed to be stand alone…or, to be completely accurate, each Final Fantasy game was stand-alone until Final Fantasy X-2, the first true sequel to one of the games in the series.

Definitely a bigger story here, if not still rather basic and a bit over-the-top. The evil Emperor of Palamecia makes deals with demonic forces in exchange for power that he uses to either conquer or destroy the entire world. Three refugees from the destruction, Firion, Maria, and Guy, fall in with a rebel army led by the deposed Princess Hilda to fight back against him. As the conflict escalates and several misadventures and quests transpire, the group kills the Emperor only to have their former friend (in Maria’s case, relative) Leon, who joined Palamecia in a bid for more power for himself, try to seize his throne for himself. However, his ascension is interrupted when the Emperor somehow comes back as the new Ruler of Hell and tries to unleash Hell on Earth. Leon rejoins the group to travel into the center of Hell to kill the Emperor again, and restores peace into the world. However, the ending is bittersweet as Leon goes off on his own afterward and the group remains unreconciled.

(Personally…the whole ending was a little hard to swallow considering the fact the Emperor wasn’t much of a threat while alive personally, only through his subordinates and power. Yet even assuming that the wimp became strong enough to conquer Hell, how exactly do you get rid of him? I mean…can you even kill him at that point? And if you did, what then? Shouldn’t he just pop back in where he was?)

Should Have Been Called: Final Fantasy vs. Jareth the Goblin King OR Final Fantasy Goes to Hell

Final Fantasy III (1990)

Overview: The “experimental” phase that was “Final Fantasy II” now over, “Final Fantasy III” returned greatly to the mechanic of the original “Final Fantasy”. Apparently, it was decided that the “Dragon Quest” system worked and it would be stuck with. As a matter of fact, the series may have regressed too much, as they once again made the characters blank slates and placeholders. To compensate and still have a story with as much depth as “Final Fantasy II”, this game involved an “NPC Companion” system, in which an NPC would periodically accompany your group from time to time and would offer advice if asked on the maps, so that at least the NPCs that are interacted with would have complete personalities and storyline. However, the story still suffers from feeling “basic” or “detached” in that most events seem to happen external to the four characters.

That said, “Final Fantasy III” was the first “modern” Final Fantasy, in my estimation. It vastly increased the size of the world yet again and gave “multiple worlds”, created a much more complex plot even if your characters were mostly “observers”, and pushed the limits of the NES to be the first game in the series that both used graphics for spells as well as did the iconic feature for almost every JRPG since: “number floating”, or the tendancy to show the actual numbers on the character whenever damage is taken or HP is healed.

This was the second game in the series to feature the Four Crystals as a major plot device, and took it further by including the “Dark Crystals”.

As with “Final Fantasy II”, do not confuse this game with “Final Fantasy VI”, which was released as “Final Fantasy III” in North America. “Final Fantasy III” was the last game to “cross the ocean”, and when it finally did it was given an enhanced version with different features for the Nintendo DS in 2006.

Gameplay: This game continued to use the “hit system” in combat due to being turned based, but would be the last game to do so. It also brought back the concept of “spells-per-day” and “spells-per-level”, which was soon scrapped forever after this game in favor of the better MP system utilized in “Final Fantasy II”.

The most noteworthy part of this game was the first true “job system”, which became iconic to the Final Fantasy series itself in multiple games afterward. Throughout the game, the characters would run into the Four Crystals, each of which would give them a set of “jobs”, or skill sets and abilities they could switch to. While all characters began as weak “Onion Knights”, they could switch to jobs like Warrior, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage, Thief, and Red Mage, which were featured in the original game, “enhanced” versions of those jobs later such as Knight, Black Belt, and Devout, and a host of brand new and useful jobs such as Dragoon, Geomancer, Evoker, and Summoner…as well as many not-so-useful jobs like Scholar and Bard. These constituted the first true “classes” since the original game. In addition to having their own sets of stats and access to weapons and magic, most jobs had additional powers never before utilized in the series, such as Steal, Jump, Darkness, and Throw, with some classes having additional latent powers such as secret passage detection and walking across damage floors. In doing so, the Final Fantasy series finally had a truly impressive range of classes and abilities.

Similar to “Final Fantasy II”‘s “proefficiency” system, characters would have “job levels” associated with each job that indicated how good they were at them and increased with repeated usage, and would enable them to use more.

However, the first job system was not without cumbersome faults. Early jobs lost value quickly compared to later ones. There’s very little reason to bring any of the first set of jobs into the final dungeon unless the player wants an incredible challenge. Furthermore, for whatever reason, the developers decided to restrict the ability to change frequently between jobs using a “capacity points” system which forced a player to stay with a job until enough were gained to switch again. In addition, getting high enough job levels to make each job useful was an incredibly long process. “Final Fantasy III” probably required more hours of gameplay than any other game up until that point to beat, but as most of that time was level grinding, it made for a boring experience.

What was introduced here: Chocobos cemented their position in this game, going from being an interesting hidden quirk to having chocobo forests around the world. Item management was made a bit easier by introducing the Fat Chocobo, a repository for items that wouldn’t fit in the shared pool.

This game featured some of the most extensive transport systems to date. It was also the first game to include a ship named the “Enterprise”, the first of many allusions over the years that would be made to popular sci-fi lore (In this case, the U.S.S. Enterprise of “Star Trek”).

This game introduced the infamous “9999” barrier in damage, as it was the first game where the player could reasonably be expected to hit that level, and it would remain until “Final Fantasy VIII”. However, it should be noted that the barrier wasn’t real in this game. One could actually do more damage, but the screen would max out at 9999.

Not only was this the first game in the series to feature child playable characters, it was the only one where every playable character was a child. Unfortunately, the tendancy for every sprite to look the same in the DS remake made this fact a bit lost.

With the new job system came a whole new range of game possibilities in terms of powers. Summon magic made its debut in this game, and this was the only one in the series that had “two ways to summon”. The Evoker would randomly call on one of two powers, one of which was almost always worthless, while the Summoner would always bring out one unique power that was very effective. This was the first game to utilize stealing as an ability, although the developers weren’t too terribly ambitious with it. The primary use of stealing is to acquire a new item that effectively removed a great portion of the difficulty of the early games of the Final Fantasy series: the Phoenix Down.

The most iconic creature created by Square, the moogle, first appeared in this game as guardians of the sleeping Une. However, it should be noted they were slated for debut in “Final Fantasy II”, but (for whatever reason) were replaced with giant beavers at the last moment.

The “Onion Knight”, named after the signature helmets they wear, was also introduced in this game.

Brief plot notes: The plot is fairly basic. Four orphan children accidentally stumble upon the resting place of the Crystal of Wind, which gives them a portion of its power and the instructions to save the world from coming darkness. Over the course of the game, it is discovered that the great Sage Noah’s pupil, Xande, to try and stave off his own mortality, unbalanced the crystals so that time would freeze on most of the world, meaning he would never die. However, some individuals escaped to a continent suspended by the Tower of Owen, which is where the protagonists start. As they go into the world to reverse this power by relighting the Crystals and eventually defeating Xande, they discover that this idea was actually the masterwork of a malevolent, chaotic entity known only as the Cloud of Darkness, who sought to disrupt the delicate balance between the Light Crystals and the (previously unknown) Dark Crystals to consume the world with darkness. Using the power of the people they’ve helped throughout the game, the four heroes beat back the Cloud of Darkness and save the world.

It should be noted that this plot is far more bare bones than what most Americans are used to, as one of the features of the DS release was to give each character in the group a mild story and personality. Interestingly enough, although DISSIDIA clearly models the “Final Fantasy III” hero after Luneth’s concept of the DS release, he’s still called “Onion Knight”.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy: 356/2 Days…of Leveling Up Your Characters

Final Fantasy IV (1991)

Overview: In a sense, this game can be blamed for why “Final Fantasy II” and “Final Fantasy III” never made it to the USA, as Square eventually decided to focus more on adapting games for the new 16-bit Super Famicom/Super Nintendo as opposed to the extra work needed to make a Famicom game translated to the NES. That said…this is probably the first true “classic” in the series…the game that was noteworthy and worth remembering. A balanced gameplay/leveling system was finally made that was paced almost perfectly with the progression of the story, which was, by far, the most extensive and engaging to date. Characters were given personalities and stories again, and were definitely the most rich and deep that they had ever been (even if, when you think about it, the plotline is basically a much more elaborate and detailed version of the plot to “Final Fantasy II”). Although this was the most “linear” RPG to date, the fact that it was allowed development of a much greater story, the beginning of “cutscenes”, improved graphics, enhanced wit, and more dynamic battles than ever, making the game both fun and attractive. Small wonder Square decided it was worth the effort to send to the United States. Although it came after “Final Fantasy VII” and “Final Fantasy X” got the “expanded universe” treatment, this was also the oldest game to get a sequel: “Final Fantasy IV: The After Years”.

Gameplay: I would consider this the first RPG (at least the first I ever encountered) which focused on making the storyline more engaging than the gameplay itself (although the gameplay was excellent as well). In terms of battle and power usage, this game mostly just “fine-tuned” what “Final Fantasy III” had begun to the tone of beautiful new 16-bit graphics and sound. The MP system was restored from “Final Fantasy II” and made into “modern form” by fixing spells at a certain MP cost, which more MP gained through more levels.

