The Fantasy ContinuesGreg Sewart
There’s never been a better time to be a Final Fantasy fan. This year, four new titles in the classic series debut, all offering incredibly varied gameplay experiences. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on Game Boy Advance has become an obsession for many on our staff; we simply can’t put it down. Final Fantasy X-2 for PlayStation 2 is a truly worthy follow-up to one of the greatest RPGs of all time; its battle system is even tighter and more fun than Final Fantasy X’s. This feature provides a 100 percent walkthrough of the first chapter of X-2—check it out.
We’ve also written up a newbie guide to Final Fantasy XI, Square’s ambitious foray into the realm of massively multiplayer roleplaying games. PS2 owners will have to wait till fall to play this monster, but PC gamers can find it on store shelves right now. And GameCube owners are finally getting some Square lovin’ with the fall debut of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (it’s already out in Japan), and we have a hands-on preview.
But that’s not all—we also have a full retrospective on the Final Fantasy series (page 77), a full-page review of Final Fantasy X-2 (page 48), and an exclusive first review of Final Fantasy XI (page 68). So strap in and enjoy the most fantastic Fantasy coverage ever.
From Gaia to Spira, a history of the Final Fantasy Series
To the casual fan, Final Fantasy may seem like just another game series. But any serious RPG player has this long-running franchise to thank for the popularity of the genre in this country. Sure, FF wasn’t the first RPG to hit our shores, but it’s definitely the most important. So sit up straight, spit out that gum, and pay attention as we take a trip down FF memory lane.
By the way, release dates reflect the years a game was first released in Japan and America. None of the remakes have been included, simply because there have been so many, it’d be impossible to fit them all into the space we have.
1. Final Fantasy
Release: 1987, Japan (Famicom)/1990, USA (NES)
Story: There is a legend that in a time of darkness, four heroes—the Light Warriors—will appear to save the world. You play as those four heroes, each holding an orb that needs to be lit in order to fulfill your destiny.
What’s New?: Americans were introduced to the Final Fantasy series and console gamers got their first taste of a party-based battle system in which they could control more than one adventurer at a time. You also get to choose which characters are in your party from the start—something that never again happens in a Final Fantasy game.
Memorable Moment: About halfway through the quest, King Bahamut upgrades the Light Warriors after they perform a task for him. Hardcore players will actually skip this side quest in order to make the overall difficulty of Final Fantasy a bit tougher.
2. Final Fantasy II
Release: 1988, Japan (Famicom)/2003, USA (PS1, as part of Final Fantasy Origins)
Story: The Paramecia Empire is on a mission to take over the world. The latest conquest is the kingdom of Fynn, which tried to organize a coup to overthrow the Empire. Four young Fynnians escape the horror of the battle, only to be ambushed and defeated by Empire soldiers. When they awake, they realize a member of their party has disappeared and presume the Empire is holding him prisoner. So…they go to save him.
What’s New?: Final Fantasy II drops the previous game’s open-party system for characters who come and go as the story dictates. The series never deviates from this path in subsequent titles.
FFII also features the weirdest experience system in the franchise. Rather than gaining levels by earning experience points, everything is based on your actions in battle. Heal a lot and you’ll become proficient in magic. Get hurt a lot and your hit points will increase. Fight a lot and your strength goes up. You get the idea. It sounds really neat in theory, but in practice, it’s downright frustrating most of the time.
Memorable Moment: Learning that Paramecia’s Dark Knight is actually Leon (your missing companion).
3. Final Fantasy III
Release: 1990, Japan (Famicom)/Never released in the USA
Story: Four young boys get lost in the Altar Cave near the city of Ur, and discover a large crystal. The crystal decides these are the four legendary heroes who are supposed to save the world (sound familiar?) and bestows upon them new powers. The rest writes itself!
What’s New?: FFIII uses a unique Job system—your four adventurers can switch between various roles in order to better take on certain challenges. Earning Capacity points allows you to change jobs, and thus use different armor, weapons, etc.
Memorable Moment: The Light Warriors learn that they’ve actually grown up on a floating continent and that the real world is almost entirely submerged in water. Talk about a bummer.
The most memorable moment for most U.S. gamers would probably be when they realized there’s still one Final Fantasy game that hasn’t come across the Pacific yet.
4. Final Fantasy IV
Release: 1991, Japan (Super Famicom)/1991, USA (Super NES, as Final Fantasy II)
Story: Cecil was orphaned at a young age and raised by the King of Baron. Now a dark knight at the Captain of the Red Wings, Cecil is starting to notice disturbing changes in his adoptive father’s behavior. When he confronts the King about his concerns, he’s demoted to errand boy and sent on a quest to destroy a nearby village. This is the first leg of a journey to find out what’s wrong with the world, and ultimately to uncover an alien plot to destroy the Earth.
What’s New?: FFIV introduces “summons” to the series: One of your party can summon forth a monster, which appears and does massive amounts of damage to all onscreen enemies. In later games, almost every character can learn to summon. In FFIV, only a particular character, Rydia, can summon monsters.
