In the late 1980s, game development studio and publisher Square Enix decided to take a gamble on a Japanese roleplaying game, the developers decided to call that JRPG ‘Final Fantasy’.
Over three decades after its release, Final Fantasy is ever-enduring. The series’ popularity has not slowed, despite it currently being on its 15th entry into the mainline series. There have also been countless spinoffs - tactics games, adventure games, and even fighting games. Hell, Final Fantasy characters even mix with Disney characters in Square Enix RPG series Kingdom Hearts. There are even films: there’s Spirits Within, which has nothing to do with any of the games; there’s Advent Children, which follows on from the story of Final Fantasy 7’ and there are even anime movies to get stuck into.
For anyone unfamiliar with the series, it must seem like a brick wall - impenetrable. Fortunately, that is not the case. You see, one of the reasons Final Fantasy has endured all this time is because it is a series that undergoes constant reinvention. Every mainline entry follows a completely different set of characters, tells a different story, and tells it in a different world. There is no need to have 30 years of series knowledge floating around your head to understand each - they are self-contained.
Even the mechanics shift between games. The first 11 Final Fantasy games featured the traditional turn-based battle system of a JRPG. You are pulled into random battles, then you tactically dispatch your enemies by choosing between a range of commands, firing out spells, attacking, defending, and popping items when it suits. The latest Final Fantasy, FF15, retains all of that stuff but it switches the action to a real-time system - you physically move the character around the battlefield, you time your dodges, you attack, and you fire out spells as the action continues to move on.
Still, there are some identifying characteristics of a Final Fantasy game beyond anime hair and fireballs. Summons always appear in Final Fantasy titles, allowing you to call upon powerful magical creatures to aid you in battle. Likewise, every world you visit is also home to giant, rideable chickens called Chocobo, as well as floating, cutesy helpers known as Moogles. There is also almost always a character called Cid, who is some kind of mechanic - in Final Fantasy 15, Cid is gender-swapped for Cidney, and she fixes up your car. The creatures you battle are also recurring, from the destructive, sentient bombs to a spiny living cacti known as Cactuar.
In other words, the only thing you will miss by not playing all of the previous games is the occasional easter egg or reference. That is why Final Fantasy still survives to this day, and it’s this freeform experimentation with the series that makes it so subjective. Ask anyone which their favourite Final Fantasy is and you will get wildly different answers. The thing is, it is usually the first one they played, so don’t let unfamiliarity put you off playing Final Fantasy 15 when it arrives on PC. It could end up being your favourite one.