With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition (NA) / Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System (PAL), we're going to (eventually) provide short profiles of all 30 games included on the system. This time around we look at Final Fantasy.
The Mini NES is packed full of classic games and franchises that have stood the test of time. Final Fantasy stands tall among them - after all, one of the biggest releases in this 2016 Holiday period is Final Fantasy XV, and on top of that there have been lots of spin-offs. As a franchise it was a banker for Square and then Square Enix, and remains a hugely significant IP to this day.
There's some interesting history to this game. First of all, what we have on the Mini NES is the actual first game - that's an important distinction, as it never came to Europe in the NES era. A 1987 release in Japan, it came to North America in 1990 but skipped PAL territories. The numbering of these games was increasingly confusing as sequels rolled around, with inconsistency in releases between regions. For example, Final Fantasy III on SNES in North America was actually Final Fantasy VI in Japan, before the sensible decision was made to take a hit on PlayStation title Final Fantasy VII and use the same numbering globally.
In any case, back to Final Fantasy - the NES title did come to Europe in its original guise on the Wii Virtual Console, so it hasn't entirely skipped the territory. It's an RPG held up by many (not without justification) as a definitive forebear to the genre. Dragon Quest is another and perhaps the original, as its success helped get FF greenlit within the walls of Square - its presence on the Mini NES is very welcome for that reason alone.
To go further into the history of the game, three key stories help to explain its genesis and name. For one thing, it was nearly called Fighting Fantasy, but a series of role-playing game books already had that name in Japan. The 'Final' in the name was also tied to two other stories, both given credence in multiple interviews. Creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, after struggles in his work, had begun to lose heart and was planning to go back to finish his University / College education. Another aspect that made the 'Final' relevant was that Square was reportedly in financial difficulty, needing a hit release to chase off bankruptcy.
The eventual fantastical tale of 'Light Warriors' on a quest to save the world from darkness captured imaginations, especially in Japan. The gameplay picked up much of the pioneering work done by Dragon Quest in order to combine gameplay and adventure effectively - in a Famitsu interview from 2007 (via Develop Online) Sakaguchi-san explained that this was a challenge, however. Final Fantasy needed to make its name, while facing indifference at the time from Japanese gaming media that was still unsold on the young genre.
There were four games that were following on from Dragon Quest. Final Fantasy was one of those challengers.
I took an in-development ROM to the editor of 'Family Computer Magazine', but was turned away. They told me they didn't deal with games like that. Only Famitsu dealt with Final Fantasy in any grand way, for which I'm still very thankful.
Much about the game was a gamble, as was explained further in that interview.
Initially, only 200,000 copies of the game were going to be shipped. At that time, manufacturing the ROM took two to three months, so your initial shipment equalled the number of copies that you could potentially sell.
So I argued within the company, and pleaded: 'If we only make this many, there's no chance of a sequel – please make it 400,000'. But the costs were high, so as a company all they could think was 'that's a lot of money!' despite having this great game. So the reason it became such a hit was thanks to Square's management taking a chance – for which I'm really grateful.
In the end the risk was worthwhile, with the franchise going from strength to strength. It's gone in a lot of different directions, with many of the main entries skipping Nintendo hardware since the 'bit' days. The original is a key part of gaming history, however, so it's only right that Nintendo's call back to its iconic past with the Mini NES includes one of the games that helped to define the era.