The Final Fantasy (FF) canon is one of the longest running series of computer games in the world, and also is one of the best known computer role-playing game (RPG) franchises. The main games have existed on four different consoles (not including re-releases on the WonderSwan Colour console), although other games linked to the series (such as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles) exist on other systems.
The Company Behind It
Generally known as 'Square', Final Fantasy is the most successful title from a company also known at various times as 'Square Co. Ltd' and 'SquareSoft', though is now 'Square Enix Co. Ltd.'1. Between Final Fantasy V and VI, Square was also responsible for the English language version of the original Breath of Fire game when released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or SNES) in 1993.
Square is also well known for other games, such as the Mana series, and the SaGa series - both RPGs. More about these games are below, as the first games in each were released, in the West, under the Final Fantasy label!
A more recent project of Square is an RPG/'dungeon hack' called Kingdom Hearts, which is the Final Fantasy series (multiple games, including Cloud, the hero from FFVII, Selphie from FFVIII and Tidus and Wakka from FFX) and...Disney. Teamed up with Goofey and Donald Duck, the hero, Sora (who uses a 'keyblade' for his weapon - slight remenisces of Squall's gunblade from FFVIII), must traverse Disney worlds and meet characters from both franchises.
At the time of writing, the main franchise consists of Final Fantasy up to Final Fantasy X-2 - in Europe, anyway. Japan and America also have the online multiplayer game Final Fantasy XI. As is all too common in the games market, Europe is about six months behind even America with the Final Fantasy games2, although this is not responsible for the current gap in the European gamers' shelves. Rather, Square Enix has apparently decided there is not a large enough market in Europe, and so have not released FFXI over here. Whether this will change at some point in the future remains to be seen.
All the games are seperate, with different story lines, different characters and different universes - except for a number of features, which there is more detail about later. The essential game stucture remains the same - a 'party' of characters wanders around a entirely new world, talking to people and encountering enemies. For these battles, a set 'arena' is shown, depending on the location of the characters (for example, while wandering the plains the 'arena' would be fields; in a dungeon it would depict walls and artificial lighting), with your 'party' lined up facing your opponent(s). These battles are largely statistic (stat) based, with each character and opponent's hit points (HP) being key.
The labelling and release of the games is largely simple to follow from Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy X...in Japan at least. The first three in the series were released on the Famicom in Japan (which was called the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, in Britain and America), with the first game released back in 1987. The following three were published on the Super Famicom (SNES), from 1991 (FFIV) to 1994 (FFVI).
But, this is all a bit simple. This is what happened in Japan. FF II, III and V were not released in the US or UK originally. Because II and III were not around in areas other than Japan, the game known as Final Fantasy IV in Japan became Final Fantasy II in the US - despite the existence of a completely different FFII in Japan. Following on, FFVI became FFIII. As well as all this, a game called Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest was released, targeted at US gamers but also released in Japan3, between FF IV and V. And also, re-releases began occuring around this time. To add to all of this, and to make it all even more complicated, around this time, Squaresoft released the first in another of their RPG canons: the Mana series. However, the first in the series was not named this. Called Seiken Densetsu4 in Japan, Squaresoft decided to make sure it sold in America by calling it Final Fantasy Adventure - despite the fact it was not a Final Fantasy game (although it contained some cameos from traditional FF elements such as moogles - see further down). Fortunately, the sequels were renamed with the Mana titles, and the original game has now been remade for the GameBoy Advance, titled in America and Europe as "Sword of Mana". The Final Fantasy brand name was also utilised for the release of the first three Makai Toushi SaGa games - in Western releases, they were called Final Fantasy Legend 1-3. The next three in the SaGa series were released as the Romancing SaGa 1-3 in the West, and SaGa 7 became SaGa Frontier5.
