Recurring elements in the Final Fantasy series
Final Fantasy is a media franchise created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, and developed and owned by Square Enix (formerly Square). The franchise centers on a series of fantasy and science fantasy role-playing video games (RPGs). The eponymous first game in the series, published in 1987, was conceived by Sakaguchi as his last-ditch effort in the game industry; the title was a success and spawned sequels. While most entries in the series are separate from each other, they have recurring elements carrying over between entries: these include plot themes and motifs, gameplay mechanics such as the Active Time Battle (ATB) system, and signature character designs from the likes of Yoshitaka Amano and Tetsuya Nomura.
The artwork for the series has been associated with multiple artists: the three most prominent being Amano, Nomura and Akihiko Yoshida: Amano designed characters up to Final Fantasy VI, Nomura has designed characters for multiple games since Final Fantasy VII, and Yoshida has been involved in Final Fantasy XII, XIV and titles associated with the fictional world of Ivalice. The original gameplay created by Akitoshi Kawazu was based around Dungeons & Dragons and Wizardry. Starting with Final Fantasy IV, the Hiroyuki Ito-designed ATB system took prevalence: variations of the ATB system have been used in multiple entries since then. These various aspects have been positively received by critics over the series' lifetime, contributing to its overall worldwide success.
Final Fantasy began with the development of the titular first game in the series: developed at Square, later dubbed Square Enix after its 2003 merger with Enix. Final Fantasy was created as creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's last ditch attempt at success within the video game market: Sakaguchi had long wished to create a role-playing title, but the company had denied him the opportunity until then. The first Final Fantasy was released in 1987, and was a commercial and critical success that fueled the development of further titles. The series garnered international popularity with the release of Final Fantasy VII (1997) for the PlayStation, which became the highest-selling Final Fantasy title to date. Final Fantasy has become one of Square Enix's major gaming franchises; as of 2016, the series has sold 110 million copies worldwide across 48 video game releases.
The Final Fantasy series consists of multiple games that, while generally having separate settings and narratives, share common themes and motifs in their worlds and plots. Multiple writers have worked on the Final Fantasy series over its existence, the most prominent having worked on the mainline titles. The first Final Fantasy writer was Kenji Terada, who was asked on board the project by staff after impressing them with his work on the anime adaptation of Kinnikuman. His job was to create a narrative-focused game to contrast against the gameplay-focused Dragon Quest. Terada would provide the scenarios for Final Fantasy II (1988) and Final Fantasy III (1990). After a "falling out" between Square and Terada, scenario work was delegated to Takashi Tokita. Tokita also wrote the scenario for Final Fantasy IV (1991), along with being the game's designer. For Final Fantasy V (1992), the scenario was a collaboration between Sakaguchi and Yoshinori Kitase. Final Fantasy VI (1994) was worked on by a group of four or five different writers, including Kitase. Sakaguchi was responsible for providing the basic story from the original game until Final Fantasy VI. Sakaguchi would also write the scenario for Final Fantasy IX (2000).
One of the notable recurring writers is Kazushige Nojima: he first joined the development team for Final Fantasy VII, and would later write the scenario for Final Fantasy VIII (1999). He was also a major contributor to Final Fantasy X (2001) alongside other writers. He returned to write the scenario for Final Fantasy X-2 (2003), despite initial reluctance due to its upbeat feel when compared to its predecessor. His later supplementary material would return to a darker theme. Nojima also created the original scenario of Final Fantasy XV (2016), then called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. His original scenario was reworked for Final Fantasy XV by Saori Itamuro. Another recurring writer is Daisuke Watanabe. His first job as a scenario writer was with Final Fantasy X. He worked on Final Fantasy XII (2005) as a scenario writer after original writer Yasumi Matsuno left due to illness. The initial script was written by Miwa Shoda, whose work was fleshed out by Watanabe. Watanabe would later work on the scenarios of Final Fantasy XIII (2009) and its sequels, which would become one of his major projects. The scenario for Final Fantasy XI (2002) was created by Masato Kato, who returned for the expansion Rise of the Zilart. For Final Fantasy XIV (2010) the writer was Yaeko Sato, who also worked on Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XII: Sato stayed on as lead writer for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (2013), alongside new writer Kazutoyo Maehiro.
