Last week, we talked about the Fantasy coming to life. Today, we’re going to talk about it springing into orbit. As you know already, this part will cover the next five main series games of the franchise, and their associated spinoffs. Including, however, the top success stories of the franchise, its transition from 2-dimensional sprites to full 3D worlds and models, and record-setting games, you can imagine how this second part of the feature will be as high-profile as it gets. I hope I can get someone to dance with me. So, then, will you dance with me?
End of an era
Square was going strong, and their focus on story would some day pay off. They were one of the very few JRPG makers that put an emphasis into a good story, while also keeping gameplay at high levels, combining the two with success but still searching for that sweet spot. That perfectly balanced scale that holds a great story and roster of characters on one side, and deep, complex gameplay mechanics. It wasn’t until 1994 that Square managed to find that spot, and it was named Final Fantasy VI.
Ask any long-time Final Fantasy fan what
their favorite the best game is; chances are, you’ll get a Final Fantasy VI or Final Fantasy VII. Sometimes a Final Fantasy X. But VI is there, most of the time, and there’s a reason for it. The first game to be directed by Hiroyuki Itō, the thus-far battle designer for the most part, alongside Yoshinori Kitase, who worked as a field planner in Final Fantasy V, in creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s place. Yoshitaka Amano was back with his signature art style, while long-time series composer Nobuo Uematsu was there to contribute his excellent musical skills.
Final Fantasy VI told the story of Terra, an amnesiac girl with a mysterious backstory, as she struggled to get through the conflict between the Empire (an ever-growing dictatorship) and the Returners (a rebel faction opposing the Empire). The Empire grew its army to immense numbers through experimentation with the Espers, magical creatures with the power of a demigod, only thought to be the stuff of legends. That’s where Terra comes in; the former Imperial soldier is key to understanding the Espers and magic for both sides. All this plays out in a beautiful steampunk world, with a technology level more similar to that of Final Fantasy IV rather than the high fantasy setting and technological advancement seen in the rest of the entries. This would also spark a new trend of steampunk-based games in the future.
And that was it: Square had struck a gold mine, after years of digging. The never-before-seen cast of 14 playable characters (a record for the series up until today), each with their own exciting story to be told, and a way to be woven into the game’s plot, coupled with one of the most charismatic villains in the series, nailed the story execution and raised the bar even higher. Kefka, even after almost 20 years later, is a disturbing antagonist; he’s not just evil, he’s the most evil manifestation of evil; I can’t reiterate further without spoiling the game’s rich story, but if the fans are still talking about him and his maniacal laugh after all this time, that means something.
How did Square balance this with good gameplay, though? The answer is simple, and I’ve noted it in the previous article: keep what’s good, and experiment. The very flexible, but sometimes confusingly deep, Job System of Final Fantasy V was gone; in its place was a vast roster of 14 playable characters, each with their own Job, and a general twist. Everyone can equip magicite (crystallized remains of an Esper) and, through them, learn spells and get stat boosts. Though just two characters can learn spells through normal progression, the rest get their magic abilities through magicite, which enables the acquisition of Ability Points. In turn, each of the Espers teaches the holding character a spell according to a percentage rate, with Ability Points acquired through battles amplifying the amount; when 100% is reached, the spell is learned and can be cast. Espers also give access to Summon Magic, another feature now staple for the series. The equipped Esper can be summoned once per battle, even if the character in question knows no magic. Another thing to consider when building a character is that Espers can provide permanent stat boosts from a point on. That means, you can have a character be everything, from mage to physical brawler, at the change of an Esper.
For everything the Espers couldn’t do, there were other items; abilities like Jump were learned through relics. As with previous games, the character can equip a weapon, shield, helmet and piece of clothing or armor, with each of these equipment pieces offering unique properties, like elemental resistances or further stat boosts. This added another layer of strategy and character building to an already interesting system. The game also introduced the “Desperation Attacks”; special attacks triggered when the character in question has low health.