Memorable Moment: After Cecil is shipwrecked and his companions are presumed dead, the very town he massacred in the game’s intro, Mysidia, sends him on a quest to shed his dark knight persona and become a paladin.
After a battle with his dark side on the highest peak of Mt. Ordeals, Cecil emerges with a new hairdo, new threads, a shiny new sword, and a new sense of righteousness. He’s ready to save the world, baby!
5. Final Fantasy V
Release: 1992, Japan (Super Famicom)/1999, USA (PS1, as part of Final Fantasy Anthology)
Story: The dark knight X-Death (banished to another world years ago by four heroes) stirs. On this world, a meteor crashes to Earth, leaving nothing in its wake but destroyed forest and an old man with amnesia. Now, it’s time for young Bartz to put all these strange pieces together and stop X-Death from taking his revenge.
What’s New?: While the Job system in Final Fantasy V isn’t really new (FFIII introduced it), it is much more fleshed out. Many folks contend to this day that FFV is the best in the series because the Job system makes it so customizable.
Memorable Moment: Bartz and his companions are informed that they are the four legendary warriors who must gather the four crystals and save their world. Hey, we said it was memorable, not original.
6. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest
Release: 1992, USA (Super NES)/1993, Japan (Super Famicom, as Final Fantasy USA)
Story: Mystic Quest is a departure from the main series and is a beginner’s RPG of sorts. You control young Benjamin on an extremely easy quest to fetch five stolen crystals from a few kleptomaniac monsters.
What’s New?: Not a whole lot. There’s no real inventory management, no party to take care of (the game will even control your companion if you like), and no real difficulty to speak of. Beating this in a single rental is pretty normal.
Memorable Moment: Realizing you just spent your hard-earned cash on such a short, easy game only because the words “Final” and “Fantasy” are in the title.
7. Final Fantasy VI
Release: 1994, Japan (Super Famicom)/1994, USA (Super NES, as Final Fantasy III)
Story: A thousand years after the War of the Magi, magic has been outlawed, though the Empire continues to experiment with it. Stories of an Esper (magical creature) being discovered in the mining town of Narshe lead to an Empire expedition to retrieve it. One of the Empire soldiers is Terra, an orphan with magical powers.
But the expedition is doomed when the Esper and Terra come into contact with one another, awakening something deep within her. What follows is one of the most convoluted—and excellent—stories in Final Fantasy history.
What’s New?: Final Fantasy VI gives players the ability to build their party of four from a large group of adventurers. Many characters still come and go as the plot dictates, but there is a sense of freedom in the party system not felt since the first FF. Plus, there are many times when your team will splinter into two or three different groups with parallel story lines. Very cool.
Memorable Moment: Considering the tragic past of every character in the game, Final Fantasy VI’s memorable moments are many. But most Fantasy fans think “opera house” when they think FFVI. As party member Celes sings her lungs out for a sellout crowd, Locke and the rest of the group stage a dramatic battle in the rafters of the opera house, culminating in an onstage climax that brings down the house. OK, it sounds corny now, but believe us, back in the day, this was one of the coolest things we’d ever seen in a videogame.
Oh, there was also that part where the world blows up. That was pretty cool.
8. Final Fantasy VII
Release: 1997 (PS1)
Story: Cloud Strife, former soldier of megacorporation Shinra, has joined the terrorist group Avalanche in an effort to topple the evil company. The long, arduous journey reveals shocking secrets about not only Shinra’s past (including genetic experimentation on soldiers, among other things), but also Cloud’s own shady history. Seems this aloof, arrogant elite soldier might not be all he claims to be. Mysterious!
What’s New?: Just about everything. Final Fantasy VII marks many firsts for the series. It’s the first game not on a Nintendo system. The first CD title. The first game to use full-motion video cinema scenes. The first to use computer-rendered backgrounds. The first to use 3D graphics as opposed to the old 2D style. The list goes on and on.
FFVII marks the rebirth not only of Final Fantasy, but also of the RPG genre in general. This is the game that kick-started the RPG’s popularity in the United States, where it had struggled until then to gain mainstream acceptance.
Finally, the game introduces the Limit Break attack: Taking enough damage allows your character to use a special attack that doesn’t cost any magic points to perform.
Memorable Moment: Flower girl and fan favorite Aeris loses her life in a climactic scene with ultrabaddy Sephiroth about midway through the game. It was a real shock at the time, since Final Fantasy games aren’t known for killing off major characters like that (at least not killing them off for good, anyway).
In fact, to this day, you’ll find people debating whether Aeris is really dead. There are also loads of GameShark cheats and other methods that will apparently bring her back to life in the game. Get over it, people. Much like Elvis, Aeris has left the building.
9. Final Fantasy Tactics
Release: 1997 (PS1)
Story: Even beginning to convey the convoluted, confusing story that belongs to Final Fantasy Tactics in this small bit of space is a fool’s errand. To this day, some of the biggest fans of the game have no idea what’s going on.
What’s New?: The entire thing. Tactics is a strategy-RPG that’s actually a spin-off of the regular series. Here, you move armies of fighters around a battlefield and outthink your opponents more than outfight them.
Memorable Moment: Realizing the story is confusing and the game is kicking your butt on a regular basis. Hardest Final Fantasy ever made? Hell yeah.
