Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss the history of noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.
This week will be the second-ever instance of bumping a series’ spinoff section into its own article (after Pokemon), because there are a genuinely staggering number of Final Fantasy spinoffs. Many of these have become their own sub-series over time.
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Between 1987 and 2016, Square and Square Enix released fifteen numbered entries in the Final Fantasy series. The franchise has only grown in popularity across its first three decades. To ensure a steady stream of new titles and appeal to players who might not otherwise enjoy the characteristic Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) tropes of the core series, Square and Square Enix have also released dozens of spinoffs.
These are characterized by some connection to the broader Final Fantasy series, though the specifics differ greatly. Some are standard JRPGs that, for one reason or another, were not intended to represent the main series’ next major step forward. Many feature departures from JRPG gameplay, whether small (e.g. tactical RPGs or Mystery Dungeon titles) or large (e.g. rhythm or fighting games).
This week we will be exploring this vast library of spinoffs. I have endeavored to include as many games as possible, grouped into category by genre, key character(s), or some other unifying principle. To attempt a comprehensive description of every Final Fantasy spinoff would be a fool’s errand, so some will inevitably be referred to only in passing or will be entirely absent. I apologize if your favorite spinoff goes unrepresented.
Note that cameo appearances by Final Fantasy characters in other games – like Ehrgeiz or Kingdom Hearts – are not included in this article. Similarly, I have opted to exclude games published erroneously under the Final Fantasy name outside of Japan; Final Fantasy Adventure is missing, as it was actually the first chapter in Square’s Mana series, while Final Fantasy Legend is absent for the same reason – this sub-series was distinct enough to become its own distinct franchise called SaGa. Finally, most releases native to mobile platforms will be absent simply because there are so many and I have so little time!
Though Square had published the aforementioned Final Fantasy Legend sub-series and Final Fantasy Adventure on the Game Boy in North America between 1989 and 1993, Mystic Quest would be the first genuine spinoff developed under the Final Fantasy intellectual property. Unlike all earlier games in the Final Fantasy series, this title was developed exclusively for North American audiences. Its 1992 release on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was largely in response to concerns that North American players found JRPG mechanics overly complex. Surprisingly, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was the first series entry to appear in Europe.
Though the game bears certain trappings of the earliest core Final Fantasy entries – an overhead perspective in exploration sequences, turn-based combat, a high fantasy setting – it lacks many of the complexities introduced after the series’ debut. Its plot is rudimentary and job skills are absent. Players are not surprised by random encounters, but may instead opt to begin combat sequences by engaging unmoving enemy sprites during exploration. A world map is present, but the player is locked to a path between preset location nodes. The game’s most interesting addition to the series’ gameplay mechanics are action-adventure abilities, like a grappling hook, available for use during dungeon exploration.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was poorly received at the time of its release due to its sheer simplicity. The game’s function as an introduction to JRPGs ensures that long-time fans have little to enjoy while potential new fans experience a watered-down imitation of the classic series with none of the unique details that made Final Fantasy a beloved franchise. Its sole redeeming feature is an excellent soundtrack composed by by Ryuji Sasai and Yasuhiro Kawakami.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest would eventually inspire a successor on the Nintendo DS. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light was released in Japan on October 29, 2009 and in other territories one year later. The development team at Matrix Software – the studio responsible for DS remakes of Final Fantasy III (2006) and Final Fantasy IV (2007) – looked to the franchise’s mechanically simplest iterations when developing a new game intended for JRPG fans who found modern Final Fantasy titles too complex.
Gameplay is more similar to Final Fantasy III than any other core series entry, as players can change their four playable characters’ skills by altering their headgear; each crown or helmet is associated with a particular job class. Players explore towns and dungeons, taking part in random encounters at irregular intervals. Combat is turn-based and eschews magic points in favor of a simpler “boost” system.
Much of The 4 Heroes of Light‘s appeal is in its distinctive presentation. Characters were designed by Final Fantasy XII‘s Akihiko Yoshida, and the game’s broader visual palette is intended to emulate an interactive storybook. The team responsible for the game would go on to further develop this style in Bravely Default (2013), a spiritual successor originally intended to be a direct sequel to The 4 Heroes of Light.
