Announcements and Articles: The Gatehouse Quarter => Exilian Articles => Topic started by: Leafly on August 28, 2020, 10:10:45 AM

Title: My Final Fantasy by rbuxton
Post by: Leafly on August 28, 2020, 10:10:45 AM
My Final Fantasy
By rbuxton

The Final Fantasy (FF) series is one of gaming’s best-known franchises. Each game in the main series (there are many spin-offs) is a stand-alone good vs evil story set in its own fantasy world. They are role-playing games (RPGs) in which the player takes on the role of the main protagonist and leads a team of characters. The series is synonymous with Hironobu Sakaguchi, the director of the games until about 2003. I’m going to describe my personal relationship with the games but let’s start with some facts, courtesy of Google:

Years active: 1987 to present
Games: 94 (15 in main series)
Units sold: 154.5 million
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: All of them, but traditionally consoles like the NES

Final Fantasy XII.  Gameplay image, Bing (https://tse4.mm.bing.net/th/id/OIP.fennmZ2oSRkCCcyEPFNg6QHaEK?pid=Api&rs=1).

Playing an FF game involves wandering around a fairly open world, meeting interesting characters (some of whom join the party) and gaining experience from random encounters with monsters. Characters have various combat roles – magic, melee weapons and so on – and there’s usually a small amount of customisation possible (picture Pokémon but without the animal cruelty). Certain features reappear time and again in the series: spells, races and big flightless birds you can ride on.

I first encountered the series in about 2001, when I was 9 years old. My older brother came home one day with a list of spells from FF8, which he and a schoolfriend had been pouring over. I noticed the spells were neatly categorised and used the word “party” without mentioning presents or cake. When the schoolfriend brought the game over my imagination was immediately caught by the battles, monsters and bizarre guardian angels. Since I’m being open, I’ll add that the seeds of my sexual awakening may have been planted by the game’s female characters (this was before some FF characters were forced into bikini armour. Or bikinis). My brother and his friend spent years playing and talking about FF games; they once agreed to race to complete one. I was furious – since his opponent was an only child, my brother’s only hope of victory would be to “hog” the PlayStation 2.

During my teenage years my brothers and I played FF10 and FF12, complementing them with enormous guidebooks. FF10 remains the most emotionally affecting game I’ve ever played: its story of love, loss and daddy issues had me close to tears on numerous occasions. FF12, on the other hand, had a fascinating, fluid battle system which rewarded experimentation. Somewhere between the two, perhaps, lay my perfect game. FF12, however, was cursed with a limp, maguffin-led plot; while FF10’s battle system was clunky and repetitive. I clearly remember playing through a very atmospheric FF10 scene (the aftermath of a disastrous war), wincing every time it was interrupted by the thunderous battle theme and the same boring band of monsters. My dad felt the same way: from the next room he was driven to an uncharacteristic rage. “How can you listen to the same music over and over!” he scolded, “You are all musicians!”. Eventually I stopped playing FF10 and, like every other FF game, watched my brothers complete it. I’m still haunted by its final scene.

University opened my eyes to gaming culture through my housemate’s copy of FF7, easily the most iconic of the series. Released in 1997 it represented a milestone in gameplay and 3D graphics (though I was constantly struggling to walk through doors). Its main character, Cloud, is a very popular choice for cosplayers. I enjoyed playing bits of FF7 but for me there were too many tangents to the plot and the party was soon bloated with characters. As a perfectionist I felt I had to invest in all of them, even when they were as unfathomable as a cat riding a giant marshmallow. The nail in the coffin of FF7 came when the internet spoiled its twist for me (and what a twist it is!)

Cosplayer of Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII.  Used under CC license by, Rob Boudon Wikimedia (https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cosplayer_of_Cloud_Strife,_Final_Fantasy_VII_at_New_York_Comic_Con_20111015.jpg).

Though my relationship with the FF games is complex, with their soundtracks it is anything but. The partnership between Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu has been likened to that of George Lucas and John Williams (unfairly, in my opinion, since Williams’ music keeps the audience engaged for a matter of hours, Uematsu’s for days). Uematsu’s musical interpretations of the FF stories cover every known genre and more; he is surely one of the greatest composers no one’s ever heard of. I can study for hours while listening to arrangements of the scores, tactically avoiding those, like FF9, which make me cry. Through YouTube recommendations I eventually discovered the work of another contemporary Japanese composer, Joe Hisaishi, which led me down a different rabbit hole altogether.

As a child I learnt to play the piano and for years I viewed this hobby as separate to my other interests. Though it wasn’t Uematsu who changed this (Hans Zimmer did) it was through him that I found my go-to piece, my muse, the first thing I play on a new piano: FF10’s To Zanarkand. My fingers know it so well my brain can no longer keep up. Is it arrogant to consider To Zanarkand my “theme”? Lots of the FF characters have themes - tunes as much a part of them as their thoughts, flaws and emotions - can’t I have one too? Pieces like this bring musicians closer to composers, and to each other.

Please don’t assume that playing FF pieces is a distraction from “proper” study of the piano – they are always challenging and frequently bizarre. I once asked my mum, a music teacher, to help my interpret a musical direction in FF8’s Find Your Way. She bounced over, as I knew she would, with her mental Italian dictionary at the ready, only to find the direction was in Japanese. It remains the best joke I’ve ever made at the expense of one of my family members. Between us we fill the family home with music, though it’s quieter now that my brothers and I have flown. Last Christmas my younger brother, surprised that I had learnt FF8’s Shuffle or Boogie, picked up his base guitar and started a jam. Before long, for the first time ever, all five of us made music together.

Where is the Final Fantasy series now? I don’t know and, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to. The old creatives have gone and, it seems, taken the soul of the series with them. This impression was reinforced by the announcement, in 2015, of an FF7 remake. I don’t really play video games any more but I’ll always cherish those moments of “overkill” and “limit break”; of the three of us curled up on the sofa laughing at Yojimbo’s silly sound effects or Zell’s not-so-white teeth. Final Fantasy made me see games as an art form which could immerse its audience in a way no film, book or play ever could. I fantasise about the games a little bit every day, and will continue to do so until I, too, reach Zanarkand.


Since music is such a key part of this story, I recommend the following playlist:

Nobuo Uematsu, To Zanarakand:

Joe Hisaishi, Always With Me:

Nobuo Uematsu, One Winged Angel (FF7):

Hans Zimmer, Davy Jones’ Theme: 

Nobuo Uematsu, Shuffle or Boogie: 

Title: Re: My Final Fantasy by rbuxton
Post by: DeepCandle Games on September 10, 2020, 01:52:26 PM
Very good article, especially for someone like me, who's only experience with the series has been the GBA game FF: Tactics Advanced - A terrific game but it feels very very different in tone and substance to the other games in the series which many FF fans often discuss.

To be honest when others have talked about their experience with playing FF games it almost seems like they are discussing a different series altogether, so I've always had trouble understanding the nature of those games.
Title: Re: My Final Fantasy by rbuxton
Post by: rbuxton on September 11, 2020, 08:48:32 PM
Thanks Balbor. I've never played FF Tactics myself but it does look interesting. I've recently got into other tactical games and I think they're more my thing. There's an Android version of Tactics I might investigate.
Title: Re: My Final Fantasy by rbuxton
Post by: DeepCandle Games on September 12, 2020, 12:23:43 AM
I've had a little interest in OGRE but mostly I like spacehulk games for my turn based satisfaction

Duelyst is also nice, and I've in the past enjoyed Advance Wars too, but if it isn't bound to a stick and slathered in warhammer it can't compete with my biases very often :knight: