30 years of Final Fantasy: The highs and lows

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It’s the 30th birthday of Final Fantasy, says Square Enix. The first in the series was released in Japan on this day in 1987 and an old story goes that the name was chosen because Square was in financial trouble at the time – almost bankrupt – and it was likely to be their last game. But that’s rubbish, the creator later said in an interview. It turns out any old F-word would have done.

It’s nevertheless a series worth celebrating. A tropey, dopey JRPG series that somehow manages to be comforting and friendly. At least, some of the time. Here’s the highs and lows of the series.

Highs

Sephiroth’s music

Seph-hee-ROTH

Aeris being dead and staying dead

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I’m glad she’s gone.

The gunblade of FFVIII

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“An elegant weapon for a more civilised age” – Seifer

Fighting god

And then killing god.

That bit with the maze in FFVIII

What a bracing adventure.

Resuming a FFVII save after years away

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What am I doing here?

Globina catching frogs

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What do you mean you didn’t name her ‘Globina’?

Final Fantasy XIII

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“It gets better after the first thirty h–”

And then he was crushed by a falling rock.

Final Fantasy III is Final Fantasy VI

And also II is IV have a nice day.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

The Spirits Within

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Quite a long unskippable cutscene

The bit in Final Fantasy I with the, uh, with, uhh, and the, uh…

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Has anyone played this garbage?

Lows

See ‘Highs’

71 Comments

  1. BooleanBob says:

    The only good thing Final Fantasy gave us was Brian Clevinger.

  2. MooseMuffin says:

    Needs more FFVI opera scene.

    • wcq says:

      Yes! That, and the opening scene from the same game. Those are the Best Bits of Final Fantasy. Objectively.

  3. Dominic Tarason says:

    My nomination for High (some have argued also a low, but they’re wrong and stupid) is one boss in FFXIV that switches up from Classic Orchestral Battle Theme to Vocal Ersatz Powerman 3000

    The gear-shift happens at 3:20-ish and it’s amazing. Oh, and the lyrics aren’t half bad either. Some genuinely sharp lines in there:
    link to na.finalfantasyxiv.com

  4. theoriginaled says:

    The HAHAHA scene is seriously misrepresented. Taken out of context, yeah it looks like bad VA but in context he’s literally being a doofus to make her laugh. Im not saying the voice acting is perfect but taking a purposefully awkward moment and using it to prove that the moments are awkward is counterproductive.

    • Nevard says:

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    • hijuisuis says:

      You’re right. I think mentioning how bad this hahaha scene every time FF/FFX comes up shows how unthinkingly Pavlovian we all are.

    • Viroso says:

      It’s bad in and out of context, the context itself being FFX’s bad voice acting.

      • K_Sezegedin says:

        Agree, I was playing this thing a few years after it was released and – I mean, I wasn’t enjoying it – hated the characters and the character design so maybe I was biased but this shit, even in context was around where I couldn’t take it anymore.

    • Wednesday says:

      Oh God, as I was reading this bit I was thinking about some one making this exact bloody comment.

      Whatever that authorial intent, or whatever the characters were trying to do, it’s still an utterly cringe worthy cack-sack of a moment.

    • RichUncleSkeleton says:

      Nah, still dumb even in context. Also, hasn’t Tidus ever heard of knock knock jokes?

  5. R. Totale says:

    Those MS Paint skills tho

  6. klops says:

    Ahh, I really, really, really like Brendan’s writing.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Yeah ditto, I don’t even play Final Fantasy, it’s one big secondhand mystery to me, but I read this once I realized it had his name on it haha. Seriously, his stuff is always blackly funny and I love it. I’m also partial to John Walker, who sees through hype and the ages.

  7. Yglorba says:

    It’s pretty noticeable that all of the memorable bits of Final Fantasy are from 16 years ago, though. Not a single item on this list is from after FFX.

    • Nevard says:

      Did Final Fantasy XIII come before Final Fantasy X?

      • Yglorba says:

        Well, no, but the only reference to it is just making fun of it, not really any one memorable moment or anything.

        • Nevard says:

          There isn’t a reference on this list that isn’t pokin fun, my dude. The whole article is one big joke.

