Monday, March 17, 2014

One Last Tale Before the Night, One Last Dream Before the Morn: Final Fantasy

   There are many stories to be told and many ways to tell these stories.  The stories we tell are what we value and emphasize and pass on to the next generation as a reminder of what we believed in, and lived for, and dreamed of.  I dedicated this blog to the notion that video games are a medium of entertainment on both the level of both an interactive experience and sometimes a narrative journey.  It is one of the few media where the story can be optional or excluded, but it possesses stories worthy of praise and scrutiny.  I started by discussing what Majora's Mask meant to me as well as a bit about Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater and A Link Between Worlds.  Today it is my hope to tackle one installment in one of the most celebrated franchises of all time.

If you can't tell who in this picture is a man and who is a woman,
you're on the same page as everyone else.  

   The first installment of the ironically named Final Fantasy series was creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's last attempt at fulfilling his dream of being a video game designer.  At the risk of going back to college to pursue a more stable career, he put all of his company's capital to work on an experience unlike any seen in the world of the 1980s video game scene.  Creating an experience alongside the artistic talents of traditional Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano and rising star composer Nobuo Uematsu, Sakaguchi's final fantasy became a reality in 1987.  The result in those days can only be compared to the depth and immersion of games like Skyrim in the present.

   And so after the success of that first entry, the fantasy continued.  By the next entry, a more in depth story was added and the most advanced technology available was used from entry to entry to represent the worlds created for this experience.

   In 1991, the series introduced the story of the antihero Cecil, a dark knight cursed to be a pawn in darker schemes as he embarks on a quest for redemption to redeem his soul.  As it were, Cecil's adventure was the first Final Fantasy I had the opportunity to play.  Cecil's story was greatly improved by his relationships with his companions.

There was Kain, a knight torn to between the dark powers that control him and his love for his friends.

Rosa, the wizard who reminds Kain and Cecil that their misdeeds are not the measures of their hearts.

Rydia, a young girl who must forgive Cecil for unknowingly destroying her home and family.

and a host of others.

Yoshitaka Amano's cover art for FF VI, a steampunk cityscape

  In 1994, the series reached new heights with Final Fantasy VI.  Set in a steampunk universe where the source of all magic is threatened by a powerful emperor and a maniacal harlequin planning from the shadows, it follows an enduring party in their rebellion against the dark forces of their world.  Over the course of the adventure, all hope is frequently lost as evil triumphs again and again leading to the final confrontation that reaches such epic proportions I would not dare share them to anyone who has not experienced the scene.  I will however provide the musical masterpiece that completes this climax from the musical mind of Nobuo Uematsu.

   The phenomenal success of the sixth entry was celebrated as Sakaguchi's dream became an unbelievable legend.  However, 1997 brought a time of great changes.  The video game industry moved into the third dimension with the widespread success of Super Mario 64 the previous year.  Having moved away from Nintendo in favor of Sony, the makers of Final Fantasy would have to show their legendary brand could survive in this new era.  Sakaguchi and Uematsu returned while series art director Yoshitaka Amano took a back seat to new lead artist Tetsuya Nomura.  And in the midst of production, Sakaguchi's mother died tragically.

   The result of this arduous production became the most famous entry that would define the series as a whole in the gritty magically cyberpunk world of Final Fantasy VII.

Cityscape of Midgar from FFVII

Replacing evil empires with monopolizing power companies and the wooden ships and wagons with trains, planes, and motorcycles, the world of Final Fantasy VII holds depth and  significance seldom seen in a video game.

To successfully approach the story and world of Final Fantasy VII, I will not be going through the story from beginning to end as I did or attempted with previous series.  Instead, I will explore several major characters as well as themes of legacy, ambition, abuse and stewardship, life, death, and renewal among other elements across the series.

And starting with the next article, we begin with the spiky haired face of the series that showed us Tetsuya Nomura's artful vision for the first time.

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