An Introduction to Square-Enix

April 26th, 2006
With the advent of 3D graphics, Square’s goal for the next installment in the series was to improve the visuals, while making the game bigger and longer. Up to this point, every Final Fantasy game was released on a Nintendo system, and that would have been the case then if Nintendo opted for a different storage format for the Nintendo 64.

Although Nintendo’s first console for the 3D era was technically superior to the PlayStation, Square chose to develop for Sony’s console after it learned that Nintendo would continue using cartridge-based storage instead of the new CD-ROM format that was driving the multimedia era. The PlayStation’s optical disc format enabled Final Fantasy developers to hold lengthy full-motion video sequences that couldn’t fit onto a first-generation N64 cartridge.

This move would have a dramatic impact in the industry, with Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s president at the time, swearing that no Final Fantasy game would ever appear again on a Nintendo console. Although Nintendo would eventually review its attitude, the truth is that the absence of Final Fantasy games during this period hurt Nintendo, while, at the same time, helping to popularize the PlayStation, Sony’s first foray into videogames. Many believe that Final Fantasy is one of the reasons the PlayStation became the new market leader.

As mentioned previously, Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series to utilize 3D graphics, featuring a combination of real-time 3D characters and pre-rendered backgrounds. This was also the first Final Fantasy game to be ported to Windows PCs (published worldwide by Eidos), and the first game to appear by the same title in all territories.

The game featured a new battle system that limited participation in battles to a maximum of three characters. Final Fantasy VII also introduced the Limit Break Command, which forced the life gauge to be full in order to perform a character’s unique attack. The use of Materia, magic orbs made of Macko energy (the world’s premier form of energy), was introduced. These were packed with ancient skills and knowledge that could be combined in various ways to produce different attacks.

The advance in technology over the 16-bit era enabled the developers to create more complex settings, and, as a consequence, Final Fantasy VII featured technology previously not seen in the series, including space travel, robots, energy weapons, and automobiles. Ultimately, the game had a sci-fi feel rather than a fantasy theme.

In 1999, Square released the eighth installment in the series and the second FF game for the PlayStation. Although the game proved to be commercially successful, with eight million units sold worldwide (earning more than $50 million in sales and becoming the fasting-selling FF game to date), fans of the series were disappointed with this game. They seemed especially upset with the battle system, which required players to draw magic from its enemies instead of earning or purchasing it as they did in previous games.

Only a year later, Square released Final Fantasy IX, the last FF game for the PlayStation. Even if the game was better than its two PlayStation predecessors, going back to the series’ roots, the game didn’t sell as well as the seventh and eighth installments—mostly because new gamers found the fantasy theme less compelling than the sci-fi feel of the previous two games. Older gamers who played the NES titles loved this ninth installment, which returned to the world of fantasy and featured a cartoonish look. However, with the release of the PlayStation 2, casual gamers decided to save their money and wait for a new Final Fantasy game. They got their wish only a year after the release of Final Fantasy IX.

In 2000, the first Final Fantasy game for the PlayStation 2 arrived. The tenth title in the Final Fantasy series was the first to feature fully 3D graphics, dropping the use of pre-rendered backgrounds as seen in PSO games. This game was also the first in the series to include voice acting, a facial-animation system and a brand new mini-game called Blitzball. Final Fantasy X would also get a direct sequel in 2003 with FF X-2. Final Fantasy X featured an original Battle System designed by Toshiro Tsuchida, who replaced the Active Time Battle system first introduced in FFIV, with a more strategic battle system called Conditional Turn-Based Battle System that would later be used in Final Fantasy Tactics.

Instead of operating in rounds, this new battle system placed your characters and enemies in line to attack, hence the “conditional turn-based” tag. The “battle bar” found in the top-right corner of the screen was a graphic timeline that informed you which characters would be attacking next. You could strategize, switch party members to perform more efficient attacks, and take advantage of the Overdrive meter to unleash your characters’ special attacks.

FFX also introduced an innovative leveling system known as Sphere Grid system, which used a grid of interconnected nodes branching out from a central one as a way to learn new abilities and level up. Spheres were scattered through out the world and could also be obtained after defeating enemies, finding treasures, or even as an event prize. Sphere levels are obtained once a level is finishing, by gaining a certain amount of Ability Points.
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