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What Does "Final Fantasy" Mean to You?

We look back in series history and see how we ended up with an action RPG as the franchise's latest.

Article by Mike Williams, .

Way back in 1987, Hironobu Sakaguchi and his seven-member team at Square developed and published Final Fantasy for the Nintendo Famicom. That last-ditch effort put Square on the map and launched a franchise that has sold over 100 million units. The series is Square Enix's tentpole franchise worldwide, with almost double the total sales of Final Fantasy's predecessor, the Dragon Quest series.

The first Final Fantasy laid the gameplay groundwork for most of the fifteen primary titles in the series' twenty-six-year history. Player characters on one side, enemies on the other side. A menu allows the player to command their chosen party in battle. The visual presentation of this combat may have changed over the decades, but this basic setup is what could be considered the gameplay core of Final Fantasy.

For a long time, Final Fantasy got prettier, but it was still basically this.

As the series has evolved, the framework around this core has shifted and changed. Overworlds have grown and shrunk, being anywhere from Mode 7 spaces to 3D cities trapped in time. Characters have changed from cyphers you could name to fully-realized heroes and heroines. Spells sometimes have a certain number of uses and other times they require MP to cast. Random encounters are the norm for the series, but occasionally enemies have made their presence known on the map. The games have twisted and morphed, but retained a center that you could safely call “Final Fantasy”.

Until Final Fantasy XI Online, the series first massively multiplayer online game.

Whether it was for creative or commercial reasons, Square decided to make the first online Final Fantasy a numbered entry in the series. Prior to this, Square had played around with ideas outside of the basic Final Fantasy core with spinoff titles. These games took some of the visual tropes of Final Fantasy - chocobos, black and white mages, the summon creatures - and explored new gameplay. Final Fantasy Tactics, the Chocobo series, and Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden (Final Fantasy Adventure) all explored different genres, but aren’t considered true Final Fantasy games.

Final Fantasy XI included bosses like Absolute Virtue here that took up to 24 hours to kill.

That model is a standard in the industry. A franchises’ numbered titles stick to familiar ground and if you want to step outside that ground, a spinoff is created. Notable examples of this include Halo Wars, Phantasy Star Online, Heroes of Might and Magic, Metal Gear Acid, and Metroid Prime. These experiments don’t always work out - Street Fighter 2010, Death by Degrees, Fable: The Journey, and Mortal Kombat: Special Forces say “hi” - but it gives developers a chance to play around while giving players something known to latch onto.

Numbered entries in a franchise come with certain expectations, and Final Fantasy XI Online was well outside of those expectations for the Final Fantasy franchise. Players controlled a single character in real-time combat, joining other players to combat larger foes. It was a typical MMO of its time, based roughly on gameplay found in and popularized by Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Square (and later Square Enix) did find success with the title and have another paid expansion, Seekers of Adoulin, which came out earlier this year.

With Final Fantasy XI Online, Square told convention to go screw off and blazed a new trail for itself. What if the rest of the industry did the same? Imagine Grand Theft Auto VI as an 4X strategy title, where you take control of a gang to carve out your own neighborhood in Los Santos. Imagine if Metal Gear Solid VI was a visual novel detailing the creation of Foxhound. Imagine Persona 5 as a racing game. Imagine Castlevania as a God of War-styl-- oh wait, they did that one.

Final Fantasy XII returned somewhat to the series’ core gameplay, but kept the real-time combat with its Active Dimension Battle system. Final Fantasy XIII followed that with a variant of the Active Time Battle system present in most Final Fantasy titles since Final Fantasy IV. The key difference in FFXIII is players only controlled the lead party member, with other members controlled by the AI, not unlike the Tales of series or latter Star Ocean games. Final Fantasy XIV Online was another MMO in the series released in 2010, but the game launched in an unfinished and incomplete state, which is the kiss of death for many MMOs. The negative reception combined with MMO players' growing preference for free-to-play forced Square Enix to raze the entire thing to the ground and start anew. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will be re-launched in August of this year. (Read Pete's beta impressions to see if the game is any better!)

Square Enix is hoping FFXIV: A Realm Reborn can revive its pocketbook.

