Final Fantasy (franchise)
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The franchise is Square Enix's flagship franchise and their best selling video game series with 110 million units sold(as well as revenue earned through mobile releases and MMO subscriptions), and has made an impact in popular culture, particularly for popularizing the console RPG genre outside of Japan. Its critically acclaimed orchestral musical scores, memorable and likable characters, realistic and detailed graphics and innovative mechanics have made the franchise notable in the industry.
Gameplay[edit | edit source]
The Final Fantasy franchise usually puts the player in control of multiple characters in a party, though there are exceptions. The player will build up the party's strength by gradually acquiring new abilities and equipment to handle more powerful opponents. In many games, this task extends beyond the main story with challenging superbosses and bonus dungeons serving as optional tests of skill. As a Japanese role-playing game, many instalments — particularly the earlier instalments in the main series, or the throwback spin-offs returning to old formulas — involve frequent use of menus to select items, skills and upgrades.
Battle[edit | edit source]
Battle systems in the franchise have varied, with the majority being menu-based with variants on turn-based combat, though other have used action-based combat systems. Earlier instalments have instanced battles based on random encounters while roaming the world map, while some later games (beginning with Final Fantasy XI, carried over in single-player with Final Fantasy XII) have free-roaming enemies that are engaged without transition to an instance. Battle commands typically feature a basic physical attack with the equipped weapon(s), a magic (with magic spellsets featuring a tiered naming system), other special command abilities (such as Steal or Throw, or a skillset such as summoning monsters), and a set of items, though the player may also try to flee from many normal encounters. The characters normally have HP and MP stats (though some games ignore or do not incorporate MP); HP determines the damage characters can take before they are KO'd while MP determines how many spells or other abilities a character can use. Most games also feature elements and status effects, nuances which can affect the course of a battle, with the enemies and allies attacking with or fending against them to exploit the weaknesses of a foe or to prepare for an upcoming encounter.
The best known and widely used battle system is the Active Time Battle pseudo-turn based system introduced in Final Fantasy IV where characters can perform an action when their ATB gauge is full. The fill rate is affected by stats, status effects, abilities used and other factors requiring the player to be economical with time. Many games feature a variant of this system. As an early example, Final Fantasy XII uses Active Dimension Battle to determine the rate characters will use actions input through menus or the gambit system; there are no random encounters, and the player can move the character around the field and must be within the range of the enemy they are using their skill on.
The Final Fantasy franchise has also featured a more basic, traditional turn based system, such as the original Final Fantasy through to Final Fantasy III that do not rely on time, but the player and the enemy party take turns executing commands. Final Fantasy X features a Conditional Turn-Based Battle system where turns are taken based on an Act List the turn order depending on the units' stats and statuses, and commands being ranked usually with stronger commands having longer "recovery time" until the unit can act again.
Outside of turn-based systems, the franchise has occasionally featured purely action-based combat systems, in which the skills the characters use are still similar to traditional skillsets of attacks, magic spells, special abilities and items, but the rate the characters use these abilities depends on player skill with less reliance on menus. The first in the main series with an action role-playing game focus is Final Fantasy XV, though many spin-offs, such as Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- and Final Fantasy Type-0, have used these systems before.
Growth[edit | edit source]
Character growth determines how player characters learn new abilities and boost their stats. Unlike battle systems, character growth systems are less consistent throughout the franchise, and players must internalize the systems to make the correct decisions. The only consistent character growth mechanic used in the franchise has been the level-based system where characters raise their level through experience points earned in battle to improve stats and sometimes learn new abilities. Even this system has been excluded from some games, such as in Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XIII, where only ability points are accumulated from battles that can be expended for better stats and/or new skills.
One of the most common and familiar systems that determines character growth is the Job System, a class-based system where players assign characters a "job", choosing from franchise' staples such as Black Mage, White Mage, Monk, Thief and Warrior, among many. The character's job determines their base abilities and the stats gained. Throughout earlier games, this was often through experience, though Final Fantasy V introduced ability points as a separate system where the experience would increase a level independent of the job, and the ability points likewise accumulated from battles are used to grow the job's abilities. Many games featuring the job system allow the player to switch the jobs around to learn new abilities or face new enemies, though some, such as the original Final Fantasy, stick the job as fundamental to the character. Similarly, games such as Final Fantasy IX, do not have named job systems, but the characters have defined roles similar to the job system with pre-determined abilities they can learn. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn expanded on the system, featuring both basic classes, and jobs that can be unlocked once a certain set of classes have reached pre-determined levels.
Many games offer different systems to allow more freedom when growing characters' abilities and stats beginning as early as Final Fantasy II. Often this features a mix of the ability points system, in which points are used to grow abilities without being determined by a job. One of the popular systems is the Materia system featured in Final Fantasy VII and other games in its sub-series, where the player equips characters with Materia that contain various command or support abilities, and accumulating ability points allows the Materia to grow and gain stat boosts and new abilities. Similarly, the magicite featured in Final Fantasy VI allows the player to equip magicite remains of espers with the accumulated ability points allowing the characters to learn the magic spells they contain, and once reaching a certain threshold the character learns the ability permanently to use it even without the equipped magicite. This way the player can directly control which party members use which skills and customize their party to their preferred play style.
