Monday, March 8, 2010

COUNTDOWN: Final Fantasy XIII, Day One

COUNTDOWN: FINAL FANTASY XIII, DAY ONE

Before collecting and gathering Gil (The currency of Final Fantasy) had ever become a problem, a small unknown video game producing company known as "Square" was having major financial problems of its own. In 1987 they began to face off against their own worldly evil, bankruptcy.

After only a few years of independent development, and
under the disc-original collaboration, Square's bottom line was rocked by a string of unsuccessful titles. The games they had released included The Death Trap, King's Knight, Alpha and an Aliens side-scrolling shooter. (Based off of the movie.) Even North American hits like Rad-Racer and 3-D World Runner were barely enough to keep the company at bay. Their end seemed unavoidable.

With the resources available for one final game, Square's director of planning and development, Hironobu Sakaguchi, was given the terrifying task of making a game that would save Square's dwindling future in the video game industry. When asked what type of game he would like to make, his response was:

"I don't think I have what it takes to make a good action game. I think I'm better at telling a story." -Hironobu Sakaguchi, 1987

Taking cues from other popular RPG's on the market such as Japanese contemporary's like Dragon Quest, and The Legend of Zelda, to United States games like Ultima; Sakaguchi ultimately dreamed of a game with a massive world map to explore, and an engaging story to tell. Convinced that the Famicon/NES RPG would be his swan song, he ironically called the game, Final Fantasy. Thus was Final Fantasy born.

Released on the Famicon (NES in America) on December 18th, 1987, the game was directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi himself. The game featured fantastic character designs from the increasingly popular manga artist, Yoshitaka Amano. Square was lucky enough to get veteran game composer, Nobuo Uematsu to compose the game's musical score. Final Fantasy was Uematsu's sixteenth video game score.


The famous prologue to the series. This appeared on screen every time you started your game.

The game told the story of the four warriors of light, the bearers of ancient elemental artifacts, and heroes destined to save the land from a growing plague. Despite Crystals becoming the central theme to the Final Fantasy series, the original Final Fantasy featured not crystals, but four magical orbs. The only crystal that was mentioned in the English version of the game, was the Wizard Maytoya's missing eye.

The plot sent the four light warriors to hunt down the
four elemental fiends. These fiends were demons that were responsible for plunging the world into a state of darkness. This quest led our heroes to fight the earth fiend, Lich; Kary, in the Gurgu volcano, Kraken in the sea shrine; and Tiamat, high above the earth in the floating sky castle.

Original concept art of the Light Warriors battling a Demon. I've always loved this picture.

But defeating these enemies only revealed the true villain. These four fiends had collectedly created the demon Chaos out of the corpse of Garland, (The first villain you faced in the game.) and sent it back in time. After the light warriors had rewound the clock a thousand years, they learned that Chaos was the one responsible for sending the fiends into the future... wait... if they sent him back in time, how could he send them to the future? Or did he know that he was going to be sent back in time in the past? Or are they from the past too? Does that mean that they had already come to the future? But then why would they need him to send them into the future, if they were already in the future, since they were from the past? ... hmm... I don't know. Not only was the result of the story cataclysmic, but it was also a confusing paradox. Anyways, once Chaos was defeated, the world celebrated the victory and returned into a state of joy. That was the story... it was and still is kind of confusing.

Original Artwork for the demon Chaos. I've always liked how he sits on his throne... looks cool.

Despite its flaws, the story of Final Fantasy was epic for its time. However, it was no where near the gripping dramatized narratives that the series would become famous for. Instead, the game was focused on creating a deep, fulfilling and highly customizable RPG for gamers to enjoy; and in this aspect the game succeeded wonderfully. You could actually name your characters and you had the opportunity to choose what different character classes could join you in your party. This allowed for a total of thirty possible group combinations.

Previous RPG's such as Ultima and Dragon Quest ha
d you fighting in a 1st person perspective, and the fights were usually one on one. However, Final Fantasy was the very first game that allowed you to see the enemy on the right side of the screen, with your commanding characters on the left. You had four party members, and you could fight up to nine different enemies.


I find it kind of funny how no one else had thought of this. It seems like such a simple concept. With this new way of gameplay, you could see who was attacking who, and who was casting the different spells. A strange as it may sound, the graphics and animations to Final Fantasy were some of the most advanced graphics and anima
tions that gamers had ever seen before.

Original concept art of one of the Warriors of Light fighting a Dragon. Although the picture is named, "Dragon V.S. Knight."