Final Fantasy Type-0 was in development for mobile devices around the same time as Matrix Software was working on The 4 Heroes of Light. This JRPG/tactical RPG hybrid had originally been previewed as Final Fantasy Agito XIII at E3 2006 before having its name updated and hardware platform changed from mobile devices to the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Internal issues seemed to plague the development of Type-0, as it failed to be localized outside of Japan following its original 2011 PSP release. North American fans would not have the opportunity to play it until an HD remaster was published on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2015.
Unlike Mystic Quest and The 4 Heroes of Light, Type-0 places a heavy emphasis on narrative. The main character, Ace, is a student at Vermillion Peristylium when a neighboring military power invades the surrounding country. Ace and his fellow students mobilize to repel the invaders but eventually become caught up in a broader mission to save the world from apocalypse. The key theme, as established by director Hajime Tabata, is exploring the perspective of inexperienced young people caught in the middle of a conflict.
Gameplay is rather unique for the Final Fantasy series, though certain elements are similar to Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2007); unsurprisingly, Tabata directed this earlier release. Players strike out on missions from a central base at Vermillion Peristylium. Combat is real-time and relies on button combos. Visuals are as flashy as any core series entry, though the HD version suffers from its origins as a PSP game. Final Fantasy Type-0 would be well-received in its original and HD versions.
The next JRPG spinoff would be World of Final Fantasy (2016), which had been developed by Game and Watch Gallery (1997-2002) studio Tose in collaboration with Square Enix as a celebration of the series’ thirty year history. According to director Hiroki Chiba, popular mechanics and characters were drawn from throughout the franchise’s past and harmonized with a distinct chibi art style created by Yasuhisa Izumisawa. Along with humorous dialogue, the game’s cartoonish visual design was intended to attract younger players who might have been alienated by Final Fantasy’s increasingly realistic appearance in core titles.
Players take on the role of two siblings, Reynn and Lann, as they attempt to recover their lost memories by exploring the fantasy world of Grimoire. Battles are governed by the Active Time Battle (ATB) system for the first time since Final Fantasy IX (2000). The most unique game mechanic is the ability to capture monsters in a manner similar to Game Freak’s Pokemon series, then stack them above or below Reynn and Lann to create two towers in battle. The height of the tower and abilities of the monsters contained therein determine each tower’s attack strength.
Popular characters from the core Final Fantasy series make cameo appearances in combat and throughout the narrative. Localization was particularly challenging, as Tose wished to remain faithful to guest characters’ presentation in their original games; staff members from the localization process of the core titles were invited to offer their guidance, ensuring a reverent spinoff but adding months of development time. The resulting game was published on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in 2016 and Windows PCs in 2017. An enhanced edition called World of Final Fantasy Maxima, which improved performance and allowed players to have Reynn and Lann appear as protagonists from core Final Fantasy games, was then released on Nintendo Switch and Xbox One in 2018.
Hironobu Sakaguchi had been interested in a strategy-oriented spinoff of his Final Fantasy series since the early 1990s, having been particularly inspired by Quest studio’s Ogre Battle (1993/1995). This first led to the development of Bahamut Lagoon (1996), a Square tactical RPG which would lose any explicit connection to Final Fantasy during its development process and would never be officially published outside of Japan. Even as Bahamut Lagoon’s production process was moving forward, however, Square made a significant staff acquisition: Yasumi Matsuno, the primary creative voice behind Quest’s Ogre Battle tactical RPG franchise.
As soon as he arrived at Square, Matsuno requested the opportunity to develop a tactical RPG set in Sakaguchi’s Final Fantasy universe. The studio happily gave him free rein to develop the project under Sakaguchi’s oversight. Many of the mechanics from Ogre Battle were imported directly, though the art assets and more heavily-authored narrative were inspired by the core Final Fantasy series.
Released on the PlayStation in 1997, Final Fantasy Tactics would rapidly become a cult classic. Players take on the role of Ramza as he navigates an extraordinarily complex series of political alliances and conspiracies within the fantasy realm of Ivalice. Play is divided into three basic sections: (1) story sequences, which play out using in-game sprites and are rich with dialogue; (2) menu sequences, in which players recruit new characters, make modifications to their characters’ abilities and equipment, and select destinations from a world map; and (3) battle sequences, in which players control a squad of fighters as they seek to defeat a squad of opponents.