But the strategy would be in vain if the story took away party members at will, right? Yes, that’s true. So, in turn, Square introduced the Party Swapping ability, through which the player could set up the party however they liked, save for a few select moments in the game were the party (or a member) was locked in place for story purposes. Some dungeons even required the player to change the party regularly, in order to advance through the puzzles. The game was built with a very certain concept in mind: everyone could be the protagonist. While Terra would later become the central face of the game, the flexible Party Swapping system allowed players to steer away from Terra. Each character was to have their own episode, and Sakaguchi assigned members of the development team to the creation of characters. For example, Sakaguchi took care of Terra and Locke, while Shadow and Setzer’s episodes were planned by Tetsuya Nomura.
Released in the US under the name Final Fantasy III to stay in line with the previous two territorial releases, it was also the last game to be renamed for a US release. Heavily censored to exclude profanity and minor instances of partial nudity, Nintendo of America went as far as to rename “Bars” to “Cafes”, or renaming the recurring “Holy” spell into “Pearl”, because of religious reference. Yep. The game then, as you guessed, saw many re-releases, the most notable of which was the Playstation version of 1999, which saw the inclusion of FMV, with characters based explicitly on Amano’s designs, and various gameplay tweaks and bug eliminations, as it was based on the SNES version. The European version (released in 2002) also included a demo of Final Fantasy X, a first for the then-upcoming game in the series.
The game was another success story, not just in sales (more than 3.50m sold in 2003), but in context too. It was proof that Square had only one major rival in the scene now; itself. In the words of Nobuo Uematsu:
“I still remember when, during the launch party for Final Fantasy VI, the notoriously unforgiving Mr. Sakaguchi gave a speech. “Thanks to every one of you — we have created the best game in the world! No! The universe! Thank you!” I cried. There were tears on my face. Those tears made me realize just how much I had invested myself in the project. I hope that the Final Fantasy games forever continue to be a source of joy not only for the fans, but for the developers as well!“
You always have to strive for perfection, though. Square surely found a treasure, but that was just the start. They had to improve, move away from the regular, and with the impeding release of 3D capable consoles like the Nintendo 64 and Playstation, they knew a transition from 2D to 3D was inevitable.
Crafting a legend
1997 is a year fondly remembered by millions of people across the gaming world. Duke Nukem Forever started production, and it was released two years ago. GoldenEye 007 released on the Nintendo 64, and it rocked the boat sailing on FPS waters. Mario Kart showed the plumber can drive, while Grand Theft Auto took the world by storm with its concept. There’s tons of notable releases in that year; Gran Turismo, Crash Bandicoot 2, Age of Empires, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Fallout… but almost none of these would write their names in gaming history with huge, bold, gold letters like Final Fantasy VII did.
Directed by Yoshinori Kitase, written by him and Kazushige Nojima, and produced by the legendary Hironobu Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy VII is considered by many to represent the pinnacle of the series. Apart from its contributions to gaming in general and as a whole package, it was the game that introduced the world to FMV’s, or full-motion videos. I need not talk about how this feature has been used by almost every single game in history since then.
Remember when I told you to keep in mind that Square’s games started finding a home on Sony’s Playstation? Well, that was after the release of Final Fantasy VII. Originally going to be another 2D SNES project, Square ultimately passed on the platform and decided the Playstation would get the game, for the simple fact that Nintendo’s insistence on using cartridges was keeping Square’s vision of a 3D game back. The team believed that, if they didn’t keep up with the times, which means 3D, the game would tank and become outdated. The CD-ROM format of Playstation was the only viable solution, easily managing Final Fantasy VII’s memory-intense features, like the FMV’s and character motions. The characters were cartoony polygonal 3D models instead of sprites, moving on 2D pre-rendered backgrounds, while the battles offered full 3D-rendered environments and models with realistic proportions. Every action had an animation, and more elaborate actions, like spell casting or summoning, featured incredible real-time 3D effects. It’s funny to think the team initially wanted to go with pixel-based characters on a 3D world, instead of polygonal 3D characters in a 2D world. But the movement advantage of the 3D models, the ability to use body language to express themselves, was preferred by Kitase, who wanted a more realistic/dramatic approach.
