"The 10 Most Influential Retro Games" is a feature series that will run daily for the next two weeks, between 12/3/12 to 12/14/12 on weekdays, with each day highlighting one of our ten picks in an unranked order. Follow our tagged page for Most Influential Retro Games to view the entire list.
Oh, Final Fantasy. The story of "insert your four-letter name here" and their friends absolutely changed the world of video role-playing. It took a lot of cues from the classic Dragon Warrior (which sold poorly enough in the States that Nintendo Power magazine—rest in peace—was giving copies away with new subscriptions), but addressed them in their own way, with their own style. And it ushered in a new genre in the process.
The play was complex enough but simplified for a video game console. Players created a team of four characters, choosing from six different possible classes, and those four adventurers embarked upon a mission to save the world. A player could choose their questing team, so what they chose would demonstrate just how tough they wanted to make things for themselves. All white mages? That'll be a pain in the early goings. Maybe an all-warrior sword-chucks fest? You'll do great at the start, but will have trouble against certain foes and some bosses. A well-balanced team (as any D&D player will tell you) needs balance, so the ideal set-up was a mix of refined spells and raw physical dominance.
I've always thought of the name as a joke, but it really wasn't; the big story behind the "final" in Final Fantasy comes from main planner Hironobu Sakaguchi deciding to give the whole game-making process one more chance before going back to school and finishing his degree. If the game had failed, he may have never returned to the video game industry, and who knows just where the JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) genre as a whole would be today. The best part? If it had failed, it really would've been his… Final Fantasy! HA! Get it? Ge-yeah, you get it.
Final Fantasy was one of the first "true" RPGs Square had developed up until then and ended up a precursor to the entire genre in the US. While it has made plenty of "best of" lists in its own right, it was really just the start to some of the greatest games of all time. And that's primarily because it allowed its company, Square, to find its niche in the market that they had failed to crack until then.
As it took off, everything that was started in the original Final Fantasy was evolved in each sequel, and in the 16-bit era the stories had evolved into some of the greatest experiences we've seen in interactive electronic entertainment. Without Square, after all, we would never have seen Final Fantasy III / VI, or Chrono Trigger, or Breath of Fire, or one of my personal favorites, Super Mario RPG. (Or the fan-favorite Final Fantasy VII, yeah, yeah. You didn't think I'd forget about that one, did you?)
The company has since become a major player in the world, and while they still experiment and fiddle with different game genres, it's the RPG that has kept them afloat for so long... and more specifically, the entire Final Fantasy franchise. And that original title has been ported like crazy to milk every dollar from it, gracing the original Playstation, the PSP, Wii's Virtual Console, the Wonderswan Color, the iOS, and Android later this month. If there's ever a powerhouse for re-releasing the same thing so many times, Square has mastered it (along with Nintendo).
So many companies have since made a career after the initial success of Final Fantasy, from the success of what has been dubbed the "JRPG"; exploring massive worlds, leveling up, usually some kind of spell/skill upgrade system, constant upgrades of weaponry, towns with Inns and such, menu-ed battle systems. We still see the remnants of the game today with very minor adjustments to the play, though more often through portable consoles and mobile platforms, but some major releases like the recent port of Persona 4 Golden. The locality and characters might change, the environments might look better, and the stories might be unique, but so many are still channeling the original Final Fantasy.