But the next step in the real FF series was in some ways the largest that Square ever made with Final Fantasy. In the three year gap from the release of FFVI to that of FFVII, a new console was released: the PlayStation, by Sony. Square (as it was then) moved over onto the PlayStation, with it's new CD and 32-bit systems, allowing a revolution in the RPG world. Multiple discs were enabled, and FFVII appeared on three CDs, making it a lot longer and more detailed than many other games. Also, Full Motion Videos (FMVs) were begun, and the series was truly born in its modern format. This was released as Final Fantasy VII in all parts of the world, despite the fact the US had not had a Final Fantasy IV, V or VI, as the game was hyped immensely in Japan before release in the US, so it was quite well known as FFVII already.
Final Fantasy VIII and IX followed on the PlayStation in 1999 and 2000. These both existed over four discs, and developed the computer visuals to new limits. Also on the PlayStation, a spin off game called Final Fantasy Tactics, which was a cross between this series and Ogre Battle6, appeared, and whilst sacrificing the graphical qualities, this was a very popular game. Earlier Final Fantasy games were also produced in PlayStation format; some in pairs (such as the game Final Fantasy Origins, which contains I and II) and some on their own (such as Final Fantasy VI).
Then came the PlayStation 2, or PS2. With it came the next step in the Final Fantasy series, FFX. Now on DVD, but also with a shorter game, it only took one disc (although it had a extras DVD with it). However, the graphics in it, and especially the FMVs, display some of the most realistic and detailed visuals in any game in existence; and moreover, Final Fantasy X took the next step with voices for the characters. As opposed to the previous games which had boxes or speech bubbles, the main characters in this game were voiced.
However, the series begins to get more complicated at this point. Partially because of the controversial ending to FFX, the first true sequel to the Final Fantasy series was spawned: FFX-2, which takes the characters and world of FFX two years after the ending, and concludes the story. As well as this, FFXI has been released in Japan and the US. This is not the usual single-player fight your way through a pre-determined story, but a massive online game where other players can be met and interacted with. However, despite being released in Japan considerably before FFX-2, and in America at about the same time, as said above, there is still no sign of FFXI in Europe.
Also, Square Enix have moved back with their old console makers, Nintendo. Although still making games for Sony's PS2, they have also recently made Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for Nintendo's GameCube, which is a predominantly multiplayer but offline game, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the GameBoy Advance. This takes the style of FFT, but is a different story etc7 as with the other Final Fantasy games. On top of this, Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II are due to be re-released on Gameboy Advance, in a single package, but with new added features, such as extra dungeons and story bits. Rumours are also going around about a potential re-release of FFIII in the same format, which would be the first time this particular game in the series would be re-released. It is also the only pre-PlayStation FF game that as of yet has not been re-made.
FFXII, back to the traditional style - as much as there is one for the FF games - last seen in FFX (in that it is not multiplayer, online or a sequel), is also currently being worked on for the PS2.
The Films and Anime
And on top of all this, there are the films and anime. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a completely computer generated movie and unlinked to the games, was released in 2001, and upcoming is the film Advent Children, which is based on the characters and world of Final Fantasy VII two years after the events of the game - like Final Fantasy X-2, but in a movie instead. An English language website, adventchildren.net, exists about the movie with many more details. Be warned, though, it contains potential spoilers to the game.
Two anime series have also been spawned from the Final Fantasy games. These are Final Fantasy: Lengend of the Crystals, which follows up the story of FFV, but more loosly than the way Advent Children looks to do for VII, and Final Fantasy: Unlimited (unconnected to any specific game) which was not finished by the Japanese producers but has been resurrected by the American company "ADV Films".
The Spirits Within and FF:U change the style of any of the games by using our own Earth in the story (although in FF:U the characters soon leave into "The Outer World"). They do, however, retain many of the series' central points, such as Cid (although in The Spirits Within, in the credits he is called 'Sid').
Playing the Games
So what does playing a Final Fantasy entail? Well, for a start, you've got to be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time on it - unless you do little else or deliberately rush it, these games are not the sort you complete in a week. With or without a guide.
Also, you've got to like stories. Accept the fact that these are not games where you determine the characters' fates - these have already long been decided, and then viewed by thousands, or more often millions, of others. You get to make decisions in the game, but they often have little effect on the overall story.