The game was originally to take place in 1999′s New York, as creator Hironobu Sakaguchi envisioned, but it was later turned into a modern/futuristic fantasy world. The team at Square was working on Chrono Trigger in parallel, which wasn’t affecting Final Fantasy VII’s production until they reached a point where the project was huge enough to require the help of veterans like Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Itou. During this period, characteristics originally in Final Fantasy VII were transferred over to Chrono Trigger, while other ideas, like a Sorceress named Edea and a New York setting were transferred over to Final Fantasy VIII and Parasite Eve, respectively.
120 artists and programmers teamed up for the project, with a budget higher than $30m. When Final Fantasy VI: The Interactive CG Game experimental demo was created, which featured polygon-based 3D models of Final Fantasy VI characters in a real-time battle, the team was convinced that this would be Final Fantasy VII’s design philosophy. Sakaguchi picked Tetsuya Nomura as the character designer, through a weird, if not exciting, process. Everyone in the company was handing their plans in text format created through a PC, while Tetsuya Nomura’s were hand-drawn and illustrated. Nomura then proceeded to start creating what would become legends in the gaming world; the characters of Cloud, Aerith and Barret were his first creations. What was their style though? The game was set in a futuristic, fictional world, where AI-powered robots were something common and genetic engineering was at its peak.
These would become main points in the game’s story, which revolved around a villain named Sephiroth and a gigantic corporation named Shinra. Cloud was an ex-SOLDIER, an elite Shinra group of highly-trained soldiers, who then joined Avalanche, an anti-Shinra rebel group, as a mercenary. The plot, much like VI’s before it, would soon evolve into something much bigger than meets the eye; Cloud was more than just that, Sephiroth was the best SOLDIER for a reason, and Aerith’s role was more than just that of a good hearted heroine. The cast was big, impressive and varying; Vincent, an ex-Turk (a group of super-secret police organization), would get his own game later on due to popularity. Cait Sith, for example, was a deceiving cat-like entity, while Red XIII was a loner, lion-like character, and also the last of his tribe.
Tetsuya Nomura made Sephiroth the main driving force of the plot: the antagonist wasn’t stuck to a place, where the player had to go and face him. Instead, he was moving around the world, something Final Fantasy hadn’t seen yet. It was also rooted in myths, drawing names from Norse mythology and more cultures; Midgar and Nibelheim, for example, are Norse mythology, while Sephiroth got his name from the Kabbalistic Sephirot. This isn’t the first time Square pulled something like this; Final Fantasy V’s main antagonist, Exdeath, was similar to the Yggdrassil tree of mythological Norse origin.
Sakaguchi’s first draft of the story was vastly different to what we finally got. In it, a “hot blooded” character named “Detective Joe” would be pursuing the characters that blew up the city of Midgar, in a detective story. Sakaguchi then left the story to Kitase and Nojima, and focused on the battle system. A tragic event during the production led to a tribute inside the game: Sakaguchi’s mother died, and the series’ creator wanted to make a story that said, when someone died, it doesn’t mean they’re gone. A very special, famous scene that triggered a chain of events crucial to the game’s plot, showcase this idea.
Regarding gameplay, Final Fantasy VII was the most refined entry the series had seen. The ATB system was still present, but the active party was shrinked down to three members in battle at once. It also featured the Frontline and Backline; characters on the frontline would deal more damage but take less damage, while characters in the back would receive less damage but also deal less damage. This could change through the use of Materia; magic orbs the players can put in slots found in weapons and armors equipped by each character. The Desperation Attacks of Final Fantasy VI would return in the form of Limit Breaks. This time, instead of triggering when low on health, a bar that filled when damage was taken would allow for a Limit Break. Some Limit Breaks targetted every enemy, some targetted a single enemy, while others benefitted the party. Each character could learn multiple Limit Breaks, but only had one equipped.