          The second entry is “I’m glad that Aeris is dead”.

    • Emeraude says:

      XI and XII had some great moments. It’s just we don’t talk about those, to keep the darkness away.

      • aepervius says:

        Funnily FF 12 is the only one I liked. I started with Ultima so rpg spoiled me for their story. All FF I found bland… but curiously FF 12 hooked me.

        As for Airy staying dead… Decades before your companion could stay dead definitively in ultima 5 if you met blackthorn.

        • Jezebeau says:

          It was one of my favourites, too. A conquering nation with weapons of mass destruction makes for a more believable villain than most, and it was one of the few with a tolerable ending.

        • Masked Dave says:

          Yup, I loved 12 too.

      • SaintAn says:

        You don’t seem to be a FF fan then. Final Fantasy 11 is the best in the series after Tactics. It’s not just a masterpiece, but was and is currently the best MMO ever made. And no other MMO or single player game other than FFT has been able to pull off classes/Jobs as well as FFXI has, or the real time turn based combat, which is brilliant. The word is huge and deep with a lot of massive open world dungeons all over the place that you can explore, hunt down bosses/NM, and run into other players in. It’s also the best stealth MMO thanks to sneak, invisible, and deodorize and having to sneak around powerful monsters to do some missions.
        The story is very well written and still enjoyable and emotional. Music is some of the best in the series. And the difficulty of FFXI forced people together creating bonds that have lasted until today.

        • Emeraude says:

          I’m not a fan for saying those games had great moments?

        • bonuswavepilot says:

          By all means argue for whichever game in the series you deem best, but “you aren’t a fan if you don’t agree with me” is kind of an obnoxious position to take on anything.

          • Scurra says:

            Nah, that’s just part of the deal of being a “fan” – you are always objectively correct. I stopped calling myself a “fan” of anything once I finally figured that out.

  8. dahools says:

    Sephiroth’s music 3:06

    “Hi, what do you do for a living”
    “I’m in an Orchestra, percussion section.”
    “Nice, drums?”
    “No, I whack 2 pieces of wood together. Hope to get promoted to symbol if I work hard for the next few years!”

    Awesome music though, brought back fond memories of the 3 end bosses that sephiroth was.

  9. StevieW says:

    Hang on a sec, Aeris dead?!?!

  10. Sardonic says:

    The only final fantasy I ever found myself really, really liking was 10. Even replaying it as an adult it still definitely holds up, couldn’t get into 7, 8 or 12 at all, so I never really touched any others, other than tactics advanced. 12 especially felt like a huge grindy mess.

  11. noom says:

    V, VI and XII have been the ones I’ve most enjoyed in the series (though I certainly haven’t played them all). XIII was disappointing, XV was just… weird.

  12. frobishlumpkin says:

    Actual highs: Tactics, XII, and literally everything Yasumi Matsuno has ever touched

  13. notarobot says:

    Is this what people take for articles now?

    • MajorLag says:

      If it is this or another hardware article, I’ll take this.

  14. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    I can’t believe you left off the final boss fight with Lavos.

  15. mitrovarr says:

    It’s kind of funny that most people joined the series at FF7, when it already had passed its peak and was headed downhill fast. The peak is probably somewhere around FF4-6. FF7 already has bad gameplay (and it goes to absolute garbage in FF8, a game so broken a low-level run is easier than a normal one) and the story has started getting a bit wierd and incomprehensible. FF7 also marks the start of the series getting full of obnoxious mini games that give huge advantages, the games getting way too long and padded out, and the series starting to get too in-jokey. It’s still good, but you can see the disease taking hold in retrospect.

    • Montag says:

      You should read, this loooong article around the making of FF7 : link to polygon.com
      It reminds us really well what was FF7 in this period, what it achieved or try to achieve.
      If I remember correctly, this was the first Final Fantasy to have a “heavy” advertising outside Japan. This explain why most people were introduced to FF through the 7th.

      It was an unfamiliar SF universe, really pretty 2D background, awesome soundtrack and it had characters well enough written for the 10y old kid and my 14y old sister. This was enough for us to play it together, fascinated. This is dear memory for both of us.
      Maybe it did not age well, but in its time, it was something and will stay an important step of gaming history.

