This year sees a buffet of Final Fantasy goodness coming the way of hardcore series stalwarts and absolute beginners alike. We've already had the HD port of Final Fantasy Type-0 for current-gen consoles, the PSP original translating decently to home systems. With it comes access to a demo of the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, "Episode Duscae". In the summer, the first expansion for FF's MMORPG title, XIV, is released – British readers will be able to get their hands on Heavensward from the 23rd of June. And that's not all, as news has emerged that a smartphone port of FFXI, a co-development between franchise overlords Square Enix and mobile specialists NEXON, will be available in 2016.
Because there's so much happening, here's a run down of Final Fantasy's greatest moments. Now, the most important thing to remember is that it's not a numbered list. The order doesn't denote the importance of each individual moment against the rest of them, because I'm not that much of a glutton for punishment. Final Fantasy is such a huge, well-loved series, and most of its entries have something to adore about them, so rather than argue over which ones should have been higher on the list, this way we can all concentrate on arguing over which ones I've neglected to feature in the list at all instead. You're welcome!
Red XIII learns the truth about his father – Final Fantasy VII
I took a shine to weird fiery-wolf-lion-thing Red XIII the moment he was introduced in Final Fantasy VII, as a lab experiment that stringy-haired scientist Hojo was going to force human flower-girl Aerith to copulate with in order to provide new specimens to incarcerate and torture. You'd think, as a scientist, he'd have figured out that this probably wasn't biologically viable.
Anyway, it transpired that Red XIII, despite being endangered and (technically) a teenager, wasn't interested in sex with some random street vendor, so he broke free of his cage, launched himself at Hojo's jugular and very politely asked Cloud and company for assistance in perfect English. Red, or Nanaki, then says he'll accompany your party as far as his home, Cosmo Canyon, which incidentally is also where you'll hear the best music in the entire Final Fantasy series. And that's saying something.
Once you take him back there, his adopted grandfather Bugenhagen – a strange old dude that floats around on a levitating green orb – discovers Nanaki's resentment of his father Seto, who he believes was a coward that ran out on his mother and his entire community during their war against the vengeful Gi tribe. In response, Bugenhagen takes Nanaki and the party through the haunted Gi Cave, where their angry spirits roam. Upon making it to the other side, Nanaki learns the true fate of his father: he rushed to defend his home and family on his own, and in doing so was pierced by several of the Gi's poisoned arrows. But he fought on, keeping Cosmo Canyon safe from harm and preventing his enemies from taking even one step into the village. Eventually he succumbed to the poison and was turned to stone, never able to return home, but still he kept guard over the cave's entrance.
Upon learning this, Nanaki is filled with grief and pride over his father's sacrifice, promises to save the planet in his name and howls to the moon in his honour, whereupon little crystal tears start falling from the petrified Seto's eyes. I'm tearing up now thinking about it, and this is why when it's good, the Final Fantasy series is really good – it can make you, a grown adult with things like mortgages and tax returns to worry about, care enough to leak water from your own eyes because a silly wolf-lion thing is sad and proud of his dad.
Vivi discovers his origins – Final Fantasy IX
Timid, gullible Black Mage Master Vivi (illustrated, top) is a sweetheart. He's filled with wonder for things like skipping ropes, lacks the confidence of his friends and party members and, really, is just looking for a place to call home. He even has an adorable little waddling walk animation, so you just know you're supposed to fall completely and inexorably in love with him.
When Vivi, Zidane, Garnet and the rest of IX's motley crew arrive in the village of Dali and Vivi discovers an underground black mage production plant, it triggers a sort of existential crisis within him. Finding out one's true origins is a common theme throughout Final Fantasy, but never is it so affecting as with Vivi, who not only discovers that his lifespan may be severely limited, but also that he and his kind were created as mindless weapons of war and destruction. Eventually he finds peace and enough confidence within himself to become a proficient mage and an asset to the party – thanks to the love and support of his friends.
The epilogue of the game, voiced by Vivi himself, reveals that he had sons and thanks his friends for all their adventures together, but it all but confirms that Vivi himself died due to the limited lifespan imposed upon him by Kuja. Instead of fear and sadness though, Vivi is just happy for the good times he was able to have. "Farewell," he says, "My memories will be part of the sky." Oh, god.
Yuna and Tidus observe, "The wind... it's nice." – Final Fantasy X
I first played Final Fantasy X when I was 14, an awkward, bony little mess of hormones yet to discover who I was or what I liked. So, the burgeoning love story between Tidus and Yuna really spoke to me. They weren't dashing or cool; they were young, painfully inexperienced and as baffled by the world around them as they were by each other. They feel a connection, they want to get closer, but they have no idea how to act on it. In my teenage mind, one scene very early in the game, where the two are just getting to know each other, is perfect.
They stand together, alone, on a boat as it sails towards Kilika. Unsure of what to say but wanting to say something, Yuna blurts out one of the worst icebreakers in memory: "The wind... it's nice." Tidus probably should have shut the whole thing down at that point, but he humours her, and within moments they're at ease, laughing and giggling. It was cute and camp and awkward and it gave a weirdo like me a glimmer of hope that it was okay to be like that, even around people that you sort of fancied.
Many people hate it, but I like the infamous "laughing scene" later on in the game for precisely the same reason. Watching them share small, silly moments like that made the big ones even more meaningful. It kind of sucks that, canonically, they're no longer together (he dies a couple more times and Yuna basically realises that she's way too good for him), but what teenage relationship ever lasts? Aside from those that result in pregnancy, obviously.