Final Fantasy not only had a huge story, and map to explore, but it also contained a massive soundtrack for its time. The game featured almost twenty tracks playing throughout the course of the game. Several of these themes would go on to become essential Final Fantasy songs, such as the Victory Battle Theme, The Prelude of The Crystal and the Opening Theme, which would evolve into the series' anthem. So, the game had an awesome story, awesome graphics, gameplay, characters and music. It was also really really hard.

The only way you could save your game was by going to an Inn. Which cost money to use... I've never heard of a game where you have to pay money to save. Luckily, if you had 1000 Gil to spare, you could buy a house that allowed you to save wherever you wanted, but they could only be used once. Staying at an Inn, or a house didn't remove your status effects, like poison, and confusion. The only way to revive a fallen ally was by using the spell LIFE, or by visiting churches. Money was hard to earn, and everything was ridiculously over priced. (The spell Invisible Level 2. cost 620,000 Gil.) The game also had ineffective attacks. Meaning that if one of your party members killed an enemy before the others had a chance to swing at it, then your attacks and spells you used on that enemy would have been wasted. (Meaning no one hit kills.) Enemies also jumped from being a walk in the park, to virtually impossible death matches at a moments notice. The game was so hard that Square had to tweak each sequel to try and make the series a little easier.

However, the fans were willing to put up with the punishment, because Final Fantasy became one of the most popular games of the 1980's, and one of the most successful games on the Famicon, and the Nintendo Entertainment System. The planted a seed that flourished into a lucrative series; a series that of 2006 had sold over sixty-eight million units worldwide. This is proof to Sakaguchi and his crew, that their Fantasy was anything but Final.

-

The Countdown to Final Fantasy XIII is just about complete. But since this is the last day of the Countdown, I just want to take a moment to talk about what makes a Final Fantasy game a real Final Fantasy game. This is going to be a hands on, in-depth nerd talk. Get ready for my nerdiest moment yet.

-

It's strange to think that such a massive series started o
ut with just four orbs; spheres that had the power to destroy the world, or save it. They had been labeled behind the five elements of Japanese mythology. Fire, Earth, Wind and Water. The fifth element represented the void that was beyond our understanding. In the Final Fantasy games that followed, these Orbs would change into Crystals. The concept of the crystals was absent, but returned in Final Fantasy III. Cecil began the epic of Final Fantasy IV, by stealing the Water Crystal from Mysidia; King Tycoon witnessed the Wind Crystal shatter to pieces in the beginning of Final Fantasy V, and the Espers in Final Fantasy VI disintegrated into shards of crystallized Magicite.

The Materia in Final Fantasy VII returned to the model of the Orb/Sphere; which not only helped advance your characters, but almost helped Sephiroth in destroying the entire planet. Final Fantasy VIII was like Final Fantasy II. It didn't have anything to do with Sphere's or Orbs.

Final Fantasy IX reflected the old Final Fantasy's by
making a Crystal cop in between dimensions. Which was responsible for the existence of life on the planet Gaia. But Final Fantasy X and X-2 (I hate X-2) jumped back to the concept of Sphere's and the upgrading of your characters. Final Fantasy XI literally started with a spinning Crystal, and then five others that created the many races throughout the world. Although Final Fantasy XII differed its spiritual source to the Zodiac signs, their emblems were encased in Crystals that the Espers were contained in. The Sun Cryst in XII also chipped off three shards of brand new Nethicite that united the world under the rule of King Raithwall.

Ten and a half of the main stream Final Fantasy's have used Crystals or Orbs as the emotional link to the planet's life force. If someone were to try and create a Final Fantasy from scratch, the best place to start would be with either a Crystal, Orb or neither. The twelve core Final Fantasy's bear no direct ties to each other, a side from rumors and mild suggestions, but the structure that the games are built all hold similar traits that the series has become famous for.

After you have Crystals or Orbs, the story of the game has to take its shape. The kingdoms in each Final Fantasy have gotten bigger and bigger; but they're almost always dominated by an ancient evil; or has stood to repress a smaller rebellion. If you notice in my plot synopsis' throughout the Countdown, almost every Final Fantasy is about a rebellion.

There is usually also a conflict between nature and technology. The later Fantasy's centered on a plot driven by a planet trying to renew itself. With the world unbalanced, a group of charming characters would volunteer or be summoned to perform an ancient ritual and vanquish the evil that perverted the world. The origins of the characters in Final Fantasy I is unknown because you assembled the party yourself. However, the next four cast of characters (II-V) were all orphans, or lost their parents as the conflicts rose.