There are about four really major parts in every Final Fantasy game which make up the majority of its length, and then extra bits. The four major parts are: walking, fighting, powering up and watching.
There's a lot of this. This gets the characters in the story from one location to the next in order to progress the story. Remember in each game there's a whole world. Over the adventure, you'll probably have to go to most of it. Fortunately, you will eventually get some sort of transport, such as a airship or a chocobo, but otherwise, it'll probably be walking (well, running). Whilst walking you'll quite often meet random encounters - see under fighting. Sometimes you'll be expected to be doing something - talking to people, solving puzzles, etc. Other times, it's simply a case of reaching the other end of the road.
The main interactive part of the games...fighting enemies; both random encounters and set battles that you've got to fight. When the fight begins, the screen dissolves in one way or another (e.g. the screen goes into a whirlpool in FFIX; or the screen breaks like a pane of glass in FFX) and you end up in a screen with two lines of fighters - your team facing the enemies. In some of the games, each team member has the option of being in the "front row" or the "back row" - being in the latter halves the damage that character takes from physical attacks, but halves the damage they deal with physical attacks as well, and hence the back row is usually for the mages among your team. Characters can switch row mid-battle - at the cost of a turn.
The neat line arrangement is not the case in FFX-2, where the characters can move around the battlefield and will stay there, allowing attacks to the back of an enemy, increasing damage.
The fighters will take turns to hit each other. In FFIV, the Active Time Battle (ATB) was introduced, and has remained in every Final Fantasy game since, bar FFX. These are gauges which fill up over time, and when full, the menu for that character's possible moves is made available. In IX and earlier, you can select the instructions immediately, but the character will not act until everyone who has had their commands entered previously (including the enemies) has acted, meaning quite a backlog can build up. In X-2, some actions can occur at the same time as other ones, making it more realistic.
The moves available, and the way of affecting which ones your characters can use, vary from game to game, based on the power-up system. More details about these can be found in the specific game entries.
This is also a major part of the games: choosing how you want your characters to develop and what stats and abilities you want them to have when they are in battle. This changes drastically between each game, and it can often take a long while to understand how the system works fully, especially as the systems are usually introduced a bit at a time.
Yes, yes, we know...it's a game, not a film. But watching the story progress in cut-scenes is one of the very major parts of a modern Final Fantasy game, and in the earlier games there was still a lot of talking to read. At these points, you can put the controller down (unless you want to feel any vibration there may be for the scene), sit back and relax...or feel extremely tense, depending on the scene. These will usually progress the story, will often cause revelations in terms of their impact on the way the plot is going, andmay well cause you emotional feelings such as shock, horror, unhappiness or joy. And the developers have taken these opportunities in the more recent games to produce what are probably the pinnacle of the Final Fanatsy games: the FMVs (see above). These showcase the most realistic graphics developed at the time of production and are often truly stunning.
Not necessarily one of the main points involved in the games, as you can go through them without turning your speakers on, but it can be very worthwhile turning the volume up for these games. Not for the sound effects usually; not even necessarily for the voices in the PS2 incarnations; but rather, for the music. A very large proportion of the music is written by the composer Nobuo Uematsu, although he appears to be becoming less involved - he has only written the main theme for the upcoming Final Fantasy XII, and was not involved in Final Fantasy X-2. His work is much loved by many fans of the series; so much so that CD soundtracks are available of the game music - but only in Japan. His theme song for FFVIII, "Eyes on Me", sung by Faye Wong, sold 400, 000 copies and won "Song of the Year (Western Music)" in 1999, at the 14th Annual Japan Gold Disc Awards.
Yes, there is other stuff, such as mini-games (some of which are optional, some compulsary) but the above parts make up the most of the game. If you don't like one of the parts, then quite potentially, Final Fantasy will not be a game for you. So: ye now be warned.
Recurring Features, or Why you might experience a feeling of deja vu
And, as promised, some information about the continuous points for those not in the know.