Turn-based battle sequences play out like chess matches, as the player directs his or her characters from an isometric perspective. Characters have unique abilities and movement capabilities impacted by their job class and equipment. Job classes are largely drawn from Final Fantasy V (1992/1999), though some like Arithmetician are unique to Final Fantasy Tactics. The mechanics are unlike those in any core Final Fantasy title, as players are never able to freely navigate their characters around an open environment, but many elements of the classic series are still present: chocobos, moogles, summoned creatures, and even Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife (though this last is a bonus character only available to dedicated players).
A port to the PSP called Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions would be released in 2007. Square Enix included an updated translation, correcting numerous errors and giving the text an intentionally archaic character. The updated translation would make clear what fans had already suspected: Final Fantasy Tactics is set in the distant future of Final Fantasy XII’s world. In addition, animated cutscenes were added to flesh out the already engaging story. Final Fantasy XII’s Balthier even makes a cameo as a new bonus character. This version would later be ported to Apple iOS devices in 2011 and Android devices in 2014/2015.
In the time between the release of the original Final Fantasy Tactics and its PSP port, several pseudo-sequels had been published on Nintendo platforms. The first of these, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, was released in 2003 on the Game Boy Advance (GBA). While its basic tripartite design and turn-based isometric battles differ little from its source material, the tone is quite different. Players take on the role of Marche, a young boy from the real world who ends up in Ivalice by reading a mysterious book. He must battle his way through a world apparently inspired by his friend Mewt’s recollections from an unnamed Final Fantasy title.
Along the way, a handful of new fantasy races are introduced. Bangaa are powerful reptilian humanoids, Viera are tall rabbit-like people, and Nu Mou are slouching beings with an aptitude for magic. All would go on to appear in later titles set in the world of Ivalice, including Final Fantasy XII (2006). Moogles are present in the game world for the first time as well, though one had previously appeared as a summon in Final Fantasy Tactics.
The most significant new gameplay wrinkle in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is the role of laws. These rules are announced at the start of combat and impact any number of variables during battle, often limiting the player’s access to abilities and consequently forcing him or her to experiment with new strategies. Laws are enforced by judges, who go on to have a major narrative role in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy XII.
A direct sequel called Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift would be released on the Nintendo DS in 2007/2008. Little is mechanically different between this game and its predecessor, though a new concept based on clan influence features prominently. Clans comprised of Ivalice populations focused on a common goal battle to exert their control over distinct regions of the map. The main character, Luso, joins one of these clans upon his transportation to Ivalice from the same real-world town featured in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Two new Ivalice races are introduced for the first time in this game: the Seeq, an underhanded species of beastmen, and the winged Gria.
Final Final Fantasy Tactics A2 would be the final entry in this sub-series released worldwide as of January 2019, but a mobile iteration of the sub-series would be published on Japanese mobile devices in 2013. Final Fantasy Tactics S was focused on battles between players aligned with clans. Much of the game’s interface and mechanics were reminiscent of earlier Final Fantasy Tactics titles, though no overarching story was present. Service for the cloud-based game was discontinued in 2014.
Though all of the Final Fantasy Tactics games are turn-based, real-time strategy elements were incorporated in a spinoff to Final Fantasy XII. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, a direct sequel released on the Nintendo DS in 2007, follows the ongoing adventures of Final Fantasy XII protagonists Vaan and Penelo. The two have become sky pirates and set off for the fabled floating continent of Lemures at the game’s outset.
Gameplay is designed around the Nintendo DS’ stylus, as players direct squads around battle maps in real-time by tapping their characters and targets. Directed by Motomu Toriyama, who had also been the primary creative voice on Final Fantasy X-2 (2003) and would go on to lead development on Final Fantasy XIII (2009), the game emphasizes engaging mechanics over narrative complexity. The North American version is actually more difficult than the Japanese original, as the production team wanted to challenge an audience that had more familiarity with traditional strategy game tactics.
