Square’s Final Frontier

Square's Final Frontier

As the 20th anniversary of Square’s monster RPG series approaches, we take a careful look at what is happening to the Final Fantasy legend…

It can be hard to separate fantasy and reality. There’s a great story about a development studio on the financial brink, its star director ready to call his current game his last, throwing everything they had left at a fantastical plot.

They would go out with all guns blazing, and a starkly defiant name: Square Co and Hironobu Sakaguchi’s farewell to the videogame industry would be a Final Fantasy.

But things worked out differently. The previous year, Enix’s Dragon Quest had turned the Japanese appetite for RPGs into a craving, and Final Fantasy entered this market and sold its first units on December 18, 1987. Two decades later, the Final Fantasy name has sold over 70 million units worldwide – making it the fourth largest videogame franchise in history – and is now not so much a game series as a worldwide multimedia project encompassing games, films, books, anime and limitless merchandise from action figures to soundtracks.

moscallout As this intense development continues, the series is more diverse than ever, with spinoffs of spinoffs threatening to leave even the die-hard fan reeling. /moscallout On occasion, it has overreached itself. The huge investment in the CGI film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within saw the collapse of Square Pictures when it bombed, and necessitated drastic action: a merger. But it was appropriate that, of all the possible partners, Squaresoft and the Enix Corporation combined in 2003 to form Square Enix, the company now responsible for several of the biggest roleplaying licences in videogames.

The first thing you see upon entering the company’s Tokyo headquarters, among the chairs with their cushions shaped like slimes and chocobos, is a proudly displayed and framed map of Vana’diel, the online world of Final Fantasy XI populated by half a million players. Like the series it is huge, intricate and beautiful, a marvellous sight to present to visitors – but like the series it is also slightly overblown and, on closer inspection, consists of several different sections pulled together to create an illusion of coherence.

The latest in the FF series exemplifies this, the first in the core series to be developed concurrently with its spinoff games, collectively known as the Final Fantasy XIII: Fabula Nova Crystallis project, and consisting of FFXIII plus FF Versus XIII and FF Agito XIII.

As this intense development continues, the series is more diverse than ever, with spinoffs of spinoffs threatening to leave even the die-hard fan reeling. There are currently over 15 FF titles either forthcoming or recently released, on formats ranging from PS3 to mobile phones: a number that applied to, say, Mario games, would make even Nintendo blush.

At the Square Enix Party 2007 a pamphlet detailing all titles in development was distributed: some beermat maths showed that approximately 65 per cent of the company’s upcoming games bear the Final Fantasy name. At the moment, there’s certainly the demand, but is Square Enix over-extending itself, and over-saturating its own market? And is Final Fantasy even a coherent concept for a series any more, or simply an umbrella term that is more of a trademark than an indication of content?