In Final Fantasy II, you played as orphans that grew up with each other. In Final Fantasy III, you played as orphans that lived in the same house. In the dark Final Fantasy IV, you played as a company that grew up in the military with each other, and in Final Fantasy V the group discovered each other at the beginning of the game.

The sixth game joined a resistance group. It was the first group in the series to have a name. Bannon's army in Final Fantasy VI was called "The Returners." Barret's clan in Final Fantasy VII was known as "Avalanche," Rinoa's rebels waved the flag of the "Forest Owls" in Final Fantasy VIII; Baku's "Tantalus" troupe in Final Fantasy IX probably thought that they were up to no good, but their actions ended up saving Princess Garnet and their kingdom; and XI had numerous groups that you could create yourself. Apart from the retarded sluts known as the "Gullwings," in Final Fantasy X-2, the groups in Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII were unnamed.

Final Fantasy is famous for its intricate set of characters that exist throughout the course of each game. Final Fantasy V was the first game to feature a main character's death. Final Fantasy VI was the first game that let you pull characters in and out of your party. The themes brought up in the names of the playable characters in the games stretch over a large variety of influences. Aspects of nature were heavy influences on many characters. Some characters draw themes from Japanese culture, such as the main characters in Final Fantasy X. Tidus and Yuna. The name Tidus draws from the word "Tida," and the name Yuna draws from the word "Yuna." These names are references to the "Sun" and the "Moon." However, other names such as Cloud (VII) and Squall (VIII) derived from English roots. The character Vivi (IX) appears in numerous romance languages as the root word for the verb: To Live...

The character Vivi.

Ultimately, you can't have good without evil. The fantastic villains in Final Fantasy have gained a reputation of being able to steal the spotlight away from the heroes who are brave enough to stop them. But their defining qualities aren't always black and white. Some of the antagonists are fairly straight forward. Garland from Final Fantasy I and the Emperor of Palamecia (II) seemed endlessly trapped in their obsession of ruling the world. But after Xande felt betrayed by Noah, he went on a revenge binge that has inspired many other villains in the series. This sometimes can make the game a little fuzzy on who the true villain is. For example, many gamers argue that the true villain to Final Fantasy VII is Hojo, or even Professor Gast is the true architect for Sephiroth's rage. In a couple of Final Fantasy's the first opposition that you meet ends up being the unthinkable evil that you fight at the end of the game. The ONLY villain in the entire series that remains to be the cause of his own evil, is Kefka. (Kefka! Kefka! Kefka!) Excluding Kefka, there always seems to be another final fight with who knows what.

Every Final Fantasy has some sort of form of transportation. Whether it be by Chocobo's, cars, boats, canoes, rafts, snow mobile, or buggy's, all of these modes of travel whether they be manually operated or not merely acted to direct players until they were ready to fly an airship. Airships have been in every single core Final Fantasy game, and no resistance has ever stood a chance without at least one airship. In Final Fantasy III you could live in your house, in Final Fantasy IV they gained tools and armaments, in V they morphed into multiple forms, in VI they migrated to Mode Seven. Final Fantasy VII introduced helicopters, Final Fantasy IV launched a space ship, and Final Fantasy VIII stepped even farther into space. While Final Fantasy IX brought the original concepts of the airship into glorious 3D graphics.

With the exceptions of Final Fantasy I and VI, the majority of the world's aeronautic endeavors were dealt with by one man. The appearance of the character Cid is never quite the same in each Final Fantasy. So it's always hard and fun to guess what the character will look like, and where the engineer will pop up in the game. His name in Japanese "Shido" is rumored to come from the tale of the Spanish conqueror, El Cid, or from the engine term representing Cubic Inches Displaced, or "Cid" for short.


The character Cid is a major Final Fantasy tradition. Model of him from Final Fantasy VII.

The cute lovable over sized birds known as Chocobo's have been in EVERY single Final Fantasy since Final Fantasy II. Despite their mediocre significance in Final Fantasy X and XII, they're still yet to miss out on a game; and it's impossible to imagine a Final Fantasy game without them. As Toad Sage (A faithful blog follower) said: "CHOCOBOS FTW"

It's also difficult to conceive a Final Fantasy world without the charm of Moogles. Who first appeared as Dogas's security system in Final Fantasy III. But strangely enough, they weren't completely absent from Final Fantasy IV. In Final Fantasy V, they guided you to their hidden forest, where you could briefly walk amongst their tribe. In Final Fantasy VI, they joined your party, and saved Terra from an advancing army. Final Fantasy VI also introduced the most famous Moogle of all time, Mog. Since then, Mog and his gang have appeared in numerous Final Fantasy's performing random acts such as synthesis, checking your mail, and selling items. The name of the Moogle in Japanese is a fusion of the word for mole and bat... so why do they look the way they do?