The lovable, flightless bird species called the chocobo made its debut in 1988’s Final Fantasy II. It would appear in every subsequent Final Fantasy game, and had grown so popular in the 1990s that Square began a spinoff series based around the creature. The Chocobo series actually encompasses numerous genres linked only by the presence of the series’ mascot as its title character. There are so many of these spinoffs that I will be focusing only on the ones released in North America.
Chocobo no Fushigi na Dungeon, a 1997 roguelike game for the PlayStation, was released in Japan as a crossover with Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series. Though this was locked to the Japanese region, a sequel called Chocobo’s Dungeon 2 would make its way to North American PlayStation consoles in 1999. Both feature the player taking on the role of a chocobo as it explores a randomly generated dungeon and engages in turn-based battles with wandering enemies. A third title in the sub-series followed almost ten years later on the Wii; Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon (2007/2008) would be developed by h.a.n.d. and would be well-received by critics in spite of doing little to iterate on earlier series entries. An enhanced port of the Wii release would be published in Japan for the Nintendo DS in 2008 and a Nintendo Switch remake was announced in Fall 2018.
Chocobo World was a minigame associated with Final Fantasy VIII that was originally published on the PocketStation, a memory card peripheral which linked up with PlayStation consoles. This version was only available in Japan, but North American players would have the opportunity to play it when it was packed in alongside the Windows edition of Final Fantasy VIII in 2000. Chocobo World is a simplistic 2D RPG in which the player explores a monochromatic world as Boko the chocobo.
Chocobo Racing was released worldwide in 1999 on the PlayStation. An unremarkable kart racer, it was part of a late 1990s trend that included Mario Kart 64 (1996), Diddy Kong Racing (1997), and Crash Team Racing (1999). It distinguishes itself from the competition by including a story mode narrated by one of Final Fantasy’s many characters named Cid. The story mode includes pre-rendered cutscenes, as was expected of Final Fantasy games on the PlayStation, and an aesthetic inspired by pop-up books. A planned sequel on the Nintendo 3DS was cancelled in 2013.
A handful of titles focused on more casual gameplay would be released across handheld platforms in North America from 2007 to 2010. The first of these, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales (2007), is a combination of card, role-playing, and puzzle mechanics published on the Nintendo DS; these disparate gameplay styles are united by uniformly adorable art design. The second, Chocobo Panic (2010), is a party game developed by Bottle Cube for iPad devices. The final Chocobo game so far is Chocobo’s Crystal Tower (2010), a life simulation game developed for Japanese mobile phones by h.a.n.d. and released as a Facebook browser app in North America. The latter two titles have been discontinued as of writing in January 2019.
After Final Fantasy IV (1994), dedicated Nintendo fans would need to wait a decade for another release in Square’s series. A Gamecube title which exploited the GBA as a peripheral thanks to the magic of the GBA Link Cable, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (2003/2004) would kick off a new series of relatively simple action role-playing games (ARPGs) that would span several generations of Nintendo hardware. This spinoff franchise was developed by a new Square subsidiary studio called The Game Designers Studio and led by the SaGa series’ creator Akitoshi Kawazu.
Players create a character and guide a caravan through treacherous terrain in an attempt to rid the unnamed fantasy world of a toxic substance known as Miasma. Gameplay occurs in real-time, characters and the world are rendered as fully 3D textured polygons, and action is viewed from a fixed overhead third-person perspective. Player characters cannot stray far from a central caravan vehicle due to the presence of the aforementioned Miasma. As the caravan moves through new areas, the player character is beset by enemies and must defeat them using a combination of physical and magical attacks in the style of a hack-and-slash game.
The most noteworthy feature of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is the multiplayer functionality. Multiplayer in Final Fantasy – aside from Chocobo Racing (1999) and the fully online MMORPG Final Fantasy XI (2003) – had been confined to splitting control of party members during combat in some core series entries. In Crystal Chronicles, on the other hand, couch multiplayer was a major feature built-in from the project’s earliest days.