The first title to receive a direct sequel was Final Fantasy X: Final Fantasy X-2 is set in the same fictional world of Spira, while using a lighter tone than its predecessor. No sequel to Final Fantasy X was planned initially. Final Fantasy XIII was also intended to be a standalone title, and was later expanded into the series' first official trilogy with the development of Final Fantasy XIII-2 (2011) and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (2013). Final Fantasy VII was later expanded into a multimedia series titled Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, which included video games (Before Crisis, Dirge of Cerberus, Crisis Core) and film projects (Advent Children, Last Order). A different subseries linked by common elements, and indirectly inspired by the Compilation, is Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy: while the subseries' games have unique settings and stories, they all share a common mythos surrounding crystals and their associated deities. Fabula Nova Crystallis was originally planned as a platform for the development of multiple games planned out in advance, compared to Final Fantasy producer Shinji Hashimoto to the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings film franchises. A world later incorporated into the Final Fantasy series is Ivalice, the setting for titles within the game collection known as the Ivalice Alliance. Taking place within a single world across a large time period, Ivalice is the setting for Final Fantasy Tactics (1997), Final Fantasy XII and Vagrant Story (2000). Vagrant Story did not originally take place in Ivalice, being incorporated into the subseries by Square Enix long after its release. The game's references to other Final Fantasy titles were originally intended as fan service. Ivalice itself was the creation of Yasumi Matsuno, the main creative force behind Tactics and Vagrant Story. It first appeared in Tactics. Matsuno's work with Ivalice later inspired the scenarios for A Realm Reborn.
Stories in the series frequently emphasize the internal struggles, passions, and tragedies of the characters, and the main plot often recedes into the background as the focus shifts to their personal lives. Other aspects explored are the relationships between characters, which range from love to rivalry. Other recurring situations that drive the plot include amnesia, a hero corrupted by an evil force, mistaken identity, and self-sacrifice. The central conflict in many Final Fantasy games focuses on a group of characters battling an evil, and sometimes ancient, antagonist that dominates the game's world. Stories frequently involve a sovereign state in rebellion, with the protagonists taking part in the rebellion. The heroes are often destined to defeat the evil, and occasionally gather as a direct result of the antagonist's malicious actions. Twin antagonists, with the second main antagonist being hidden for the majority of the game, is also a recurring element. Other common plot and setting themes include the Gaia hypothesis, an apocalypse, and conflicts between advanced technology and nature.
A recurring concept within Final Fantasy settings is the use of important magical crystals: in early games, they represented the Japanese classical elements, and would be instrumental in keeping the world in balance. Due to this, control over the crystals forms part of a chosen games' core narrative. The concept of crystals was introduced into the original game by game designer Koichi Ishii. Since then, crystals have taken prominent roles in Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy IX. They took minimal roles in Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII. Crystals also took a central role in Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XV, which both used the crystal-based Fabula Nova Crystallis lore: overt references such as terminology and branding were removed from Final Fantasy XV to help with marketing. Crystals were included in A Realm Reborn as a central plot due to being given "short shrift in recent titles". Most titles feature names inspired from various cultures' history, languages and mythology, including Asian, European, and Middle-Eastern. In-game items such as weapons follow this tradition: the two most notable are Excalibur and Masamune, derived respectively from the Arthurian sword and legendary Japanese swordsmith.
Characters and monsters have made appearances in multiple Final Fantasy titles, although they remain unconnected in a narrative sense. A recurring animal in Final Fantasy is the Chocobo, a galliform bird that regularly acts as a means of transport for characters. The Chocobo was created by Ishii for Final Fantasy II from designs created during development of the first Final Fantasy, and have appeared in every mainline Final Fantasy title since then. A second recurring race are the Moogles, whose Japanese name is Mōguri, a portmanteau of the words mogura (mole) and kōmori (bat); while frequently seen minding stores or assuming some other background role, they have also appeared as party allies or playable characters. Other recurring races include common monsters such as the cactus-like Cactuar, the Malboro, the Behemoth, the Tonberry, and the Iron Giant. A human character that has frequently appeared is Cid (シド, Shido). Making his debut in Final Fantasy II, he has appeared in multiple forms as everything from a player character to an antagonist. His most frequent occupation is an engineer, and he is commonly associated with the party's airship. Cid was originally created as a character that would appear in multiple forms: his one common attribute was that he was an intelligent and wise figure "like Yoda from the Star Wars series". Two other recurring human characters are Biggs and Wedge, a duo named after characters from the Star Wars franchise who are often used for comic relief. Making their debut in Final Fantasy VI as footsoldiers, they have since appeared in multiple Final Fantasy titles. A different character is Gilgamesh: first appearing in Final Fantasy V, he has made cameo appearances in multiple Final Fantasy titles since then. Gilgamesh's character and origins go back to antiquity, where he is a king of Sumer, an example of inspiration from various cultures. Gilgamesh's personality was adapted and formed by Sakaguchi, and designed by Tetsuya Nomura and Yoshitaka Amano.