The job system was discarded temporarily in this game. Instead, similar to “Final Fantasy II”, it featured temporary playable characters who had classes that represented the “better” classes from “Final Fantasy III”. They were more interchangable, however, with only one fixed character: Cecil. The result enhanced the storyline by making the player concentrate mostly on Cecil’s background and plot and the depth associated with it.

Spells were no longer purchaseable in this game. Instead, mages would learn spells of their own accord with levels for the most part. Summon magic was the one exception. As in “Final Fantasy III”, the better summons had to be “earned” through side quests.

The biggest change to the battle system was the elimination of turn-based combat (and, consequently, the “hit system”, removing another relic from the D&D era). Turn based combat would not return until “Final Fantasy X”. Until then, the system implemented was “active time battle”, or ATB, in which both characters and monsters have a gauge that fills up and, on reaching maximum, the monster or character can execute an action. Speed (and spells that increase it or decrease it) no longer effects hits but rather how fast or slow the gauge fills.

What was introduced here: The storyline of “Final Fantasy IV” was, by far, the most intricate and complex to date, combining the heavy back story elements of “Final Fantasy III” with the most elaborate individual personalities of playable characters to date. Among those features to increase the depth of the story was the following:

– The first true “relationship” between playable characters, namely between Cecil and Rosa, which also led to sprites being made specifically of them kissing.

– The first “love triangle” in the series, between Cecil, Rosa, and Kain.

– One of the most morally ambiguous characters in the series, Kain. Kain’s character was nothing new. Leon in “Final Fantasy II” had been a traitor. However, he received poor motivation and elaboration, unlike Kain who was given much more of a “face” and made far more intriguing, revealing his ultimate motivation in turning to evil was so that Rosa would feel he was “superior” to Cecil.

– Radical personalities. Until now, all characters and NPCs had more or less been the same…always upright, determined to win, noble, and just. This series finally tried to make characters more “fun”. Tellah is a fiesty old man. Porom is a goodie-two-shoes who physically disciplines her slacker brother Palom. Cid is just a bundle of overexuberant energy. (I still smile when he yells at Tellah: “Open your eyes, you old nag!”) Edge is a womanizer who eventually goes “Pepe Le Pew” over Rydia.

– The most plot twists to date, both in surprise deaths, backstabbings, and shocking reveals, such as Cecil being half alien and the supposed main antagonist being his brother.

– And, to make all of this possible, extensive cutscenes. Most action was dialogue orientated in the series until then. You’d walk up to the NPC or the bad guy and talk, and after some words were exchanged the fights would begin or people would join. In this game, sprites moved around and were capable of bowing their heads, collapsing, and raising a hand, enabling them to pantomime actions on screen and “act out” uncontrollable side scenes. This game also introduced “dummied battles” that the player would just sit back and watch during cutscenes.

Similar to Ultima, the spell Meteor was used as a plot device in this game for the first time.

The Fat Chocobo returned in this game, but this would be the last appearance as an item storer due to an improvement in “Final Fantasy V”. In addition, White Chocobos and Black Chocobos were introduced, showing that chocobos could not only change color but also function based on color.

Namingway, a quasi-staple, was introduced in this game, probably as an afterthought. Previously, Final Fantasy games had always allowed the player to choose a character name. However, to emphasize the story-heavy nature of this game, the plot goes right in with an extensive cutscene at the beginning of a new game without prompting the player for a new name entry. Hence, this character was included often enough to allow every playable character to get a name change.

The Four Fiends of the Elements made their second and final appearance in the series in this game, although villains closely related-to and inspired-by would appear in “Final Fantasy IX”.

First appearance of an airship named “Falcon”, an allusion to the “Millenium Falcon” from the Star Wars Trilogy.

Mysidia appeared for the second and last time in this entry.

One of the most infamous badly-translated lines in the entire series originated in this game. During Tellah’s angry attempt to beat Edward to death, the North American version of the original SNES port features him yelling: “You spoony bard!” The saying became so infamous that all future English translations included it, and was likely the earliest Final Fantasy meme. (With the possible exception of Garland in the original “Final Fantasy” yelling: “I, Garland, will knock you down!”…which was also retained in later translations.)

Technically the first game to have a final boss with multiple forms, although the first form is a scripted battle you can only watch and the second form is impossible to hurt and can only be changed into the third and final form.

This is one of only two games in which the “Cid” for the game is a playable character, although he’s similar to the rather useless Scholar class from “Final Fantasy III”.

Again, the Four Crystals are a plot device, as are the Dark Crystals.

Although Omega would not appear until “Final Fantasy V”, the concept of a seemingly-unstoppable apocalypse robot originated with the Giant of Bab-Il. (Interestingly enough, the concept art that Yoshitaka Amano did for the Giant of Bab-Il would eventually become the esper Alexander in “Final Fantasy VI”.)

“Final Fantasy IV” has the distinction of being the only game in the “main series” that allows you to have five characters in the party at once. This was likely the result of reaching a conflicting point in the series: having a large cast of playable characters versus the job system from “Final Fantasy III”. Since there was no way to have jobs with these characters, the only solution was to have a large number of “slots in the roster” that would enable the player to hopefully have the jobs they liked in the available characters.

Brief plot notes: Cecil, Captain of the Red Wings of Baron and adopted son of the king, is dismissed from service after forcefully acquiring the Crystal of Water for him and questioning why it was necessary. As a condition for reinstatement of service, he is dispatched with friend and Dragoon Elite Kain to deliver a package to the summoners of Mist, but on arrival it breaks open and kills almost everyone. Realizing his king has gone corrupt, Cecil rebels against Baron and begins a mission against it. As the story progresses, he eventually finds out the kingdom is being manipulated by a dark sorcerer named Golbez of incredible power, who murdered the King of Baron and wants the Crystals for himself as a means to power, although Cecil doesn’t know why exactly. Eventually, his love interest Rosa is kidnapped by Golbez, and Kain betrays him and allows himself to be corrupted by Golbez’s power in exchange for the ability to keep Rosa by his side (as a prisoner) and be stronger than Cecil.

Cecil receives holy power from a mysterious voice on Mt. Ordeals which turns him into a Paladin and, though many victories, losses and sacrifices, manages to save Rosa and undoes Golbez’s control over Kain, forgiving him and allowing him to join with the group again. Nevertheless, he fails to stop Golbez from acquiring the Four Crystals and all but one of the Dark Crystals. When he attempts to secure the last one for himself, lingering darkness in Kain’s heart allows him to be controlled by Golbez again, and he steals the final crystal for him, saying “the way to the Moon will open”. With the aid of the mages of Mysidia, Cecil and company uncover an ancient starship called the Lunar Whale which takes them to the Moon, where they find an alien Lunarian named FuSoYa who explains Golbez is being manipulated himself by an evil Lunarian named Zemes who wants to destroy humanity so he can take their planet for himself and his species. To do so, he needed the Crystals to activate an apocalypse robot known as the Giant of Bab-Il to destroy the world. The group returns and, with the help of their old friends, destroys the Giant. FuSoYa breaks Zemes’ control over Golbez, freeing Kain as well but also revealing Golbez was Cecil’s older brother all along.

Golbez and FuSoYa return to the moon both for revenge against Zemes and to keep him from waking up himself to finish his work. Cecil and company follow, and watch as they destroy Zemes…only for his psychotic hatred to grow so strong from death that he becomes the far more powerful Zeromus. After Golbez and FuSoYa are struck down, Golbez gives Cecil a device that allows him to use his own purity to force Zeromus into a physical form that can be killed, and he’s destroyed by the group. Golbez, unwilling to return to the world that now hates him, decides to remain with FuSoYa and enter suspended animation with the rest of the Lunarians. Right before leaving, Cecil manages to forgive Golbez and call him “brother”. Cecil and Rosa return to the world with the rest of the group, are married, and become the new King and Queen of Baron.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy: Twilight Edition

Final Fantasy V (1992)

Overview: “Final Fantasy V” was originally slated to become the North American “Final Fantasy III”, but after the project was scrapped repeated times, eventually it gained more notoriety for its fan-translation leaked in the USA, especially as the Internet slowly gained popularity and more widespread use. It follows the new standard set by “Final Fantasy IV”: more linearized gameplay in exchange for better emphasis on the characters. It also vastly reduced the character set to four or five more-or-less fixed ones. If “Final Fantasy IV” could have been considered an upgraded remake of “Final Fantasy II” in many ways, then “Final Fantasy V” could be considered to be an upgraded remake of “Final Fantasy III” in many ways. Although the story is just as extensive, if not more so, than “Final Fantasy IV”, the emphasis of this game was more in the spirit of “Final Fantasy III”, in which character customizability and level grinding was given a larger priority. Square had definitely found its “groove” at this point, as evidenced by making gameplay fairly identical to “Final Fantasy IV”, but, to me, there always seemed to be “something missing” in this entry. Some inherit “weakness” in the story since the characters could easily become “placeholders” without impacting much, unlike in “Final Fantasy IV”.

