Final Fantasy has been around for over 30 years, and the franchise is still going strong today. There was a joke back in the 90’s I remember about there never being a real FINAL Final Fantasy. Look how far the series has gone since it premiered back in 1987. 15 main title games with a whole bunch of spin-offs and re-releases to keep things interesting and fans coming back for more. Now with the recent release of Final Fantasy VII Remake I figured it would be fun to look back on the series in 3 separate eras, Cartridge, PlayStation, and Modern, and how much they’ve changed over the years. I will be talking about the remakes and spin offs as well, heck I truly became a Final Fantasy fan because of a spin off game and put hundreds of hours into it at one point in my life. So lets dive in.
THE CARTRIDGE ERA
It’s common knowledge that the ‘Final’ in Final Fantasy was because this game could have been Square’s last as a developer. Luckily that wouldn’t become the case as the Final Fantasy series became the juggernaut of JRPG’s. Unfortunately I did not start playing Final Fantasy’s cartridge games until much later in life after I knew the series was for me and I started collecting the games. My goal is to own and play all the Final Fantasy main titles (that I still can) before I die. This is also the era where a bunch of Final Fantasies didn’t make it to the US until much later. The reason for that is because the series didn’t get a strong foot hold in North America until VII. The titles we did get were I, IV, and VI but IV was marketed as II and VI was called III which made a whole bunch of people confused when VII came out. Of course another reason for that is the partial joke/truth that Square thought American audiences wouldn’t like the games because they were too hard and wouldn’t understand them. Lucky for us that turned out to be false because we seriously loved those games. Sadly I didn’t start getting into the cartridge era games until much later in life and the versions of the games I do have are either the PlayStation copies (VI, V, and VI) or on my NES/SNES mini (I and VI but it’s called III keeping with when it came out). I did own the DS version of III but got rid of it and have been looking for a new copy ever since. Now the cartridge era games should be my cup of tea since I’m a huge fantasy nerd and I-VI are as fantasy as you can get. Some of these games are definitely people’s favorites like IV and VI and even V has been getting some praise lately. III is a bit of an odd ball but the job system in that game set the stage for a fan favorite yet to come, and people love to hate on II for some reason. Either way with the new consoles coming out and after 6 games of (mostly) greatness, Square wanted to push the envelope and it showed in the next era.
THE PLAYSTATION ERA
In 1997 one of the biggest video games of all time came out on the original PlayStation and took the world by storm. Final Fantasy VII was, is, and probably always will be Square’s most recognizable Final Fantasy game. Its the one with the most spinoffs, people know the characters even if they haven’t really played the game, and it arguably has the most memorable final boss music ever composed. There’s a lot of hype around VII and wether or not you think the game is overrated you still have to admit it put the series on the map in a big way. It was the first Final Fantasy to not be on a cartridge which meant the game was able to do more and show off those snazzy new 3-D graphics. VII was the second game I played when I got into Final Fantasy. I knew about the game thanks to Kingdom Hearts and when I saw it at Kmart for $5 I knew I had to get it. Even though VII was older when I got it, I loved that game. The story, the characters and (spoiler alert) I knew Aerith died in the game, I just didn’t know when so when she does die at the end of Disc 1 I was heartbroken. She was my white mage and main healer and now she was gone so it hurt. VII was also when Square started getting experimental with their Final Fantasy games. Usually the setting is a traditional fantasy world but VII broke it by being set in a modern/steampunk style world. VIII would follow suit but with different gameplay mechanics and leveling up and grinding was now a thing of the past. Thats something the fans didn’t like so when IX came out they went back to the turn based ATB (Active Time Battle) system which started in IV. VIII does have its fans and it recently got a remaster and rerelease for modern consoles, but it pales in comparison to the popularity of VII. IX was received well and it also got a rerelease on modern consoles as well. Sadly I haven’t played either VIII or IX at all. I do own a physical copy of VIII but haven’t plugged in my PlayStation to sit down and play it. IX I’ll be OK with getting it digitally but a physical copy would be nice in my collection.