Since the series' inception, gameplay in the majority of mainline Final Fantasy titles has followed certain conventions of the role-playing genre. Players take control of a party of characters, commanding anywhere between three and eight during battles. Players must face a variety of enemies who continually try to damage the player: in battle, the characters can select a variety of commands from a menu, such as "Fight", "Magic", "Item", as well as other special skills such as "Steal", "Throw" or "Summon". The battle is won when all enemies are defeated. Up until Final Fantasy XI, battles were triggered through random encounters: starting with Final Fantasy XI and continuing in following games, enemies were visible in the field and could be avoided. A recurring means of travel are airships, which are often unlocked for players fairly late in the game. In common with other role-playing games, Final Fantasy most commonly uses an experience point-based leveling system, where each battle awards experience points, and gaining levels increases character statistics such as health and magic.
Magic is another common role-playing element in the series. The method by which characters gain magic varies between installments, but is generally divided into classes organized by color: "White magic", which focuses on spells that assist teammates; "Black magic", which focuses on harming enemies; "Red magic", which is a combination of white and black magic, "Blue magic", which mimics enemy attacks; and "Green magic" which focuses on applying status effects to either allies or enemies. Different means of transportation have appeared through the series. The most common is the airship for long range travel, accompanied by chocobos for traveling short distances, but others include sea and land vessels. Following Final Fantasy VII, more modern and futuristic vehicle designs have been included. For Final Fantasy XV, a car dubbed "Regalia" was introduced as both a ground-based transport and later as a vehicle that could be converted to function as an airship.
The battle system of the original Final Fantasy was designed by Akitoshi Kawazu. When creating it, he closely followed the mechanics created in the Western tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, particularly the incorporation of enemy-specific weaknesses that were otherwise missing from Japanese games at the time. He also added elements such as weapon and item abilities based on their successful implementation in Wizardry. This first version of the battle system was a traditional turn-based system with characters appearing on the left-hand side of the screen, a feature later adopted by multiple other role-playing games (RPGs). For Final Fantasy II, Kawazu designed a battle system based around a more focused approach to story, along with accommodating for character classes being locked to specific characters. In Final Fantasy II, character abilities improved based on the number of times they were used and the number of hit points accumulated during battles: if a character used magic, they would become strong in magic while other attributes would suffer. For Final Fantasy III, the system changed back to a traditional class-based model: Kawazu stated that the reason for this was because no-one could fully understand the system he had created for Final Fantasy II.
The battle system most closely associated with Final Fantasy is the "Active Time Battle" (ATB) system: while utilizing a turn-based combat system, action meters are assigned to all characters that are emptied when they act in battle. Each player character being issued a command when their action meter is filled: enemies could attack at any time despite player actions being in progress, adding an element of urgency to battles. The ATB system was designed by Hiroyuki Ito. According to Kawazu, Ito was inspired while he was watching a Formula One race and seeing racers pass each other at different speeds. This gave him the idea of different speed values for the individual characters. Ito himself described the inspiration as his wish to balance pure turn-based mechanics with real-time battle mechanics, which played into a movement in Formula One where cars were shifting towards using semi-automatic gearboxes. For Final Fantasy V, Ito evolved the system further as he felt the version in Final Fantasy IV was incomplete. A mechanic introduced in Final Fantasy VII was Limit Breaks, special cinematic moves that have become a staple of the series. The ATB system was in use until Final Fantasy X, which switched to a system called the "Conditional Turn-based Battle" system: while reverting to a purely turn-based model, it included additional elements such as in-battle party member switching. Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XIV and its sequel A Realm Reborn used real-time command-based combat systems and removed random encounters, playing in a similar fashion to other contemporary MMORPGs. Final Fantasy XII used a similar real-time command-based system to Final Fantasy XI: dubbed the "Active Dimension Battle" system, characters fought enemies in environments without random encounters, with players acting on commands inputted by the player.