Up to four players can join the caravan as long as each has a GBA and GBA Link Cable. These additional peripherals allow each player access to their own personal in-game menu and inventory on the small second screen even as they control their avatars on the television to which their host’s Gamecube is connected. The second screen even details personal objectives which sometimes conflict with group objectives, enhancing tension only possible in a group setting. It is hard to say how this multi-device interface will translate to the upcoming remake of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which is slated for release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Switch in 2019.
The next Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles title would be released on the Nintendo DS in 2007/2008. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is much more focused on single player and plot development than its predecessor had been. Functioning as a prequel to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Ring of Fates features four predetermined protagonists rather than allowing players to create their own avatars. Gameplay is similar to the Gamecube title, though the DS’ dual screens allow players to access both a view of the surrounding landscape and their inventories on a single device. A multiplayer mode is present and offers a distinct story.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time (2009) was a peculiar experiment. As the first release in the sub-series to be simultaneously published on a home console and a portable system – the Nintendo Wii and DS, respectively – Echoes of Time would conclusively demonstrate that the franchise was more successful on handheld devices; the DS version outsold the Wii version by a wide margin. Both are identical aside from graphical improvements made possible by home console hardware. Gameplay is similar to earlier games in the series, with the loss of dual-screen functionality in the Wii version resolved by featuring two windows on a single television screen.
The last Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles release so far is the Wii’s Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (2009). This entry also represents the most significant evolution of the sub-series since its debut, as the dual-screen conceit is abandoned entirely. At the same time, many of the remaining traditional RPG trappings – a static overhead perspective, abilities contingent upon a consumable resource like MP, and heavy inventory management – are eliminated. They are replaced with relatively straightforward action and exploration mechanics sharing more in common with The Legend of Zelda’s 3D entries than any other Final Fantasy game. Reception was muted, with critics citing the loss of the sub-series’ unique identity.
Square Enix would publish a new ARPG spinoff in 2014/2016, though it remains to be seen whether this will spawn a series in the way that Crystal Chronicles had done. Final Fantasy Explorers was developed for the Nintendo 3DS by Racjin, a Japanese studio that had successfully remade classic Square JRPGs SaGa 2 and SaGa 3 on the Nintendo DS. The aim was to build a Final Fantasy title based on multiplayer cooperation.
The results owe more than a little bit to Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. Players create and control an avatar as they explore a polygonal 3D world and defeat oversized monsters drawn from the preceding 25 years of Final Fantasy releases. Nostalgia is heavily emphasized, as player characters also gain access to popular job classes from past titles. Combat is real-time, relying on the intelligent deployment of skills associated with job classes and equipment. Equipment crafting hinges on the accumulation of monster parts achieved by defeating creatures in the field.
Unfortunately, Final Fantasy Explorers was a commercial and critical misstep. It was panned for its repetition, as players were required to repeatedly battle the same monsters to craft new equipment. This central gameplay loop is drawn directly from Monster Hunter, but Final Fantasy Explorers lacks much of that series’ depth and nuanced combat. With this in mind, one wonders whether Square Enix will release a sequel that fulfills the potential of a multiplayer-focused Final Fantasy title or if this intended sub-series will remain confined to a single entry.
Compilation of Final Fantasy VII
Compilation of Final Fantasy VII is an odd, expansive project of which Western players have only encountered a small part; for those interested in the full breadth of the project’s scope, please consult Final Fantasy Union’s extensive two-part history. It sprung from deeply inauspicious origins, as Square Enix was in dire financial straits following the failure of its 2001 film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The long-running series had recently begun branching out into direct sequels, as Square had published the commercially successful Final Fantasy X-2 in 2003, and new leadership under the united banner of Square Enix was seeking an easy win. The studio was interested in exploring its newly termed “polymorphic content” enterprise, seeking to produce content across multiple media platforms simultaneously in an effort to drive up the cultural penetration of its products.
This is not to ascribe the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII entirely to naked capitalist impulses. Many fans had been speculating upon and directly requesting a continuation of Cloud Strife’s tale since the end of 1997’s seminal Final Fantasy VII. The team at Square Enix was similarly disposed, identifying core members of that game’s creation process which would need to return if a follow-up was to be faithful to Sakaguchi’s original vision. The project was to be led by two key Final Fantasy VII alumni: director Yoshinori Kitase and character designer Tetsuya Nomura. In collaboration with other old and new staff, they hoped to fulfill the fervent expectations which had arisen in the Final Fantasy VII fan community over the preceding seven years.
