It’s Final Fantasy’s 30th anniversary and we are taking a look back on all of the numbered titles in the series that led up to the most recent release of Final Fantasy XV.
At this point the 16-bit age had begun to cool off, as CD’s emerged and 3D graphics started to push themselves into the limelight.
Continuing down our nostalgic road,
Final Fantasy VI (1994)
The last title on the Super Nintendo, Final Fantasy VI (also known as Final Fantasy III in North America) is where the series’ 2D narratives met their peak. Featuring one of the best developed video game worlds of its age,FF VI made its mark on gaming history.
What makes Final Fantasy VI stand out is incredible and carefully thought out setting and characters. Every area of the map has memorable quests, and watching your party of colorful party members grow as you explore was a real treat.
I think what makes the game distinct is how open the game is to player choice. There are party members that you can entirely miss, and some you can lose. You also get some options as to what parts of the story you want to see next, selecting which characters you want to follow at key plot points.
New systems were also implemented, with segments allowing the player two split the party into multiple groups to solve puzzles and fight large battles.
There wasn’t really anything like it at the time, and I think we are always going to hear echoes of some of FF VI’s elements, like we do late into Final Fantasy XV.
The story follows the adventures of characters too numerous to fully do justice here. Terra and Locke are the standouts, but the whole cast does a very good job at filling out the plot.
A slave to the mind control of the empire, the mysterious woman Terra falls ill with amnesia while trying to seek out and control one of the magical creatures known as Espers.
The setting consists of a world where magic has died off and technology has begun to replace it in the form of Magitek, making this the first Final Fantasy to fully take advantage of science fiction elements. The Espers have left the world for their own realm and their absence has upset the balance between light and dark.
Terra is found in here amnesiac state by Locke, a thief working with militants known as the Returners that combats the Empire’s forces, including the evil clown Kefka, who in many ways is a deconstruction of the standard ‘evil sorcerers’ that we have seen previously in the series. Kefka is one of the most interesting villains that the series has had at this point, offering humor and surprises at every turn.
The main highlight about Kefka is that the writers actually let him win, with the last third of the game taking place after he succeeded in dominating the world. This element gave players a real reason to hate the guy, leading one of the most compelling boss fights in video game history.
And then, 20 years ago this week, we got to embark on a journey with a Blonde and Brooding mercenary, his rag tag group of friends, and a flower girl who spent her afternoons in an old church.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
There has never been another RPG that has had such a transformative reaction to its genre in the entire gaming industry.
After a longstanding conflict between Nintendo and Sony broke out over the cancellation of the Nintendo PlayStation project, Square made the difficult decision to ditch Nintendo for Sony to utilize their proposed CD tech. CD hardware would allow Square to have more breathing room to push the boundaries of what they could achieve on every level of development.
The environments were able to feature an incredible amount of detail through using the increased processing power of the PlayStation. Each pre-rendered background serves as a distinct work of art. When VII came out it was if every game developer had been, up until that point working with stone and chisels, but the new tech brought them all paper and ink they need for ultimate creative potential.
The games story had the potential to be as large as it needed to be, offering an extended amount of depth.
Final Fantasy VII’s plot tales the tale of a band of resistance fighters who have to take on the super-corporation Shinra, as the planets energy begins to fade. Cloud Strife, a former soldier for the corporation, decides to join the rebels to take the company down globally and pursue their rogue agent Sephiroth.
Sephiroth grows to become the most iconic villain in Final Fantasy history, as the story of his fall from grace is well executed, and his actions are cause for what remains the biggest shock across all 15 games.
I think part of Final Fantasy VII’s success could be found in how relatable its story could be, still holding up to this day. People loved, lost, and grew in this game, giving a lot of young people something that they could think about when the same things happened to them.
The characters actually felt like people with motivations and relationships, which may be the Chemical X that makes Final Fantasy VII so special.
I am going to respect the spoilers for the twist. There are many new gamers out there and they deserve the chance to experience it blind in the coming remake. Just remember the first time you experienced it, and just think about how much fun it’s going to be when people are discovering it again.
The cutscenes were a true marvel back then. I will never forget sitting in my Livingroom with my friends in open jawed awe as the train arrived at the station after the camera finished panning the sci-fi metropolis Midgar.
Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
Final Fantasy VII was a tough act to follow, and Final Fantasy VIII did its best to deliver.
The team continued to push the technical limits of the PlayStation, making characters look more realistic while also featuring groundbreaking upgrades to the fidelity of the cutscenes throughout the experience.
The draw system for magic that allowed players to absorb magic from enemies was a neat idea that didn’t feel full realized. We would see the series revisit this in Final Fantasy XV, where drawing felt more natural through finding it in elements of the environment.
In all of the technical advancements it feels like something was lost with regards to the narrative.
Players join Squall Lionheart during his time as a SeeD cadet at Balamb Garden where he trains with the rest of what becomes the party. The plot follows the battle against the Republic of Galbadia and eventually begins to focus on rescuing Rinoa, Squall’s Love interest, and the teams rivalry with Seifer, Squall’s rival. The climax of the game builds around defeating Ultimecia, who through has been taking avatars for her power throughout the course of the narrative, including Rinoa.
Overall, the expectations that VII’s story left were too hard to match, VIII simply fails to grab you in the same way previous titles did.
One of the saving graces of the story is Squalls relationship with Rinoa, which has some stand out moments, especially in the closing acts.
The ending was pretty vague, if not a bit unsatisfying. There have been some fan theories that serve to clean some of the issues up but they can’t stop the last hours of the game from being a bit disappointing.
Square may have taken some note of this when planning the next entry in the series, which would be a welcome return to form.
That’s everything for this part. Join us next time as we close out the PlayStation era with Final Fantasy IX, and learn about how the games transitioned to the next generation of consoles.
Written by: Alex Yorke who is no longer writing for Corecade. Please check out his future work on his Twitter!