To be honest, you may well recognise some of the characters despite the fact they are new to any one of the games. When the heroes are actually characters rather than simply figures who have no background and no specific personality (as is the case in FFI and FFIII), the main party often follows a slightly typical mould - such as the hero using a type of sword, being rather self-centred, and his parentage playing an important part in the story. The heroine will be quite innocent; often using magic rather than physical force in battle, and she will be fundamentally involved in the plot. Often there will be a passionate, dedicated secondary hero, who uses physical force and is devoted to the mission he is involved in.
However, as well as these, there are characters who do retain their names. Cid is the most memorable of these. He appears usually in a quite high position, such as the head of SeeD in FFVIII or the Regent of Lindblum in FFIX (SeeD is an organisation that trains and hires out mercenaries; Lindblum is a large city on Gaia, the planet of FFIX). He was one of the main playable characters in FFVII, but not since. His appearance changes between the games, as does his character, but the name remains. He has a tendency to own airships or other vehicles.
Biggs and Wedge often appear together - they were two of the rebellion group AVALANCHE in FFVII, and were two members of the army of Galbadia in FFVIII. They don't appear with anywhere near the regularity of Cid, but they do re-occur in a similar manner. Their names are taken from Star Wars IV: A New Hope - a couple of members of Luke Skywalker's X-Wing squadron are Biggs Darklighter and Wedge Antilles.
These appear in all the recent Final Fantasy games, although their title (Summons in VII, GFs in VIII, Eidolons in IX, Aeons in X) their ranks and the number of them changes quite drastically between games8. Some are always kept though: namely, Ifrit, Shiva and Bahamut; and others make regular appearances, such as Odin and Ramuh. Many of the names are taken from gods and heroes of legends, and in some cases, major religions, such as Bahamut. The summons kept remain with the same approximate appearance, although obviously visuals are improved through the series. In the older games, when summoned, they appeared, a cut scene played and they disappeared. In FFX, they stayed and fought, controlled by the player, in place of the party. Some specific details:
Ifrit - A traditional beast from the fiery pits of Hell; he is sort of like the minotaur with control over fire. He has immense strength and throws rather large rocks at the enemies - or you, when you have to beat him. His name comes from Indian myth, where Ifrit was a god of fire.
Shiva - a graceful, beautiful queen of cold; she has blue skin, little clothing and complete control over ice. She tends to freeze all the land around her opponents and suddenly destroy it, damaging them. She shares her name with the third deity in the Hindu Trimurti, but the Hindu Shiva is male. He is the Destroyer. However, the Final Fantasy Shiva's name is derived instead from Shirahime, the Japanese goddess9 of snow and ice. The '-hime' suffix was dropped due to character limitations in the earlier games, and corrupted slightly to become 'Shiva' in the West. Even with lengthier names now possible, her name has remained as Shiva.
Bahamut - a large dragon with immense, non-elemental powers. Its name cames from Muslim traditions, where Bahamut is a giant fish, supporting on it a bull, which has upon it a mountain, and above that are the Hells, Earth and the Heavens.
Ramuh - a wizened old man with a staff and power over lightening. He is sometimes replaced by other lightning summons, such as Quetzacotl in FFVIII, and Ixion in FFX.
Odin - a warrior riding on a horse with too many legs; he always uses the attack Zantetsuken10 which instantly kills all enemies by chopping them in half - if they're vunerable to the attack. Odin, or Wodin or Woden, was the king of the Gods in Norse mythology; after whom Wednesday is named.
Many monsters remain throughout the games, sometimes with the same name and sometimes not. In FFX-2, most of the monsters from FFX are used, but usually with very different names. The ones with their names kept here represent the most regularly recurring ones, such as:
Malboro - this old 'favourite' is a large plant thing with lots of tentacles and a large mouth - it looks vaguely like the Venus People-Trap in the musical Little Shop of Horrors - and it has the despised "Bad Breath", which inflicts several status ailments on all party members. All too often does the party suddenly meet this, and before you know it all party members are Blinded (regularly miss when they attack), Poisoned (lose health every few seconds) and Confused (attack each other) or Beserk (automatically attack the enemy). At this point, all you can do is sit back and hope you regain control of one of them before they wipe themselves out...