Tifa jumping off Junon's cannon – Final Fantasy VII
Tifa is my favourite Final Fantasy character, hands down. I'm not exactly sure why any more, if I'm honest, but she was different to other female characters I'd encountered at that time. She didn't wear pink, she fought with her fists rather than a stupid staff, she ran a bar all by herself, and she didn't let her formidable physique (read: chest) define her as a character. I rarely left her out of my party in my multiple playthroughs of Final Fantasy VII and, while it never happened, if I'd ever gotten anyone else for Cloud's Gold Saucer date, I'd have turned the console off and started again from the beginning.
She was a gentle soul and a bit of a romantic, but man could she slap a bitch down if she needed to. After Weapon is summoned, President Rufus Shinra sentences Tifa and Barret to a public execution to calm people's fears over the impending meteor. Tifa is placed in a gas chamber, but wriggles free from the chair just as Sapphire Weapon arrives to attack the city and blows a hole in the room right before Junon's cannon blasts its head clean off. Tifa climbs out on top of the cannon but is stopped by the Head of Weapons Development at Shinra, Scarlet.
The two engage in an epic catfight, before Scarlet pussies out and calls for help from her guards. Hearing a voice that tells her to run, Tifa turns and races to the end of the cannon, where Cid's airship the Highwind heroically rises to greet her. It's an exciting moment, and marks a changing point in the overall narrative as Tifa takes on the role of the party leader until Cloud is found. That's my girl.
Galuf's Final Stand – Final Fantasy V
Bet you're sitting there wondering when Aerith's death is going to show up on this list. I'll save you some time – it isn't. (Except, it just sort of did.) That's not to say that whole incident in the Forgotten Capital wasn't sad and shocking. It left a lasting impression on thousands of Final Fantasy fans; Cloud's "Aerith will no longer talk, no longer laugh, cry or get angry" speech still gets me every time. But for my money, Galuf's death in Final Fantasy V is much more potent.
When he originally joins your party, the elderly Galuf suffers from amnesia and is, well, a bit strange. As his memories gradually return, however, the party discovers that Galuf is actually a king from another world, and one of the original four Warriors of Dawn who sealed V's Big Bad Exdeath away many years before the events of the main story.
Eventually, Exdeath catches up to the party in the Forest of Moore, where he binds them using powerful magical crystals. Galuf is forced to watch as his granddaughter Krile is engulfed in a ring of fire, but being the badass that he is, he alone breaks free and throws her clear of danger. He then charges at Exdeath and takes him on one-on-one in a glorious, heart-breaking last stand. His health is completely drained after one or two attacks, but somehow Galuf will keep on fighting even after his HP falls to zero. Exdeath, unable to beat him, runs away, and the party, now freed, crowds around Galuf in an attempt to save him. They cast Curaga and Raise, and even use a Phoenix Down and an Elixir on him (no-one bothered to try all that for poor Aerith) but it's too late, and he flickers away and dies in his granddaughter's arms.
He borrows strength from the Guardian Tree to speak with her from beyond the grave, however, and tells her not to cry, to be strong and fight, because she's not alone – he'll be in her heart, always. Then she flies off – on a fucking dragon – to save the world in his name. Don't tell me that's not some inspirational stuff right there.
Alexander and Bahamut fight – Final Fantasy IX
Eidolons, Espers, GFs, Aeons, Avatars, Totemas – summoned creatures have been a staple of Final Fantasy for pretty much forever, and as such they've been featured in quite a few memorable moments across the series. Though the wedding scene in Final Fantasy X ranks highly (Valefor FTW), the epic battle between good and evil that is Alexander against Bahamut in IX just about tops it.
Queen Brahne and Kuja both use eidolons to further their own evil ends, with Kuja using Bahamut to kill Brahne and then afterwards attempting to kill her daughter Garnet, herself a summoner, with the dragon as well. Garnet is having none of this, however, and together with fellow summoner Eiko she calls forth Alexander – basically a fortress with angel wings – who obliterates Bahamut with a beam of holy light before being destroyed by Garland. Sadly, because of this, Alexander is never summonable by your party – but the confrontation is still quite the light show, and is one of the few times in the series you really get a true sense of the scale and majesty of these often wondrous beings.
Vanille and Fang are crystallised – Final Fantasy XIII
It has its fans, and it has some interesting ideas, but generally speaking I really didn't get on with Final Fantasy XIII. It wasn't awful, and I wanted to like it – on paper, a female version of Cloud sounded like a character I'd always pushed for. But the characters and the world and the overall story arc just felt flat. I persevered, mostly because XII had been something of a disappointment to me too and, damn it, it was Final Fantasy – but struggled to give any kind of a shit about its two sequels. Noel Kreiss? Fuck off.
However XIII's ending, where Vanille (one of the game's most annoying characters) and Fang (one of its most interesting) join hands, summon Ragnarok and willingly sacrifice themselves, turning into crystal to save Gran Pulse, is one of the series' most memorable events. It's even more poignant because the two, who are from the distant past and only recently awoke from crystal stasis, are implied throughout the game (and considered by many fans) to be in a romantic relationship.
I like to think that's the case, as it makes their fate all the more bittersweet: they're happy to give up their lives and save the world, so long as they're together, holding hands. Also, even if only ever hinted at, a gay female relationship is kind of a big deal for Final Fantasy. Or any big gaming franchise, for that matter.
Part 2 of this feature is coming soon, with some Squall, a dash of Kefka, and just a sprinkling of Cyan.