Final Fantasy

This page is part of a larger page titled, “Let’s Play (Classics)!

Final Fantasy is a popular Japanese RPG (role-playing game)  series.  However, in Japan, as I understand it, Dragon Quest (otherwise known as Dragon Warrior) is more popular and overshadows Final Fantasy as the premiere RPG series.  For those in Japan, if this is true, this is in contrast to the United States (or North America) where the opposite is true.  In the US Final Fantasy is considered a much larger franchise, or has historically been considered so, than Dragon Quest by far.  Final Fantasy here in the states has a long history of selling consoles, at least that was definitely the case for me when Final Fantasy VII came out for the PlayStation.  The gorgeous visuals and breadth of the world/story were amazing to me and honestly the Nintendo 64, despite being having a more powerful processor and also sporting Starfox 64, couldn’t measure up with its insistence on cartridge-based games rather than using compact discs.

The story of Final Fantasy starts out with a Japanese man named Hironobu Sakaguchi (坂口 博信), born in November of 1962 in Hitachi (日立市) Ibaraki (茨城県), Japan.  He started out studying electrical engineering at the Yokohama National University (横浜国立大学) but never completed his studies, instead opting to quit the university and drop out in 1983 mid-semester.  Upon leaving the university Sakaguchi started to work part-time at Square, a freshly formed branch founded by Masafumi Miyamoto (宮本 雅史) of the Denyūsha Electric Company.  Miyamoto had converted several of the generalist programmers of his father’s Electric Company into a team of specialized programmers working on a combined project.  Up until that point, most game development in Japan was done by one programmer, but Miyamoto saw the potential in utilizing the skills of an array of people such as graphic designers, programmers, and story writers to more efficiently produce quality titles.  In fact, in Japanese fashion, he opened an internet café in Yokohama to try to discover new recruits for his pursuits by offering jobs to those who showed excellent programming proficiency.  This is how Hisashi Suzuki was discovered (later he became CEO of Square), and he, in turn, recruited Sakaguchi.  When Square grew into a fully independent company in 1986 Sakaguchi started to work full-time as the Director of Planning and Development.

However, Sakaguchi hit some troubled waters.  He worked on several Nintendo (NES) games to successful completion, but unfortunately, those titles didn’t meet with great financial success.  Sakaguchi recounted in a Famitsu magazine interview that, “On a personal level I was nearing the end of academic eligibility at my college, so I felt like I had to stand up and do something, anything with my life.  There was also the fact that we had released games on the NES, but none of them were particularly major hits.  I started to feel like I wasn’t qualified to be a game writer at all.”  Spurred by this Sakaguchi started to create the plans for Final Fantasy, at the time called Fighting Fantasy, which culminated in a companywide presentation looking for volunteers.  However, not many people were impressed at first, and only three people volunteered.  At this point, Sakaguchi searched for more talent, as he determined that four people were not enough, and he ended up finding Koichi Ishii and Akitoshi Kawazu (who each later went on to create Square’s Mana and Saga series.)  Square’s president at the time serendipitously hired an Iranian-American programmer named Nasir Gebelli who was famous for the game he created for the Apple II computer, and Sakaguchi was able to bring him on to the team for Fighting Fantasy.  Sakaguchi recounted in the same Famitsu article, “It was the first time he had programmed anything like an RPG, though, so it was tough.  I had to explain basically everything about how an RPG worked before we could begin.  I’d say, ‘The character’s hit points go down at this point’ and he’d reply, ‘What’re hit points? If he’s hit, why doesn’t he just fall down?’  After a certain point, I gave up explaining everything to him and just said, ‘Don’t worry about it, just code it!'”  Ishii also urged Sakaguchi to recruit character designer Yoshitaka Amano, though Sakaguchi wasn’t at first convinced.  However, when Sakaguchi showed some magazine clippings to Ishii in an effort to show what art direction to take, he replied that Amano had in fact drawn them sealing the deal.

Sakaguchi at this point had decided that if the special game they were creating was a failure he was going to quite Square and return to Yokohama National University.  This resolution eventually contributed to the title of the game changing from Fighting Fantasy to Final Fantasy.  In an effort to stand out the team made a concerted effort to be different from the most popular RPG in Japan at the time Dragon Quest.  In the previous interview mentioned Sakaguchi points to Ishii’s contributions to the world of Final Fantasy as one of the turning points that really accomplished this goal.

The game wound up selling about 400,000 copies in Japan, but if you count all the remakes and re-releases from that time it currently tops out at almost 2,000,000 copies sold.  Sakaguchi closes out the Famitsu interview stating, “As we kept working, though, it started to bloom into something really special … I don’t think I can work on such a roller-coaster project like that anymore; I’m getting too old for it!”

The franchise of Final Fantasy itself today encompasses several media formats, genres, and outlets.  There was even a motion picture made set in the conceptual world of Final Fantasy called Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within which Sakaguchi directed.  Unfortunately, that particular effort was a box-office bomb.  As a game series, the Final Fantasy world has found purchase in several genres including role-playing game, tactical role-playing, action RPG, massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), racing, third-person shooter, fighting, and even as a rhythm game.  As well, and almost in obligatory Japanese fashion, there have been anime, manga, and novels published.

