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07 Mar, 2010

Series Link #2: Final Fantasy (Part 2)

PS3 Feature | From Cloud Strife to Ivalice.
After taking a look at games I through VI, the second part of this feature will chronicle what you might call the ‘modern age’ of Final Fantasy. Square moved from Nintendo to Sony, from cartridges to discs and from 2D sprites to 3D character models. With these changes Square had a much expanded repertoire at their disposal to create deeper gameplay and more compelling stories. The fact that they took full advantage of this is proven by the next game on our list...


Final Fantasy VII
Originally released: 1997 (Japan, US)
Platforms: Playstation, PC, Playstation Network

Ten years on from the first Final Fantasy game, Square put out one of the best games of all time. It was called Final Fantasy VII, a title slightly mystifying to a new generation of gamers unaware of the previous games in the series. This was especially the case in Europe and Australia, for whom this was the first Final Fantasy game ever released. This game really marked the second phase of the series and itself made a huge impact on the world of video games. For many gamers it was an introduction to the RPG, and what an introduction it was. Taking on the role of the now hugely recognizable Cloud Strife, the game saw you attempting to take down the naughty company Shinra Inc., as well as Cloud’s nemesis, and one of the best known villains in video games, Sephiroth. It was spread across three discs and was indeed a gargantuan game, with a huge number of pre-rendered locations and plenty of state-of-the-art FMV sequences. Events in the game like the death of Aeris, the Knights Of The Round summon and the final boss theme One-Winged Angel have become seared into video game culture. Fighting was now of course in full 3D, allowing for some spectacular attacks (Omnislash!). The simple but deep Materia system, where orbs granting abilities could be slotted into weapons and armour, worked extremely well. Final Fantasy VII’s universe has been expanded significantly by a Square-Enix venture known as Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. This entailed a full blown CGI film titled Advent Children; a third-person shooter sequel on PS2 titled Dirge of Cerberus, which focused on Vincent Valentine; an impressive PSP prequel featuring Zack Fair called Crisis Core and a Japan-only mobile game called Before Crisis. Fans of the game have long been crying out for a remake, and it does appear that Square-Enix are interested in the idea, but it hasn’t happened yet. Keep hoping.



A man with a giant sword, a busty female and a talking red wolf. Yep, that's Final Fantasy for you.

A man with a giant sword, a busty female and a talking red wolf. Yep, that's Final Fantasy for you.
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Final Fantasy VIII
Originally released: 1999 (Japan, US)
Platforms: Playstation, PC, Playstation Network

Final Fantasy VII was a tough act to follow but Final Fantasy VIII did a fine job regardless as the next title in the series. Final Fantasy VIII’s aesthetic was in line with the theme of magic and technology, but no longer were the characters out of proportion sprites. Characters were realistic and lifelike in appearance and this was to an extent reflected in the story, which was a more slow-burning, serious tale than previous games, and was deeply rooted in the romantic relationship between Squall ‘…’ Leonhart and Rinoa. Square well and truly had the hang of FMV sequences by now, and sequences like the opening duel between Squall and Seifer and the scene of Squall and Rinoa ballroom dancing were memorable landmarks of the game. The battle system was altered quite drastically. The system of MP (Magic Points) which had served as currency for spells in most Final Fantasy titles was gone completely, replaced by the ability to ‘draw’ spells out of enemies and either use them instantly or save them for later. Stored spells could be used as an item and attached to a character to improve their statistics. This was done through the Junction system where characters could be assigned a summon monster, or Guardian Force. In some ways this resembled the system of Espers from Final Fantasy VI. This system was one of the more divisive in the series because drawing spells could get a bit tedious, but its gorgeous looks, daringly complicated time travel storyline and the sheer awesomeness of card game Triple Triad ensured Final Fantasy VIII maintained the momentum created by its predecessor.



Final Fantasy VIII: Where people looked like people!