Various artwork for the Moogle's in Final Fantasy IX. The change of how the Moogle's look is constantly changing. But the red antenna on their head is always there.


My favorite Moogle model. From Crystal Chronicles.

So we have gigantic yellow birds, and bat/moles; but we're going to need some serious steel if we're going to survive the battles. The legendary sword of King Arthur, Excalibur, and the powerful Masamune have been in the series ever since Final Fantasy I. No matter what the classes of the characters are, characters are usually only allowed to wield certain weapons.

Class and Magicite also decide which characters can summon the most deadly of attacks, the summons. In some games these summons were simply there for atmosphere or spell casting. However, infamous summoners like Rydia, Garnet and Eiko, or the beings themselves, such as the Espers in Final Fantasy VI and the Fayth in Final Fantasy X were all main parts of the story that drove the plot forward. Whether they be Espers, Eidolons or Aeons, the summons have always had a major part of the storyline in the Final Fantasy series. Most, if not all of these creatures were inspired by a numerous amount of different cultures. The two beings that have appeared the most throughout the series, Ifrit and Shiva, reflect two cultures that which Final Fantasy drew a great amount of inspiration. The multiple cultures and religions of the world have influenced many summons such as the Leviathan, Hydra, Ramuh and more.

All of these things are what it means to be a Final Fantasy title. However, many other popular games have copied this perfect formula. As the sales, and fan numbers have proved, the Final Fantasy formula needs one more important element. This may be the most important element as well... A brilliant creative staff. Despite doubts and disbelievers, Hironobu Sakaguchi was the man that started it all. He produced the first five games in the series, and produced the seven games after wards. Following Final Fantasy IX, which he considered the finest example of what Final Fantasy game should be, he found Mist Walker Studios with Microsoft and officially left Square in 2003. It's difficult to pinpoint specific aspects he's brought to the series, outside of his leading role; but obviously, Final Fantasy wouldn't exist without him.

The influence of Nobuo Uematsu CANNOT be understated. In his relationship with Square, he has composed over six hundred Final Fantasy songs. And that's just considering the Core series. Over fifty of those songs have been character specific themes. In 2004 he started a music production company called "Smile Please," and he played keyboard for his Final Fantasy heavy metal band, "The Black Mages." Even though most of his work is now for Mist Walker Studios, he still contributes themes to the Final Fantasy series. The songs that he wrote over twenty years ago are still irreversible linked to the Final Fantasy series.

The fantastic illustrations of Yoshitaka Amano, even with today's technology, are still almost impossible to recreate in full 3D while still maintaining the original drawing's intricate aspects. His hand has stayed with the series from the very beginning, despite not having designing a character for a game since 2001. However, he continues still doing logo designs, and promotional artwork. A lot of his pictures are displayed in this post.

Behemoth against The Warrior of Light - Yoshitaka Amano

Hundreds of creative minds have converged on the twelve core titles, but these founders of the series have drawn the blue prints to make a game that everyone else has followed. They may not be the ones behind the newest installments in the series, but the Fantasy's have a bright future thanks to their many installments.

Looking back at the twenty years of Final Fantasy, it's hard not to marvel at the amazing amount of work that the tiny company of Square has gone through to make their small Fantasy one of the biggest gaming obsessions in history. In total, there are Twenty Eight Final Fantasy games. The library is so huge that only games like Mario and Mega Man can rival the series. One thing has been made clear though, the only thing Final about Final Fantasy is its past.

Sakaguchi's Hail Mary began with an Orb, the other with the light of a Crystal and will never know an end, as long as it lives in the minds and hearts of players around the world.

Here's to Final Fantasy XIII.

THE END

Special thanks to Gametrailers and Wikipedia for the information. Plus all the people that actually read this, and of course, the fans of Final Fantasy and Hironobu Sakaguchi. Thanks for reading.

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This blog has been sweet to read. I LOVE FF 13!!!!
    I am very glad there is a chocobo!!!
    I love them.
    Anyway, great blog. Hope you keep writing stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Brandon, you should turn this into to a book!

    ReplyDelete