Final Fantasy VII was a recipe for success: a big, fleshed out, charismatic cast, a fantastic story with many different themes and allegories, filled with moments that cemented themselves in the history fo gaming, leading innovations and technology, and a lesson on how you make the 2D-to-3D transition, which proved a problem for many at the time (I’m looking at you, Castlevania 64). It spawned a cult following, and is widely considered one of the best games ever made. It even managed to sell eight million copies in just two years, with around three million of them being sold in the first 48 hours of its release. In 2009, it was released on the Playstation Network, and it shifted 100.000 digital copies in its first two weeks, making it the fastest-selling Playstation game of all time on the PSN.
Due to its success, it was the first game in the series to spawn sequels, prequels, midquels — everything-quels, basically. The fans just couldn’t get enough of this universe, and the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII was born. Featuring the PSP game Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII, the mobile game Before Crisis -Final Fantasy VII, the CGI movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the Playstation 2 game Dirge of Cerberus -Final Fantasy VII- and the mobile game Dirge of Cerberus Lost Episode -Final Fantasy VII, you can say the Final Fantasy VII story has been explored like none other in the series.
2008′s Crisis Core covers the tale of Zack, a SOLDIER 1st class, up until the start of Final Fantasy VII (this is as much as I can tell without spoiling anything), and is set seven years before it. It features Cloud, Aerith, Sephiroth, and a handful of new characters like Genesis Rhapsodos and Angeal. The origins of the Buster Sword, that huge sword Cloud uses, are revealed in this game, which, even though much different than VII in gameplay, I recommend playing at first chance.
2004′s Before Crisis follows the Turks, and is set before Crisis Core. It shows the struggle against AVALANCHE, the original anti-Shinra organization, which served a far darker purpose. Even darker is the fact that it was never released outside Japan. It is set six years before the original game.
2005′s Advent Children movie is set two years after VII, and follows Cloud on his self-redeeming quest. A disease known as Geostigma plagues the planet, and three mysterious men, who are connected to Sephiroth, only serve to make matters worse. We’ll cover this movie in depth with Andrew, in the fourth part.
2006′s Dirge of Cerberus follows the enigmatic character of Vincent, in a third-person shooter game named after his three-headed (loading my Mini-pun and shooting mercilessly) pistol. It was a mediocre shooter, but more Final Fantasy VII and more Vincent Valentine is never a bad thing, so, by all means, you should get this some time.
It’s brighter than the sun that fans loved Final Fantasy VII, and are craving for a remake. And Sony using its intro as a Playstation 3 tech demo certainly didn’t cease the pain of not seeing that remake; in fact, it made it worse, seeing Cloud in all his Playstation 3-powered glory.
But Square had to move on, once again, and advance the franchise. A franchise that was once a desperate attempt at staying afloat, which later turned into a worldwide craze and managed to induct itself into gaming’s Hall of Fame, numerous times.
No, my friends, this isn’t Twilight. Thankfully. It’s a new dawn for Final Fantasy, which had to move on from Final Fantasy VII; after all, the first return to the game came in 2004 with Before Crisis. There’s a seven year gap (damn with all the sevens!) between that, and it includes a handful of games. The next one we’re talking about is Final Fantasy VIII, my personal favorite, and one of the most interesting titles in the series. How do you follow up a success? With another success! Square saw a lucrative market in futuristic fantasy worlds, and with precious tools in their hands, the stories could get even more cinematic, dramatic and make its characters express themselves even better.