Final Fantasy VIII: Where people looked like people!
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Final Fantasy IX
Originally released: 2001 (Japan, US)
Platform: Playstation

Of the modern Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy IX is, at least stylistically, the odd one out. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura (who did VII and VIII) stepped aside for Yoshitaka Amano, who had helmed character design for the first six games. As such the designs harkened back to the older Final Fantasy titles. This was no accident; Final Fantasy IX was intended as a return to tradition. This is best shown in the character of the black mage, Vivi, whose design is virtually identical to that of the Black Mage sprite from the original Final Fantasy. The sci-fi realism of Final Fantasy VIII had been abandoned for a return to traditional high-fantasy with distinctly cartoony, stylized characters. You can’t get much more distinct than Quina Quen. Though Final Fantasy IX didn’t employ the Jobs system that popped up in earlier games, each character all but had their ‘job’ stamped on their foreheads. Quina Quen’s propensity for eating enemies suited his role as a blue mage, Vivi was of course a black mage, Zidane a thief, Steiner a knight, Freya a dragoon and so on and so forth. Final Fantasy IX was really a love letter to the earlier titles in the series, with dozens of references to them buried in the game. Following on from the popularity of Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad, Final Fantasy IX featured its own card game called Tetra Master, though it wasn’t quite as good. Though Final Fantasy IX didn’t have the slick sci-fi stylings of the previous two games, it was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable return to the roots of Final Fantasy, a mirror held to a series built on its own traditions.



The old school design worked a treat.

The old school design worked a treat.
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Final Fantasy Tactics (series)

Not long after Final Fantasy VII, the first ever spin-off Final Fantasy title was released. It was called Final Fantasy Tactics, and it would be the first of many new games to spring from the series. Tactics took place in the world of Ivalice, which would grow to become one of the most fully developed worlds in the series and was also the setting for Final Fantasy XII. It was essentially a strategy game in which units could be moved around a grid in order to attack other units. It was a refreshing twist on Final Fantasy’s gameplay and was quite successful. The original Playstation title has not yet seen a European or Australian release, but we did get a PSP remake ten years later subtitled The War of the Lions. There has also been Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on the Gameboy Advance and Final Fantasy Tactics A2 on the Nintendo DS.



Tactics may look simple, but it is intimidatingly deep.

Tactics may look simple, but it is intimidatingly deep.
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Final Fantasy X
Originally released: 2001 (Japan, US)
Platform: Playstation 2

Final Fantasy X saw the series move to the Playstation 2, and with the platform shift came a few perks. Aside from the additional graphical power, there was now plenty of room for audio, making Final Fantasy X the first in the series to feature full voice acting. As a very minor consequence the long-held ability to change character names to Boris or LOLZORZ! was omitted, though you could still name protagonist Tidus whatever you wanted (the name Tidus is excluded from the audio completely). You could also name Aeons, which were Final Fantasy X’s equivalent to summons. Like VI and IX, Final Fantasy X’s plot was intricately wound up in these creatures. Tidus ends up accompanying a summoner called Yuna on a pilgrimage to acquire Aeons in order to take down Sin, an immense sea monster intent on wreaking havoc. The game employed an interesting and unique levelling system called the Sphere Grid. Characters didn’t gain levels in the traditional sense, instead gaining Sphere Levels which could then be spent on spheres on the grid. Characters were placed by default on the most ‘sensible’ path but after a while this could be left behind to develop characters in whatever way you wished. A very similar system is in place for Final Fantasy XIII. Though Final Fantasy X didn’t feature a card game, it did feature an incredibly deep mini-game based on the sport of Blitzball. Aside from playing the game itself, you could scout for and purchase rival players, making this a rather thorough and enjoyable distraction to the main game. Final Fantasy X was like another Final Fantasy VII in that it brought a lot of new players to the series and as such it stands as the favourite for many fans. It also received its very own proper sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, an oddity in the series due to its transformation of characters Yuna and Rikku into J-Pop superstars... or something. It was a strange game.



The hate for Tidus was equalled only by the love for the game itself.