The first release in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII was never localized outside of Japan. Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII was an episodic game initially released for mobile phones in 2004. This game was directed by Hajime Tabata, who would later go on to direct Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV. Players create an avatar, then play through side-view battles and exploration sequences. Twenty-four episodes were released but mobile phone compatibility issues ensured that it would never leave Japan.
The next of the Compilation‘s four core releases was an animated film. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children had actually been announced at the 2003 Tokyo Games Show, but development challenges slowed production and ensured that the film would not be released in 2005/2006. It was originally intended to be a short film produced by Visual Works – the company which had been creating flashy pre-rendered cutscenes for core Final Fantasy titles since 1997 – but grew in scope rapidly.
The film focuses on Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockhart, recounting their experience in Midgar two years after conclusion of Final Fantasy VII. The two protagonists of Square’s 1997 masterpiece are asked to help protect children from villains Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo; these sinister figures serve as ongoing manifestations of the remaining spiritual energy of Final Fantasy VII’s deceased villain Sephiroth. Though Cloud initially refuses, he eventually joins his erstwhile companions and battles the nefarious trio. Summoned creatures and even Sephiroth make fan-pleasing reappearances by the film’s conclusion.
Visual Works’ animation is characteristically excellent, though the muddy plot came under criticism by fans and reviewers. The film was published directly to DVD, aside from a single Los Angeles theater screening, and was followed up in 2009 with an expanded edition Blu-Ray titled Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. Supplementary materials like Kazushige Nojima’s short story collection On the Way to a Smile (2009) fill in the backstory still further.
The third Compilation release was one of the IP’s more experimental titles. The PlayStation 2’s Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (2006) focuses on an optional member of Final Fantasy VII’s cast, Vincent Valentine, and emphasises first-person and third-person shooter gameplay. Most of the plot occurs three years after the events of Final Fantasy VII and one year after the events of Advent Children; Valentine must dismantle a dangerous organization called Deepground, which has been formed from the remains of genetically enhanced super-soldiers created by Final Fantasy VII’s Shinra Corporation.
Dirge of Cerberus was panned upon its Japanese release and Square Enix attempted to improve it in time for the Western release later in 2006. A much-maligned multiplayer mode was stripped from the localized version, a higher difficulty option was added, and even the game’s movement speed was enhanced. Unfortunately, Dirge of Cerberus would perform as poorly in North America as it had in Japan. It seems that Square Enix was discovering the limits to fans’ passion for Final Fantasy VII content.
Luckily, the final major piece of the Compilation would be well-received worldwide. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2007) is a prequel which sheds light on the story of peripheral Final Fantasy VII character Zack Fair. This character’s adventure is tied closely with the backstory of Cloud Strife, shading in elements which had been deliberately left opaque Square’s 1997 release. Hajime Tabata was again tapped by Square Enix to helm the project.
Crisis Core would be presented as an action-adventure game. Originally planned to strictly feature action mechanics, RPG trappings and a version of Final Fantasy VII’s materia system were eventually added to make it easier for Square Enix’s RPG-focused staff to develop. The broad gameplay is still action-oriented, though, featuring button combos and real-time combat as Zack progresses through open 3D environments. Crisis Core would become quite popular among Final Fantasy fans and would go on to be consistently regarded as one of the PSP’s best titles.
While Tetsuya Nomura was working on Kingdom Hearts, a Square Enix/Disney crossover franchise, he and his team conceived of a spinoff focused on one-on-one combat between popular Kingdom Hearts characters. This idea was shot down due to concerns over how Disney would react to its characters fighting one another, and the rough outline was applied instead to the Final Fantasy series. With Takeshi Arakawa directing, Tetsuya Nomura designing characters, and Yoshinori Kitase producing, the game had its roots firmly planted in Square Enix’s past when it began development in 2005.