The battle system for Final Fantasy XIII was designed to retain the strategic elements of earlier titles while emulating the cinematic action of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. While retaining the ATB system, elements such as magic points were removed, and a strategic role-change system dubbed the Paradigm System was implemented, with the roles being based on Final Fantasy jobs. Final Fantasy XIII-2 continued using the Paradigm system with added gameplay functions based on criticism of the first game, while Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII changed to a more action-based, single-character version that incorporated design elements cut from Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy XV used an action-based system that was described as a "realistic" version of those used in the Kingdom Hearts series and spin-off title Final Fantasy Type-0. Unlike all previous mainline Final Fantasy titles, the players could only control one character out of the four-strong party. While the team experimented with multiple character control, it was decided that it presented too many development difficulties.
Character classes have been present in Final Fantasy since the first title, where players chose a character class from the outset. Kawazu created this system to give players freedom to customize the party. For Final Fantasy II, jobs were attached to specific characters. Each character class in a Final Fantasy game has unique abilities which develop as the player's level increases. In some titles, the player can assign a character a specific class at the start of the game, while others allow characters to combine and learn abilities from a number of classes. In addition to other abilities, a character's class usually determines the types of weapons and armor that they can use.
Final Fantasy III saw the introduction of the Job Change System: through special crystals, the four player characters were granted a variety of jobs or character classes that could be switched at any point by the player. The Job Change system was initially proposed by Sakaguchi as he wanted to give players freedom to customize the party members: with five characters with eight jobs each, the team needed to create forty different pixel portraits. The Job System has continued to have a strong role in the series, being most prominent in Final Fantasy V with twenty-two available jobs. Jobs have recurring functions throughout the series. Some of the more traditional classes include the Warrior/Fighter, the Dragoon, the Thief and variations on magical classes such as White and Black Mages. More original classes have appeared throughout the series, such as Bards, Scholars, and Summoners. Due to the series' popularity, they have become staples of RPGs since their debut. The complexity and scope of the class system varies from game to game. The original Final Fantasy XIV did away with the Job System in favour of a character class-driven system where equipment determined skills and growth. For the later stages of Final Fantasy XIV and later A Realm Reborn, the Job System was reintroduced as a second level to the current class system. Many Jobs, such as the Dragoon, the Summoner, and the Red Mage have become closely identified with the series.
A different system is "Summoning", a mechanic where characters can call upon Summoned Monsters (Summoned Beasts (召喚獣, Shoukanjuu) in Japanese) are evoked to aid the party through cinematic actions. The concept of summoning was proposed for the first Final Fantasy, but it was not implemented until Final Fantasy III. Summons can be either optional acquisitions unnecessary for progression of the narrative, or tied to story events and particular characters. The names of summons derived from multiple cultures, including Egyptian, Middle-Eastern and Classical mythology. As groups within the games, they have been referred to by several names (Espers, Guardian Forces, Aeons, Eidolons, Astrals), and have taken either core roles in the story or less prominent roles as tools for the player characters.
The artwork and character designs of the first Final Fantasy were created by Yoshitaka Amano, a noted artist who had worked with Tatsunoko Production on multiple notable anime series including Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, and also did illustrations for Vampire Hunter D. Amano was brought on board the first Final Fantasy as general artwork designer, filling that role for Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III. For Final Fantasy IV, Amano was given more freedom to create elaborate character designs. Amano returned as character designer and general artwork for Final Fantasy V. Final Fantasy VI, in addition to featuring work by Amamo, also had contributions from other designers including Kaori Tanaka. From the first Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy IV, Amano created his artwork based on specific descriptions from game staff, while for Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI it was the game staff that took and adjusted his artwork to suit the games. He returned as a character designer for Final Fantasy IX, working from specifications provided by the game's staff. For Final Fantasy XI, Amano created the game's world map. One of the designs he recalled was for the summon Bahamut: while the original Bahamut was an aquatic monster, he did not know this at the time, so he designed Bahamut as a "mecha dragon". As of Final Fantasy XV, Amano's artwork has been created fairly early in a game's development based on the basic themes. Amano's most enduring contribution to the series is his logo designs: receiving design documents as primarily text-based requests and descriptions, he treats each logo as a piece of full artwork rather than a simple logo. Since Final Fantasy IV, the current font style was adopted, along with a specially-designed logo by Amano. The emblem relates to a title's respective plot and typically portrays a character or object in the story. Subsequent remakes of the first three games have replaced the previous logos with ones similar to the rest of the series. His work on Final Fantasy brought him international fame.