Other games in the franchise deviate further from the typical formula. Final Fantasy XII has player characters learn License Points (a variation of the ability points system) to spend on a License Board to purchase "licenses" to wield different equipment, use different spells and boost stats, with total freedom. In the International Zodiac Job System re-release, the License Boards are based on jobs. In Final Fantasy X characters learn abilities based on a Sphere Grid that begins linearly, but the player can eventually branch the grid out further, and potentially max all stats with various items usable to alter and improve Sphere Grid growth. Another example featuring items for growing skills is Final Fantasy VIII where magic spells are collected into an inventory similar to items, and acquired through refine or draw abilities, with other abilities learned via ability points from the character's equipped Guardian Forces.
Equipment[edit | edit source]
Typically, characters can equip armor, weapons and accessories, where armor provides defensive boosts, weapons determine the strength and type of the attacks used, and accessories provide various supporting abilities or bonuses. There are rarely optimal sets of armor or accessories, though many games feature ultimate weapons for each character, often involving sidequests to obtain them.
Games can deviate from the standard format. Final Fantasy VI features relics as accessories, while Final Fantasy VIII has neither accessories nor armor, all effects typically associated with gear being abilities instead. Many games feature specific types of armor, such as head armor, body armor, arm armor or leg armor, while other games only have a single set of armor based on the character, such as Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy X. Armor can provide bonus abilities, such as resistances to status effects or elements, and in some games, such as Final Fantasy IX, are integral to the character growth system where characters learn new skills by equipping gear.
Field[edit | edit source]
Outside of battles the player can explore the field for items, dialog with NPCs, and for trading in gil for items and gear. In games featuring instanced random encounters, the party will encounter an enemy randomly while exploring dangerous areas (though abilities to reduce the encounter rate can be learned), while games with free-roaming enemies have enemies appear in the dangerous areas for the player to engage or avoid.
The player can explore dungeons where enemies are fought and treasures and items can be found. Enemies tend to be more numerous in dungeons, and there is often a boss at the end. Other areas are safe havens, notably towns, which contain shops for the party to buy new items and equipment, and often an inn to rest at and fully restore HP and MP. Many games feature a world map used to traverse on foot or via airships, chocobos or other vehicles. World maps have random encounters and are crossed to reach other points of interest in the world, often with mountains and oceans and other impassable objects placed to ward off areas the player is not meant to visit yet; by end game players usually acquire a vehicle that allows exploration of every nook of the world.
The field areas often feature non-player characters and events that allow the player to play minigames, for mandatory or non-mandatory rewards. The first major minigames were introduced in the Gold Saucer in Final Fantasy VII where the player can play various games including chocobo racing and battle arena. Another notable minigame was the Dragon's Neck Colosseum in Final Fantasy VI where the player can bet items for rewards and fight various enemies. Card minigames are also popular, particularly Triple Triad introduced in Final Fantasy VIII, which has seen many iterations in following releases.
MMOs[edit | edit source]
Though the MMO releases, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, are members of the main series, with the exception of some abilities, some equipment, and the job system, they deviate from the traditional gameplay format due to their nature as games of a different genre. The MMOs are free-roaming with enemies appearing on the field, rarely use traditional menu systems (instead abilities are selected from a player-customized list) and use various features typical of MMO games. Being multi-player games they include player interaction as well as trading between players. The player does not control a party, but multiple players can form one to fight in dungeons and against bosses.
Synopsis[edit | edit source]
Settings[edit | edit source]
The Final Fantasy franchises' settings range from traditional fantasy to science fantasy. Each game focuses on one world that vary drastically in backstory, technological advancement and culture. Humans are the dominant sapient species, with chocobos, moogles and several enemy species being the most commonly recurring non-humans. The worlds often feature Crystals that throughout early settings were magical phenomena fundamental to the elements of the worlds, but in others have different roles.
Settings often contain elements based on real-world mythology, and the franchise features many allusions to religion. A notable example are ancient mythological creatures that function as summons, and have various different roles within the game lores. Espers from Final Fantasy VI are a magical race that once lived alongside humans until a war wiped most of them out. Aeons in Final Fantasy X are the physical realizations of the dreams of the fayth, and summoners use them to battle Sin. Many games featuring summoned monsters do not have them as a named race, or give them a key role within the lore, the summons being merely abilities to be used in battle.
The franchise often features other mythological references, such as Kefka Palazzo and Sephiroth's godforms based on divinity as their final encounters in Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII. The game worlds themselves are commonly based on real-world mythology, such as Final Fantasy X and its Shinto and Buddhism influences, and the influence of Jewish mysticism in Final Fantasy VII.