Just as dramatic as VIII’s departure from series’ conventions like character levels, cartoony characters, Magic Points, and a theme with no vocals. Don’t be scared; this is a tactics-intense entry, with the ATB battle system we’ve come to love. As I said, gone are Magic Points and levels (mostly); in its place is the Junction system, with the help of Guardian Forces. This basically means: you fight and subdue a Guardian Force, then equip it to any character, and said character can summon it. On the plus side, the Guardian Force can get Ability Points in addition to the regular Experience Points, as long as it’s junctioned to a character in the party that actively fights for said AP, and can learn new abilities, like Boost or Steal. Boost, for example, gives players a chance to boost the summoned Guardian Force’s power upon summoning, but if failed, its power actually gets weaker. Guardian Forces also enhance stats, and multiple can be assigned to a single character; each, though, has a compatibility meter, which goes up the more the character fights with that GF equipped. This means that, if you suddenly switch it to another character, its effectiveness is lowered by consequence due to compatibility. Each GF has its own HP, and it isn’t summoned instantly (though the time it takes can be lowered through abilities); while being summoned, the GF takes the hits instead of the summoner, which allows for last resort scenarios to occur. Additionally, if the GF’s HP reaches zero before it’s summoned, it’s knocked out and needs to be revived through items to be reusable.
Guardian Forces allow for stat improvements, but not only that; they can give elemental or status effect bonuses to equipped weapons and armor. For example, if you junction Blizzaga magic to a junctioned GF at the Elemental Defence slot, the holding character gets a huge resistance against Ice-based attacks, while if Sleep magic is junctioned at the Elemental Attack slot, the character has a chance to inflict Sleep to the enemies they attack. How does magic work, though, since the Magic Points are gone? The only way to gain access to magic is through the “Draw” ability, available with all GF’s on junction, that sucks magic uses for a certain spell out of enemies. For example, a powerful Sorceress uses a top-tier spell. You can steal it for limited uses through Draw, instead of learning it and having an MP pool. It’s essentially the same thing, just not conventional. And it’s genius, in my humble opinion, as it deviates from the traditional formula, but not too much to make it unrecognizable and broken. In another note, Desperation Attacks/Limit Breaks are back, and in a more interactive form. For example, Squall’s Renzokuken requires you to press R1 at set points, and the more successful presses you get, the more effective the attacks become. Plus, the limit on the lnumber of Limit Breaks per battle is broken (punpunpunpun goes the minipun), allowing for as many Limit Breaks as you can, provided you’re in critical condition.
And battles are that much more enjoyable and cinematic, if not strategic, owing to a host of changes made to a tried-and-true battle system. Some abhor the changes, some welcome them, but something everyone can’t deny is that it’s radically different, and proof that Final Fantasy always strived for perfection, experimented, and never stood still. Thus, the story had to steer into different territory than its predecessor, to avoid comparisons and criticisms of repetition. And this is how we’re treated with a wonderful cast of believable people, something director Yoshinori Kitase strived for. Final Fantasy VIII was the first game to feature realistically proportioned characters, the likes of which we were first treated to in Final Fantasy VII’s battles. It was also designed to be brighter and more fresh, as opposed to the dystopian worlds that VI and VII were set in. The game mostly deals with human relations, tragedies, war and its aftermath. This is mostly evident in Yoshitaka Amano’s wonderful cover design of the PAL and Japanese versions (sorry, North Americans!), depicting Squall and Rinoa in a loving pose, hugging each other, despite the grim reality that they live in, and the tragic lives they led. The logo was inspired by the team’s intention to make the characters express themselves through body language. And, I think, they succeeded; who can deny the beauty of the famous dance scene, which was even recreated as a Playstation 2 tech demo?
Sony and Square have something going with those tech demos, right? Square’s Luminous Engine also debutted on the Playstation 4 as a Final Fantasy tech demo. Thankfully, it didn’t recreate an old one that fans want remade. That would be a low blow. Unlike past Final Fantasy games, this one didn’t see many re-releases; just a PC release alongside the Playstation one, and a Playstation Network version in 2010.