“Final Fantasy V” finally came overseas in “Final Fantasy Anthology” for the PSX, released in 1999. At seven years, it was the shortest “lag” North America ever had to wait for a Final Fantasy game to “come over”, although by that point it had long been overshadowed by titles like “Final Fantasy VII”.

Gameplay: The single biggest feature in this game, and its “claim to fame”, is the improved “job system”. This game allowed a great deal of customization previously unseen in the series. The job system from “Final Fantasy III” was retained in terms of interchangability and job levels, but was given some added bonuses. The penalties for changing jobs were removed, for one. You could change freely as much as you wanted. However, all jobs except two, “Bare” and “Mimic”, had the added bonus of an extra command slot that allowed you to take a command that a character had learned from mastering a different job at a different level and applying it to their current job. It was a good system, allowing customizability without destroying the integrity of an individual job. Stats from the job itself also encouraged “communability”. Naturally, you don’t want to give magic to a physical powerhouse, just like you don’t want to give physical ability to a mage, or both suffer.

As an added bonus, whenever a job was mastered, certain attributes specific to a job (such as HP+10%) were applied to “Bare” and “Mimic”. Bare itself had two open slots for commands, while Mimic replaced Fight and Item with Mimic, but now had three open slots. The end result was that the original default job eventually became the most powerful by far.

If that customization wasn’t enough, “Final Fantasy V” introduced a staple of the series: relics. Relics equipped to characters provided additional bonuses that usually were in terms of negating status effects or granting special abilities, but were not universal at this point in time. Certain characters could only equip certain relics. Perhaps as an incentive to force the player to master the Dancer class, one of the more uncontrollable and less useful ones, only the Dancer could equip the highly-useful Ribbon relic unless the class was mastered.

Game plotline grew more developed and important with improved cutscenes. Character sprites could now hold up both arms, bow their heads while looking at a side, laugh, look surprised, scratch their heads, and other quirks to help them “act out” scenes.

What was introduced here: Item management, a relic from the D&D mimic days, was finally eliminated. The pooled item list had unlimited space, allowing the party to hold an unlimited amount of items. As a result, Fat Chocobo was no longer necessary, but would continue to appear in other forms in later titles.

An “accessory” to Cid, his grandson Mid, was included in this game in much the same capacity as the Cid characters to date. This is the only game that included such a character.

This game would be the last in the series to possess the Four Crystals as plot devices, although other crystals were used in something of the same capacity in “Final Fantasy IX”.

Along with “Final Fantasy II”, this is the only game to possess a Wind Drake as transport. It was true transport in this game, though, and able to be piloted around.

With the return of the job system came new improvements to whatever jobs had not been scrapped. For example, “Stealing” finally became profitable. There was only one real item to steal in the entire series up until that point: Dark Matter (from the final boss in “Final Fantasy IV”). Not only did stealing carry a higher success rate with better rewards in “Final Fantasy V”, some of the best equipment in the game could only be gained by stealing.

One of the new jobs was the Time Mage, which would only appear again in the “Final Fantasy Tactics” series. Another new job was the Blue Mage and, with it, the first incidence of Blue Magic in the series, or using certain spells that only enemies normally used against you. Although the name “Blue Mage” and “Blue Magic” died out, the idea behind Blue Magic would persist throughout the series from then on.

This was the first game to feature the recurring character Gilgamesh and his accompanying theme: “Battle on the Big Bridge”. Aside from “Prelude”, “Main Theme”, and “Chocobo Theme”, this became the most recurring song in the series.

This game was the first to feature the Mover enemy, which characteristically appears in threes and appears to be harmless and innocuous, but is often hard to kill and yields high rewards if the party succeeds.

Side quests had been increasing in the series for some time, and this game continued the trend by featuring the most to date. Among the side quests were two superbosses, the first to be included in the series since the Iron Giant: Shinryu and Omega. Both bosses were harder than the final boss. However, in my opinion, Omega is slightly harder because there exists an easy strategy in which Shinryu can be killed without taking any damage. Both names would reappear in the series, although Omega would be the one who would be rechristened “Omega Weapon” in later games as a superboss regular.

The side quests involving the Phoenix Tower and the visit to Butz’s hometown have the distinctions of being the first time a part of the character’s background or “story” can be missed unless the player purposely goes on the side quest.

Brief plot notes: A mysterious force is driving people and monsters to overpower the Four Crystals of the world, causing them to shatter and threatening to put an end to the four elements in the world forever. Adventurer Butz, Princess of Tycoon Lenna, and pirate captain Faris team up with the mysterious amnesiac old man Galuf to seek the cause and put a stop to it before it’s too late. As they proceed from kingdom to kingdom, always one step behind the evil force, Galuf gradually regains his memory and remembers that he was one of the four “Dawn Warriors” from a parallel world, of which Butz’s father was also one. On their quests, they saved their world from a nearly-invincible Dark Lord named Exdeath by driving him to the current world and, unable to kill him, sealed him away using the crystals of that world. Unfortunately, Exdeath’s influence was enough to control individuals into destroying the crystals and freeing himself.

The group pursues Exdeath back to Galuf’s world and, through a series of battles, struggles to defeat him as he leads a worldwide campaign of destruction. In the course of the battle, one by one the surviving Dawn Warriors are killed, including Galuf himself. He is replaced by his granddaughter Krile, who, with the group, finally confronts and seemingly defeats Exdeath, but not before he locates a new set of crystals on Galuf’s world and destroys them as well.

Surprisingly, the group appears to return to Butz’s world, only to find that both his world and Galuf’s have merged. It turns out that the Eight Crystals were once Four, but they were split to contain a horrific, uncontrollable force of chaos known as “the Void”. Exdeath wants the power for himself to become the greatest in the cosmos, and destroyed the crystals to cause the Void to reappear. Not only that, but rather than be destroyed, he slipped into the Void and now begins the process of slowly consuming the united world into black nothingness while unleashing demons imprisoned inside to destroy any who oppose him.

Butz, Lenna, Faris, and Krile gain the power of the Sealed Weapons that defeated the previous dark lord who tried to use the Void and go into it after Exdeath. Eventually, the power he tries to claim consumes him as well, but he is still destroyed. When that happens, the spirits of the Dawn Warriors send the “new” Dawn Warriors back to the united world. The crystals reform, the world is restored, and everything ends more or less happily.

NOTE: Butz is the most infamous “faux pas” to occur in the Final Fantasy series, for obvious reasons. All North American versions call him “Bartz”. It should also be noticed this is the first Final Fantasy game with “multiple endings” in the original version, as the ending is a bit different depending on who survives the final battle with Neo Exdeath.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy: Legendary Old Guys of Awesome

Final Fantasy VI (1994)

Overview: “Final Fantasy VI” closed the final chapter in the “2D” console era for the series, although Square, which had its first historic merger to become Squaresoft by now, would continue to put out several excellent titles on the SNES before moving to the PSX, including “Chrono Trigger”. However, there is little dispute that “Final Fantasy VI” was the best of the 2D era and is possibly the best one in the series. Gameplay, again, was mostly set at this point, although this was the first game to have completely interchangable characters, something that would be “ret-conned” into later releases of “Final Fantasy IV”. The story, however, is one of the most emotional, intriguing, fascinating, and cathartic ones in the series, involving a cast of truly independent characters with the wildest personalities to date, a second half of the game that is far more close to being “sandbox” than the trend of RPGs had been since they started “linearizing”, and a villain who remains the most charismatic and outrageous one in the entire series. Add to that beautiful visuals, the only “steampunk” setting in the series, great music, and entertaining gameplay, and you have one of the most wonderful RPGs ever.

Gameplay: In yet another attempt to harmonize story-driven gameplay with the versatility of the job system, this game featured interchangable characters, one of the best upgrades to the series. Although the player is forced to use certain characters at points and characters leave and return, eventually the player obtained a “pool” of the main characters, from which they could select any four they wanted. The characters themselves all had fixed “jobs”, so it provided the opportunity to have a large number of intriguing personas plus the customizability of the job system in a sense. The only drawback is that character swapping was restricted to being on one of the game’s two airships and a few other spots that made the act not highly accessable. The downside was that this eventually led to a deterioration of cutscenes, as being able to script each cutscene to be character-specific was too computationally extensive for the 16-bit systems.

Magic begins limited to only a couple characters, but eventually becomes accessible to all using the “esper system”. Espers that the player collects in the form of magicite gradually teach the character who has them equipped magic similar to the way levels are taught, but accumulating magic points instead of experience. Better espers teach better magic and simpler magic more effectively than “standard” espers. As an added bonus, leveling up with an esper equipped usually contained a “level up bonus” that improved characters further and allowed individual customization. The tradeoff is there is no real “summoning”, as a character with an esper can call on their esper only once in a battle for a mild effect (usually), although some espers in the proper settings are invaluble.

Many skills found in this game were never used again, such as Blitz, Runic, and Rage. Among ones that were retained and improved were Lore(Blue Magic), which was made far simpler to use in this game than in “Final Fantasy V”. The previous game only allowed Blue Magic to be learned if a Blue Mage or an individual with Learning was specifically hit by the spell and still alive at the end of the battle. This made learning spells like Lvl. 5 Death extremely difficult, as the Blue Mage would have to be revived before the battle ended and stay alive. In this version, simply someone attempting the spell is enough to learn it and staying alive and “conscious” through it, even if the enemy targets themselves with the spell.

