Final Fantasy (ファイナルファンタジー Fainaru Fantajī?) is a science fiction and fantasy 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. The video game series has since branched into other genres such as tactical role-playing, action role-playing, massively multiplayer online role-playing, racing, third-person shooter, fighting, and rhythm. The franchise has also branched out into other media, including CGI films, anime, manga, and novels.
Although most Final Fantasy installments are stand-alone stories with different settings and main characters, they feature identical elements that define the franchise. Recurring elements include plot themes, character names, and game mechanics. Plots center on a group of heroes battling a great evil while exploring the characters’ internal struggles and relationships. Character names are frequently derived from the history, languages, pop culture, and mythologies of cultures worldwide.
The series has been commercially and critically successful; it is Square Enix’s best selling video game franchise, with more than 130 million units sold, and is one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time. The series is well known for its innovation, visuals, and music, such as the inclusion of full motion videos, photo-realistic character models, and orchestrated music by Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy has been a driving force in the video game industry, and the series has affected Square Enix’s business practices and its relationships with other video game developers. It has also introduced many features now common in role-playing video games and has been credited with helping to popularize console-based RPGs in markets outside Japan.
The first installment of the series premiered in Japan on December 18, 1987. Subsequent titles are numbered and given a story unrelated to previous games; consequently, the numbers refer more to volumes than to sequels. Many Final Fantasy games have been localized for markets in North America, Europe, and Australia on numerous video game consoles, personal computers (PC), and mobile phones. Future installments will appear on seventh and eighth generation consoles. As of November 2016, the series includes the main installments from Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy XV, as well as direct sequels and spin-offs, both released and confirmed as being in development. Most of the older titles have been remade or re-released on multiple platforms.
Three Final Fantasy installments were released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Final Fantasy was released in Japan in 1987 and in North America in 1990. It introduced many concepts to the console RPG genre, and has since been remade on several platforms. Final Fantasy II, released in 1988 in Japan, has been bundled with Final Fantasy in several re-releases. The last of the NES installments, Final Fantasy III, was released in Japan in 1990; however, it was not released elsewhere until a Nintendo DS remake in 2006.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) also featured three installments of the main series, all of which have been re-released on several platforms. Final Fantasy IV was released in 1991; in North America, it was released as Final Fantasy II. It introduced the “Active Time Battle” system. Final Fantasy V, released in 1992 in Japan, was the first game in the series to spawn a sequel: a short anime series titled Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals. Final Fantasy VI was released in Japan in 1994, but it was titled Final Fantasy III in North America.
The PlayStation console saw the release of three main Final Fantasy games. The 1997 title Final Fantasy VII moved away from the two-dimensional (2D) graphics used in the first six games to three-dimensional (3D) computer graphics; the game features polygonal characters on pre-rendered backgrounds. It also introduced a more modern setting, a style that was carried over to the next game. It was also the second in the series to be released in Europe, with the first being Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Final Fantasy VIII was published in 1999, and was the first to consistently use realistically proportioned characters and feature a vocal piece as its theme music. Final Fantasy IX, released in 2000, returned to the series’ roots by revisiting a more traditional Final Fantasy setting rather than the more modern worlds of VII and VIII.
Three main installments, as well as one online game, were published for the PlayStation 2 (PS2). The 2001 title Final Fantasy X introduced full 3D areas and voice acting to the series, and was the first to spawn a direct video game sequel (Final Fantasy X-2, published in 2003). The first massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) in the series, Final Fantasy XI, was released on the PS2 and PC in 2002, and later on the Xbox 360. It introduced real-time battles instead of random encounters. Final Fantasy XII, published in 2006, also includes real-time battles in large, interconnected playfields. The game is also the first in the main series to utilize a world used in a previous game, namely the land of Ivalice, which had previously featured in Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story.
In 2009, Final Fantasy XIII was released in Japan, and in North America and Europe the following year, for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is the flagship installment of the Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy series and became the first mainline game to spawn two direct sequels (XIII-2 and Lightning Returns). It was also the first game released in Chinese & High Definition along with being released on two consoles at once. Final Fantasy XIV, a MMORPG, was released worldwide on Microsoft Windows in 2010, but it received heavy criticism when it was launched, prompting Square Enix to re-release the game under the title A Realm Reborn, this time to the PlayStation 3 as well, in 2013. Final Fantasy XV is an action role-playing game that was released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2016. Originally a spin-off of XIII titled Versus XIII, XV uses the mythos of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series, although in many other respects the game stands on its own and has since been distanced from the series by its developers.