Final Fantasy VIII was released in 1999, to favorable reviews, and unprecedented sales. Staying at the top of the US charts for three weeks, and grossing more than $50m in the thirteen weeks following them, it was the fastest-selling Final Fantasy in history. By March 2003, it had sold an impressive 8.20m of copies worldwide. Risks pay off, and deviating from the norm is key to success: not too much, but not too little either. VIII got it right, and the result is it appearing in many Top Games of All Time lists across major publications, with some ranking it even higher than VII. But sometimes, you gotta blend the new with the old.
Link to the past
The minipun is on a roll today… 2000 had come, and with it, the Playstation 2. If Square knew one thing, it was to move with the times. Hell, even Final Fantasy VIII taught us to move on. But the Playstation swan song wasn’t to be the 8th entry; rather, it would be the love letter to the franchise’s past, Final Fantasy IX.
Planned as a spin-off, due to it steering too far from VII and VIII, the 9th game is Sakaguchi’s all-time favorite, because “it’s closest to his ideal view of what Final Fantasy should be”. A mix of old and new, IX sees the old Experience Points-based levelling system return, and throws in an item system reminiscent of the Espers from Final Fantasy VI; equipping an item and acquiring enough Ability Points should let you learn a new ability permanently. A character can learn abilities faster if they equip more items that teach the same ability, which speeds up the process immensely. Abilities are then split into two categories; Action and Support. With Action abilities, you can cast Magic, summon Eidolons, or generally possess weapon skills, while Support abilities are mostly defensive passives, giving you resistance to effects and elements. There’s a limit on how many Support abilities you can equip, which is decided by Magic Stones. Each Support ability requires a set number of Magic Stones, the limit of how many you can have increasing by levelling up.
The ATB system is back, once again, with minor tweaks to the formula. What’s more worth noting is that the player party number limit is upped to four from three, a throwback to the classic Final Fantasy formula. Shaking up things is the inclusion of almost-co-op, which allows a second player to control another party member, albeit only in battles. Limit Breaks make a return, now called Trance. Sponging enough damage fills up the Trance gauge, which allows you to go into Trance mode automatically when filled. Trance mode varies from character to character; for example, Zidane can use Free Energy in his Trance ability set, if he has learned Flee in his Skills ability set. Other characters get stat boosts, or half-new abilities, like Double Black, which allows the casting of two Black Magic spells in rapid succession. Learning your characters is key, as Jobs are back, although not explicitly stated. Vivi, for example, is the archetypal Black Mage, while Zidane is the Thief. This further moves away from the VII and VIII highly customizable character system, and returns to its NES and SNES roots.
Out in the field, the player can interact with the environment when “!” or “?” bubbles appear above the player character’s head. Apart from that, Active Time Events, or ATE’s, are introduced. When an ATE window appears, the player can press the Select button, and see what another character is doing at that time. This might reward the player with Gil or items, and sometimes, multiple ATE’s occur at once. The player can select one, encouraging replaying the game to see what the other options would bring your way. Another huge addition is the Mognet, a postal system ran by… Moogles. Progressing through the game, you may find Moogles scattered around the world. When you talk to them, you are allowed to save your game, restore your party’s energy, or purchase items through the Mogshop. The player may also be asked to deliver a letter to another Moogle, or receive a letter from another character in the game.
This all is charming, but the most charming feature is the game’s playable cast of eight characters, only three of which are human. Without spoiling, I can go as far as to say this plays a major role in the game’s plot, which returns to the typical enigmatic villain with grand schemes, with a few twists affecting even the player party. The world is broken into four continents, much like the early games, and Nobuo Uematsu is back again, with the richest score he had ever composed until then. Final Fantasy IX was the last game where he composed the music all by himself. Some blame it on him overworking, and who can claim them wrong? A soundtrack consisting of 110 tracks, with another additional 42 released with the Final Fantasy IX Soundtrack PLUS version. Uematsu has stated that this was his favorite game and soundtrack, of all the games he has worked on, on multiple occasions.