Which brings us to Final Fantasy XV, announced at this year’s E3. Final Fantasy XV was previously developed under the name Final Fantasy Versus XIII, clearly denoting it as an action-RPG spinoff of Final Fantasy XIII. The game was announced back in 2006, planned as part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology which included Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and Final Fantasy Agito XIII. Final Fantasy Agito XIII upheld its status as a spinoff when it was renamed Final Fantasy Type-0 and released on the PSP in 2011. Final Fantasy XIII came out in 2009, was followed by Final Fantasy XIII-2 in 2011 (a sequel to a numbered FF is oddly not a franchise first), and the third entry, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, is coming in early 2014.

In contrast, Final Fantasy XV has switched from a PlayStation 3-exclusive to an Xbox One and PlayStation 4 title. The game was previously developed on Square Enix’s Crystal Tools, but has now changed over to the publisher’s new Luminous Engine. When it was announced, game director and character designer Tetsuya Nomura acknowledged that Versus XIII was beyond the scope of numbered Final Fantasy games, originally envisioned as an action-RPG in the vein of Nomura’s Kingdom Hearts.

“With Versus, we are trying out a type of adventure that we couldn't do in the numbered series,” he told Japanese magazine Gaimaga (via IGN).

What changed? Probably eight years worth of development effort and cost. Maybe the desire to distance themselves from a series of games that will be finished by time Final Fantasy XV hits stores, seeing as the game still doesn’t have a firm release date.

I don't even know how I'd play this.

Does Final Fantasy XV deserve to be seen as a numbered Final Fantasy game, or is Square Enix moving in the wrong direction with the series? The publisher is moving forward regardless, but I wonder if the hearts and minds of Final Fantasy fans will follow. A number of fans have already checked out of the franchise due to previous development choices or fatigue and indie developers like Zeboyd Games are there to provide a classic take on the RPG genre.

Perhaps it's better for Square Enix’s developers that Final Fantasy is more of an aesthetic style married to certain visual tropes, instead of a certain type of game. Square Enix has been in a creative rut, but with the renaming of Versus XIII, the future of Final Fantasy XVI is now full of possibilities. Who knows exactly what form numbered Final Fantasy games could take now?

I'm of two minds on Final Fantasy XV and the future of the series: I look forward to finally seeing what Versus XIII has become, but I prefer that numbered entries to stick near the classic core. What do you think? Is Final Fantasy XV a sweet dream, or a beautiful nightmare?

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for PsychicPumpkin #1 PsychicPumpkin 3 years ago
    I lean towards beautiful nightmare. What I want from Final Fantasy is something more like IV-IX.
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  • Avatar for IndianaGamer #2 IndianaGamer 3 years ago
    What does Final Fantasy mean to me? Unfortunately, my only real experience with this series is 1992's Mystic Quest, given to me by an aunt who didn't know what kinds of games I was into (not RPGs), but did know that I had a SNES. I hated it. I remember my mom making me play it when my aunt visited. After that, even though I gradually started to enjoy RPGs, I never had a desire to check out the other games in the series.
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  • Avatar for Bla1ne #3 Bla1ne 3 years ago
    "I prefer that numbered entries to stick near the classic core."

    It's been a long time since Squeenix lost sight of what that classic core is.

    Final Fantasy, to me, means part of my childhood. FFVII was the first RPG I ever played (I can still remember discovering, as a kid, how a turn-based battle worked!--"oh, I have to wait until that bar is full, then pick my action, then he does it!"). Buying every new installment day-1 was so exciting for me--it was crucial that I always be at the forefront of FF games! FFVII, VIII, and IX were a significant part of my naive gamer childhood.

    Then the PS2 came along, and I remember getting FFX--already the emotions I felt buying it were different. I was maturing, but FF was still very near and dear to me. I remember very much looking forward to FFX-2, also. But when I got it, it was the first time I wasn't totally enamored with a numbered FF game. I still liked it, back then, but cracks were beginning to form in my devotion to the franchise. I had to skip XI because I didn't want to pay a monthly fee, but I picked up XII and again fell in love with the series.

    By that point, though, I was getting quite mature as a gamer, and I could tell the series was obviously not the same as what I'd fallen in love with as a kid. I truly did love FFXII though (except the story--didn't like it one bit; loved everything else--except Vaan).