10. Final Fantasy VIII
Release: 1999 (PS1)
Story: Squall Leonheart (who bears a striking resemblance to actor Leonardo DiCaprio) is studying to become a SeeD (basically a mercenary) at the Balamb Garden. He’s dealing with the normal ups and downs of school life: tests, studies, girls, and classmates almost killing him during sword practice.
But Squall’s world is about to turn upside down, when a hostile magical force starts rising to power in the land. Old friends are now rivals, the past haunts the present, and somehow, Squall ends up figuring out he knew just about everyone in the game when he was a child. It’s a time-travelin’ good time that actually makes sense if you bother playing through the entire game.
What’s New?: This is the first game in which Square goes for more realistic-looking characters. Gone are the squat, childlike stars of previous games.
Final Fantasy VIII also introduces the Junction system, where GFs (summon monsters) and magic spells are junctioned to characters, changing their attributes slightly. It’s a really cumbersome system that players either love or hate.
Finally, you can’t just learn magic by leveling up in Final Fantasy VIII. Rather, you have to “draw” it from special points on the map or enemies you are fighting. This system adds a whole new level of micromanagement that, again, you either love or hate. This is probably the only FF title that completely divides the fan base.
Memorable Moment: A harrowing ordeal in Earth’s orbit leaves Squall and love interest Rinoa Heartilly stranded on a spaceship. As they reenter Earth’s atmosphere, they share an enchanted moment while the love song “Eyes On Me” plays in the background. The whole scene is so touching, FFVIII actually came with a box of tissues for more emotional players. OK, we made that last part up.
10. Final Fantasy IX
Release: 2000 (PS1)
Story: What starts out as a regular kidnapping/ransom situation turns into bedlam as both kidnapper Zidane and kidnappee (is that a word?) Princess Garnet start to realize they’re not who they thought they were. Throw in a bumbling, numbskull knight and a cute, confused black mage and you have the makings of a great story.
In typical Final Fantasy fashion, almost everyone in FFIX is connected somehow, and they all have some great destiny to fulfill.
What’s New?: The question should actually be, what’s old? Final Fantasy IX is a total throwback to the pre-PlayStation era of the series. While the plot is still pretty serious, the characters and situations are decidedly lighthearted. Plus, the game features endless nods to classic games, from the outfits the characters wear to story references to classic music tracks that have been remixed.
In short, Final Fantasy IX is definitely for old-school fans.
Memorable Moment: Once Vivi learns that he and his kind (black mages) are actually artificial beings, he has real trouble dealing with it. At one point, an enemy disposes of dozens of black mages right in front of our clumsy little hero, and it’s just too much for him to take. The normally timid Vivi flies into a rage and shows his true power. It’s very impressive.
12. Final Fantasy X
Release: 2001 (PS2)
Story: One minute, you’re a star Blitzball player (think soccer, but entirely underwater) in one of the Spira’s biggest, most prosperous cities. The next, you’re watching your home be destroyed. You then find yourself in a strange land, surrounded by strange people. Yep, it’s safe to say that main character Tidus is pretty confused throughout most of Final Fantasy X.
That doesn’t stop him from agreeing to help summoner Yuna fulfill her destiny and defeat Sin (a giant monster) in order to keep Spira at peace for a few years. So what if it’ll cost her her life and the life of her Guardian to do it?
What’s New?: For the first time in a decade, Final Fantasy does away with the Active Time Battle system and adopts a new turn-based fighting setup that allows you to swap out active party members in the heat of battle. It adds a whole new dimension to confrontations in the Final Fantasy universe.
Memorable Moment: It’s safe to say it’s the moment you find out that Tidus and Zanarkand (his home) don’t actually exist. Freaky.
16 Years of Fantasy
Final Fantasy II
Final Fantasy Legend
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy Adventure
Final Fantasy Legend II
Final Fantasy V
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
Final Fantasy Legend III
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy Tactics
Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon
Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon 2
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X: International
Final Fantasy XI Online
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
A Man Called Cid
The Final Fantasy series has a handful of mainstays: Chocobos, Moogles, Airships, and, most important, men named Cid (with the exception of the first game).
In all his appearances, Cid is usually an older man, usually a father figure to the main male or female antagonist, and almost always a scientist, usually associated with the creation and maintenance of airships.
Even the movie The Spirits Within featured a prominent scientist character named Sid, voiced by Donald Sutherland. He was, of course, the father figure to main character Aki Ross.
The father of the Final Fantasy series, Mr. Sakaguchi has written, directed, or produced every FF game. He also directed the box-office flop Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
Final Fantasy’s recent shift to more realistic characters (FFVIII, FFX) can be directly traced to this man and his designs. He’s also the driving force behind Kingdom Hearts.
Final Fantasy has always featured fantastic music, often released over and over again on CD. This is the man we have to thank for the tunes in each and every Final Fantasy game.
Mr. Amano’s unique art style has been the basis for most characters in the Final Fantasy universe. Outside FF, he’s worked in comic books and animation. Any art by him is valued by game fans.
Copyright © 2003 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Game Now.