The Final Fantasy series is probably my favorite series of games ever. Well, used to be anyway. 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the Final Fantasy franchise (complete with box set goodies) and they’ve sure come a long way and gone through a lot of changes. A while ago I wrote a bit about the series’ creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, but in this post I’d like to explore how it all began.
Final Fantasy is Born
Square was the name of the company that started it all, and in 1987 they were in serious financial trouble. After a series of unsuccessful games including The Death Trap, Cruise Chaser Blassty, Alpha, King’s Knight, and Aliens, they were in a bad spot. Even North American hits like Rad Racer and 3-D WorldRunner were not enough to keep Square afloat.
Having the resources for one last ditch effort, the company assigned Hironobu Sakaguchi (director of planning and development) with the great task of creating a game to save Square from bankruptcy. On deciding what sort of game to make, Sakaguchi stated, “I don’t think I have what it takes to make a good action game. I think I’m better at telling a story.”
Boy was he right.
Combining elements of genre favorites such as Dragon Quest, The Legend of Zelda, and Ultima, Sakaguchi created an RPG world with an expansive game map and many story elements to uncover. Convinced that the title would ultimately be Square’s swan song, he ironically named it, “Final Fantasy.”
Final Fantasy was released for the NES on December 18th, 1987. The story told of the four warriors of light who were tasked with retrieving the four crystals to save the world as they knew it. While far from the expansive and detailed tales the series became known for, the story in Final Fantasy was epic for its time. Heavy emphasis was placed on creating a highly customizable RPG experience.
There were six classes to choose from, and four party slots to fill, giving the player a choice of thirty different party combinations. Final Fantasy also introduced a new way to view combat. Other RPGs of the day were from the first person view, whereas Final Fantasy showed the entire battle from a side view, allowing the player to see exactly who is doing what. The game also had some of the most advanced special effects depicting character magic and abilities.
Final Fantasy had an extensive score (for the day anyway) with twenty unique tracks. A handful of these songs introduced in the first game would go on to become series staples. The game was also not an easy one. Saving and healing were not as forgiving as gamers are used to these days, and the difficulty pacing was a bit uneven.
Fans were willing to put up with it though, because the game went on to become wildly successful and become one of the best selling games for the NES, selling over 500,000 copies The original Final Fantasy has been remade and repurposed many, many times over due to its immense popularity.
Sakaguchi was highly responsible for this period of wild success for the company. He was loved and respected by all.
The Middle Years, and the Post-Merger Future
From this one game, Square and Final Fantasy blossomed. Final Fantasy became wildly successful and popular, and the company itself went on to create other RPG classics such as Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. I grew up with the company, seeing the new games as they came out, and I fell in love with them. Truly, Square could do no wrong.
I thoroughly enjoyed every iteration in the series as they came out (FFVI is still my favorite though). I loved the company and was always very excited when they released a new game. I thought Sakaguchi, Uematsu, and the whole Square team was fantastic. Sakaguchi even became the president of the company in 1995.
Then they screwed over Sakaguchi, merged with Enix, and ruined everything.
Final Fantasy X was the last game in the series that I truly enjoyed. Everything past that was either boring or terrible in my opinion. At least compared to the series that I’d known and loved while growing up. It’s no coincidence that Final Fantasy X was the last game in the series released under the Square name before they became Square Enix.
Square decided, sometime after Sakaguchi directed the failed motion picture Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, that this risk-taking creative juggernaut was too dangerous for the large and powerful company Square had become. The film greatly exceeded its original budget towards the end of production, reaching a final cost of $137 million. Unfortunately, it only made back $85 million at the box office. The film was a box office bomb.
They weren’t going to fire him, but he couldn’t really do much with any project after that. Even in Final Fantasy X he was simply executive producer. They gave him a figurehead position in Hawaii (most likely to save face and not totally demolish Sakaguchi), and one day he became so fed up with the situation that he quit to form his own company and took half of the development team of Final Fantasy XII with him.
With this move, I lost a lot of respect for Square/Square Enix, and gained a lot more respect for Sakaguchi. He had been put in a purely symbolic position and had no real power to influence games anymore. Instead of just living a cushy life out in Hawaii, Sakaguchi quit Square, took half of the development team with him, and started his own company known as Mistwalker (backed by Microsoft, no less).
I think that Square just felt bad totally ousting the guy that had saved their company and made it what it was. Even though he stumbled with the movie, it was these kinds of wacky risks Sakaguchi took that made Square the fun and interesting company it was. Unfortunately, he lost the company a lot of money, and for that, he wasn’t forgiven and he ultimately left the company.
Not surprisingly, this event along with the failure of the movie reduced Square’s financial capital. Eventually, the merger with Enix went through, “saving” Square. This led to the creation of Square Enix in 2003.
Yeah, Well, You Know, That’s Just, Like, Your Opinion, Man
Now I’m sure that not everyone shares these views on Sakaguchi and Square/Square Enix. Some people still like the games that came out after FFX (but in my opinion, XI was sub-par, XII was bearable, XIII(2) was trash, and XIV is even worse). But everyone is entitled to their own opinion – if you like the later games, that’s great, I’m happy you do. I wish that I could, but to me, they just don’t compare to the games that I loved and grew up with.
However, I highly encourage you to read this article if all of this interests you. I really like the article, but that’s probably because it expresses many of the views I hold myself, but hey, maybe you’ll enjoy it as well.
Bottom line here though is that Sakaguchi is an awesome guy. He saved Square from bankruptcy and gave them many years of great games and ideas. When he got shut down by the company, he didn’t give up. He started his own company to pursue his dream and the man never gave up on it. Sakaguchi is really an awesome guy and should be an inspiration to us all. He’s had a long career in gaming with over 100 million units of video games sold worldwide and he’s still chugging along. Never give up on your dreams and goals.
GameTrailer’s Final Fantasy Retrospective
On a more nostalgic note, the game review site GameTrailers has an incredibly awesome retrospective of the Final Fantasy series. I highly, HIGHLY encourage you to check it out if you have any interest in these games or grew up playing them. They’re very well done and invoke an incredible sense of wistful nostalgia. So, yeah, check ’em out.
So tell me, when do you think was the best period for Square? Before of after the loss of Sakaguchi and the merger with Enix? And what is your favorite Final Fantasy game? Do you even like the series? Share your thoughts and favorites in the comments!