From Final Fantasy VII onward, the main character designer for the series was Tetsuya Nomura, whose first major contribution had been character and monster designs for Final Fantasy VI. He was chosen by Sakaguchi as the character designer for Final Fantasy VII after being amused by his storyboards for Final Fantasy VI. His greater involvement was also due to scheduling conflicts with Amano's overseas trips to open exhibitions in Europe and North America. Nomura would end up having a substantial input into the character stories. While Final Fantasy VII would become Nomura's favorite project, its graphical limitations meant that his art style was limited in turn. For Final Fantasy VIII, he worked with other artists to make the characters more realistic. Nomura returned for Final Fantasy X, designing the main cast and creating a setting influenced by the South Pacific, Thailand and Japan. For Final Fantasy XV, Nomura created the main characters alongside being one of the main creative forces behind its development. A trend with Nomura's characters is their names being related to the weather or the sky (Cloud, Squall, Tidus, Lightning). He wanted to break this tradition when designing Noctis Lucis Caelum, but after Final Fantasy XIII's Lightning was given a weather-based name, Nomura gave Noctis his current name: Noctis' name translates from Latin to "Night of Light Sky".
Other notable artists include Akihiko Yoshida, Isamu Kamikokuryo and Yusuke Naora. Yoshida's first major games were Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story, which he worked on together with Hiroshi Minagawa. He also did design work for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, creating the Bangaa race that would later appear in Final Fantasy XII. For Final Fantasy XII, he designed the main characters. As inspiration for their physical appearances, Yoshida used a variety of influences from multiple cultures. He returned to work on Final Fantasy XIV, where he needed to adjust from working on a static project to designing for the more fluid environment of an MMORPG. He would also contribute designs to A Realm Reborn, and its first expansion Heavensward. Isamu Kamikokuryo first did work on Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X, then became art director for Final Fantasy XII. He would return to this role for Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and the Final Fantasy XIII games: he had a major role in the design of Lightning's new appearance in Final Fantasy XIII-2. He was also involved in the world design of Final Fantasy XV. Yusuke Naora has had a presence within the series since Final Fantasy VII, for which he designed the kanji logo for the antagonistic Shinra Corporation. His involvement in the series has primarily been as an art director for titles such as Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XV, in addition to creating character designs for Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Final Fantasy Type-0.
Other artists have also contributed to the series. Hideo Minaba contributed character designs to Final Fantasy IX, worked as an art director for Final Fantasy XII, and would later design characters for Final Fantasy XIII-2. Italian-born artist Roberto Ferrari worked as a secondary character designer for Final Fantasy Type-0, Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake. Yusaku Nakaaki worked with Naora and Nomura to create characters for Final Fantasy Type-0, and along with Ferrari created secondary characters for Final Fantasy XV. Akira Oguro created the character artwork for the mobile titles Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and Final Fantasy Dimensions. Toshitaka Matsuda's first major work was on Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and he would later serve as a costume and character designer for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Toshiyuki Itahana first worked on character designs for Final Fantasy IX, then later served as a main artist for the Crystal Chronicles spin-off series, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, and the mobile game Mobius Final Fantasy. A key designer for much of the series' life was Kazuko Shibuya, who did sprite designs from Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy VI. She also did work on Final Fantasy Dimensions. A notable outside collaborator was Hiromu Takahara, lead designer for Japanese fashion house Roen, who created the clothing for the main cast of Final Fantasy XV.
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The Final Fantasy series and several specific games within it have been credited for introducing and popularizing many concepts that are today widely used in console RPGs. The side view perspective with groups of monsters against a group of characters used by the early Final Fantasy games has been frequently imitated, supplanting the prior RPG standard of one-on-one battles against monsters from a first-person perspective. The class changing systems and multiple types of magic available were also influential on the genre, as were the use of a variety of vehicles. The activity-based progression system introduced in Final Fantasy II has been used in later RPG series such as SaGa, Grandia, and The Elder Scrolls.
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