What is Final Fantasy IX, if not a huge homage to the franchise’s past? It features a number of allusions to earlier games, and even the next game in the series. From jobs, clothing, names to dialogues, it is one big love letter to what made Final Fantasy big, and a fitting end to another era. The Playstation was on its last legs, and even though Final Fantasy IX released after the Playstation 2 had, they both went out with a huge bang. Square saw another glorious console go by, and with it, arguably the most successful installments the series had ever seen; VII in terms of innovation and legendary status, VIII in terms of breakthrough decisions and alterations, and IX in honoring its precursors. Square had, once again, to move on and transit into a new console era.
Dreaming big, with fayth in Square
Final Fantasy X fans will get this two-in-one pun, once again. And no, it’s not a typo. The 10th game in the series released in 2001, and the hype was through the ceiling. “Imagine all the potential, with this new piece of extra-powerful hardware” was the thought circling inside people’s minds. Tidus and Yuna’s tale was another personal story inside a large-scale one, reminiscent of Final Fantasy VIII.
Hironobu Sakaguchi was worried about the transition from 2D to 3D backgrounds, voice acting and real-time storytelling. But, his doubts were brushed off when he remembered what Final Fantasy was about, what it proved was its strength: evolving, adapting, experimenting, moving forward. With a budget higher than Final Fantasy VII’s, reaching $32m, and a workforce of over 100 people, most of whom were Final Fantasy veterans, Final Fantasy X was marching forward in full force.
Originally designed to feature online elements, these were removed for a certain future title, which wasn’t too far into the future. It also had a fully 3D camera, which was also dropped in favor of a static one. There were also character levels, but most interestingly, they were dropped; hello Sphere Grid System. As its name suggests, the Sphere Grid had abilities and stats nodes spread around in a spheric shape. You could reach and unlock said nodes by gaining AP from battles, and you could also find different spheres as you progressed. This system allowed the player to make mixed builds, meaning a character could have Black Magic and White Magic, or high Defense and Attack skills, at once. Brand new was the CTB, as well. The Conditional Turn-Based Battle system replaced the staple ATB system from previous games, surprising everyone, since Square had practically used variations of it for the last five games. It’s a turn-based system that doesn’t work with rounds. Confusing, isn’t it? This meant that the order of the turns doesn’t guarantee every character in the battle would have an equal amount of turns. The Speed stat dictated how often a character would take turns, making it crucial, unlike typical turn-based battle systems. Spells and abilities that could modify the Act List (the turn order), were also added. Stronger abilities had a longer cooldown period, while weaker abilities had a shorter cooldown period, calling for the player to strike a balance between offense and speed. A major difference from the ATB was the fact that all actions stopped once a player character’s turn came, and they wouldn’t continue until you picked an action. This dropped the reflex-based, action-oriented concept of the ATB, in favor of a more strategic approach to each battle. The player could also change characters during a battle, which was also a new addition to the series. Additionally, Summons returned in the form of Aeons, although only the Summoner Yuna could perform the summoning rituals. Players could gather additional Aeons further down the road, as usual.
The developers had grand plans for it. The world map would be shunned in favor of a more realistic way to traverse the world, while battles would be triggered without transitioning to a different screen, as that felt like a very different part of the game, and not just a part of its whole. However, hardware limitations took away this freedom, the features of which were saved for later games. The hardware, however, allowed for impressive facial expressions through motion capture and skeletal animation technology, giving the animators the opportunity to create lip movements synched with the audible speech. Kazushige Nojima, the scenario writer of the game, noted that voice acting helped keep the storyline simple, as emotions were never before expressed at such a level, which allowed for easier character development. Voice acting, however, didn’t come without its woes; the script was changed multiple times to be closer to the voice actors’ personalities, while the English localization team had the difficult task of lip synching the speech in cutscenes programmed around Japanese dialogue.