Relics expanded in this game, and some relics granted new abilities or enhanced existing abilities.

In spite of all of this and the fun of the game, this was, by far, the most “buggy” game to date, with no other game coming close since. Rushed production and the fact that the director split duties and let everyone “contribute to the plot” is likely to blame, as the game had to be “stitched together” at the last minute. The result was great, but it left a lot of problems.

Some bugs were far worse than others and triggered fatal errors that forced the player to reset. Others reduced the difficulty and required useless features, such as having the Evasion stat have no effect (although this was fixed in later versions), and having the Proto Armor appear on the Veldt with no way for Gau to acquire it. Others made the game very easy in certain points, including the “Psycho Cyan” bug and the infamous “Vanish/Death” trick. Finally, there are scenes in the code that never became accessible and infamous incomplete monsters, including the legendary Czar Dragon superboss (who was restored as the Kaiser Dragon in the Advance port).

The first half of the game is fairly linear. The second half, however, is very much “up to the player”, offering the greatest versatility since RPGs first became “linear”, although not truly sandbox.

This is the first game to make world sprites and battle sprites identical, making the world sprites bigger and therefore allowing them to have “a greater range of movement” and abilities. The result made for much better cutscenes with lots of versatility now that larger sprites could be worked with.

What was introduced here: Although most remember “Final Fantasy VII” for making Limit Breaks pronounced, Limit Breaks actually originated in “Final Fantasy VI”. There was no meter or indication that they would occur, other than a tiny probability that using Fight when the character was about to die would trigger a super move instead. Similar to the special moves in the original “Street Fighter”, the odds of actually seeing one were so small that these came off as glitches, and it was more than likely a player would never see one even after multiple playthroughs.

Locke and Celes’ relationship was the first “love story” since Cecil and Rosa in “Final Fantasy IV”, but was considered by many to be the best prior to Tidus and Yuna in “Final Fantasy X”, in spite of the fact “Final Fantasy VIII” was meant to be a love story at heart.

The character Mog (as well as the other moogles in the opening sequence) is the only moogle in the series who can join your party as a playable character.

This was the first game to feature a “Slots” ability. It’s also the only game to feature a “Rage” ability. The closest comparable power is the Trainer’s “Release” in “Final Fantasy V”.

This was the first Final Fantasy with “secret” playable characters: Umaro and Gogo. Mog is almost a secret character, except you have to have him in your party in the opening sequence. Umaro is a Berserker class. Gogo, on the other hand, is based off of a secret boss in “Final Fantasy V” who is a Mime and gives the Mimic job. Naturally, he’s a Mime here as well, and actually is configurable similar to how the Mime job was in “Final Fantasy V”, with three open command slots to take any ability from the rest of the group.

This game also features “multiple endings”, which depends on which characters you complete the game with. The only characters you are “forced” to finish the game with are Celes, Edgar, Setzer, and Terra.

This is considered the last game in the series (and the only one other than “Final Fantasy” and “Final Fantasy III” [debatably “Final Fantasy V” too]) to have no “main” character. In spite of this, there is a clear “hierarchy” of importance, as the game devotes most of its plot to the stories of Terra, Celes, and Locke. It’s generally accepted that Terra (Tina in Japan) is the main character, which makes her the only female main character in a Final Fantasy game until “Final Fantasy X-2”.

This was the first game to include two “red shirt” characters named Biggs and Wedge, another allusion to “Star Wars”.

The main villain of the game, Kefka, is considered to possibly be the greatest Final Fantasy villain of all time, with no other villain quite like him since. Until now (and mostly afterward), all villains were smug, egotistical dark lords out for power who seemed to fit the same archetype. Kefka, on the other hand, is both insane and sadistic with a twisted sense of humor, and is only ultimately interested in destruction. His childish antics and reactions and signature laugh are infamous, and his clownish appearance and “killing jokes” have caused him to be compared frequently to the Joker in the “Batman” series.

This is the first game to feature two now-infamous enemies: Tonberries and Cactuars. Tonberries are now generally regarded as the deadliest enemies in any Final Fantasy game they appear in, with their innocent looks belaying incredible power and often one-hit kills. Cactuars, their signature 1,000 Needles attack, and their ability to evade damage, were also introduced. Eventually, Cactuars would receive their own culture and mannerisms, similar to Chocobos and Moogles.

The first game to feature an “Ultima Weapon”, a style of weapon that has damage dependent upon the HP of the character wielding it. It would recur in several other games.

The Coloseum was the first true “minigame” since “Final Fantasy II”‘s puzzle game on the snowcraft.

The Aria in the Opera House is the first time “lyrics” were incorporated into a Final Fantasy song, although the sprites only made “oohs” and “aahs” and the player had to imagine the dialogue based on the text on screen.

As mentioned earlier, although Yoshitaka Amano did concept art for every Final Fantasy game, this was the only one that pretty much used his concept art directly in every single aspect, including monsters, characters, and settings.

Although many Final Fantasy villains desired to become gods, Kefka has the distinction of being the only one prior to “Final Fantasy XIII” to succeed.

Brief plot notes: 1,000 years ago, the “Warring Triad”, a trio of gods, created magic and endlessly fought each other for domination of the world, transforming humans and monsters into creatures called espers as their weapons. Humans gradually learned themselves how to use espers to gain power, and, when they did, they escalated the conflict either by warring with each other or joining a side. When the world was reduced to a waste following the War of the Magi, the trio of gods called all magic to themselves, freed the espers, and then turned themselves to stone in an attempt to stop the destruction forever. The espers, in turn, fled into a separate world and were forgotten along with magic.

1,000 years later, however, humans found the entrance. At first, interactions were limited, but one led to a human/esper pairing that gave rise to a hybrid girl named Terra. Eventually, however, the Gesthalian Empire found their way inside and captured as many espers as they could with the goal of using them and their powers to dominate the world. The espers sealed them out, but not before Terra, her father, and her mother went through as well. The Emperor murdered Terra’s mother and, when she came of age, turned her over to his Court Mage Kefka, a psychotic and sadistic Magitek (magic technology) knight, to brainwash into a living weapon.

While sent on a mission to recover a frozen esper in another country, Terra’s esper blood reacts with it, releasing her from control but leaving her with amnesia. She falls in with a rebel group known as the Returners, and soon goes on a world-spanning quest to try and save the planet from the Gesthalian Empire before it causes a second War of the Magi. After many battles and adventures, the rebels decide to use Terra to call to the espers on the other end of the gate to help them. This eventually ends in disaster, as opening the gate not only allows the Empire, who recently discovered the true power of espers is in killing them and using their remains as magicite, to kill every esper who comes through, but to go through the gate, slaughter the remaining espers, absorb their power, and then seek even more power from the Warring Triad statues.

When the group tries to stop the now godlike Emperor and Kefka, in the ensuing exchange, a former Imperial general, Celes, stabs Kefka, shattering the last of his sanity, driving him to murder the Emperor himself, and then move the statues out of alignment with the intention of getting even more power and killing the planet in the same stroke. Although the group escapes, the face of the world is rearranged and millions die, turning the world into a post-apocalyptic waste while Kefka ascends to godhood to destroy the survivors for his own amusement.

The group gradually puts itself back together and confronts Kefka at the top of the tower of his own making. Since he has absorbed all power of the Warring Triad, destroying him should also destroy magic and all magicite…but it should also destroy Terra. Nevertheless, the group continues and defeats him. Although Terra at first begins to die, her human half remains attached to a group of survivors she defended after the world was ruined, causing her to remain as a full-blooded human.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy Steampunk OR Final Fantasy vs. The Joker

Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Overview: If you get into any “fandom”, you eventually get to people from all walks of life who have an opinion on one thing in particular. I once read…if you’re a baseball fan, no matter which team you root for you have an opinion on the Yankees. If you’re a farmer, no matter what you grow you have an opinion on tomatoes. If you’re a sci-fi fan, no matter your fandom you have an opinion on Captain Kirk. And if you’re an RPG player, no matter what you play…you have an opinion on “Final Fantasy VII”. The opinions are generally two types:

1. It’s a gift from God that deserves to be in the top ten of all lists of best games of all time.

2. It’s a hellish, overrated blemish on the series that should have never been made.

Whatever your opinion, there’s no denying it was a game changer. From an RPG perspective, it shattered the adege gamers like me had for years…that an RPG had to be “primitive”, that it would lose something if it ever moved past sprites and 2D. This destroyed that idea. It was made so beautiful and amazing that Squaresoft turned the gaming world on its head. Rather than Squaresoft’s move from Nintendo to the PSX dooming the software company, the opposite occured. The fans instead bought PSX systems just to play “Final Fantasy VII”, solidifying PSX’s tentative position as a contender in the gaming market and ensuring its continuation. Its boom on the gaming market also moved RPGs from being a “niche market” to being mainstream, and eventually led Squaresoft to rerelease their old titles for those who missed them the first time to enjoy, as well as begin the process of gradually bringing out their unreleased games, starting with “Final Fantasy V” two years later.