Each setting often features some form of magic (sometimes spelled magick), though it often differs between the different lores. In many settings, magic is the power of the world's Crystals. In Final Fantasy VI magic has become a rarity, with many resorting to magitek (magic technology). In Final Fantasy VII, magic is a product of the Lifestream and can be used via Materia, though scientists have stated that "magic" is an unfitting term for a force of nature. In Final Fantasy XII, magick is provided by the mysterious substance known as Mist that seeps from the inside of the planet.
Plots[edit | edit source]
The franchises' most basic plots revolve around the cast fighting an antagonist who aims to destroy or conquer the world while coping with their own struggles. The characters are often part of a small resistance against one or more larger powers, and each tend to have different motivations within their own groups. There is a sense of desperation, as the characters fight for everything they hold dear. The plots vary from being overall light-hearted, such as Final Fantasy III or Final Fantasy V, to being more grim and realistic, such as Final Fantasy II or Final Fantasy VII, though many, such as Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy XIV, are a mix.
For the first few instalments a key plot point was the Crystals. Each world would feature four, each representing the · , and without them the world would deteriorate. The antagonists often begin by destroying or stealing these Crystals for power, and the party would fail to prevent them and be forced to foil their grander scheme later. This plot was abandoned in Final Fantasy VI, and while the games would still feature Crystals, they often did not have the same importance.
The Crystal-theme can be said to be the overarching theme of the franchise, as a traditional Final Fantasy plot involves an antagonistic force trying to make use of the Crystals' power with the player power in opposition, sometimes chosen to wield the Crystal's power to enact their will as the Warriors of Light. Some games subvert this theme, such as Final Fantasy XII — where the Crystals are called nethicite — and the Fabula Nova Crystallis: Final Fantasy series with its various types of Crystal, showing that the power of the Crystals is not necessarily something that mankind should pursue despite its might.
Themes[edit | edit source]
One key theme in the franchise is dualism, presented in many ways, such as through a contrast between two worlds, between two heroes/heroines, and between a protagonist and an antagonist. Most often this dualism represents a balance that is disturbed by outside forces, forcing the protagonists to restore it. Other times, the "balance" set is deemed unjust by the protagonists and they must instead end the cycle to free the world.
Another common theme is rebellion. The protagonists are often forced to fight a higher power either on a quest for revenge, for freedom or another motivation. The higher power can range from an empire, such as the Gestahlian Empire from Final Fantasy VI, a religion, such as Yevon from Final Fantasy X, or a deity, such as the fal'Cie from Final Fantasy XIII. During the journey to vanquish these powers their threat escalates, until the protagonists free the world of the oppressor(s).
Media[edit | edit source]
Spin-off games[edit | edit source]
The spin-offs' gameplay can deviate a lot from the main series. While spin-offs tend to include gameplay fundamentals, if only in abilities and ability names, many stick to role-playing game elements. As an example, although Dissidia Final Fantasy and games following its format are fighting games, they still feature character growth, characters using their specific abilities, and similar equipment systems. Another notable spin-off, Final Fantasy Tactics, is a tactical role-playing game with a job system that uses tactical unit command as opposed to one of the battle systems featured throughout the main series. Many games also feature action elements, such as Final Fantasy Type-0, while others include shooting elements, such as Dirge of Cerberus -Final Fantasy VII-, but still keep the to the franchises' fundamentals.
Many spin-offs have been released on mobile platforms that use simplified forms of typical battle systems, such as Final Fantasy Record Keeper. Other games use · play, barely reminiscent of the main series.
Music[edit | edit source]
The compositions' success has resulted in many side projects by Uematsu based on the music from the series. The Black Mages was a hard rock band that arranged and remixed music from the series. Other notable projects have included live orchestral tours Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy, Final Symphony tours and the Dear Friends -Music from Final Fantasy- tour. Many rearrangement compilations have been released on the series' music, the Piano Collections being among the best known, with many games also having special orchestrated albums whose compositions have been performed in the live orchestral tours. Official sheet music books have been released in Japan, usually for piano arrangements of the in-game soundtracks.
Impact and legacy[edit | edit source]
The series' popularity has led to it having an impact in popular culture, with appearances and references in anime, TV, and film. The music in particular has garnered much attention, such as winning a place on the Classic FM Hall of Fame, and a performance from · to "Liberi Fatali" from Final Fantasy VIII.
The franchise has spawned many spin-off franchises. The most notable, Kingdom Hearts, is a crossover between Final Fantasy characters and Disney characters, and has gone on to be successful in its own right with 21 million units sold. Many games have been released by staff who previously worked on Final Fantasy titles. Bravely Default began as a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, and includes the Job System and similar abilities. · was developed by series creator Sakaguchi after leaving Square Enix, while · was developed by former staff and had a musical score composed by Nobuo Uematsu.