Behemoth - A large purple bull-like thing that usually has the ability to use "Meteor" which will heavily damage your party (let's just ignore the fact that meteors are the things that burn up in the atmosphere and meteorites are the ones that hit the ground...) Again, not all too nice...
Tonberry - A relatively innocent looking, little11, usually green creature that is bipedal, wears a sort of cloak, has glowing yellow eyes, a small tail, and carries a lamp...and a knife. Known in the earlier games as 'Pug' (and 'Master Pug'), it walks very slowly towards your party, then if still undefeated (which is qite likely, as it has a lot of health) stabs you with the knife. If you do try attacking it, often you'll be hit back by it's "karma", which deals damage depending on the number of enemies that character has defeated. Despite its innocent apearance it can be an opponent that you will come to fear until you can defeat it easily, reminding you of the important phrase: Trust No-one...
Cactuars - well, the name sort of gives a hint...they're basically cacti, and used to be called 'Cactrot'. However, they take a humanoid form: imagine a stick figure, where the sticks are replaced by green, ridged cylinders. They are given a quite comical, unrealistic pose - their limbs are always bent at right angles and alternate between two positions (backwards and forwards) without passing inbetween. They are extremely agile, and hence can be hard to hit, and often run away from battle. When they don't, they can use the move "1000 Needles", which inflicts an augmented 1000 damage on the target. Jumbo Cactuar also exists in some of the games, and is a much larger version (at least three times the height of your characters). It can use "10000 Needles", which works on the same principle but hurts a lot more.
Iron Giant - although their name changes slightly sometimes, they're often there...and they are just large sort of humanoid robots that carry a large sword and enjoy slashing your party to bits.
Ahriman - as with Iron Giant, the name of Ahriman changes sometimes. Their body is basically a large eye, covered in a strangely coloured skin (often red), and it has wings and a tail. Often hard to hit, due to the fact they fly, they use attacks based on their glare - often Confusing your characters (see description of Malboro for what Confused characters do).
And now, for those loved creatures (or maybe not...): the chocobo and the moogle.
Chocobos are large yellow birds that run around on two legs at quite high speeds, and can be ridden by humans - they're the horses of Final Fantasy, being about that size and exploited for turning things and riding in much the same way. They are available for the player to ride at various points, although the method for getting them changes a lot between games.
Moogles are little white, vaguely cat-like things with wings - supposedly designed as a cross between a mole and a bat12. Yes, odd. They don't always appear, unlike chocobos, but they make a few appearances. Unlike most chocobos, they have the power of speech.
Evolution of the series
Any series grows and changes with the times and feedback. Final Fantasy, however, does so more than many others, and so style of gameplay can change quite drasticaly. Here, therefore, is an "evolution" path of the Final Fantasy series.
The party in this game consisted of four characters - non-specific ones that the player picks at the beginning and have no actual personality as such. The player can choose them from different 'types' - i.e. they have different battle abilities - and they remain the same throughout the game (although they can be upgraded to a better 'class' by means of a sidequest). More details about this game can be found at the Edited Entry about the original Final Fantasy game.
Some points that would remain throughout the series began right here from the beginning, such as Bahamut (in this game, the King of Dragons), but others were not introduced until later.
The setting for this game was the traditional fantasy setting - medieval European civilization - and this largely remained until the transition onto the PlayStation with FFVII.
The party in this game consisted of four players - of which three were constant and one changed at points in the game. These characters were set - Firion, Gus, Maria, Gareth, Gordon and others. In doing so, their personalities existed seperately and they were actually involved in the story, as opposed to the generic "Light Warriors" of the first game.