      • mitrovarr says:

        I actually like FF7 quite a bit. It’s just past the peak of FF4-FF6. In particular, FF7 is where the gameplay and challenge start to get really lost in FF games. The materia system is part of the problem – there is no meaningful difference between different characters, and little character advancement. Combine that with the overpowered summons and combat is just a chore. Plus, it’s also too easy.

        To be honest though FF6 has part of that too – once you get enough magicite everyone character’s distinctions are lost and everyone becomes a mage. It also gets really easy at that point. But FF7 is worse, since materia is available earlier, characters have less distinction anyway, and you only get three.

        • Montag says:

          Well, I have no opinion about fights. My sister use to run away from most of them to get the more story from each gaming session. Me and my 10y old did not understand everything possible with materia (they had level, I learned that years laters)…
          This is why you must be right about the brokeness of the fights :-)

    • ansionnach says:

      A broken low-level run is much easier in IV than a normal one. That was one awful game. I’m not sure I’d call any I’ve played genuinely good other than III and V, although I still haven’t finished that one.

  16. SaintAn says:

    Lows:

    Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions not being ported to PC yet.

  17. unimportant says:

    It’s always interesting to read the comments below any article mentioning final fantasy and see how disparate the ideas about which games are the “good ones”. I feel that it speaks what I have always considered to be the greatest strength of the series: Its willingness to abandon previously successful ideas in favor of experimenting with something new. Even the rare direct sequels often go off in radically different gameplay directions to their forebears.

    • Spuzzell says:

      Yes, it’s nice in a way that we’re all so different.

      Though clearly anyone who doesn’t think FF9 is the best, followed by FF12 needs to be locked up.

    • RichUncleSkeleton says:

      It’s always interesting to read the comments below any article mentioning final fantasy and see how disparate the ideas about which games are the “good ones”.

      But also kind of soul-crushing for us few but proud FF8 fans. That one gets more irrational hate than any other good game I can think of.

      • Godwhacker says:

        I loved it as a teenager, though I’m never, ever going to play it again because it’s clearly dreadful. Great music though- there’s a ‘Piano Collection’ album out there that’s worth a listen.

  18. unimportant says:

    Why does no one ever bring up Final Fantasy Type-0? It is easily the best Final Fantasy game since whichever one you personally consider to be the last good one.

  19. Premium User Badge

    Waltorious says:

    “Has anyone played this garbage?”

    Yes! I actually recently replayed the first game and wrote about it on my blog:
    link to waltorious.wordpress.com

  20. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I’ve never played an FF game but I thoroughly enjoyed The Spirits Within. It’s a good clean fun action adventure and the ‘twist’ on the old alien invasion trope (it’s not really an invasion) is quite refreshing.

  21. Sui42 says:

    VAGRANT STORY IS THE BEST FF

    lolol but also nolol

    This kotaku article does a good job of explaining why it’s pretty great:

    link to kotaku.co.uk

    I’m currently playing it for the first time on my PSP (so my enthusiasm isn’t down to nostalgia). It’s honestly the closest thing the PS1 has to Dark Souls (and yes, I’m aware of King’s Field). It’s by the Final Fantasy Tactics director, who also made FF12 (which I’m also playing on the PS4, and is good)

    But yeah, I’d echo what others have said, which is that the Final Fantasy series is a huge jumble of completely different RPGs, so it’s nigh-impossible to pick a definitive best one. ALTHOUGH I’d argue they peaked with the PS1 versions, and have steadily become more generic and pointless with each iteration thereafter, with the exception being 12, and the worst example being the latest one, which is so incredibly boring uughghhghghghhh JUST GET A TAXI

    • Ghostbird says:

      X-2 is the best final fantasy. I’m sorry, but I don’t make the rules.

    • CapnSensible says:

      YES! I LOVED Vagrant’s Story so much, truly an amazing game, and it got excellent reviews across the board. One of the many reasons why I abhor “The Spirits Within” is that since it flopped so badly, they had to cut a lot of IPs and planned sequels, including a sequel to Vagrant’s Story. I haven’t played it since the PlayStation days, but damn did I love that game!