The only problem is that “Final Fantasy VII” was on everyone’s minds for so long and dominated the gaming discussions for such a long time that people eventually “glutted” themselves on it and began to get sickened by it. Hence, I feel it’s impossible to judge the impact of its legacy at this time, since it seems to be “en vogue” to hate it for the sake of spitting on it.

Gameplay: This game was the first time to use 3D graphics in the series, which, in spite of being disorientating and confusing at first, not to mention creating hard-to-navigate maps, obscures “more of the same”. In spite of the rotating cameras and uneven terrain, the game plays a lot like a traditional Final Fantasy would, especially after leaving Midgar. The battle system is the same as it was ever since the days of “Final Fantasy IV”, still using ATB.

However, a much bigger change was that this game removed classes. Instead, it used the “materia system”, in which characters would have slots on weapons and armor that they could fill with materia which would allow the use of spells and extra abilities. In effect, this system made customization go down a level below that of the Job system, especially since equipping any given materia generally had tradeoffs, in which one attribute would increase but another would fall. Materia had to level up to be of true use, and usually gained better abilities with levels. As an added frustration, spells could no longer target all individuals, either in your own party or the enemy party. Instead, you had to find “All” materias and place them in slots to link them to spells you wanted, but even a fully-upgraded All materia would only allow five group actions per battle.

Although characters were heavy on personality, having a “good number” (nine, which was neither too little like in “Final Fantasy V” nor too much like in “Final Fantasy VI”), this system led characters to often be neglected, as the only remaining benefit a character typically had was basal stats and Limit Breaks. Those two were the only attributes that really set individuals apart. However, certain characters had far more useful Limit Breaks and stats than others, which quickly would lead to the player only ever using a subset of characters. Still, this game tried to provide far more “character-specific” content. Some reactions and backstory are never obtained unless you select certain characters to be in your party at key points in the game.

What was introduced here: This was the first game to limit party size to three characters, which would become the standard. (Except for in “Final Fantasy IX”.) Character swapping was far easier thanks to the inclusion of the PHS option, which presumably allows you to “phone” the other part members from anywhere in the overworld to switch out of your party.

This is the first game to have “motile” enemies, who move just like the character sprites to perform actions.

Similar to “Final Fantasy VI”, the game contains bonus characters. Seven of the characters are standard, while Vincent and Yuffie are optional. Unlike Umaro and Gogo, Vincent and Yuffie have fairly extensive back stories that have side quests that can reveal even more with them, and the second sequel to “Final Fantasy VII”, “Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus”, focuses extensively on them specifically.

Cloud has the distinction of being the first protagonist in a Final Fantasy series that is insane. On that note, in spite of how much people tend to complain about him being moody, depressed, and unlikeable, it did in fact make a large part of the game internal conflict, more so than any other game to date (although it was a big part of “Final Fantasy VI”).

This game was one of the two in the series rife with Christian metaphors (the other being “Final Fantasy X”), and is essentially one big blending of Christianity with Eastern transcendentalsim. At the most basic level, the Planet is God and Jenova is the Devil, and Aerith represents Jesus Christ while Sephiroth represents the Antichrist. Sephiroth, aside from being bishonen (which is the main reason he’s hated), is a pale imitation of Christ and essentially a dark version, right down to his characteristic pose which is a parody of Jesus hanging on a cross. Aerith is half Cetra, half human…half divine and half mortal. Ultimately, she freely gives her life to save the world, becoming a sacrifice in place of it. Sephiroth, by comparison, wants to sacrifice the world to give himself eternal life…a polar opposite.

This game, again, like it or hate it, features the most morally ambiguous characters in the entire series. Cloud, Tifa, and Barret are all terrorists who killed thousands of innocent people to destroy a mako reactor in the “first act” of the game. This moral ambiguity is rarely touched on and mostly “glossed over” except in a few key scenes. Cloud gets the least because he has his own “issues”. Tifa is presumably confronted by the people she helped kill when she falls in the Lifestream. Barret gets taken to task by Cait Sith, a spy for the Shinra, who points out his hypocracy in being so obsessed with keeping his innocent adopted daughter safe when he willingly killed large numbers of innocent people mostly out of revenge.

This game began the trend in the series of each entry having a large number of minigames in addition to side quests.

This was the first game of the series to feature FMVs, and was one of the games that helped make them “standard” for a PSX game as opposed to using live footage (such as in the original “Resident Evil”).

Aside from “Final Fantasy IV”, this is the only game to hint at a “love triangle”, although it never becomes explicit. Later games that were sequels and prequels hinted at the fact that Aerith and Zack were far closer than let on in the original game, effectively removing her from the equation other than being a “friend” in the Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith dynamic.

Sephiroth, whether you like him or hate him, is one of the biggest “failure” villains in the series. In spite of his incredible power, ultimately the amount of deaths he was responsible for pales in comparison to most other villains in the rest of the series.

This is the only game in the series without a true “ending”. Meteor is never clearly seen being destroyed, and after that “key moment”, the only other hint we have at what happened is a brief scene 500 years in the future with Red XIII and presumably his descendents looking over the remains of Midgar, only confirming that the planet was not destroyed. By comparison, the two sequels, “Advent Children” and “Dirge of Cerberus” are both happier endings and far less ambiguous.

The first game in the series to be cyberpunk.

The only other game in the series that has the “Cid” as a playable character other than “Final Fantasy IV”, and, oddly enough, makes him have the most in common with a Dragoon. He’s also the first clear chain smoker in the series.

Both familiar spells, Holy and Meteor, are used only as plot devices in this game and cannot actually be cast. The only source of holy magic in the game is the summon Alexander. Ironically, Alexander would become a plot device summon himself in “Final Fantasy IX”.

“A One Winged Angel” is the first Final Fantasy song to have actual vocals.

Brief plot notes: Cloud Strife is a mercenary who claims to be an ex-SOLDIER, the elite group in the personal army of the world’s first “corporation state” government, the Shinra Corporation, who have made millions by marketing mako technology and reactors, machines that produce abundant, cheap power by siphoning the very spirit energy of the planet. As this is slowly killing the planet, eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE has set about stopping this by striking back against mako reactors. After a planned strike goes wrong, Cloud ends up running in with the last Cetra, Aerith, a race of human-like creatures that can talk with the Planet, and entangled with trying to keep the Shinra from getting to her for research. This eventually leads him to discover former Elite SOLDIER and bio-engineered super-soldier Sephiroth is on some sort of vendetta against Shinra and presumably the rest of the world.

Cloud eventually reveals to the group how Sephiroth went insane five years ago during a mission to Cloud and his childhood friend and AVALANCHE member Tifa’s hometown of Nibelheim on discovering his origin, and eventually reached the point of megalomania where he believed he was the heir of the planet and he and his “mother”, Jenova (a world-eating alien parasite that was mistaken for a Cetra), were to rule it. On that note, he killed everyone in Nibelheim. Cloud and Tifa both went to confront of him, but Tifa only remembers being struck down and waking up far away from Nibelheim, while Cloud doesn’t remember what happened after confronting Sephiroth. Nevertheless, they agree that Sephiroth is up to something that may be a worse threat than Shinra and chase him across the world.

Eventually, it is discovered that Sephiroth has realized his alien heritage and wants to give the planet a large enough “wound” to destroy it, as it will enable him to consume the mako that results from the injury and ascend to godhood. But during the long chase, things slowly begin to grow confusing. Cloud seems to regularly have lapses in memory and inconsistencies in his thinking. As they get closer to Sephiroth, he begins to start blacking out and having mood and personality swings, which begins to culminate in him actually helping Sephiroth carry out his goal. At one point, Aerith breaks off, suddenly claiming she is the only one who can stop Sephiroth. When the group goes after her, Cloud nearly kills her himself, but even when he stops himself, Sephiroth murders her, declaring as the last Cetra, she was the only one who could do anything to stop him.

When the group finally tails Sephiroth to the “Promised Land”, the original wound inflicted by Jenova, the Shinra follow them. At that point, Sephiroth reveals that Cloud is a “Sephiroth clone” manufactured by Shinra after the Nibelheim mission in an attempt to reproduce Sephiroth, and that his persona of “Cloud” is nothing more than the alien cells inside him latching onto Tifa’s memories and reproducing them in himself, taking the form of a boy she knew as a child. Cloud breaks down and ends up helping Sephiroth summon a Meteor to destroy the world in a few weeks, but the act of doing so causes the Planet to unleash kaiju-sized monsters to annihilate Sephiroth and humanity with him. Sephiroth seals himself in the crater to calmly await the end of the world while Cloud falls into the Lifestream, the spiritual “blood” of the Planet.

