My introduction to the basics of role-playing came in middle school when a friend brought over The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. We’d play during recess, four kids huddled around a single book, fascinated by the concept of choosing your own path rather than having to follow a linear storyline to reach a simple end goal. A few days passed, and, one trip to the local library later, I bagged myself half a dozen of these game books. Soon, this passion for incarnating different characters while exploring new worlds spread to tabletop Dungeons and Dragons RPGs and then into video games.
One of my favorite role-playing franchises is Final Fantasy by Square Enix. It also happens to be one of the most prolific in the genre, with fourteen games in the main series as well as countless remakes, sequels, and spinoffs. Released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the original game was titled “Final Fantasy” in reference to creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s last-ditch effort to make it big in the video game industry. Fortunately for him and for us, the epic eight-bit RPG turned out a monster hit and forever changed the gaming world. After such tremendous success, I suppose sequels were an inevitability.
Usually, big franchises like Final Fantasy try to keep certain elements constant with every new instalment. For example, the hero might remain the same, as in the Mega Man and Metroid games, or sometimes the villain, like in Castlevania and Diablo. Other times, the world itself serves as the anchor, such as in the real-time strategy series Warcraft, wherein even the stand-alone MMORPG, World of Warcraft, shares the same lore. Square took a completely different route, starting fresh with each new release.
Some of the elements in Final Fantasy seem to repeat themselves, like the four elements, the airships and the chocobos. You may also encounter a few enemies, weapons or spells that bear the same name. However, the core of each entry in the series is reinvented from the ground up. It’s as if the developers at Square kept trying to reach perfection with every new release, overhauling the mechanics of the previous one rather than streamlining a familiar gameplay.
The battles got smoother and more action-packed, a rarity in the RPG genre. By the same token, the magic system changed with every game. The results, admittedly, have been mixed, but this refusal by Square to rest on its laurels has prevented the Final Fantasy series from becoming stagnant, repetitive, or boring. Sure, the stories keep reaching new levels of nonsense, which isn’t really an improvement, but another way to look at it is that this growing convolution shows a desire to deliver a richer narrative with each new installment.
Over the coming weeks, I will review each game in the Final Fantasy series in numerical order. This may seem like an obvious way to go, but things get screwed up really quick when you realise that a lot of the games were released in Japan but not in North America, thus creating two separate strings of titles. Back in the day, when I first went through Final Fantasy I, II, and III, little did I know I was actually playing parts I, IV, and VI. I completed the real Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy V much later in life, when they were ported on the Game Boy Advance. I haven’t tried Final Fantasy III, by which I mean the original Japanese Final Fantasy III, so there’s something to which I really look forward.
To make a long story short, if you aren’t confused yet, we will begin in two weeks with a review of Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. Just kidding (though I do plan to make a short stop and visit the dark sheep of the family).