Not everybody enjoys JRPGs and that is totally okay. If you’re keen on the freedom offered by games like The Elder Scrolls, or the focus on reactionary tactics of rogue-likes, the idea of being saddled with a cast of largely un-customisable characters and made to follow a linear path likely won’t appeal to you. Maybe you hate grinding. Maybe you hate anime aesthetics. Maybe you just can’t handle games that require you to select from menus rather than prove your manual dexterity with analog sticks.
“Japan produces a wealth of rich, affective narratives; colourful worlds; and even more colourful characters, often wrapped up in complicated combat systems.”
For everyone else, Japan produces a wealth of rich, affective narratives; colourful worlds; and even more colourful characters, often wrapped up in combat systems more complicated than the terrible proliferation of “RPG mechanics” into every genre would have you believe. Several franchises have stood the test of time and held onto players’ hearts – Secret of Mana, Dragon Quest and Suikoden, to barely scratch the surface – but Final Fantasy is the titan of the lot, the most recognised and recognisable.
Everybody has their favourite Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy 7 was the one that blew the series into mainstream gaming, with its 3D graphics and non-traditional aesthetic perfectly timed to take advantage of the PSOne generation’s desire for non-nerdy, grown-up gaming. You’ll still here fans swear black and blue that the messy, rushed plot is a work of genius, and that the death of Aerith (spoilers? Oh my god, go home) was an incredibly moving moment at the heart of the entire game and not something Hironobu Sakaguchi came up with almost at the last minute. I’m teasing you a bit – I love it, and Sephiroth remains one of my favourite villains of all time. The first day I got it, I played for so long that when I finally went to bed the blue menu screen popped up behind my eyelids when I closed them, and my entire party had 255 in every stat thanks to hundreds of hours of morphing in the sunken submarine.
For those who disdain Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 6 remains the last “true” Final Fantasy. Strong female leads, an opera scene as beautiful as the limitations of 16-bit consoles allowed, a cast of diverse, troubled characters, and a story in which the world actually suffered apocalypse – now that’s a game, you have to admit.
My heart belongs to Final Fantasy 8, a much sleeker effort than Final Fantasy 7 which lost some series fans with its broken magic system and confused themes, set in a bizarre universe where school children fight wars, monsters bleed from the moon and buildings float about. I have more than a little fondness for Final Fantasy 9, Sakaguchi’s last personally-led project, with its deliberately traditional stylings and beautifully memorable touches – Dagger’s emotional crisis is a real highlight.
“The franchise’s greatest strength is its insistence on constant evolution and re-evaluation, as Square Enix explores the far-reaches of the RPG space.”
Final Fantasy 10 we’ve discussed in detail recently, so I won’t repeat myself, but Final Fantasy 12 needs a champion. Its troubled development is well-documented, with major personnel changes and last minute decisions resulting in a product arguably less strong than previous entries. The gambit system is particularly interesting, though, and much more flexible and satisfying than the paradigms that followed in Final Fantasy 13 – itself an interesting and much-maligned game, although its sequels can piss right off.
That’s not even touching on the five early games, the MMOs or the plethora of spin-offs that have turned up, especially in recent years. Final Fantasy fans sometimes complain that Square Enix has lost sight of what made the franchise great, and is flailing around attaching the name to anything it can find, whether it deserves it or not – but that fails to account for the franchise’s greatest strength, which is its insistence on constant evolution and re-evaluation, as Square Enix explores the far-reaches of the RPG space.
You can love things and still have criticisms for them, and the perhaps thousands of hours I’ve invested in Final Fantasy games over the years don’t prevent me from finding faults with the franchise. But there’s simply no denying its place in the canon of the industry’s greatest properties. The upcoming Final Fantasy 15 has made the jump to next-gen, and we can’t wait to see what Square Enix does with the power at its disposal.
Share your memories of Assassin’s Creed and Final Fantasy below. We’d also love to hear which franchises have meant the most to you over the years.