See, readers, Final Fantasy is like a Jell-O Pudding Pop. I am Daniel “Deimosion” Flink, and welcome to another installment of the Final Fantasy Retrospective. Two weeks ago, I explored the NES roots of Final Fantasy, this week I return to explore the second major period of the series. The SNES era of Final Fantasy is widely regarded as a golden age for the series, with two of the series’ most acclaimed titles emerging. By the end of the SNES era, the Final Fantasy series had solidified its presence as a staple franchise among JRPGS.
Released in 1991, Final Fantasy IV was the first in the series to appear on the SNES. It was rather notably the first Final Fantasy with a truly unique and defined class of characters; while Final Fantasy II featured a large crew, few of them had more than a very basic personality. Final Fantasy IV was something of a departure from the customization of previous series entries. While the challenge in the NES Final Fantasy games came largely from how the player had organized the party, Final Fantasy IV was more about how the player used what the game had given to overcome the game’s various enemies. As a result, Final Fantasy IV had very little customization; the party’s class makeup was determined entirely by story progression and characters came and went as the plot demanded. Final Fantasy IV was also notable for being the first Final Fantasy with a real, solid plot. Final Fantasy II had a rudimentary plot, but Final Fantasy IV was the first to have a plot that felt unique or interesting. The final new element of note was Final Fantasy IV‘s introduction of what has come to be known as the “Active Time Battle” system of combat. Failure to quickly input commands in battle would soon get the player’s party annihilated, and characters took turns in an order that was not always predictable and sequential.
Final Fantasy IV infamously saw release as Final Fantasy II in North America, forever dooming gamers to eternal confusion about the early Final Fantasy games. The initial American release was heavily watered-down, and far easier than the original. In fact, it inspired an “Easy Type” release in Japan for younger or less capable gamers. Final Fantasy IV was ported to the Sony PlayStation as Final Fantasy Chronicles, which also included a port of Chrono Trigger. Other ports include a release for the Game Boy Advance and Wii Virtual Console. A 3D Nintendo DS remake was released in 2007, followed by a PSP remake in 2011. The PSP version includes the game’s sequel, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, and a brief “Interlude” separating the two. Final Fantasy IV is, for better or worse, an important and easily accessible piece of JRPG history.
Sadly, Final Fantasy V was another game that did not see North American release for some time. Though the Super Famicom release hit Japan in 1992, English-speaking gamers had to wait until the 1999 PlayStation port in the form of Final Fantasy Anthology, which also included a port of Final Fantasy VI. As with Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V received a Game Boy Advance port, and in Japan, has been ported both to PSN and to the Wii’s Virtual Console. Final Fantasy V saw several major advancements to the series’ staple job system. Where Final Fantasy III restricted a character’s abilities strictly to those of the current job, Final Fantasy V allowed characters to equip one ability from another job, so long as the character had learned it. This allowed for a wide variety of strategies, as characters could suddenly become far more versatile. Notably, Final Fantasy V was also the first in the series to allow the player to see when characters’ turns were coming in an ATB system; future versions of Final Fantasy IV would add this sorely-needed feature.
Final Fantasy V was a departure from the relatively serious tone of Final Fantasy IV, with a light-hearted fantasy setting and a much more joyous, adventurous feeling to its plot. Final Fantasy V is often regarded as “The Underrated Final Fantasy due to its lack of a large fanbase, its unfortunate sandwiching between two of the series’ titans, and its lack of an early North American release. Final Fantasy V was one of the first games to receive a fan translation, and holds a special place in many a gamer’s heart for its light-hearted atmosphere and its well-received battle system.
Finishing off the SNES era of the Final Fantasy is the legendary Final Fantasy VI. Released in 1994, Final Fantasy VI, or Final Fantasy III as many North American gamers remember it, is considered by many to be the greatest in the series. Final Fantasy VI was released alongside Final Fantasy V on the PlayStation as Final Fantasy Anthology, and as a standalone Game Boy Advance Cart. Final Fantasy VI is also available on Virtual Console and on non-North American PlayStation Network. The last game in the series to appear on the SNES, Final Fantasy VI is still remembered among gamers today for its story and its setting.
Final Fantasy VI struck an interesting balance between assigned job roles and character customization. By using Espers to teach magic to characters, the player can decide, to some extent, which role each character fit in. Each character also had unique stats and abilities, so the player’s ability to customize was great but not absolute. Final Fantasy VI is also famous for having the maniacal Kefka as a villain; Kefka has frequently been cited as one of the greatest video game villains of all time, and for good reason. Final Fantasy VI is the first game in the series that truly seeks an emotional response from the player, and many of the scenes from the second half of the game are extremely emotional. Final Fantasy VI is widely considered the greatest SNES game of all time; whether or not it is the best Final Fantasy will likely always be a heated point of debate among fans.
Widely regarded as the series’ first golden age, The SNES era of Final Fantasy brought the series into the mainstream eye, with three exceptional games released during this time. Final Fantasy pushed the limits of the SNES’s sound capabilities, and the basic gameplay changes introduced in the SNES days would carry on into the next era of Final Fantasy. It was not until the PlayStation era, though, that Final Fantasy ultimately became the massive gaming titan we know it as today.