Final Fantasy has spawned numerous spin-offs and metaseries. Several are, in fact, not Final Fantasy games, but were rebranded for North American release. Examples include the SaGa series, rebranded The Final Fantasy Legend, and its two sequels, Final Fantasy Legend II and Final Fantasy Legend III. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was specifically developed for a United States audience, and Final Fantasy Tactics is a tactical RPG that features many references and themes found in the series. The spin-off Chocobo series, Crystal Chronicles series, Chrono Trigger, and Kingdom Hearts series also include multiple Final Fantasy elements. In 2003, the Final Fantasy series’ first direct sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, was released. Final Fantasy XIII was originally intended to stand on its own, but the team wanted to explore the world, characters and mythos more, resulting in the development and release of two sequels in 2011 and 2013 respectively, creating the series’ first official trilogy. Dissidia Final Fantasy was released in 2009, a fighting game that features heroes and villains from the first ten games of the main series. It was followed by a prequel in 2011. Other spin-offs have taken the form of subseries—Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, Ivalice Alliance, and Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy.
Film and television
Square Enix has expanded the Final Fantasy series into various media. Multiple anime and computer-generated imagery (CGI) films have been produced that are based either on individual Final Fantasy games or on the series as a whole. The first was an original video animation (OVA) titled Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals, a sequel to Final Fantasy V. The story was set on the same world as the game, although 200 years in the future. It was released as four 30-minute episodes, first in Japan in 1994 and later in the United States by Urban Vision in 1998. In 2001, Square Pictures released its first feature film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The film is set on a future Earth invaded by alien life forms. The Spirits Within was the first animated feature to seriously attempt to portray photorealistic CGI humans, but was considered a box office bomb and garnered mixed reviews.
In 2005, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a theatrical CGI film, and Last Order: Final Fantasy VII, a non-canon OVA, were released as part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Advent Children was animated by Visual Works, which helped the company create CG sequences for the games. The film, unlike The Spirits Within, gained mixed to positive reviews from critics and has become a commercial success. Last Order, on the other hand, was released in Japan in a special DVD bundle package with Advent Children. Last Order sold out quickly and was positively received by Western critics, though fan reaction was mixed over changes to established story scenes.
A 25-episode anime television series titled Final Fantasy: Unlimited was released in 2001 based on the common elements of the Final Fantasy series. It was broadcast in Japan by TV Tokyo and released in North America by ADV Films.
Two animated tied ins for Final Fantasy XV were announced at the Uncovered Final Fantasy XV fan and press event, forming part of a larger multimedia project dubbed the Final Fantasy XV Universe. Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV is a series of five 10-to-20-minute-long episodes developed by A-1 Pictures and Square Enix detailing the backstories of the main cast. Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, a CGI movie set for release prior to the game in Summer 2016, is set during the game’s opening and follows new and secondary characters.
Several video games have either been adapted into or have had spin-offs in the form of manga and novels. The first was the novelization of Final Fantasy II in 1989, and was followed by a manga adaptation of Final Fantasy III in 1992. The past decade has seen an increase in the number of non-video game adaptations and spin-offs. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has been adapted into a novel, the spin-off game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has been adapted into a manga, and Final Fantasy XI has had a novel and manga set in its continuity. Seven novellas based on the Final Fantasy VII universe have also been released. The Final Fantasy: Unlimited story was partially continued in novels and a manga after the anime series ended. The Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XIII series have also had novellas and audio dramas released.
Two titles, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy: Unlimited, have been adapted into radio dramas.
The titles in the series feature a variety of music, but frequently reuse themes. Most of the games open with a piece called “Prelude”, which has evolved from a simple, 2-voice arpeggio in the early games to a complex, melodic arrangement in recent installments. Victories in combat are often accompanied by a victory fanfare, a theme that has become one of the most recognized pieces of music in the series. The basic theme that accompanies Chocobo appearances has been rearranged in a different musical style for each installment. A piece called “Prologue” (and sometimes “Final Fantasy”), originally featured in the first game, is often played during the ending credits. Although leitmotifs are common in the more character-driven installments, theme music is typically reserved for main characters and recurring plot elements.
Nobuo Uematsu was the chief music composer of the Final Fantasy series until his resignation from Square Enix in November 2004. Other composers include Masashi Hamauzu, Hitoshi Sakimoto and Junya Nakano. Uematsu was allowed to create much of the music with little direction from the production staff. Sakaguchi, however, would request pieces to fit specific game scenes including battles and exploring different areas of the game world. Once a game’s major scenarios were completed, Uematsu would begin writing the music based on the story, characters, and accompanying artwork. He started with a game’s main theme, and developed other pieces to match its style. In creating character themes, Uematsu read the game’s scenario to determine the characters’ personality. He would also ask the scenario writer for more details to scenes he was unsure about. Technical limitations were prevalent in earlier titles; Sakaguchi would sometimes instruct Uematsu to only use specific notes. It was not until Final Fantasy IV on the SNES that Uematsu was able to add more subtlety to the music.