RetroVision – The Final Fantasy of Hironobu Sakaguchi

Final Fantasy has become one of the most iconic game series of all time, with many high points in every generation from the 8-bit onwards.  So it may come as a surprise to learn that the creation of Final Fantasy was actually a big gamble for both its creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, and Square (who had yet to merge with Enix).  One that many in the Japanese company had resisted for quite some time prior to giving the go ahead for its development.

Series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi had long wanted to create a fantasy RPG (Role Playing Game), being heavily influenced by games such as Ultima and Wizardry.  However, Square had constantly refuted his desire, citing concern that the sort of game he had planned would not guarantee high sales, and on top of that only three other members of staff had volunteered to assist in the creation of such a game.  Nevertheless, eventually Square released Dragon Quest to both critical and commercial success within their native homeland of Japan.  Dragon Quest became important to the origins of Final Fantasy due to its nature as an RPG game with elements similar to the game proposed by Sakaguchi.

Final Fantasy 1 Art
Cover Art for the Original Japanese Release

This allowed Square to eventually approve the creation of Sakaguchi’s vision, but it was not their only reason for doing this.  Whilst their view on how successful such a title could be had altered, Square also had another reason for green lighting the title, namely its supposed financial difficulties at the time.  In fact it has long been stated that this title would likely be both Square and Sakaguchi’s last roll of the dice, with Square apparently facing bankruptcy, and Sakaguchi planning one last game before potentially quitting the industry and returning to university.  As such both feared this could be their last game, and when a change of title from the original ‘Fighting Fantasy’ was required, ‘Final Fantasy’ was born, as it represented the fact that this ‘fantasy’ game could have been both Square and Sakaguchi’s ‘final’ creation.

Additionally, whilst some have disputed this as a long held rumour romanticising the creation of this legendary series, series composer Nobuo Uematsu gave credence to this story in a 2009 interview with wired.  When questioned about whether the game was titled ‘Final Fantasy’ because of both Square and Sakaguchi’s situation at the time, he stated that:

It’s true that Sakaguchi was going to quit, but the bigger reason, the real reason, was that Square was going to go bankrupt and the designers believed that it would be the company’s swan song.

Sakaguchi
Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi standing beside a shelf full of his creations.

In a 2015 interview with leading Japanese video game magazine Famitsu, Sakaguchi also went on to discuss further reasons for the change of name from the original Fighting Fantasy.  During the creation of the game, the development team wanted a game that could be abbreviated to simply ‘FF’, as this would sound good in Japanese.  However, the original name of ‘Fighting Fantasy’ would have caused copyright issues due to the role-playing book of the same name.  Thus a change of title was needed, giving birth to Final Fantasy, as it was decided that this would be appropriate given the situation.

Nevertheless, in the end Square gave the game all the backing it could, and Sakaguchi was given a team of Square’s core staff members that were referred to internally as the “A-Team”.   As we all know, this resulted in the creation of the now iconic game that spawned the genre defining franchise that is loved around the world.  Following its domestic release in December 1987, Final Fantasy went on to become one of the most successful and critically acclaimed games of the 8-bit era.  It has sold well over 2 million copies, once all re-releases on consoles such as the PSP and the PlayStation Network are taken into account, and is regularly featured as an essential title for any NES / Famicom gamer.  Ultimately, this success meant it was far from Sakaguchi or Square’s final input on the industry, and it certainly wasn’t the last we’d all hear from Final Fantasy.

Simon Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.