    Theeeeen XIII happened. Long story short I never bought it, never bought the sequels, Final Fantasy means nothing to me anymore, it's all but dead to me. Vs XIII was interesting, but so little had been shown, I was never awaiting it. Now that it's XV (and MULTIPLATFORM), if anything, my guard is higher than it used to be. I'm nowhere near impressed yet. I'll give the game a chance, but I will be an extremely hard judge.

    Bottom line is FF used to mean the world to me in my childhood! Now it means nothing at all. Not because I've changed, but because it has.

    (Sorry, wall of text...)
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #4 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @Bla1ne hey, you never have to apologize for a wall of text, as long as its civil! Glad to hear your story.
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  • Avatar for BDBN #5 BDBN 3 years ago
    I'll go with 'Beautiful Nightmare.' My first Final Fantasy was the first Final Fantasy for NES, which my brother and I would obsessively play for hours. I was a big fan of II (IV) and III (VI) when they came out, and saved up for months to buy a PS1 so I could play VII. I also remember RUNNING home from school the day someone told me about NES/SNES emulation and fan translation, because the thought of playing the real FF2, 3 and 5 was just too good to be true (and considering the quality of any NES/SNES emulator in 1997, it pretty much was).

    The JRPG genre isn't one that's known or growing and evolving over time, so I give Square-Enix credit for attempting to push the series forward. It just seems like the series has gradually lost its heart since the 32-bit generation, and each installment has gotten less interesting than the last for me. I'll probably give XV a chance, but I look forward to it no more than any other game out there. A new Final Fantasy just isn't an event anymore.
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  • Avatar for Bigglesworth #6 Bigglesworth 3 years ago
    The Final Fantasy fanbase is a splintered one and presents as a peculiarly unappreciative and unpleasable lot. Every one of them has a personal favourite, and due to the series' longevity its commonly the particular entry they first played, or perhaps the one they played during the most formative period in their lives.

    The problem is that every Final Fantasy game innovates. Whilst the core elements remain and develop, stories and characters are renewed and the mechanics get significantly shaken up, and this rankles with the fan who clings to the features that made 'their' Final Fantasy special to them.

    Personally, I don't consider myself a fan of Final Fantasy, that term is too poisonous. I'm just someone who likes and appreciates Final Fantasy games.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #7 pjedavison 3 years ago
    @Bigglesworth Yes, this is the thing a lot of people forget about Final Fantasy. One of the most common criticisms is that it's the same old, same old over and over again, when actually the complete opposite is true; every single FF has done something markedly different from its predecessors, and those differences have got more and more pronounced as time goes on.

    Compare X to X-2 to XI to XII to XIII, for example -- all VERY different in terms of gameplay. None of them are "bad" per se, but it's somewhat understandable that not everyone will like all of them, because they don't play anything like each other. That's a difficult concept for someone who considers themselves a fan of a series to deal with; they see an entry that doesn't resonate with them as Square Enix "abandoning" them when in fact it's just them trying something new and perhaps hoping to attract a new sector of the audience in the process.
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  • Avatar for BDBN #8 BDBN 3 years ago
    @Bigglesworth@pjedavison Those are excellent points. Video game fans can be a fickle bunch. JRPG fans can be the most fickle of the lot.
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  • Avatar for Fox89 #9 Fox89 3 years ago
    Jason Schreier of Kotaku put it best:

    "But that's not what Final Fantasy has ever been about. Final Fantasy, beyond the crystals and the summoned monsters and the increasingly beautiful hair particles, is about surprise. It's about unfamiliarity. It's about picking up a controller and entering a world and never wanting to leave."

    That's what Final Fantasy is to me. I know there's a lot of controversy about what the 'core' of the series is but from my point of view it's never been about a specific set of game mechanics, it's about how the series makes me feel.

    This is why I count Crisis Core, a PSP Spin-off, a better 'Final Fantasy' game than XIII. It's why VII was OK despite dropping a fantasy setting. It's why XII was good despite being real-time. Sometimes it's the characters I fall in love with. Sometimes it's the world, or the story, or a combination of all of those things.

    I like the traditional game mechanics of Final Fantasy (except random battles), but mechanics are not what makes a game in that series special. So if FFXV fails it wont be because it's an action RPG; it'll be because the characters are weak or the story is contrived or the world is a boring place to explore.

