The first Final Fantasy game was created in 1988 by dying company, Squaresoft. Intended to be their swan song, the name 'Final Fantasy' indicates their lack of confidence in the company's continued existence.
The popularity of the first Final Fantasy, a simple RPG which stole many elements, particularly monsters, from Dungeons and Dragons, took everyone by surprise, and the company managed to survive, creating more games, and giving those which they felt deserved it the Final Fantasy name.
The name Final Fantasy has come to stand for strong storylines, unique and innovative battle systems, and, especially strong FMV sequences. It is often shortened by fans to 'FF' followed by the game's number (in roman numerals) or unique initials. For example, FFVII (Final Fantasy VII), or FFCC (Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles). Many players refer to the first Final Fantasy as FFI, in order to avoid confusion, and identify it more easily.
The first few games began on the SNES system, and, except for Final Fantasy III, were remade for the PlayStation. The following games in the series have mostly remained on the Sony systems, following the lifetime of the Playstation and Playstation 2, and are predicted to continue on the PS3. Certain games also appear on the GameBoy Advance, Ninendo DS, Gamecube, PC, and Wii, and there are at least two film spin offs, the most famous being Final Fantasy: Advent Children, a sequel to Final Fantasy VII.
The first Final Fantasy features four simple characters, the only unique and personable elements of which were their job classes and names. The storyline featured a quest to restore four crystals - Earth, Wind, Air and Fire - a concept that was repeated in many games of the series, most notably Final Fantasy V. Final Fantasy IX, the last game designed for the Playstation also recycled many ideas and even characters from the first game, and is considered by some to be a nod to the previous games on the Playstation system.
Final Fantasy II is sometimes referred to as the bastard child of the series. The plot was far stronger than that of the previous game, but it's overcomplicated power-up system and lack of levelling meant that it suffered slightly.
Final Fantasy III wasn't released in North America or Europe until fairly recently on the Ninendo DS, which is still the only system to count it among it's library. It featured a job system which was echoed by Final Fantasy V and X-2, and the class Onion Knight was referenced in Final Fantasy X, as one of Lulu's ultimate weapons.
Final Fantasy IV marked a return to more traditional fantasy, featuring a knight and a strange kingdom in trouble. Final Fantasy IV featured three different worlds, and the lead characters are, most probably, the only couple in the series to announce their love for each other within the first ten minutes. The main character of Final Fantasy IV, Cecil, begins the game as a Dark Knight, another job class used in Final Fantasy X-2. It was also the first game to feature a summoner in a strong role.
Final Fantasy V marked a return to FFI, with four static characters. The job system was similar to that of Final Fantasy III, and was comparable to the Dress Sphere system of Final Fantasy X-2. The concept of four dying crystals also returned, and the game is considered by some to have the toughest final boss to defeat, something which is also hindered by the low experience and ability point ratios in battle.
Final Fantasy VI was marketed as Final Fantasy III in North America, originally, due to the non-release of some previous titles. Although this has now been rectified, some older gamers still refer to it as FFIII.
Final Fantasy VI featured a drastically large number of characters, and suffered the unusual fate of having no one main character to follow. Candidates for the position are Locke, Edgar, Celes, and Terra, although none of these characters or any others are present for the whole of the game.
Final Fantasy VI is believed to have originally featured a job system, although no trace of this is left on the European or North American copies.
Final Fantasy VII was the first to be designed for the Playtation, and many gamers consider it the best in the series. The FMV and graphics showed a marked improvement from the previous games, although they suffer in comparison to those later in the Playstations lifespan.
The game has produced many spin-offs, including several other games, and a film, Final Fantasy: Advent Children. Many gamers hope for a Playstation 3 remake of the game, in order to bring the graphics up to the fantastic standards available on today's systems, although such a thing may just be wishful thinking. A FFVIII remake is similarly discussed, although to lesser extent, and is even less of a possibility.
After the release of FFVII, several Square employees branched off into sister company, Sacnoth, following Hiroki Kikuta in his dream of creating a better kind of RPG. Internal conflict within the company lead to a compromised product, Koudelka, which had little word of mouth and poor critical reviews. Hiroki Kikuta resigned as head of the company, and they formed in Nautilus for the release of the sequels; the Shadow Hearts series, which now occupies a niche market, with a controversial sense of humour, older characters and darker storylines than the traditional Final Fantasy games.