As for everyone else, both AVALANCHE and Shinra, they set out in their own fashions to try and save the world both from the monsters and Meteor. Cloud is found in the process but between the psychological damage and mako poisoning, he’s a vegetable. Following a disaster which causes Tifa and Cloud to both fall into the Lifestream together, Tifa connects with Cloud’s psyche and gradually realizes the truth: the boy from Nibelheim was emotionally and mentally disturbed and eventually split into multiple personalities when, in spite of his attempts to save the “neighbor girl he liked” (Tifa), she was in an accident and he was blamed for it, causing him to develop a massive inferiority complex that would only believe he was “good enough” for her if he became a SOLDIER. Yet when he left to join SOLDIER, he was considered too weak and inadequate and only got a job as a Shinra grunt private. Although he did in fact go on the Nibelheim mission (as a private rather than a SOLDIER), and although he eventually grew so enraged that, in spite of having no powers of his own, he ran Sephiroth through with a sword and defeated him, forcing Sephiroth to lay low and recover for the next five years, the fact that he failed to save Tifa, his town, or the SOLDIER with him, his friend Zack, made him think he really was a failure. When Shinra arrived and experimented on him to turn him into a Sephiroth clone, and when Zack was murdered saving him, he couldn’t live with himself anymore and had to become a false personality of an ex-SOLDIER and emotionless to avoid his crushing feelings of failure and guilt, which is what Sephiroth was able to manipulate. His head “in order”, Cloud regains consciousness and leads the group again.

The group discovers that right before Aerith died, she prayed for a “counter” to Meteor, the spell Holy which would destroy any threat that came to the Planet. However, Sephiroth is blocking it. After Shinra fails to destroy Meteor with a powerful missile and annihilates the barrier around the crater only to have their capitol city destroyed by one of the monsters, Shinra is no longer a factor and Cloud’s group are the only ones left to save the Planet. They go into the crater and kill Sephiroth, releasing Holy. Unfortunately, it’s too late, and Meteor absorbs Holy to become more destructive than before. Yet in response, Aerith’s spirit in the Lifestream calls forth the planet’s own energy to destroy Meteor and save the world.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy Bishonen OR Final Fantasy Emo

Final Fantasy VIII (1999)

Overview: After the resounding success of “Final Fantasy VII”, Squaresoft unfortunately fell victim to the same trend that so many people do that make a hit and developed a case of “sequelitis”…figuring that the winning formula for an RPG protagonist was to have a brooding, moody, apathetic, cold young man. Hence, we received the main character for “Final Fantasy VIII”, which unfortunately was supposed to be the biggest “love story” game since “Final Fantasy IV”…which doesn’t work that well when one of the partners is a brooding, moody, apathetic, cold young man. In terms of graphics, “Final Fantasy VIII” was a smash. Many of the graphics in “Final Fantasy VII” were ridiculously blocky and crude, looking more “experimental” than anything, while “Final Fantasy VIII” was superior in almost every category. Unfortunately, the story tried to be more “mature” than previous entries, with a gritty, political overtone mixed with a bizarre and near-incomprehensible plot. Coupled to the fact that the challenge was excessive and the characters were cardboard only when they weren’t stereotypes, and, in my opinion, it made for a flat entry in the series. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Most people swear by this game.

Gameplay: The game continues with the three-person party dynamic. Classes are again removed, with Limit Breaks being the main point of separation between characters, although they are more clearly defined. Aside from that, this was the most “experimental” Final Fantasy in a long time.

This game utilizes the “junctioning” system. Each character “junctions” themselves to a summon, or “Guardian Force”. The Guardian Force allows the character to “draw” magic from enemies and store it like units or ammunition as opposed to learning spells. Collections of magic can then be utilized through the Guardian Force to be “linked” to character attributes, boosting them. Naturally, spending spells causes less to be junctioned, resulting in weaker characters. Better spells give better stats. Guardian Forces themselves can be summoned, but have a delay in which they can be targetted and “killed” by enemies before a summon can get off.

Gil cannot be won in battle. Instead, the player has a “SeeD” rank, which awards them “paychecks” of fixed amounts of gil at regular intervals. Actions the player performs can give more or less SeeD ranks, corresponding to a higher salary. Weapons cannot be bought. Rather, the player must look for weapons magazines that feature articles on how to build better weapons, then find the parts to make them.

The most frustrating aspect of the game is the mechanic that while there are still levels, enemies “level up with you”, making battles even early in the game continue to have decent difficulty late in the game. In addition to different attributes, enemies that level up will have different “steals” and rewards.

What was introduced here: Moombas were introduced in this game, and became a quasi-staple in later games.

The biggest minigame/side quest is the frustratingly hard game “Triple Triad”. Despite yielding great rewards, it requires a tremendous amount of skill not normally reserved for RPGs as well as a high amount of luck…which translates into pressing the reset button on the PSX many, many, many, many times. However, it worked much like a real collectible card game would.

Assuming that we can declare the “Cloud of Darkness” was technically genderless in “Final Fantasy III” in spite of having a female form, Ultimecia is the first, and only, female main villain in the Final Fantasy series.

This game was the only one not to feature an airship. The main mode of transport eventually becomes the Ragnarok, a spaceship.

Brief plot notes: I’ll be perfectly honest…I only played this game once, so forgive me if I’m a bit more “shallow” on this game than others. However, the plot is ridiculously complicated and ultimately completely illogical.

Squall is a student at Balamb Garden, one of three Garden facilities in the world that compromise a group known as SeeD, a military academy for independently-affiliated elite soldiers. Shortly after he graduates to the rank of a full soldier in the group, he becomes involved in a series of events that involve the growing military viewpoint of the country of Galbadia, which appears to be slowly coming under the dominion of a woman named Sorceress Edea, one of the Hyne’s Descendents…witches of incredible power. He also gradually falls in with a Galbadian general’s daughter, Rinoa, who is involved in trying to overthrow her before she begins any world war possibilities.

In spite of attempts at political espionage and assassinations, the situation deteriorates, and eventually Galbadia and Galbadia Garden are taken over by Edea who seeks to destroy all SeeD not affiliated with her, including Balamb Garden. While trying to stop her, he learns of a mysterious woman who had been staying in Balamb Garden named Ellone, who apparently has the ability to transpose people living in the present in bodies in the past to potentially alter history. She has been secretly doing that to Squall multiple times, putting him in the body of a man named Laguna who was involved in a war against the last Sorceress-controlled nation: Esthar, but failed to alter the future. When Ellone manages to secretly escape to Esthar, Squall eventually finds out that he, Ellone, and almost all of his companions were once orphans who were raised in an orphanage run by Edea, but had forgotten this due to amnesia brought on by use of Guardian Forces. Edea has inexplicably turned from being a kind, motherly persona into a cold, cruel one, and…ironically…she seemed to predict this was coming as it is further revealed she was one of the founders of SeeD whose explicit purpose was to destroy corrupt Sorceresses.

While puzzling over these new revelations, Squall is forced into a war of the two Gardens, Balamb and Galbadia, and finds himself thrust into a position of leadership to lead the students of his Garden against Galbadia’s. Eventually, Edea herself is confronted and defeated, which surprisingly causes her to revert back into her matron personality. It turns out she was being manipulated by a Sorceress from the future called Ultimecia, who, in the distant future, is somehow using her will in the past to try and compress all time and space into a single moment, so that she can absorb the power and (like almost every other Final Fantasy villain now…) become a god over all creation.

Following the battle, Rinoa inexplicably goes into a coma, and Squall, developing feelings for her, takes her into Esthar to see if she can be helped. Unfortunately, he discovers too late Rinoa is a Sorceress herself, and Ultimecia transferred her consciousness into her and then uses her to open a prison containing the deadliest Sorceress in their era, Adel, which she abandons Rinoa for in her latest bid for power. Following a chain of (confusing) events, the group inacts a rather confusing, mind-bending and ultimately head-scratching plan that involves Rinoa once again letting Ultimecia possess her so they can help her achieve Time Compression, because doing so will mean Squall’s group will arrive in the same time as her and be able to kill her. The plan is carried out and Ultimecia is defeated, but both she and Squall are randomly sent through time. They temporarily arrive back at Edea’s orphanage in the past, where Edea absorbs Ultimecia’s power as she dies, which is the event that started everything. Following this, Squall returns back to Balamb Garden and everyone lives happily ever after…

SIDE NOTE: …Or they would have if that plot made any sense at the end. They’re doing the biggest “derp” moment that time travel writers implement: the Bootstrap Paradox. They’re trying to say the event that started everything was the end of the game…defeating Ultimecia caused her to go back in time and inhabit Edea, and, years from then, she’d take over Galbadia, be defeated, go into Rinoa, then into Adel, then into Rinoa, at which point Ellone would send her back in time so she could conduct Time Compression, at which point Squall and the others get “compressed” too and defeat her, causing her to go back in time and inhabit Edea, and, years from then…etc.,etc. That makes no sense. When did she “start”? Technically, I should pick on “Final Fantasy” for doing this too, though.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy Mindf*ck

Final Fantasy IX (2000)

Overview: Apparently, after doing two “futuristic” settings, Squaresoft decided to go “nostalgic”. In terms of both gameplay as well as numerous plot devices, “Final Fantasy IX” was a throwback. There’s no secret to anyone whose played the series that the game was intended to evoke feelings from 13 years back. Not only that, but it was highly stylized and nearly “cartoonish” in terms of graphic design and art. This seemed to turn off a lot of the “newer” fans of the series. Yet in spite of that, the game holds its own as being just as plot-intensive and cathartic as the rest of the series, and deals with themes far more intense and personal than overarching “good vs. evil”…namely what it means to be human and independent.

