A Beginner's Guide To Final Fantasy

Trying something new takes courage of various quantities. Taking the plunge into a new cuisine or hobby always comes with a mote of nervous excitement. The same holds true for video games. We all know what we like so departing from those norms could mean wasted time and money. Fortunately, despite Final Fantasy's 25-year history, you can get started without much trouble. 

Allow me, a long-time Final Fantasy enthusiast, to help you try your hand at a legendary Japanese RPG series enjoyed (and hated) across the world. 

The History Lesson
The first Final Fantasy launched in Japan on December 18th, 1987. Developed by Square Co. (now Square-Enix), Final Fantasy represented a desperate attempt to make a hit by creator and director Hironobu Sakaguchi following several unsuccessful efforts by the company. Final Fantasy was a tremendous success and started a series that would define JRPGs for years after. 

The Final Fantasy series includes 14 main installments, two sequels (one for X and one for XIII), and numerous spin-offs. Besides the two direct sequels, none of the installments relate to each other outside of thematic motifs and the occasional inside joke. In this way, newcomers can start with virtually any installment without missing important plot points. Each game features an original story populated by an original cast. 

Why Do People Love It?
With a fan base spanning the globe, you might wonder why so many gamers dote on Final Fantasy. While the original focused on a dungeon-filled world and exciting combat, the series grew to highlight story and characterization as much as the battles that drove it forward. From a troubled dark knight to a flirtatious king, Final Fantasy populates its worlds with an eclectic assortment of heroes and villains that inspire fan renderings, cosplay, and even a few crushes.

Each installment in the series attempts something different from the last. Final Fantasy has both ups and downs, but gamers can always trust that the developers will explore new ground in an effort to redefine old systems and earn your interest for hundreds of hours. 

East vs. West
If you know western RPGs like Fallout, Mass Effect, and Elder Scrolls, you might be surprised at how different Final Fantasy feels compared to its western counterparts. Most of this comes from the obvious cultural gap between Japanese developers creating a product that reaches a non-Japanese audience. Subtleties, such as character mannerisms and dialogue, reflect actual cultural differences. A hero, for example, might gesture and emote in ways that feel unusual for a gamer outside of Japan. 

Most Final Fantasy installments use some form of a turn-based battle system in contrast to the action-oriented affairs common in modern western RPGs. This promotes strategic thinking, especially for gamers uncomfortable with fast-paced action. If you lack the ability to input button combinations with inhuman quickness, Final Fantasy enables you to enjoy an exciting battle without fast reflexes. 

What's a Chocobo?
A fictional, recurring creature in the Final Fantasy series, chocobos are large, yellow birds that -- once domesticated -- serve as mounts and a source of cuteness. See image below. 

Where to Start
Considering Final Fantasy's long history, its many installments have appeared across numerous consoles and handheld devices. Almost any modern gaming device supports at least one Final Fantasy game, so you needn't run out to buy an original Nintendo Entertainment System to play the classics. 

For those interested in seeing where it all begin -- more a novelty than a necessity -- a remake of the original Final Fantasy isavailable for iOS devices, as well as the PSP. Fantasy Fantasy Origins, a collection containing updated versions of Final Fantasy I and II, just launched on the PlayStation Network. 

Final Fantasy VI will better serve you if you want to see the series' greatest "old-school" moments. This installment also appears on numerous devices, including the PlayStation Network, the Game Boy Advance, and the Wii Virtual Console. 

If 16-bit sprites don't suit you and you want something more modern, look no further than one of the most popular installments:Final Fantasy VII. Also available on the PlayStation Network, this one also made it to PC -- though finding an actual copy will take time and patience. 

The most recent Final Fantasy, XIII, made its way to the PS3 and 360 in 2010. Final Fantasy XIII is the easiest to find and most up-to-date. It also has a reputation for extreme linearity. If you want to sample the franchise's knack for exploration, look elsewhere. But for a beautiful game with a stellar combat system, give Final Fantasy XIII a spin. 

Select the Final Fantasy that sounds right to you and give it a shot. I hope you enjoy it. If not, you can always try another one, or go back to your gaming staple of choice. But don't give up before riding a chocobo. Everyone needs to ride a chocobo.