No gaming title is better known or more widely acclaimed than the SquareEnix title Final Fantasy. Since the first game was released in December of 1987 it has shaken the gaming world and set the stage for many games we know and love today. In fact, if it were not for Final Fantasy the gaming Industry would not be as vibrant as it is today. Final Fantasy is truly the game of miracles but not many people are aware of its history or just how important it is. To understand this you have to go back all the way to the late 1980’s and a young game developer named Hironobu Sakaguchi since his story is by all rights the story of the game.
In 1983 a young Sakaguchi dropped out of Yokohama National University and began to work for Square, a newly formed subsidiary of Denyusha Electric Company. Square was founded when the son of Denyusha’s owner Masafumi Miyamoto graduated from Waseda University and desired to enter the video game industry. Masafumi believed that the then standard model of having only 1 programmer work on a game was inefficient and that better, more profitable games could be developed with a team of programmers and professional story writers all working on the same project. In this climate, Sakaguchi worked on some of Square’s first games for the PC. By 1985 Square had moved on from PC games to console games with an adaption of Thexeder for Nintendo.
By 1986 Square split from its parent company Denyusha to become the independent Square Co., LTD and with this change, Sakaguchi became a Full-Time employee of Square as head of Planning and Development. Sadly the company quickly fell on hard times after a release of many unsuccessful games for Nintendo, prompting Square to move their headquarters to the Ueno District of Tokyo. Facing Bankruptcy things looked grim for Square till Sakaguchi came up with a project that would save the entire company. It was an idea that had been overlooked but was now their final hope.
For a long time Sakaguchi had desired to work on a console RPG, however, there were many things stopping him. First off was that his employer Square refused to give him permission to go ahead with the project assuming that an RPG would not sell very well based on trends. Additionally, only 3 of his colleagues were willing to volunteer to work with him as he was considered to be a “Hard Boss”. However facing bankruptcy Square had nothing to lose and finally gave the project the green light. Sakaguchi then began to work on an RPG named Fighting Fantasy inspired by the games “Ultima” and “Wizardry” not realizing all the while that he would create a masterpiece that would outshine both of these.
As we all know the name would later change to Final Fantasy. This name change was prompted by issues involving trademark conflicts with an RPG Gamebook series that had the exact same name. The new name, however, was inspired by Sakaguchi’s personal conflict as well as the plight of the company. It was very obvious that if this game hadn’t sold it would be the first and “Final Fantasy” that Square would ever have developed. It was the same situation for Sakaguchi. This would have been his last game as he had decided to give up game development and return to University if the game hadn’t been successful.
A lot of work was put into the project by the development team as they knew it was the last hope for the company. For the games coding they enlisted the Iranian-American Programmer Nasir Gebelli, Character Design was conceived by Yoshitaka Amano, Kenji Terada was in charge of writing the scenario based off of a story written by Sakaguchi and he received some help from Koichi Ishii, the score for the game was composed by the now world acclaimed Nobuo Uematsu, and Akitoshi Kawazu was in charge of the design of the battle system and battle sequences. With Hironobu Sakaguchi at the lead, this team of 7 worked to defy time and the odds against them. Motivated by the companies lack of faith in their project and the general animosity directed at them by their coworkers they soon made great strides in developing the game. Eventually, a “B-Team” Of programmers joined them on the project helping them to finish it. At every corner, the team tried to make distinctive innovations that had never been tried before like elemental weakness or resistance in enemies or the ability to choose the class of your character. As they worked the companies situation became direr but their final gamble would prove to be their saving grace.
Finally, it came, the day that would change history. On December 18, 1987, 400,000 copies of Final Fantasy were released in the Japanese Market for the Nintendo. It was a hit. In addition to the initial release of 400,000 in Japan, the 1990 North America release sold an additional 700,000 copies despite heavy censorship by Nintendo’s North American Localization Team. In Japan, it already had 2 sequels. The sales from Final Fantasy alone saved Square Co. And the career of Hironobu Sakaguchi as well was saved. Working under Square he would later develop many more industry changing hits.
It is this game that saved Square but it was Square that helped define the Gaming Industry worldwide. This is no exaggeration. Before its merger with Enix in 2003 it released many well-known and well-acclaimed games and series besides Final Fantasy such as Parasite Eve and Kingdom Hearts. Games such as these changed or defined the industry and stood out from many others available. Other lesser known games were developed that changed attitudes and ideas and would later become series of their own. Xenogears would become the prelude to the Xenosaga game series. Final Fantasy IV introduced a new type of time/turn based battle system and Secrets of Mana Introduced the Ring Menu system. There were also new themes that were touched upon such as Time Travel in their 1998 hit Chrono Trigger and Genetic Horrors in Parasite Eve.
While Final Fantasy saved the company it also became their driving force. After many sequels, the company came to feel that they could not be defined simply by the Final Fantasy Franchise and thus they innovated and encouraged innovation. And certainly, they are not defined by Final Fantasy even though it was their biggest title in light of the other popular and even “classic” titles that the company released. But maybe I am incorrect in saying Final Fantasy did not have a huge influence on their success since their effort to keep from being out shadowed by its popularity is what makes its games so good and since their experience in 1987 taught them the benefit of taking outlandish risks.
Indeed Square and all of the subsequent risks it has taken have helped give new life to an industry and nurtured an environment of artistic expression and high-quality gaming. So many of their releases keep adding a new flavor to gaming every time and setting new trends. After a merger with Enix in 2003 SquareEnix carried on that legacy of art and risk.
Sadly Hironobu Sakaguchi did not come along with this merger having resigned a year before. Then in 2004, Nobuo Uematsu left Square Enix as well. It in a way was the end of an era. The legend continues however even in their absence, not just the legend of the definitive rise of Square and the continuing success of SquareEnix but also the legend of Final Fantasy. This year we saw the release of 3 Final Fantasy games and a new CG Movie. Along with the Numbered game Final Fantasy XV and the related CG Feature Film “Kingsglaive”, there were also 2 mobile games released. Final Fantasy Brave Exvius lets you play with old characters in a new setting and Final Fantasy Mobius brings back an excellent writer from Final Fantasy X. Today is the 29th Anniversary of this miracle game and on this day next year, the franchise will mark its 30th anniversary since that first release.
30 Years is a staggering thought. As of next year actually, video games will be 70 years old (The first video game was the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device first patented January 25th, 1947). In that 70 years titles have come and gone and the notable bulk of those titles were created in the last 35 years. Final Fantasy however not only saved a company that defined an industry and seen so many different advances and styles come and go, it is still an ongoing title nearly 30 years later and has seen an adaption on most gaming systems developed at this time. What will become of it in the next 30 years?
Very Legendary and Happy Gaming to you all.