The hate for Tidus was equalled only by the love for the game itself.
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Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (series)

First released in 2004, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles saw the series return, albeit in a spin-off form, to a Nintendo console: the Gamecube. Like Tactics, Crystal Chronicles sported a new form of gameplay which was a twist on that in the main series. Battles were in real-time and even more significantly, it was possible to set up multiplayer by connecting multiple Gameboy Advances to the Gamecube console. Though Crystal Chronicles was aimed at a younger audience and was much simpler in its plot and themes, it nonetheless was successful and has spurned several sequels, including WiiWare titles My Life As A King and My Life As A Darklord, DS titles Rings of Fate and Echoes of Time, and most recently the unusual Wii game The Crystal Bearers.



The Malboro has never looked so cute.

The Malboro has never looked so cute.
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Final Fantasy XI Online
Originally released: 2002 (Japan) 2004 (US)
Platforms: PC, Playstation 2, Xbox 360

We mentioned earlier that Final Fantasy IX is the odd one out stylistically among the modern games but in terms of the series as a whole it has to be Final Fantasy XI, which is an MMORPG as opposed to a single player game. It was a radical departure from the series and yet managed to incorporate Final Fantasy’s gameplay in an MMO setting. Set in an ever-expanding world called Vana’Diel, players could select one of five races, including Humes (humans), the bulky Galka, the tiny TaruTaru, as well as the elf-like Elvaan and the delicate feline Mithras. The Jobs system popped up once more in this title, with players able to select from twenty different roles. Though a long way from the popularity of World Of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI has maintained a steady player base of around half a million players. After its Xbox 360 release in 2006 it became the first Final Fantasy title to appear on a Microsoft platform, as well as being the first ever cross-platform MMO. Square-Enix have heavily supported Final Fantasy XI with expansions and updates, with four major expansions to date and several add-on scenarios, with three more scheduled for this year. For those who feel like they might have missed the online boat on Final Fantasy XI, fear not. Final Fantasy XIV will also be a fully fledged MMORPG, set to appear on PC and Playstation 3.



Final Fantasy Online: where teabagging meets tonberries.

Final Fantasy Online: where teabagging meets tonberries.
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Final Fantasy XII
Originally released: 2006 (Japan, US)
Platforms: Playstation 2

Final Fantasy XII was another quite unique title in the series. Not only was it a return to a previously established universe (Ivalice from the Tactics games), it employed an entirely new battle system that saw the traditional ATB mechanic replaced with the shiny new Active Dimension Battle. No longer were you randomly whisked off to fights as you wandered around. All enemies appeared in the field, and all battles occurred seamlessly in the field. Battling was to an extent automated by the Gambit system, which split fan opinion of the game down the middle. Instead of inputting commands each turn, your party would act according to rules set up by the player. These could range from something as broad and simple as attacking all enemies upon sight, all the way to something specific like using the appropriate healing technique for a particular status effect when inflicted. The game’s levelling system, called the Licence Board, was an interesting twist on the Sphere Grid that allowed for even more flexibility in building your party. Final Fantasy XII’s plot was a little less dynamic than the games that had come before it. While still quite compelling, it was a little too mired in political machinations for the liking of some players. Nonetheless, Ivalice was a superb setting with a huge amount of exploration and things to do. The monster hunts alone were nearly a game on their own. Later on Final Fantasy XII received a Tactics-esque DS sequel called Revenant Wings. Though Final Fantasy XII was probably the most divisive in the series in terms of fan opinion, it was still undeniably a top notch title and a fitting Playstation 2 swansong for the series.



The Gambit system was a brave step in a new direction.

The Gambit system was a brave step in a new direction.
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And there we have it. There are plenty of other Final Fantasy titles that we haven’t gone into here, from Chocobo Racing all the way up to the excellent fighter Dissidia, not to mention the role Final Fantasy has played in the Kingdom Hearts series, but we hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at one of gaming’s most important and influential series. Don’t forget that Final Fantasy XIII is released on both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on Tuesday 9 March and stay tuned to PALGN for our full review.