Final Fantasy VIII has been described as a technological high school love story, which is a fairly accurate description. Most of Final Fantasy VIII focuses on the developing love story between Squall and Rinoa, which, unfortunately, overshadows the teamwork of the other four members of the battle party, or are rather too well developed to be considered extras. A unique element in Final Fantasy VIII is the fact that the three teammates who appear in the final battle are chosen at random - possibly to signify that it doesn't matter which three they are; each of them has a reason to be there.
Final Fantasy IX featured slightly more cartoonish graphics than previous games, and many characters were of unique and occasionally humorous species - Quina, for example, a gourmet who likes to feast on frogs. The game featured many locations and concepts from the first Final Fantasy, and referenced many of the other games in the series. It also featured a reappearance of Garland, from Final Fantasy I, an appearance which has created speculation that the game takes place within the FFI universe, thousands of years before or after.
Around this time, the first Final Fantasy film, The Spirits Within was released. It's performance at the box office was disappointing. So disappointing, in fact, that Squaresoft was forced to merge with Enix in order to keep their heads above water. Many players simply refer to the company as Square, in order to avoid being corrected by forum know-it-alls. On a positive note, the graphics were amazing, and the task of keeping them that way for the length of a feature could be viewed as a useful exercise for future Square endeavors.
Final Fantasy X was the first game designed for the Playstation 2, and the graphics showcased a huge jump in quality. Final Fantasy X didn't feature a world map with more detailed towns and dungeons, like the previous game. Instead, the player walked through the many cities and roads that overlayed the world.
Yuna and Tidus, along with Cloud and Aeris, have become some of the more recognisable figures of the series, even to those who don't play Final Fantasy games, or even RPGs. This may, in part, be due to the sequel, known as Final Fantasy X-2. FFX-2 was the first sequel in the series, closely followed by the FFVII spin-offs, and featured a very different and more lighthearted feel to it's predecessor, disappointing some fans.
Final Fantasy XI, available on the PC and PS2's which have online access was the first Final Fantasy MMORPG on the market. Despite being an online game, Square has stated that they wish it to have a strong storyline, similar to the rest of the series. Final Fantasy XI currently claims four add-ons to its part of the series.
Final Fantasy XII is a relatively new release, for the PS2, and many fans feel that the graphics and storyline are disappointing compared to previous parts of the series. It borrows many elements from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which is available on the GBA.
Final Fantasy Tactics is another game which features FFVII characters, was, as the name indicates, a tactical RPG for the Playstation. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance isn't a sequel to the game - it merely shares the tactical battle style. As mentioned, FFTA is for the GBA, and many players feel that it suffers compared to the epic storyline of FFT.
Another sequel featuring FFVII characters is Ehrgeiz, a fighting game for the Playstation. Ehrgeiz was also the name of Zell (FFVIII's) ultimate weapon.
Another unique game worth noting is Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, for the GameCube, which featured a slightly different feel and less linear storyline than the other games in the series. The game could be played as a multiplayer or single player, and gamers could switch between the two at pretty much any time.
Many other games feature the Chocobos from the series, or are re-releases of previous games on newer systems, usually with better graphics. Square has also taken it's Final Fantasy characters into other areas, specifically the Kingdom Hearts series, which introduces a world which merges popular Final Fantasy figures with Disney characters. Most of the characters showcased are from Final Fantasy's VII, VIII, X and X-2, although Setzer of FFVI fame appears in Kingdom Hearts II. Some of the characters appear to follow their canon storylines, such as Squall, while others, such as Selphie, appear in entirely new and contradicting roles. Yet others, like Aeries, achieve the impossible and long wished for dream of a happier ending.
In short, the series which began with one tiny swan song has now boomed into a multi-million dollar empire, with numerous spin-offs, fame, and references with popular media. Square has had their ups and downs with the series, which some feel suffered it's best days over the late nineties, and early millennium. It's possibly that future sequels will show an improvement in the series, but it's felt by some that Square is losing their original edge and returning to tried-and-tested moneymakers, like the over-milked FFVII.
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