Gameplay: Like most games in the series, this entry used the ATB system, levels, and went back to having spells with MP. It reinstated classes as well, with certain characters having certain powers exclusive to them. Limit Breaks were replaced with longer-lasting “Trance” modes, which usually unlocked exclusive abilities or enhanced existing ones. As an additional “nostalgic” feature, the series temporarily went back to having the classic number of four-characters-to-a-party.

Weapons can be bought or stolen, but also can be “synthesized” from existing weapons and items, similar to the “build a weapon” system in “Final Fantasy VIII”. This game had the interesting function of learning new abilities from weapons, armor, and relics, gaining them similar to job levels in previous games. This created an interesting situation in which the player should buy all weapons and items as they become available, even if weaker than their current ones, and always keep one in reserve to be equipped so that a power can’t become lost. It is possible to never learn some abilities in the game if a certain weapon is discarded and never becomes available again.

This is the only game in the series to feature ATEs, or Active Time Events. These are events one can choose to watch the involve a character “off screen”. Often they’re just humorous, but sometimes the ones you choose lead to a plot revelation or item.

What was introduced here: Being a nostalgia game, there was little here that was “new”, but lots that came from previous series.

-The Black Mages, including Vivi, are all modeled after the iconic Black Mage of the original “Final Fantasy”.

-The Red Mage, not seen since “Final Fantasy V”, is a frequent occurence found in every town.

-The Auction House in Treno (itself a throwback to “Final Fantasy VI”) offers items from past games such as the Rat’s Tail, Doga’s Artifact, and Une’s Mirror.

-The potions involved in the Cid’s cure side quest have labels written by “Matoya” on them, the witch from the first game.

-Numerous songs from previous games appear, including: “Crystal Cave”(FFIII), “Castle Pandemonium”(FFII), “Mt. Gulug”(FFI), and “Rufus’ Welcoming Ceremony”(FFVII).

-A side quest reveals Garnet’s, the Princess of Alexandria, real name is Sarah…making her “Princess Sarah”, an allusion to “Final Fantasy” and “Final Fantasy III”.

-Although the Four Crystals don’t directly feature, four parts of a single crystal are scattered throughout the countries Alexandria, Burmecia, Lindbulm, and Cleyra, and one of the side plots involves collecting them to unleash the strongest Eidolon: Alexander. Also, there are four elemental shrines in the world protected by Elemental Guardians. These ones are later reborn in the final dungeon, Memoria, as Lich, Maralith, Kraken, and Tiamat…the same names as the Four Fiends of the Elements from “Final Fantasy”.

-The alien life form trying to enable Terra to consume Gaia and make it into the “new Terra” is named Garland. During his long explanation to Zidane of his background, he mentions that he tried to conquer Gaia once already and failed, and the story is never elaborated on, although the world in “Final Fantasy” is called Gaia. Assuming Garland is alluding to “Final Fantasy”, this would make “Final Fantasy IX” the first attempt (rather than “Final Fantasy X-2”) to create an overarching universe for the series.

Mog is a recurring moogle name, but only in this game is it a girl.

Another customizable card game, Tetra Master, was used in this game, but has far less rewards.

Brief plot notes: A theater group/gang of rogues named Tantalus, which includes an odd young man with a tail named Zidane, is hired by Regent Cid of Lindbulm to kidnap Princess Garnet on her sixteenth birthday from Alexandria and bring her to Lindbulm. The reasoning is that Garnet is actually a summoner who was adopted by the queen after the true Garnet died, and may be the last of them, and he fears for her safety as Alexandria is showing hints of making deals with a mysterious mage named Kuja, that have resulted in “Black Mage Drone Soldiers” who may be used as bioweapons in an attempt to conquer the continent. Unfortunately, things go ill pretty early on, resulting in a series of mishaps that eventually leaves Zidane the only individual taking her to Lindbulm, along with her self-appointed, Zidane-hating bodyguard Captain Steiner and a shy and mysterious Black Mage boy named Vivi. As the group makes their way there, they find out that Alexandria is indeed making these artificial soldiers, and soon implements them by sending them out to attack the nations of Burmecia and Cleyra, slaughtering man, woman, and child without pity when they try and resist. Garnet, refusing to believe that her adoptive mother has turned to evil, returns to Alexandria to reason with her, only to have her “Eidolons”, the beasts she is innately allowed to summon, drawn out of her and placed under the queen’s command by Kuja, who uses them to quickly bring the continent to its knees. Garnet herself is nearly executed when she is “no longer of use”, but saved by Zidane. In an attempt to keep the queen from producing any more “living weapons”, Garnet (renaming herself Dagger) begins to relearn her ability to summon and travels with Zidane off the continent to stop the production of Black Mages by eliminating their “seller” and the one who seems to be pushing the queen’s greed: Kuja. Although the mission ends up in the cessation of “mist”, the raw material that makes the Black Mages, the queen’s attempt to “cut out the middleman” and kill Kuja ends up revealing his true power as he both kills the queen and seizes control of the eidolon Bahamut before disappearing.

With the queen gone and Alexandria’s militarism over, the group returns to Alexandria only to have Kuja resume the acts of destruction by leveling Alexandria itself next, yet when Dagger and another surviving summoner, Eiko, bring out Alexander to destroy Bahamut, prompting Kuja to try controlling him as well, an even greater force destroys the city and Alexander, apparently extraterrestrial in origin.

Recovering from this latest blow and confused by this latest turn, the group is more determined than ever to stop Kuja, especially since this extraterrestrial force is apparently what destroyed Madain Sari, the hometown of Dagger and Eiko. It is revealed Kuja seems to greatly fear death and is obsessed with becoming more powerful than the pilot of the extraterrestrial ship, an ancient alien named Garland. He eventually manages to capture Eiko and tries to extract eidolons from her as he did with Dagger, but this prompts one of the eidolons to go into “Trance”, demonstrating the power to Kuja, who immediately snorts that he has nothing left to do with the humans or Zidane and departs.

Eventually, the group finds that Kuja and Garland are from a parallel, yet far more advanced, world named Terra and transports there…where in addition to a bizarre landscape they find soulless clones of Zidane everywhere. Confronting Garland, Zidane learns a horrible truth that he and Kuja were bioweapons themselves, with Zidane meant to be a genocidal killer of humans and Kuja his “prototype”. But Kuja, infuriated at being thought of as simply a “failed version”, tried to kill Zidane and ended up sending him to Gaia without a memory, and now to “validate his existence” wants to kill Garland to prove himself the “superior model”. The group defeats Garland only for Kuja to appear and egg them on into hurting him. They do so…which, unfortunately, causes him to go into Trance himself, using all the souls Garland absorbed using his ship to become god-like in power. As he kills Garland and gloats over his power, Garland’s last revelation tells him that since he was a prototype, he doesn’t have long to live. Unable to cope with his own mortality, Kuja childishly states nothing deserves to live if he can’t and destroys Terra completely. Zidane and company escape back to Gaia with the other clones.

Once back, Kuja wants to destroy all existence and everyone who has ever lived by ruining the crystal in the realm called “Memoria”, where all existence is recorded and traced. The group follows him there and beats him down until he slips out of Trance, and in one last attempt to “take them with him”, he uses the spell Ultima on the crystal…which results in the emergence of the personification of “eternal darkness”: Necron. The group is forced to beat that back as well, but, on doing so, the realm begins to collapse. As death seems eminent, Kuja, who, at the point of death, finally has learned to care for something besides his own life, ends up teleporting the group to safety while he remains in the collapsing Iifa Tree, waiting to die. Zidane, his own heart moved to pity, goes back in after him so that he won’t die alone, and presumably dies with him…

However, a year later, Zidane returns to Alexandria during a performance of a play and reveals himself to Dagger, and the game ends with them pairing.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy Nostalgia OR Retro Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy X (2001)

Overview: Following the transition to the PS2 and the merge with Enix to become Square Enix, a lot of opinions seemed to change about the Final Fantasy series. Following this point, the series seemed to continuously deteriorate. Although it remained popular in some circles, a lot of the older fans were alienated. What was considered the last “good” game was “Final Fantasy X”, although, to me personally, this was “the beginning of the end”. Rather than simply use the improved system to enhance graphics and gameplay, it seems Square Enix thought they had to change the dynamic of the game entirely to become both more realistic and more “like a movie”. The realistic turn was a bad move, because it tried using an almost cartoonish art direction combined with it, resulting in a lot of really bizarre-looking stuff…even worse than “Final Fantasy IX”, in my opinion. That was because the characters themselves were “cartoonish” in “Final Fantasy IX”, where they tried to make the characters look and behave more like actors in “Final Fantasy X”. The series focused on trying to make moves and gameplay more visually appealing and, as a result, scrapped their own ATB system for turn based combat to ensure all of the movements could “load”. That said, the story did focus more on character-to-character interactions, although, to me, it seemed forced as this isn’t a movie, but a video game RPG, ultimately. And it still ended up looking extremely awkward and weird. It also tried doing heavy metaphors…but unlike the ones in “Final Fantasy VII”, it beat you over the head with them until you feel like rolling your eyes and saying “we get it”.

Gameplay: No doubt due to being graphically intensive, this game marked the return of turn-based combat, although it was as a result of queueing based on character speed as opposed to “fair share round robin”. Although the hit system didn’t return, speed-related spells still had the effect of moving a character up or down a queue.