    Look how Resident Evil 4 changed the mechanics from Resident Evil 3. It was drastic. But depending on who you talk to it was arguably the best in the series. As long as FFXV is a very *good* action RPG, with a great story, great characters and a great world - it'll be a proper Final Fantasy game to me.Edited June 2013 by Fox89
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  • Avatar for davidgreenwood80 #10 davidgreenwood80 3 years ago
    I became familiar with FF in the days of FF6-7, when I was just getting into RPGs, initially via Earthbound and Crono Trigger.

    To me, FF was typified by MORE. Always MORE. I felt like FF games prided themselves on how many gameplay "systems" could be combined on top of one another, how many minigames could be crammed in, how epic and huge the cutscenes and summon animations could be. It's true that VI didn't have the cutscene addiction of VII, but every character had a different method of engaging in combat! One even had players entering street fighter style commands.

    I never cared much for the series because even in the entries I did enjoy (Mostly X and XII) there was just too much of everything. Four "systems" when one would do. Too many quests, etc.
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  • Avatar for Jaydra-Dawn #11 Jaydra-Dawn 3 years ago
    I’ve been playing Final Fantasy for as long as I’ve been gaming, starting with IV and I got hooked by VI.

    To me, sitting down to play Final Fantasy is like opening a great pulp novel. They’re stories dealing with classic themes like Chaos vs Balance, Good vs Evil, rebellion, and challenging destiny. They are at times brilliant, at times cringe worthy, but I respect how so many just commit to telling an interesting story, in a bizarre setting, on an epic-scale.

    The change of mechanics kept it interesting, but I was never there for them. I think the only game I played because of the mechanics was Final Fantasy: Tactics (Best job system ever).

    But it’s always just about what resonates with me. I love a good helping of fantasy, even if it is a bit silly when you break the story down element by element. I think Final Fantasy XIII is my favourite just because I can relate to the characters, and I honestly think the world is really neat. Lightning’s badass, Fang’s the drinking buddy I wish I had, and Vanille is your youthful optimist who’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders (I could write a ton on what I liked about that character). Except now I wish a sari was more accepted dress in western culture, especially during the summer they’d be sooo comfortable… But you see how what resonates with you stays with you even after you put it down?

    Regardless, Final Fantasy’s the pulp novel of the gaming world. I don’t care if it’s not ‘high literature’ (or whatever the gaming equivalent is. Persona? Bioshock? Journey?). I don’t want it to be. Give me badass characters, a new world to explore, and a great adventure along the way.Edited June 2013 by Jaydra-Dawn
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  • Avatar for jakrodgers25 #12 jakrodgers25 3 years ago
    This article should be pulled down due to over-biased input based on misinformation to begin with. Instead of going on a tangent about something you know little to nothing about, you ought to try doing your research, scrub. Even your attempts at being witty are fully pathetic and misinformed. Seriously, stick with other topics, because you know very little about video games.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #13 Shinta 3 years ago
    I disagree with a lot of this article.

    The series was always about radical reinvention. You forget FF Spirits Within. Before XI ever came along, Sakaguchi himself led the company down the path of making FF into a sci-fi movie, not unlike Mass Effect in many ways. It was pretty clear at the time that FF could be anything; a TPS, a tactics game, a multi-player game. They just keep a few key ideals and ideas in mind, and the rest is up in the air.

    I think it's a fantastic formula, and it's really the reason it's my favorite series in gaming. No one has any idea what FFXVI will be, and I find that incredibly exciting. They're not limited by anything but their imagination. Who would actually make the argument that they should limit themselves to 25 year old gameplay models? Frankly, it's absurd.

    And FFXI is more deserving of a mainline number than many other FF games. For those that played it, you guys know what I'm talking about. Pretty much the best gameplay in the series, with the most fully developed job classes in the series, by far. One of the absolute top OSTs in the series, and a great story. It's hugely expansive in virtually every area. Because it's multi-player, it doesn't count? No. That's like saying Uncharted 2 should be a spin-off because it has multi-player, when the first one doesn't. Again, it's absurd.

    What it really boils down to is that a lot of fans skipped XI because they were intimidated, and now they have to try and come up with a lot of rationalizations for justifying missing out on one of the best games in the whole series.

    And now XIV: ARR is about to kick off again. A large, vocal subset of FF fans have been waiting around for 7 years, wanting something that plays like FFXII. But they don't seem to realize that XIV: ARR is exactly what they want: same art style and character/costume artist, same type of battle system, hugely open world. But they will miss the boat again because they're too intimidated to play a game with other people.