Dissidia Final Fantasy would be published on the PSP during 2008 in Japan and the following year in North America. It offers the opportunity for fans to choose a protagonist from the first ten Final Fantasy core entries and engage in duels with enemies drawn from the same titles. Gameplay is real-time and three-dimensional rather than the 2D plane characteristic of one-on-one fighting games.
Characters attempt to reduce their opponent’s health to zero, and repeated attacks contribute to an EX Gauge. Once filled, the EX Gauge allows players to initiate special attacks reminiscent of the limit break mechanic featured in Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX. In its most fundamental nod to the series from which its characters are derived, Dissidia includes an entire narrative arc focused on the struggle between a noble goddess and a sinister god.
A prequel, Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, would be released two years later. Again published for the PSP, it lacks support for single-screen couch multiplayer but does reproduce its predecessor’s ability to battle friends through local wireless connectivity. Players now have access to an expanded cast of characters and nemeses drawn from throughout the Final Fantasy universe. Interestingly, a free-roaming world map was added to the single-player mode. This brings exploration more into line with classic Final Fantasy games, though battles themselves still take place in a limited 3D arena.
Following Dissidia 012, development responsibilities for the spinoff series shifted to Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja. This group was hired by Square Enix and co-publisher Taito – the studio famous for Space Invaders (1978) and Bubble Bobble (1986) had been acquired as an semi-autonomous subsidiary of Square Enix in 2005 – to recreate Dissidia in an arcade setting. By 2015, Dissidia Final Fantasy would be released on Japanese arcade cabinets using modified PlayStation 4 hardware.
Given what was going on under the hood, fans assumed that a port to Sony’s home console was imminent. The enhanced PlayStation 4 port, renamed Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, would be published worldwide in January 2018. Story is toned down significantly from its handheld forebears while fighting has been expanded to feature three-on-three battles. The player only controls one character at a time, as allies are handled by AI but can be switched between at will. Characters are grouped into four classes – Vanguard, Assassin, Marksman, and Specialist – with all aside from the last adhering to a rock-paper-scissors advantage/disadvantage structure. Dovetailing with Dissidia Final Fantasy NT’s attempt to further replicate the source material through party-based combat, iconic monsters can now be summoned to aid the player’s team for thirty seconds at a time.
There were few video game styles that Final Fantasy hadn’t touched by the early 2010s. One of the final ones – the rhythm genre – would be conquered in 2012. Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy was developed by Japanese studio indieszero in collaboration with Square Enix and released on Nintendo 3DS and Apple iOS devices. Gameplay reflects Final Fantasy’s 2D origins, as a four-character party made up of classic characters from the core series engages in exploration, combat, and even cinematic event sequences by inputting button prompts in time with the soundtrack.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy even bears the mark of its source material in its narrative. Hewing to the path laid by Dissidia, Theatrhythm again highlights the struggle between gods called Cosmos and Chaos. At the game’s outset, Chaos disrupts a crystal associated with music and the heroes can only resolve the resulting conflict through the power of song. Longtime Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu was apparently quite moved by encountering his songs in this new context, offering the following reflection: “As I remembered various things from the past 20 years, I was reduced to tears. FF music fans should definitely play it. Won’t you cry with me?”
A sequel was released for the 3DS in 2014. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call expands the total song roster to 221 distinct compositions and the total character roster to 60 individuals pulled from the series’ past. Even spinoffs are now fair game for song selection, as tracks are introduced from Final Fantasy Type-0, Crystal Chronicles, and Dissidia. From here, the Theatrhythm sub-series would expand into further spinoffs – with Theatrhythm Dragon Quest in 2015 – and move away from the handheld format entirely with arcade game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: All Star Carnival in 2016, though neither of these releases have been localized outside of Japan as of January 2019.
The Final Fantasy universe is massive. Alongside fifteen numbered core entries, Square and Square Enix have released countless spinoffs. Some were successful; others were not. All have deepened fan appreciation for and involvement in one of the medium’s most consistently engaging Japanese role-playing game franchises.
What is your favorite Final Fantasy spinoff? What have I neglected to include here? What genre would you like to see the series tackle in the future? How many chocobos does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
Next week we’ll be tackling Darkstalkers. Be sure to join us at 9:00 AM EST on January 18, 2019 to take part in the conversation!