Final Fantasy at 25: What makes a Fantasy reality?

Here’s Lawson, TVGB news writer type and avid Final Fantasy fan. For the series’ 25th anniversary he’s going to be compiling a bunch of features to form a retrospective of the series. This week he looks at his five favorite things about the series as a whole.

25 years ago, the original Final Fantasy was released. It was a last ditch effort by Hironobu Sakaguchi to create a game that would be received well. Had it not sold well, Sakaguchi had decided to leave the industry forever. Fortunately for the gaming world, this was not the case. The game would spawn a series that would last 25 years, appear on 9 different consoles, and become widely regarded as the standard to which all role playing games would be measured. In honor of this milestone, we will be taking a stroll down memory lane, recounting all the greatest moments in an absolutely outstanding series.

I was 7 or so the first time I encountered Final Fantasy. It was the second one, by SNES cartridge numbering, which I still abide by. By the time Cecil and Kain had unwittingly set the Village of Mist aflame, I was hooked. However, a 7 year old only has so much strategic abilities, so I couldn’t get very far initially. But I kept trying. It was the first game that was able to hold my childish attention. I just wanted to know what was next. What was going to happen to Rydia? Would Tellah have his revenge? Eventually, my determination got me through, and all my questions were answered.

Little did I know, however, that Final Fantasy would become a mainstay in my life; something I could always count on to be there for me. As cheesy as it sounds, the series quickly became a friend of mine. I would fight alongside Sabin and Cyan to destroy Kefka. I would weep openly when Aeris died. I would brush away shameful tears when Tidus embraced Yuna one final time. These moments have stuck with me for years, and show no signs of dissipating soon.

The latest game, Final Fantasy XIII, was an attempt to inject some new elements into the series, favoring a linear approach to the more open world of past titles. I personally enjoyed the game’s attempt to try something new, but it didn’t feel like a Final Fantasy title. Square Enix has said they are addressing the missteps of XIII with Final Fantasy XIII-2, which is due out this week, and I couldn’t be more excited for it. Hopefully, it has what it takes to be counted among the greatest of the Final Fantasy games. And I have spent many hours of quiet contemplation trying to determine what it is that makes these games so wonderful. I believe I’ve narrowed it down to five main areas, and we’ll start with number five, the unsung hero…

5. The Music

The music of Final Fantasy is monumental, to say the least. I find myself humming the victory fanfare with every small achievement I accomplish, videogame related or not. The chocobo theme always gives me an insane grimace of joy.  The Final Fantasy themes are second to none, and they are going to be stuck in my, and many other peoples’, heads for the rest of our lives.

4. The Battle System

Originally, the Final Fantasy battle system was not terribly different from any other RPG. It was the introduction of the Espers in Final Fantasy III that started to shake things up. It allowed for a player to throw out a trump card in case of an emergency. Not only that, but depending upon which Esper you equipped, you would add different magical skills to your repertoire. This idea would grow as the series did; from the Materia system in FFVII, to the Paradigm shifts of FFXIII. The pace of the battles would quicken, as well, going from the strategic, slow battles in Final Fantasy II to the rapid onslaught of the latest installment.

3. The Heroes

Inarguably, Final Fantasy has had some of the most memorable heroes the videogame world has ever known. Cloud, Terra, Cecil, Tidus, Lightning, Squall…the list goes on. While their back stories can be a fair bit confusing, over the course of the games, we all come to love them. They always fight for good, no matter the cost, whether it’s their loved ones or their own lives; no sacrifice is too great. And that is the ultimate definition of what a true hero is.

2. The Villains

The villains, as melodramatic as they are, are my favorite characters in every Final Fantasy game. Their nefarious schemes to either take over, or destroy, the world are pure evil. They create the perfect foil to the angelic hero of each game. The villains will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals, no matter how heinous the acts they must commit. This ruthlessness elicits strong feelings from the gamer, which is what every game strives to accomplish. Final Fantasy has always seemed to do it with ease.

On a side note, I’m just going to say this once and for all: Kefka is the greatest villain in videogame history. I know a lot of people will argue that Sephiroth wins out, but he was revenge hungry. Kefka is evil for evil’s sake. Except the last half of the game. But I’ll go into specifics later.

1. The Story

The story of every Final Fantasy is relatively the same; an evil figure is attempting to destroy the world, a hero emerges, the hero gathers a team, and after numerous setbacks, the hero destroys the villain and saves the day. Though this has been a source of criticism from some, I feel this to be a positive. The stories, despite being fairly simplistic, speak to us at a basic level. We all want to be the hero at times, no matter if we say it aloud or not. We would all want to save the day, but in this mundane day and age, we rarely have a chance to do something so grand; Final Fantasy gives us the opportunity to live out these (pardon the pun) fantasies.

When I think of Final Fantasy, memories come flooding back; the opera house, the flower garden, Zanarkand, Palom and Porom’s sacrifice. Not only memories of the game, though; memories of time spent with family and friends, the shock we would feel when a twist happened, the victories that we would share. I would spend my days at school, my afternoons outside, and my nights in worlds that I’d only dreamed about up to that point. And, honestly, those memories are precious to me. They have created a life-long love of videogames. And I thank Final Fantasy for that whole-heartedly.

Next week, I will be going more in depth on what makes these games so wonderful. I will continue by concentrating on the first Final Fantasy that many of us played; Final Fantasy II. Happy anniversary, Final Fantasy.