  22. pasta says:

    Actually, SMT did killing God better and earlier.

    • CapnSensible says:

      Nah, that game was ridiculously simplified. Also…

      “Damn! They dodged! Damn! They dodged! Damn! They dodged! Damn! They dodged! Damn! They dodged! Damn! They dodged!”

  23. Risingson says:

    To me FF means my complete alienation from the console gaming guys. I mean, how can you say that this was a good story and a good rpg when things like the Ultima saga, Wasteland and similar existed.

    Top is the opera scene in FF6. Which made the GK2 one a masterpiece. And the GK2 was already cringe-worthy to the max.

    Nah, top is the whole steampunk aesthetic in FF6, which is a beautiful game until you face its second part which is boring as hell. Something similar happens in FF7.

  24. YogSo says:

    The Spirits Within

    Quite a long unskippable cutscene

    Actually, considering the poor box office numbers, I’d say plenty of people managed to skip it just fine. ;-D

  25. daver4470 says:

    The thing I will remember most about the FF series is having to press X to jump away from the lightning bolts 100 times without failing (in VII) to get some damn rare materia for, I think, Barrett.

    By jeebus I was not going to let that game break me… and it didn’t. But good grief was that a chore.

  26. DantronLesotho says:

    Final Fantasy is great, haters step aside. They are all road trip stories with excellent morals and in the end you topple empires and kill gods. Few other series even attempted this level of grandiosity for YEARS and even though FF may have fallen off a bit, it’s still a great series of games.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      That’s it in a nutshell. Also very stylish and great soundtracks. Happy-sad rollercoasters.

  27. ansionnach says:

    I played the first Final Fantasy all the way through with four warriors. Had to do a lot of grinding. I think you could only save in inns, which meant that it made sense to be completely overpowered to minimise the likelihood that you’d die and lose hours of progress. It was a terrible game.

    The second one was also pretty terrible, although it had an interesting idea in that you could train your weapon expertise by using them. It was really easy to exploit. I think I maxed everything out close to the start. Can you train weapons by knocking your own team members out and continue to hit them while they’re down? I can’t remember.

    III was actually a lot of fun. I liked how you could change classes (“jobs”) and train those up. No BS story and it didn’t take itself too seriously.

    IV was terrible and the game I stopped on for years. So many awful design choices like throwing three bosses at you one after another. You often die at the beginning of one of these battles simply because you didn’t heal straight after the battle. I think this trick can be detected by using an escape item. If it doesn’t work there’ll be another boss. When I finally finished it I just skipped all battles other than the bosses. You can actually beat them all except the very last one at very low levels. The level that the “story” intrudes on the game here is a joke. When playing through it quickly, team members come and go at a rate of knots. It takes itself way too seriously. Not even a decent tale should this self-important.

    V is… I like it but haven’t finished it.

    VI… haven’t played it enough. Not really a fan. The very long opening is pretty dull and I don’t care about the characters.

    VII: Loved this at the time. It was the first one I played. It’s a very poor game, though. The PC version is harder than the PSX one, which is way too easy.

    VIII: Can’t stand the story. Perhaps the gameplay is better than VII because of level scaling (so it doesn’t lose challenge completely by the end). Far from worthwhile, though.

    IX seemed endearing enough but I didn’t make the effort.

    The later ones don’t appeal to me at all.

    • ansionnach says:

      Not worth comparing to Ultima, but…
      Ultima: Great, fun little game. Very well designed, which makes it still a pleasure to play.
      Ultima II: Woeful. Makes absolutely no sense and there’s so much that you could never work out without a guide.
      Ultima III: Excellent. The template for early and even current JRPGs. Ultima III is probably still better, though (no BS story).
      Ultima IV: Still a revelation. Many developers and gamers could learn a lot from this one.
      Ultima V: Started it but never finished it. Think John Romero has mentioned this as one of his favourites.
      VI: I seem to have a problem with getting to V and VI here, too… seems pretty good, but hate the hybrid mouse and keyboard interface.
      VII: One of the best RPGs ever made.
      VII II: I actually enjoyed this more than the first part. Very different and quite linear. That music and the sense of menace in a strange and lonely place.
      VIII: Much-derided, many people are still claiming that some of its main problems are bugs that were fixed in 1995. It has it’s problems, but it’s still a great action/adventure/RPG game. Had a lot of fun with it.
      IX: A travesty

      Ultima Underworld: Best of the lot. Very different. Better than all of its imitators (and there are now many).
      UW II: Nowhere near as good as the first but then that’s one of the greatest games ever made. The team behind this really threw everything at it to make a very surprising sequel. There’s so much more of everything and many of the worlds are very odd and interesting.