Various continuous points began here - the introduction of Chocobos, moogles (in a form - they're actually called "Beavers", but look suspiciously similar) and Cid. However, Bahamut disappeared - the only mainstream Final Fantasy game he's not in.
The generics return as the heroes, with no set names or particular personalities to focus the game on them. As with FFI, the story revolves around the bad guys and the other people the heroes meet - not the heroes themselves. The party consisted of four fighting memebers, but at points a fifth member joins, but does not fight, to reach certain places.
Summons now exist, including Bahamut, Leviathan and Odin - all regular summons in the games. Cid returns with his airship, and dwarves, who occur in a number of the games (including I, but not II) also make an appearance.
And a switch back to specific heroes again. The main character, Cecil, is the only one that remains in the party throughout the entirety of the game - others come and go at various points. Five people were allowed in the party at any one time, however.
In this game, with the shift onto the SNES, the Active Time Battle system was introduced and this has defined the battle system of most of the Final Fantasy games since - see above and the specific game guides for further details.
From this point on, the games became far more story based, with the heroes an important part of the story - with important backstories, such as Cecil's father.
Another four-character party, with specific heroes again - as they will remain for the rest of the series. Together the party is known as "The Crystal Warriors".
Cid is back as the inventor of the Fire Ship. Gilgamesh is one of the bad guy's side kicks, and returns as a special GF in FFVIII. Most other points continue as normal.
In this game, a "job" system was used - similar to the choice of classes in FFI, but in this game the player hade the ability to change the job class mid-game. This has returned in a form in Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
Four characters at a time in the fighting party again, but with 14 different characters that are with you during the game.
Biggs and Wedge appear for the first time in this game as soldiers for the Empire. They return in FFVII as members of the rebellion group AVALANCHE and (in a comic relief role) as soldiers in the Galbadian army in FFVIII. They also exist in FFX, but don't actually have a role.
The setting for this game, while still the traditional "medieval European" fantasy setting, changed slightly by having more advanced technology in it than in earlier games or many stereotypical fantasy settings.
And the big shift onto the PlayStation. The fighting party in this game consisted of only three members at any one point, but with a total of nine different characters available - including two completely optional characters!
There are no moogles in the main game, only in a mini-game and as a summon, but there are the usual chocobos, and plenty of summons, inclduding three forms of Bahamut. Unlike most of the earlier games, there are no summons existing outside of the moves - in earlier games, they existed as entities that normally required defeating to enable them to be called; in this game, the player merely needs to find the 'materia' (globes of magic goop that are the basis of this game's power-up system) appropriate to the summon.
This game has a very different setting to the "medieval European" of earlier games. The world in FFVII is, by and large, extremely industrialised and advanced - certainly when compared to traditional fantasy settings. There have been attempted trips into space; arcades including such things as a virtual reality chocobo race (the chocobos are real; the track is not); and the corporation Shin-Ra is draining the life energy of the planet.
This game also introduces the Weapons - in this one, they are natural defences of the planet in its time of trouble. One is a necessary boss; others are available extra bosses. There are quite a number of them, including Ultima, Emerald and Ruby Weapon. In later games, this is reduced to just Ultima and Omega Weapon - optional bosses that are often harder than any in the story.
This game was in many ways vastly simplified13, with the removal of MP (magic points), Limit Break bars and a proper choice of weapons, and showcased extremely realistic graphics for the time, as opposed to the deformed characters in FFVII. These moves were seen cynically in Japan as an attempt to make the franchise more Westernised.
In this game, there are only six main playable characters, with a few others available at certain points. The party could only consist of three at a time, and the "rows" that existed in FFVII were removed.
This setting, like FFVII, is a modern/futuristic one, with technology at some times in advance of our own. Moogles exist in the game, but only as a special GF which must be unlocked through a minigame, "Chocobo World" - which is played on a link-up PocketStation console (although owners of the computer version can access the minigame easily). The other points remain - Biggs and Wedge, and Cid in a role that, unusually, makes him largely incompetent with technology. He still owns an airship though - sort of.
