Final Fantasy is a series that is in the forefront of most people's minds again, thanks to the recent release of FFXV.
After the onslaught of advertising, the delays, the "development hell" that this game has been through, the dust has finally begun to settle on what is, ultimately, an evolution of the series - and a pretty decent game this time around. As such, I feel the time is ripe to think back on the series as a whole, to see how we got here!
The original Final Fantasy game famously began as a last ditch effort to save an unsuccessful company - and the results of its success can be seen today. However, the Final Fantasy games of yore don't even remotely resemble the current state of the series - neither narratively nor interactively.
In particular, the first five games in the series focused more on a high fantasy setting. They would, more often than not, involve mystical crystals that provided life to the world, and a party of heroes who were tasked with restoring their light. Usually the antagonists were also rather simple - trying to take over the world via the crystals' power, or to destroy it entirely. This setting is also revisited in Final Fantasy IX - the last of the series' main games with a purely fantastical setting.
The science- fiction angle prevalent in the newer games made its first major appearance in Final Fantasy VI (my personal favourite of the series), where a major narrative conceit was the concept that magic was gone from the world, and technology now reigned supreme - complete with "Magitek" which effectively replicated the effects of actual magic. The resurgence of magic plays a huge role in FFVI's plot.
Other games in the series tend to have worlds where magic and technology coexist, but don't necessarily explore these in depth. It appears as a kind of sub-theme in FFX, with a race of outcasts - the Al-Bhed being outcasts precisely because they use technology that is forbidden by the world's religion.
A different plot beat which is brought up in quite a few of the games is the idea of a power-hungry empire that must be fought against. However, more often than not, defeating the empire is not the endgame - a larger threat usually surfaces.
The reason I speak about these themes is that they all appear heavily in FFXV's plot - but only when you are dealing with the world-ending sections of it. The Kingdom of Lucis (Noctis' home) relies mostly on magic to protect itself. Meanwhile, the Empire is heavily reliant on technology, and experimentation.
Final Fantasy XV's world ending plot is very reminiscent of prior installments in the series, albeit with a fresh coat of paint. Where FFXV dares to differ massively is in the dynamic of the heroes of the story.
More often than not, the main party is gathered during the events of the narrative, and they get to know each other through journeying towards a common goal. Only in the very first three games (and in some spinoffs) were the party together for close to the entirety of the game.
Final Fantasy XV takes this conceit and explores it. It quickly becomes apparent that the 4 guys you have running around are close friends, and have been for quite some time. While they aren't always getting along perfectly among their travels, their relationships feel real. I believe that this is largely due to their small, silly conversations, but also the relatively mundane tasks they undertake in the earlier portions of their journey.
From pushing their car when its broken down (and arguing while doing so about whose turn it is to steer), getting it repaired, camping out and sorting out what to eat for dinner, right down to some of the side quests you undertake ("could you pick me up some beans?"), their time together completing all these silly tasks feels right at home. In this game, more than any other, I felt that the party meshed well, and wanted only good thing for all of them.
Hopefully, Square Enix can springboard from this return to form of the Final Fantasy series, and move on to even bigger and better things. In my opinion, after the missteps that were Final Fantasies 12 and 13, they've demonstrated that they're on the right track once again.