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9 Comments
4 years ago
PALGN wrote
It was called Final Fantasy VII, a title slightly mystifying to a new generation of gamers unaware of the previous games in the series. This was especially the case in Europe and Australia, for whom this was the first Final Fantasy game ever released.
Is that true? Final Fantasy VI was readily available to rent in just about every Australian video store back in the day. Were these all imports? I can't remember having to use that NTSC region-adaptor thingie, but maybe I'm just remembering it wrong.
4 years ago
Wedley wrote
Is that true? Final Fantasy VI was readily available to rent in just about every Australian video store back in the day. Were these all imports? I can't remember having to use that NTSC region-adaptor thingie, but maybe I'm just remembering it wrong.
Count back. Due to the success that was FFVII in the market Square and Sony promptly went "oh hey, we could do something here!" and counted back the series with the PSX versions.

VII was around 1997
VI was around 2001-2002
Anthology was differentiated with the US version in which IV & V were grouped as opposed to NA's V+VI also around the 2002 mark.
Then 1+2 were slated in Origins around 2003.

They weren't imports they were just not released chronologically prior to 7.
4 years ago
Given the reference to a NTSC adaptor, I'm guessing that Wedley is referring to the SNES cartridge release (as FF3) in 1994(?), rather than the PSX version. They didn't have a copy in my local video store, but they did have Chrono Trigger :)

Mystic Quest Legend (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in the US) on the SNES was released in PAL territories before that though.
4 years ago
I remember renting FF3(vi) for my snes from video ezi back in the day. It even came attached with ntsc adaptor. Could never find the game in the shops and video ezi guys wouln't sell me the game...so I think I just kept borrowing the game..lol..Almost finished it too.
4 years ago
Can I play this new game without having played any of the first ones? Will i understand what is going on?
4 years ago
gelstyles wrote
Can I play this new game without having played any of the first ones? Will i understand what is going on?
You sure can, all the games (except for FFX-2) have different characters and storylines.
4 years ago
Don't care what many people say, VIII is still the pinnacle IMO. It does stand out amongst most of the other titles, and I understand why fans of your VII's and IX's are generally cool towards it, but I think it's the one time Square really nailed the complete immersion. I have few fonder gaming memories than running around Balamb Garden with that amazing soundtrack in the background, wishing more than anything I could be a SeeD too.
4 years ago
My favourite has always, and likely will always, be Final Fantasy VI. WIth Final Fantasy III as a very close second (the original not the lesser remake).

I tried to like VII but it was an exact copy of six almost in the story progression. The only change was the Cloud/Sephiroth fiasco but that was so retardedly convoluted that it didn't matter, besides Cloud was pretty bloody close to Terra in progression anyway.
4 years ago
I have a habit of liking different things about each new iteration of Final Fantasy that comes out.

- Final Fantasy IX is my favourite overall. The amazing soundtrack is a large factor, but it's a solid RPG in it's own right.

- Final Fantasy VIII to me has one of the best settings, it contains some nice locations (The Gardens, Esthar), some amazing sequences (Battle of the Gardens) and has a cool airship (The Ragnarok).

- Final Fantasy XI being FFXI is a real shame, it was a fun game to play for many years, but Square Enix's relative newness to the MMO field hurt FFXI a lot. It contains some fantastic looking locations, and the music, despite having a lower Uematsu content is still sublime. The storyline is well written, and is challenging to get through, it's a pity that most people will just stab Enter and skip all the dialogue.

- Final Fantasy VII was my personal entry point to the series, it's a reasonably good introduction to the series as a whole on the basis of having an easy to learn combat system (Unlike FFVIII's, which was more complex). If you discount the complination, FFVII does a reasonably good job of standing alone, but over time, I have come to like the other games more.

- Final Fantasy X-2 did something interesting, it was effectively a full playable epilogue to FFX. Aside from FFVII and FFIV, none of the games go into detail of what happens after you defeat the final boss and (almost) everyone gets a (mostly) happy ending. It was cheesy as hell, but it had this charm to it.

- Final Fantasy X is a difficult one to judge, I feel. I poured a lot of time into it, and I enjoyed playing through it for both the storyline and for the battles. It had a good setting and the music was okay. FFX to me can be best described as "safe".

- Final Fantasy Tactics A/A2 are still a favourite tRPG of mine, but I rank these two next to my other usual tRPG mainstays like Disgaea and Super Robot Wars.
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