      Worlds of Ultima: Didn’t play these enough.

      Other than Ultima IX and (to a lesser extent) II all of these are still worth a go.

      • Yglorba says:

        Part of the difference, IMHO, is that Final Fantasy’s success depended in part on just having a level of mechanical quality that was fairly unusual for RPGs at the time (or even games in general.)

        Not so much the writing or plotting or gameplay (although those things were all good by the standards of the era), but the interface and overall playability – it was an RPG you could pick up and play without reading through a giant manual or constantly fiddling with irritating systems.

        Part of the reason many Final Fantasy games haven’t aged well is because that level of quality is now standard. I don’t feel that they got that much worse; it’s that everyone else got better and learned from the stuff that made Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest click, so they don’t have anything special anymore.

        • ansionnach says:

          That’s definitely part of it. I think what’s most annoying about FFIV, though, is its vexing game design. So many of the bosses have hidden surprises or subsequent forms to ambush you with after the battle has ended and you have gotten your experience. The game flat out wants to kill you cheaply in so many places. Once you know what happens in advance you can defeat them all (except for the very last one) with very low-level characters so the game doesn’t have what I’d call good difficulty. It’s cheap through and through. The mechanics of the battling can be fun but the constant chopping and changing of the cast as well as the novelty bosses makes it kind of pointless to play around with it too much. Better to skip all the battles and run to the finish.

          I rate Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star IV as good JRPGs. Even the first Phantasy Star on the Master System is very good and has aged well. Perhaps it’s one of the very first good JRPGs?

          • VeggyZ says:

            Well, The original Phantasy Star …hasn’t aged all that well. It’s extremely basic as one might expect from that era of RPG, in both plot and gameplay… It’s some nice nostalgia, and it’s not UN-fun, but that it has aged well is quite a claim… I guess it aged better than Phantasy Star III, though.

            I agree completely about Phantasy Star IV though – that game is still incredibly fun. It’s got a rare complexity for a game of that time – plot, character, gameplay, even tragedy – it really has everything, so many ways to do everything, such great lore, exciting soundtrack, and downright beautiful graphics. I still remember my first time encountering Zio, and Dark Force… those were wicked (and worthy) enemies. The only game that comes close to it, in the 16 bit era, in my opinion at least, is Final Fantasy VI … and if forced to choose between the two, as much as I love FFVI – I would choose PSIV.

            There are definitely other JRPG’s of that time that are worth playing, but not nearly as much as Phantasy Star IV and Final Fantasy VI.

  28. VeggyZ says:

    It’s baffling that it seems relatively common for people to RESUME a save in one of the main numbered FF series after years of inactivity. I read it all the time and some people go to great lengths to pick up where they left off – which is a foolish task if you don’t already know it by heart. Even then – it’s hard and not that fun, to pick up in the middle of an epic adventure. Nevertheless, I read about this constantly.

    Doesn’t it just ruin the entire adventure? No way in hell can that adventure feel like your own – you won’t remember half the plot, you won’t remember the character development nor the customizations you’ve made… it’s almost like playing someone else’s save – not fun in the slightest. Pointless and irritating, even.

    I’d sooner bite down hard on the end of a shotgun than try to finish a Final Fantasy game I stopped playing midway through. That’s right, I’d blow my head clean off my shoulders instead. BAM! …Fortunately for me, I don’t have to make choices like that. Whew … that was close. (or maybe not so close. Thanks, me)

    • CapnSensible says:

      Agreed, it makes no sense really. If you watched half a movie, would you come back to it 10 years later and only watch the second half? Or a book? Or any other media?