Final Fantasy – a historical analysis

Christine Sim

Final Fantasy (Square 1987), is a fantasy role playing game created by Hironobu Sakaguchi. The game was released in Japan by Square on December 18th, 1987 for the NES. While the franchise has been wildly successful – followed by 14 sequels and a multitude of spin-offs – this blog post will focus on the first Final Fantasy game, including a description of the gameplay and an exploration into the context in which it was produced.

The game begins with the player’s chosen party of four, called the Light Warriors, who are on a quest to defeat the four Elemental Fiends. The Light Warriors each carry a darkened orb and embark on a journey to restore light to the orbs and their darkened world. Each character has different abilities and restrictions on the type of armor and weapons they may wield. Random battle encounters occur as the player traverses through various towns and dungeons, which is how the team gains experience points and levels up. These battles are turn-based and the player may choose to either attack, use magic, use an item, or flee from combat. Items can be equipped to the four members of the crew to strengthen their performance in battle. When the player wins a battle, they earn Gil, which is the currency of the Final Fantasy world. Gil can be used to purchase items. The player can also obtain rare items by going on quests or by chance when opening treasure chests. The game follows the Light Warriors through their various travels to different kingdoms, which are filled with rescue missions, delivery quests, overseas and air travel, and time loops.

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The battle screen layout

 

Despite the game’s major success, the creation and development of the original Final Fantasy is a story of risk and desperation. The relatively vague genre of RPGs had not yet gained much popularity in 1980s Japan, and Square was hesitant to permit Sakaguchi to develop the game because the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. However, when games like Dragon Quest (Enix 1986), Ultima (California Pacific Computer Company 1981), and Wizardry (Sir-Tech 1981) began to rise in popularity, Square approved Sakaguchi’s fantasy RPG proposal. Even so, Sakaguchi had a difficult time getting his colleagues to join his project, as his history of proposal in years past had been largely unsuccessful. After much convincing, Sakaguchi was able to assemble a team of game designers to join him. They focused heavily on the player’s ability to choose their own characters, as the team believed that the fun of an RPG lied in the player’s choice to customize their own character.

Sakaguchi later revealed that Final Fantasy was in part named after his final effort to succeed in the video game industry – had the game not been a success, he would have quit his job and returned to university. Furthermore, with major players Nintendo and Sega dominating the Japanese video game industry, Square had bleak hopes of success and informally considered Final Fantasy as their potential final game. The team was motivated by their dire situation and put all their efforts into the game.

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Creator of Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi

Fortunately for Sakaguchi and Square, the rest of Japan was experiencing an economic boom, thus creating an opportune time for game developers. After the Video Game Crash of 1983, Japan dominated as the industry leader. Japanese consumers had more disposable income, and Final Fantasy contained just the elements to satisfy an audience of gamers who were seeking more than an adventure game or a pen and paper RPG. To this day, Final Fantasy is marked by its complex characters and detailed plot. The original game in the series is widely considered the first real RPG game to legitimize the genre, and is thus extremely influential in video game history.


References

Gould, Jeff. “Final Fantasy: A History of Success.” Geek and Sundry. N.p., 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

“Final Fantasy.” Final Fantasy Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

Square 1987, Final Fantasy, video game, Nintendo Entertainment System, Square.

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