    And as far as XV goes, look at the state of modern RPGs. You have pretty much all action RPGs. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Dragon's Dogma, Skyrim, Witcher, Dark Souls and an and on. I can't WAIT to see SQEX finally throw their hat in the ring and show everyone their vision for a top of the line action RPG. That's the natural progression of RPGs, and Ito even said that's what he envisioned when he made FFVI ATB over a decade ago.

    I can't wait for XIV: ARR, and XV. And no matter how much I enjoy both, I hope XVI is absolutely nothing like either. I want the series to be completely different with each entry. It blows my mind that people are asking for less innovation and originality. If you guys like the old games so much, play them again, and buy Bravely Default.
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  • Avatar for AnghellicKarma #14 AnghellicKarma 3 years ago
    This article has several erroneous statements presented as declarative facts.

    - Final Fantasy XI Online was released worldwide by September of 2004. Conversely, World of Warcraft didn't see its first release in any region until November 23, 2004. This makes the statement that FFXI was a reiteration of WoW a gross factual error, one very easily checked (as I just showed). FFXI followed Everquest, perhaps, but certainly not WoW.

    - The sidebar graphic that shows a boss named Absolute Virtue includes a caption noting that it took 24 hours to kill. This is also false. Absolute Virtue would kill you long before that. You are probably thinking of Pandemonium Warden, as it appeared in the news when a group tried to fight it for 18 hours to no avail. The difficulty was reduced significantly such that this boss is now fought often for its loot. Again, poor research leading to errors.

    - Seekers of Adoulin is already out. It came out over three months ago. This being marked as "coming out later this year" seriously makes me wonder if ANY research was done for this article, or if it was just a stream of consciousness devoid of any actual fact-checking.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #15 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @AnghellicKarma I covered your complaints in the notes you put in the article. Thank you for the fix!
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  • Avatar for jamiekahn33 #16 jamiekahn33 3 years ago
    Regarding FFXI: "It was a typical MMO of its time, based roughly on gameplay found in and popularized by Blizzard’s World of Warcraft."

    THIS STATEMENT IS NOT RIGHT AT ALL.
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  • @Shinta There was an article on Kotaku where the art director of Mass Effect admitted that they kept a huge file of Spirits Within artwork as reference when they were making Mass Effect.
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  • @Fox89 I agree with so much of your post. Crisis Core was fantastic and underrated. So many of Square's great games in the last decade have been handheld.
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  • Avatar for bigdsweetz #19 bigdsweetz 3 years ago
    All, I know is that Square was better before they absorbed Enix.Also, the number has no real bearing on the Game. Anyone who's played FF knows that each game is supposed to be independent from the last one. The problem is that the stories for the game have gotten worse ever since FF7. FF8 was HORRIBLE. FF9 was better then 8, but then ANYTHING was better than FF8. FF10 was pretty good, but they spent too much time with Tidus crying the whole damn game. You already mentioned the debacle called FF11. FF12, you weren't even the main character. FF13 was almost as bad as 8 was. They spent all that time on the combat system, but they forgot to put a game in there with actual characters that weren't flat as hell. There was NO dept to the characters at all. I say again, it's not the games name that sucks, it's what's packed in between. That's just how I feel.
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  • Avatar for bigdsweetz #20 bigdsweetz 3 years ago
    @Shinta I just want them to make a game that has the same caliber of story elements as all the games that came before FF7. I honestly hope they'd pull from FF6, but that's just me.
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  • Avatar for RancidLemons #21 RancidLemons A year ago
    I never played any FF titles as a kid. The first one I played was 12 when I was 14, if I recall correctly.
    Before that though, I was very into RPGs. And I mean OLD school RPGs. I remember I'd spend entire days playing Avernum and being bad at it because I was only 7 but feeling good about myself as I aged and got better at it.
    I remember I loved turn based combat and large worlds. However, I never knew what FF really meant.
    I got 12 as a present and instantly fell in love with it. After discovering that a friend of mine was very into the series, I learned as much as I could.

    Today, I love every single game in the series. I'm a huge fan of Final Fantasy and I consider every game in the franchise to be good but targeted towards different audiences. FF 13 wasn't my cup of tea, really, but 13-2 and LR were flawless and I loved them.
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