A return to the medieval European style of location, with large castles, mystical jewels and little advanced technology. Except - surprise, surprise! - airships.
Eight main playable characters, with four characters at a time (the only main FF game since VI as such), with a few others at certain points, but unlike the earlier games there is a lot of party switching - and for an unusually high proportion of the game, you are not even controlling the hero, Zidane. The power-up system changed from the quite generalised system of the previous two games to being extremely individualised, and various points that were dropped from VIII returned - such as the rows, MP and (sort of) Limit Break guages - although the last is actually rather different to ever before; see the specific guide for more details.
Cid is here as Regent Cid IX of Lindblum; in this one he both invents and owns the airships. Having missed out largely so far on the PlayStation, moogles return with a vengeance - they are now the save points! Chocobos occupy exactly the same slot as normal, and the eidolons (this game's summons) include the usuals in the ranks as well as new ones.
And the first PS2 Final Fantasy game. This tried to 'streamline' the series to an extent, with the complete removal of a world map and much of the travelling made simpler by simply having the object 'reach the far end of the road' - as opposed to earlier games, where the world map could sometimes make it quite hard to find the next destination.
In this game, there are seven main playable characters, with up to three in the party at once, and, unlike in any of the other games, party members can be switched mid-battle - but only if they're still concious. Also, the Active Time Battle system has been removed, and in place a turn system is calculated and displayed on screen, changing the style of battles. Rows are removed again from this game.
Other points that may have seemed not only fundamental to Final Fantasy but all RPGs have also been removed - such as levelling up. Characters no longer automatically improve from winning battles - instead, they gain movement on a large grid which allows the player to power up characters as they wish.
The setting stays a medieval one, but is more like an Asian medieval setting than the traditional European. Advanced technology exists, but only in small quantities, and is rejected by most of the population for story reasons.
The aeons include the constant three - Ifrit, Shiva and Bahamut - but no other regulars like Ramuh or Odin. Instead, new ones are introduced form other sources - such as Yojimbo ('Yojimbo' is the Japanese for 'mercenary', as with the ronin in the film Yojimbo14, and possibly the cartoon samuri rabbit Usagi Yojimbo). Moogles disappear again - except for a brief appearance as a voodoo doll - but the chocobos stay as loyal as ever.
Whether this game classifies as one of the main series is questionable - while being a numbered installment and continuing the story of a game that was definately one of the main series, the style is very different and its very function as a sequel makes it different to any of the previous games.
The game's difference is more from the newer ones - some features are actually quite like some of the older games, such as only having the set three characters throughout, and the dress-sphere system acting rather like the jobs system that existed in some earlier games.
Also, fundamental points seem to be missing - there are no summons (although the aeons do reappear...) limit breaks (or equivalents), or male playable characters. Conversly, many of the points missing in FFX, such as the ATB and levelling up, are replaced.
Despite being a numbered installment, this is difficult to class as one of the mainstream games - as described earlier, it's an online game, with little overall plot or even purpose - other than to have fun. You make your own character, and team up with others controlled by real people elsewhere around the globe.
Other Entries in the Guide
This is a main entry page from which a growing selection of Guide entries are going to stem about the specific games. At the moment, these are the appropriate guide entries to look at:
A description of Final Fantasy - the original game
A basic description of the Final Fantasy series
A guide entry on Final Fantasy VII
Role Playing Games explained
Final Note on "Final"
Wondering, or complaining, why they're called Final Fantasy when there's a series (like Final Destination)?
Very simple: before the original Final Fantasy was released, Square was the dream child of a Japanese programmer, Hironobu Sakuguchi. However, he, and Square, were seriously short of money. So, in the aim of doing what he really wanted to do before the company went bankrupt, he put together the idea behind the original Final Fantasy game. He got the permission to make it from his publisher, but everyone felt that this game would be the final nail in the coffin of Square.
Hence, the game was his "Final Fantasy".
The game was obviously actually very successful, and with the name well known, rather than changing it for the later games, it remained the slightly contradictory Final Fantasy...