Another thing voice acting took away was the liberty of naming characters; everyone, apart from Tidus, couldn’t be renamed. In turn, Tidus’ name is never spoken in-game, but it’s official that he’s called Tidus. With the story tailored around the fact that Tidus narrated it, the writers were hoping for a connection between the player and the character, which stemmed from the fact that you only knew as much as your character narrated to you. And — oh, man — the story. Set in the vivid world of Spira, Final Fantasy X was the first game in the franchise to stay away from European or Western themes, and instead make use of Asian culture. It was all so beautiful, and full of allegories, as usual. An emotional tale, partly about dreams, but not about them. Partly about faith, willpower and sacrifice, but not about it. It was the sum of its parts that made it so unique, and a complete tear jerker as it unfolded its beauty. If there’s one game in the series that has a “WTF” (in a good way) ending, it must be this. Tidus and Yuna’s chemistry was amazing, but wasn’t just this that made the story so amazing. The monster of Sin, Tidus’ father Jecht, Yevon, Seymour — they all had their meanings, which tied to our world. And what good is such an emotional trip, without wonderfully fitting music to go with it?
Apparently, though, Nobuo Uematsu didn’t work alone on the game’s soundtrack, for the first time since its inception. Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu worked alongside the man that helped Final Fantasy reach unparalleled heights through its finely crafted music, from the 8-bit era until the sixth generation of consoles. The fact he contributed to it, though, still means a lot.
Final Fantasy X was another high note for Square. With 1.4 million copies just through pre-orders, it set a record for the fastest-selling console RPG of all time. With 8 million copies sold until 2011, you can say it is, in fact, one of the best-selling RPG’s of all time, and another gaming gem. In fact, it was so successful that it spawned the first ever sequel in the Final Fantasy series.
Final Fantasy X-2 was born in 2003, when Square had merged with its long-time rival, Enix. Square-Enix’s first Final Fantasy game was also a sequel to one of the most revered game the franchise had ever seen, and of course, the stakes were high. Trying something different, the developers opted for an all-female cast, led by Final Fantasy X’s Yuna. The Job system returns, via the Dressphere system the game featured, which allowed for different ability sets depending on the dressphere equipped. Garment Grids allocate the dresspheres a character can use in battles, while the grids themselves have powers activated when equipped, or when the player changes spheres by passing through gates. The Dressphere system worked to alleviate the lack of summons/Aeons, and was a visual and gameplay-changing inclusion.
Jobs could also be changed mid-battle, with the ATB system returning, now allowing characters to take actions simultaneously, rather than having each one perform their action one by one. Chain attacks, which can stun enemies when used in succession, were also introduced in this entry. A variety of sidequests and minigames comprised half of the game, with the main, mission-based storyline making up the other half, which can be played in a non-linear fashion, as opposed to X’s linearity. Split in chapters, most of the world of Spira is open to explore from early on, unlike Final Fantasy X.
It’s incredible to think that, even though a sequel was never planned for the game, strongly positive fan reactions the short story “Eternal Calm” led to its creation. With a team barely one third that of Final Fantasy X’s, due to a lot of work already done on the previous games whose assets would be used for the sequel, Final Fantasy X-2 was completed in almost a year. Emphasizing friendship and the aftermath of a great victory, Final Fantasy X-2 didn’t deal with the crisis-centric themes the first game did. It did, however, bring a lot of smiles to millions of crying faces across the world, crying over X’s ending and its harsh reality.
And if that wasn’t enough, HD versions of the already-stunning game are coming to the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita, as was announced in 2011, to celebrate the game’s 10th anniversary; while X came out in 2001, X-2 came out in 2003, so it’s still an anniversary.Looks like Square Enix has a lot to celebrate for. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD, the 26 years of franchise history, and the sheer fact that it’s still going forward, with its head up, despite low points that just weren’t enough to shake off its pride. Did you like the second part of our feature? If so, look forward to the third and pre-final part next Monday, and leave your comments below. Until then, may the fayth be with you!