When the PS2 came out this was a true game changer for the Final Fantasy franchise and it showed with X. Final Fantasy X was the first Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played and it still holds up to this day. This game was a mash up of Final Fantasy greatest hits. The traditional turn based combat returned, you could customize your characters the way you wanted to play even when they had obvious jobs, and the story is one that fans agree is fantastic. Final Fantasy X truly was a great game and I have very fond memories of it. From figuring out the sphere grid, advancing the story and watching Tidus and Yuna fall in love together, and finding out who the true villain of the game is. It’s full of twists and turns that kept me wanting to keep playing. Even though it’s the first Final Fantasy I played it’s not my favorite. As much as I loved X and VII I wanted to play a more traditional Final Fantasy in the sense of the fantasy setting. I wanted knights, kings, empires, all that stuff. My prayers would be answered with XII. I know I’m skipping XI but I never got to play it. I thought XI was going to be cool since it was the first Final Fantasy MMORPG and the base package came with a modem for the PS2, but this was the early years of MMO’s and my parents were not about to dive into something they didn’t know about. XII had everything I was looking for. Knights, princesses, the works. The combat system was different from past Final Fantasies. Since this was hot off the heels of XI, they went with a more MMO style combat system than the traditional turn based games. I was OK with that but something that made me scratch my head a bit was the license board. You had to have certain licenses to use certain weapons and armor but in the original PS2 game it was a free for all. Everyone in your party could have anything which gave the player a great amount of customization but also the annoying bit of constant grinding to get the one thing you actually wanted. Luckily this was made easier in the Zodiac Age version of the game.
THE MODERN ERA
XII is still considered a good game and after the launch of the PS3 and Xbox 360, so many people, myself included, were stoked for Final Fantasy XIII since it was going to be the first true HD Final Fantasy. Boy were we in for a surprise. You don’t have to look hard online to find people blasting XIII and calling it the “worst” one ever made. I’ve only got to play it for two hours and never touched it again. I was in college when the game came out and was home for a weekend when one of my brother’s friends brought it over and let me play it for a few hours. I was enjoying it for the most part even though I mostly didn’t have any idea what I was doing for the battle system. After that day I never got to play it again and people were starting to say how bad the game was. Things went from bad to worse for Square because XIV did not get off to a great start. This was their second attempt at a MMO and things went from bad to worse for the players. There were bugs everywhere, quests made absolutely no sense, and the interface was horrible. Not to mention fans were scratching their heads because a sequel to Final Fantasy XIII was coming out soon as well. This could have been the death bell for the franchise since fans were going elsewhere. Luckily all was not lost because Square got their act together and came out with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and did everything right. The staff even apologized to their fans on how bad the original XIV was and vowed to make things right. Luckily they have, XIV is one of the most popular MMO’s to date and they keep adding to the game to make it even better. Once I get enough money to get a gaming PC, Final Fantasy XIV is going to be the first ones I put on it. Even though the modern era for Final Fantasy started off very badly, Square was able to lift themselves up again. First was with A Realm Reborn and the second was with Final Fantasy XV. Even though the game was originally called Versus XIII and had a development cycle of 10 years, it’s easily one of my favorite Final Fantasy games. Once again Square switched up the combat to make it real time and even though the story isn’t the best, the characters are you stay for as well as exploring the world. This is an open world game and you get to start exploring about 20 minutes into the game. I fell in love with this game thanks to the combat and the open world exploration, as well as the many side quests you could to that I was doing those more than the main game. The banter between the characters is great as well the different moments throughout the game. There’s even great postgame dungeons to do that add to the challenge and this will definitely be a Final Fantasy game I’ll come back and play again over and over. Sure it’s not the BEST Final Fantasy, but I sure love it and was just happy the game came out to a positive reception.
SPINOFFS AND REMAKES
Now I’ve talked about the mainline titles but the one title that truly got me into the Final Fantasy series wasn’t a mainline game, it was Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the GBA. I’ve already written about this title so I won’t go too much into it but the Tactics series is awesome and there need to me more games involving it. I currently own all three titles (minus the PSP remake of Tactics) and keep the vain hope that a new Tactics title will be released whenever Square has a press conference for E3. Of course there are other spin off games like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Type-0, and World of Final Fantasy, and they are good in their own right, I just haven’t had the time to play them. The remakes and rereleases for older Final Fantasies also make me smile because more often than not, instead of just porting the game and giving them a graphical upgrade, they also change some mechanics a bit here and there to make things easier to understand. Like with XII they changed the license board so that each character would have 2 different job types so you could keep your party members duties more streamlined. With X they also threw in X-2 so you could experience the whole story. Of course we can’t forget that VII got a full on remake that’s taking the world by storm as well speak.
Even though things seemed rough for the franchise at the start of the Modern era, they have indeed gotten better. People are excited for Final Fantasy again and not just because they’re remaking VII. The games are now accessible to so many people and the original cartridges are becoming collector’s items. Personally I’m hoping for a sooner release date for Final Fantasy XVI and that older games get the treatment VII is getting right now. Having a VI or IV get the remake treatment would be awesome.