The game featured a “Sphere Grid” instead of levels, which enabled a “pseudo-class” system. Instead of gaining levels, the characters gain “sphere levels”, which give them the option of moving along the Sphere Grid. Each player initially is “locked” into certain parts of it, giving them access to abilities only particular to their character. As the game advances, the player finds key spheres that first unlock routes to better abilities, but eventually allows the character to move into new regions of the grid. The effect is to have “classes” at the beginning of the game and, later, customizability.

In addition to “class-specific powers”, each character is ideally suited to defeating a certain type of enemy. Tidus, for example, can kill enemies with high evasion. Wakka can kill flying enemies. Auron can kill armored enemies. Rikku can kill mechanical enemies by stealing from them. Etc. Eventually, moving along the grid improves a character enough to take out all forms of enemies, especially which grids they “leak” into. The only power not shared is Summoning, which is exclusive to Yuna.

The game also represents the best in development of interchangeable characters. Now, every character is “in the party” at once and appears in all cutscenes. Although parties can only ever have three characters on screen at once, characters can be switched in “on the fly”, do a move, and then get out. In doing so, every character can get experience in every battle.

This game is the most linear to date, eliminating the Overworld idea. Instead, everything is walked to from a “dungeon-esque” perspective or transported to via cutscenes and vehicles. Even acquiring an airship only “teleports” the group to locations. More or less, the game must play out perfectly linearly both in path and storyline except for a few side dungeons.

Again, the game is heavy on minigames. The biggest is Blitzball, which is keyed in to appeal to fans of sports games and plays similar to one in many ways.

What was introduced here: This was the first game in the series to have voices which, accompanied with the realistically-modelled characters, tried to make this game the most “movie-like” to date.

This game is the only one in the series where the protagonist is unnamed. Technically, he has a name (Tidus), but the majority of the game is told in a flashback from his perspective, which results in no character ever actually saying his name. The reason for this is that Tidus is the only character who is allowed to have his name chosen, no doubt as part of the game’s dynamic to try and insert the player onto Tidus. However, it has an odd secondary effect (in my opinion). Since Tidus is never referred to by name and practically ignored by villains, and is eventually proven to be nothing more than a physically manifested dream of the Fayth of another person, it gives the player the sensation that Tidus never existed at all, even in the temporal sense, and that the other characters are “imagining” him.

First game in the series not to have Nobuo Uematsu writing the entire score.

First game in the series to feature “fight bantering”, in which, in certain key fights, key characters can actually trade insults with the enemy, usually gaining a benefit in the process.

No game in the Final Fantasy series has anything even remotely close to an “erotic” scene. The closest the series came until this point was a few seduction attempts earlier in the series in various games. Howver, during the cutscene where “Suteki da ne” plays, we either assume that Tidus and Yuna held each other and floated through some beautiful underwater landscape that was conveniently at the bottom of a seemingly shallow lake for an extremely long period for no real reason…or that the entire scene was a metaphor for what they were really doing.

The first game in the series where a Save Point restores your power.

Along with “Final Fantasy VII”, the biggest Christian metaphor in the series. A kaiju-like monster literally named “Sin” is constantly destroying the world. The corrupt, “broken” religion of Yevon, who has given up hope of ever truly being rid of Sin, “offers sacrifices” in the form of the Summoners who have the power of the “Fayth” to become “pleasing sacrifices” that temporarily remove Sin, but never destroy him for good. Yuna is a devout young Summoner willing to die to stop Sin, but is unable. She meets Tidus who first “tempts” her with abandoning her quest and just running off to live a happy life, but Yuna persists, knowing everyone in the world is counting on her. Instead, Tidus, who himself is “not of this world”, ends up “sacrificing himself for the sake of his bride”, which is similar to Jesus sacrificing Himself for the sake of His own bride, the Church, to “free her and the world from Sin”. The interesting part to this obvious metaphor is that Tidus first assumes the role of Satan, acting as a temptor and a “stumbling block” to Yuna’s journey, but then later Jesus, giving his life for her.

Although “Final Fantasy VII” eventually spawned numerous sequels and prequels, “Final Fantasy X” has the distinction of being the first game to get a true sequel: “Final Fantasy X-2”. Although tragic deaths that the player wished they could undo was nothing new to the series, “Final Fantasy X-2″‘s “best ending” allows the player to bring Tidus back to life out of all of the other individuals who died throughout the series. “Final Fantasy X-2” was also an attempt to create an “overarching universe” to the Final Fantasy series, namely by connecting it to “Final Fantasy VII”. In that game, the prodigy Al Bhed is a child named Shinra. Right before going into the final dungeon in that game, Yuna notes that there are a number of pyreflies circling about, which are the spirits of the dead, and it is theorized that the pyreflies circulate through the world itself…just like the Lifestream in “Final Fantasy VII”. Furthermore, Shinra begins to analyzing them, suggesting he could develop a way to harness them for power one day, and Yuna thinks about the possibility of “a city full of light even at night”… In a bonus scene if the player correctly fingers Rin as the culprit in the Mi’Hen Highroad Mystery minigame, Rin reveals himself to be a dark customer, who is not only reopening research into machines that were used for war, but is interested in making an engine that runs off of spiritual power…

Brief plot notes: Tidus is the son of an infamous blitzball player named Jecht in the city of Zanarkand, who disappeared years ago, and is a star athlete himself. While playing in a game, a large kaiju appears and begins to level the city. Tidus, in the destruction, runs into a “bodyguard” of his named Auron, who seems to be the only one not surprised by the destruction and who throws Tidus into the kaiju, who he names “Sin”. Tidus immediately finds himself thrown into a primitive, post-apocalyptic world, where he discovers Zanarkand was destroyed 1,000 years ago, and much of the world is under the domination of the Yevon religion. Sin routinely goes about, killing whatever it comes across, causing life expectancies to rarely reach above the level of young adult and most of humanity to live in ramshackle, temporary housing…as big cities attract Sin.

He gradually falls in with a Summoner named Yuna, a devout young holy woman who is on a Pilgramage to the ruins of Zanarkand in a ritual to obtain the “Final Summoning”, a beast powerful enough to destroy Sin temporarily and buy the world a few years or decades of peace and security. Tidus and Yuna are instantly attracted to one another and he joins the rest of her “guardians” to make their way north. As he travels, he finds that Jecht came to this world and became the guardian of Yuna’s father, Braska, on his own pilgramage.

Multiple encounters with Sin follow, and Tidus sees a dispute between the Al Bhed, the people who are devoted to “forbidden machina”, machines that have been outlawed by Yevon, and don’t follow Yevon, and the religion which seems to control everything else with strict tenets. Eventually, the group falls in with one of Yevon’s new Maesters, a powerful man named Seymour, who takes up courting Yuna and suggests to her that a political marriage to him (given the fact she’s part Al Bhed and he’s part Guado, a separate race) would help bring peace to the world. However, Yuna and the group discover that Seymour murdered his own father to get his current position and is both corrupt and insane. He believes the only true state of life is “death”, and that all things must die so they can “be at peace”. His motivation to marry Yuna is to become the “Final Summoning” himself, because the Final Summoning eventually becomes the new Sin, at which point he can kill everyone to bring them to their “true state”. Yuna and company kill Seymour, but, unfortunately, rage and hate filled spirits do not “pass on” but come back as fiends, resulting in Seymour returning to the land of the living even more powerful than before. Furthermore, it is revealed that Yevon is endorsing his views in order to maintain their status quo and has resigned itself to accepting Sin as “permanent”. This causes Yuna to break from the religion and flee with the group.

The pilgramage is completed and the group comes to Zanarkand and meets the spirit of the original High Summoner, Yunalesca, who tells Yuna to select one of her guardians to be sacrificed to become the new Final Summoning (like Jecht was), and then to die herself to complete the ceremony (as Braska did). The group refuses and fights Yunalesca instead, and Yuna sends her on to the next life, destroying the system. Tidus also discovers that both he and Jecht don’t “really exist”. They are the memories of the Fayth, Yuna’s summons, who “dreamed them into existence” based on their memories of the true Zanarkand.

A way is found both to lure Sin into a location and to destroy him, when it is found Sin is a “repeated summon” by an old summoner named Yu Yevon, who continuously summons Sin forever. If there are no Fayth/summons for Yu Yevon to use to make a new Sin, then Sin can be destroyed for good. Unfortunately, this not only means Yuna must kill all of her own summons, but Tidus, who is merely their “dream”, will cease to exist once that is done. But since the alternative is to let the world continuously be destroyed forever, Tidus agrees to this. Sin is temporarily “dropped” and entered. After killing Seymour again and sending him before he can become Sin himself, the group kills Jecht as well followed by the rest of the Fayth, destroying Sin forever. Tidus begins to fade. Yuna tries to hold him one last time, but it’s already too late and she goes through him. Right before he disappears, she confesses her love for him.

The game ends with the only living High Summoner, Yuna, directing the world to rebuild in a new era, and Tidus, although not present, is revealed to still exist in the afterlife.

Should have been called: Final Fantasy: Romance of the Annoying Whiners

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