With Final Fantasy XV out tomorrow and my excitement for it at an extreme level, I’ve decided that I’m going to devote the next month on my other site MoeGamer to an in-depth exploration of the series as a whole.
Final Fantasy as a whole may be a little outside my usual mission with MoeGamer — it is neither underappreciated nor overlooked — but it’s worth discussing nonetheless, particularly with regard to those installments along the way that are regarded less favourably.
It’s also worth discussing as it’s a series with a long, interesting history, and can quite rightly be described as genre-defining alongside its longtime rival Dragon Quest.
Mostly I want to talk about it because it’s been important to me for a long time now. Nearly 20 years, in fact, which is a scary prospect, as my first encounter with the series is still absolutely fresh in my mind, as if I’d just experienced it yesterday.
I first heard of Final Fantasy VII, my first point of contact with the series, through my brother. I had a PlayStation at the time (well, more accurately, I had a hand-me-down Japanese PlayStation that my brother left behind) but, what with it being a Japanese model, I hadn’t really explored the games available for it beyond the three I already had: Ridge Racer, Tekken and Raiden Project.
Hearing my brother describe Final Fantasy VII made me want to try it, though. I’d already had experience with story-heavy games thanks to our family’s mutual love of point-and-click adventure titles from Sierra and LucasArts, but this sounded like something different; something more. Specifically, the thing that got me interested in it was the promise of a scene partway through the game where pretty much everyone who had played it ended up crying. (Said scene is now one of the most famous scenes in all of gaming, but back in ’97, it was easier to remain unspoiled.)
So, reading up on the old “disc swap” trick that allowed you to play different region games on a PlayStation, I propped my PlayStation’s lid open with a biro lid and a bit of Blu-Tack and inserted the first of the three discs of my shiny new copy of Final Fantasy VII, not sure what to expect.
I was immediately blown away by the spectacular video intro sequence that moved almost seamlessly into in-game action, with polygonal characters moving perfectly in sync with the prerendered background camera angles. (I was then slightly distracted by the rather primitive field screen character models Final Fantasy VII is now somewhat notorious for, but I quickly became accustomed to them.)
The music drew me in. The action started right away. It was like being part of a movie. Then I got into my first battle and, having never really played an RPG before, was initially baffled. Once again, though, it didn’t take me long to become accustomed, and there was no turning back from that point: the game had me well and truly in its clutches.
I enthused about the game to my friends at school. They were initially skeptical, but it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get them to give it a try. And before long, they were as obsessed with this spectacular new game as I was. We played it through together, discussing things we’d found and things we’d achieved; we’d complete it, and start over again, eager to enjoy the story all over again. We devoured guidebooks and online FAQs about the game, keen to see everything it was possible to see. And, on one particularly memorable occasion fueled by tequila and various other intoxicants, we played for 36 hours straight, my friend Woody passing out midway through the G-Bike sequence, having some very peculiar dreams and suddenly waking up demanding to know “what’s an X-Walker?” (To this day, we have no idea. X-Potions? Sure. X-Walker? No clue.)
The impact Final Fantasy VII had on me drew me to explore the rest of the series. While at the time I found the NES original a little hard to appreciate — it was just a bit too clunky in comparison to the later games — from IV onwards (or II as it was known back then thanks to the fact Final Fantasy II, III and V didn’t see Western releases until many years after their NES and SNES original versions) in particular I found them to be just as compelling despite their more primitive visuals and sounds.
These were games that told stories that resonated with me. Stories about people who rose up from humble beginnings, gathering a group of close companions and achieving something incredible. This sort of thing is seen as cliched as all hell these days, but there’s a reason the standard JRPG tropes have been a thing for as long as they have: even before video games, this story structure is proven to be an effective way of telling a heroic epic.
Even in those early days, though, I could tell that the Final Fantasy series wasn’t one to rest on its laurels. While I had a fairly Western RPG feel to it with its completely mute, characterless party, II introduced the series convention of having a party of predefined characters with actual personalities. III brought us the Job system for the first time. IV gave us an incredibly detailed story full of emotion. V refined the Job system further. VI turned the narrative conventions of the series on its head by not really having a “main” character, instead allowing us the opportunity to spend time with an enormous ensemble cast. And so on, and so on.
I’ll talk about this in detail once I start writing the MoeGamer pieces, but Final Fantasy is a series that has constantly reinvented itself over and over again. Even in those installments that seem superficially similar (I-III, IV-VI, VII-IX) there are enough unique components to each title to make them distinct from one another, and from X onwards the series has enjoyed even more drastic, dramatic reinventions with each installment. And this isn’t even getting into the myriad spin-off titles, many of which are even more fondly regarded than the mainline titles in the series.
As you can tell, I’ll have plenty to write about. And I’m afraid you’re almost certainly going to have to put up with a lot of enthusing about XV on this here site from tomorrow onwards, too. I make no apologies for my excitement in this regard.
Now, just a good night’s sleep and a day of work between me and my first adventures in the lands of Eos. Can’t wait.