Final Fantasy is a Japanese role-playing game series that is developed and published by Square Enix. It all started back in the mid-1980s, Hironobu Sakaguchi joined Square (the original name before the Square and Enix merger), and they started developing various creative games for Nintendo Famicom, but those games just did not sell at all. On the other hand, Enix, a competitor back then, was selling their own RPG, Dragon Quest, like hotcakes.
Facing an eventual bankruptcy, Sakaguchi decided to try one last time, a final attempt to leave a legacy in the video game industry, and thus, Final Fantasy was born in 1987. This was all created by Square with the help of artist, Yoshitaka Amano, and soundtrack composer, Nobuo Uematsu. Amazingly, Final Fantasy literally brought Square from the brink of bankruptcy, and the series currently has more than ten (10) numbered games, and some have received prequels, sequels, and other forms of media.
With that in mind, what are the changes in the Final Fantasy series throughout the years?
No Story is the Same
What separates Final Fantasy from other series is that the main games do not have connections from one another. The first few Final Fantasy games were based on epic medieval fantasy, and each of those had their own unique stories. On the other hand, Final Fantasy VI slightly departed from its predecessors by mixing a bit of sci-fi with fantasy.
Ultimately, it was Final Fantasy VII that took the world by storm. It was the time where it became famous globally and revolutionized what we knew as Japanese RPG back then. Story-wise, it had a very deep lore that focused on Sephiroth and Cloud’s connection throughout the journey, and of course, the story itself was amazing and full of twist. This game was so popular that Square developed and published multiple video game spin-offs, and it even had a great movie, which took place a few years after the events of Final Fantasy VII. Square Enix’s decision to remake Final Fantasy VII and release it by 2020 is the perfect timing to look back on how immersive the game is.
Honestly, all of the Final Fantasy games are worth playing even if it is just for the sake of its story, particularly Final Fantasy VI and onwards as these were the games where Square truly started to create great and complex stories.
2D Pixel Art to 3D Polygons to Realistic 3D
Another marvelous evolution of the Final Fantasy series is how they truly improved the visual designs overtime and akin for the generation that their games were released. Final Fantasy I to VI were all 2D, but you can definitely see the changes and improvements of the details between these games.
Final Fantasy VII then was released in 1997, and Square started to utilize 3D polygons and rendered graphics for the background, which was widely used back in the PlayStation era. FMV (Full-motion videos) had also been introduced in this time to progress in the story. This was improved in later games on the PlayStation era.
When the PlayStation 2 was released 20 years ago, Square developed and published Final Fantasy X, which was definitely way ahead of its time in terms of graphics. Yes, it already had a remastered version, but if you played it back then with a CRT television, you would be mind-blown how good the game looked. The cinematics were really just eye-popping.
Moving forward to 2016 and after four (4) numbered Final Fantasy games that have since improved its graphics, we get Final Fantasy XV, one the most gorgeous JRPGs today. Traveling around Eos with Noctis and his friends is already an eye candy for most players, especially when you start fighting various enemies especially the large ones like Behemoth.
With the release of the remake of Final Fantasy VII, we finally play as Cloud Strife and the gang and explore Midgard and all of its beauty but with visuals just like in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
Gameplay Changes and Experiments
As mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy games are not connected to each other, and thus, we can also say that the gameplay differs from one another ever so slightly.
One good example is how the Job System works throughout the years. Think of it as a licensing board where you can select the jobs of your characters such as Knight, a thief, a white mage, or a black mage, and many more. Final Fantasy I introduced it, then they scrapped it the next game, then in Final Fantasy III, they reimplemented it with more jobs. It has been more or less a staple in the series as there are several Final Fantasy main games and spin-offs that used this system with their own unique flair with it. Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake, for example, do not have any of those, but you can assume that each character is streamlined to one to two classes.
Moreover, the most evolved part of Final Fantasy is probably its combat system. The first three Final Fantasy games utilize the basic form of a turn-based system, while the fourth one would introduce ATB (Active Time Battle), which innovated the turn-based system as all of the units in combat will have a bar to fill before they can fulfill their commands.
ATB was a staple until Final Fantasy IX as the remaining games until Final Fantasy XV use their own unique battle systems, which leaned more in creating a real-time seamless battle system. They perfected it on Final Fantasy XV and it is integrated on Final Fantasy VII Remake while bringing back the ATB system as well.
Throughout the decades, we can see how the Final Fantasy games have grown, and we know that Square Enix is not really afraid to experiment with new changes to keep the series fresh and not stagnant while retaining the best qualities of the series.
If you are wondering and thinking which game to play first, I believe you can start off with Final Fantasy XV as it is way different than its predecessors, which makes it a good starting point. After that, you can choose from different Final Fantasy games that are available almost anywhere, such as Final Fantasy IX since it was a good throwback of what Final Fantasy I to Final VI were before they transitioned to a more sci-fi themed in Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. There is also Final Fantasy XIV if you prefer a full-blown MMORPG.