Like other popular computer RPGs, the concepts of the stand-alone game installments usually center on a group of heroes that challenge sinister forces in an effort to save the world.  Within this framework, there are repeat elements in each game that weave a bit of common thread such as character names and game mechanics (such as the active time battle system).  In very Japanese fashion, the series pulls inspiration from many various cultures and their languages, mythologies, and history, and is known for its excellent weaving of visuals, music (spearheaded by Nobuo Uematsu), and innovative game mechanics at the time of each game’s release.  In fact, Final Fantasy VII’s inclusion of full motion videos (FMVs), 3D rendered sets, and three-dimensional characters on the PlayStation was a huge leap forward in the development of the JRPG genre in the United States, and as stated previously, was the reason many purchased the console.


Sakaguchi’s story didn’t just end there, however.  In 1991, following the release of Final Fantasy IV, he was honored with the position of Executive Vice President.  The last game he directed was Final Fantasy V, and in 1995 became president of Square’s North American division.  His final role was as game producer for Final Fantasy IX, which he has described as his favorite in the series.  He became executive producer of the series, as well as Vagrant Story, Parasite Eve, and Kingdom Hearts.  Finally in May of 2000 Sakaguchi received the Hall of Fame Award of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (1) for the NES was developed and published by Square in Japan in 1987, with a North American release in 1990.  Due to some technical limitations and the censorship policies of Nintendo of America, the North American release had a few minor changes to certain elements of the game.  This particular game has been remade and ported to several different platforms including the mobile platforms of Android and iOS.  The game focuses on a party of four adventurers, known as the Light Warriors, and their battle to save the world.  Each Light Warrior carries an elemental orb that represents the state of their respective world.  These start out darkened by the corresponding four elemental fiends causing ruin and decay.  Together, the Light Warriors not only mature through their quest, but eventually defeat this evil and restore light to the orbs (and goodness to the world.)  This original game is considered one of the most influential and successful role-playing games on the NES and helped popularize the (J)RPG genre in North America.  As written above, by March 2003, all versions of the original Final Fantasy had sold a combined total of two million copies worldwide.

The game rests on three distinctive screens that proved to dominate future installments well into the PlayStation era.  These are the map screen, where the player is able to move a character around an environment such as the world, a town, or a dungeon, the battle screen where the player pits the four Light Warriors against a group of monsters, and the menu screen where the player can check the status of his party, use magic, and equip/use items.  The entire game is played out on these three screens with most enemies being randomly encountered on the map screen as the player moved about.  Through the execution of the game and story, the Light Warriors gain experience and gold from each battle, which fortifies them as they gain levels (a standard RPG game mechanic staple) and provides them the means to purchase increasingly powerful weapons, armor, and spells.  Each Light Warrior has a particular class chosen at the beginning of the game which includes Fighter, Thief, Monk, Red Mage, White Mage, and Black Mage.  Depending on the class chosen the character has varying abilities and restrictions, such as strength, or the ability to only use certain magic and armor.  An interesting aspect is that you can choose how you populate your party, as opposed to being stuck to having four specific classes required in your party such as in games like Lunar, so you could have an entire party of Red Mages or Thieves for instance.  This has led to many Let’s Play recordings and challenges where a player may conquer the game using only a party of White Mages (extremely difficult) or Fighters.  At a certain point in the game, if you complete the appropriate quest, your classes are upgraded.  For example, a White Mage becomes a White Wizard, and a Fighter becomes a Knight.

Magic also plays an important role in the game and is split into two groups, a technique Final Fantasy was to re-use as time went on, black magic and white magic.  Unlike in some RPGs where higher levels magically bestowed spells upon the protagonist, ala Dragon Quest (Warrior), in Final Fantasy, you purchase spells from shops.  There are limitations to which class can use which spell, with some spells even requiring Wizard status in order to be learned.  White Mages and Wizards can use white magic, Black Mages and Wizards can use black magic, and Red Mages and Wizards can use some of both.  After some classes upgrade they can even use low-level spells as well, such as the Ninja and Knight.  There are levels of spells with each level representing increasing power.  There are eight levels in all.  Some spells have multiple versions of themselves that are accessible at higher levels, such as the black magic Ice Spell (known as ICE, ICE2, and ICE3) or white magic Harm Spell (known as HARM, HRM2, and HRM3.)  This was to become a repeated characteristic in future games.  Each magic casting character gets a certain amount of “charges”, or times he can cast a spell of a certain level (I believe up to eight maximum).  There are more spells in the game at each level than one character can hold, as they are limited to three spells in their repertoire per level.  This is all in place of the usual magic points (MP) that for instance, Dragon Quest (Warrior) had (you can check out my Dragon Warrior playthroughs here).  In addition to magic spells, some items in the game can be used to also cast magic spells with no limit on the number of times they can be used, such as the Heal Staff which heals the party’s overall hit points.

In the end, Final Fantasy was one of the most influential early console role-playing games, despite criticisms levied citing, for instance, the amount of time spent wandering around in search of random battles for experience and money.  In my playthroughs you will see the poor pacing the game seems to have in regards to that particular element when compared to more contemporary games such as Lunar, or Lufia.  But it’s a mixed bag, as other critics found the gradual level-building to be amusing, and me personally, I like to grind up levels as it gives me a bit of a feeling of investment and accomplishment.  The game overall is considered by many, ironically, to be the weakest and most difficult in the series that came to be known and after playing it I would have to agree, despite having (according to Matt Casamassina of IGN) a deeper and more engaging storyline than the original Dragon Quest (Warrior).  If you’re okay with these shortcomings though, you’ll find the game to be fairly enjoyable.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to the Let’s Play Classic meat and potatoes: the playthrough videos.  Below is the still evolving playlist outlining all the videos that have been produced (or yet to be published) so far:




As time goes on I’ll be making more specific posts regarding the videos, but for now, that’s what I got for Final Fantasy.  Thanks for reading, see you later!

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