Dear Friends: Exploring the Final Fantasy Phenomenon

The day that Aeris died, I shed a tear. The day that Cloud Strife won his last battle with Sephiroth, I shouted with joy. The day that I first heard Tidus speak, I gasped with amazement. One may wonder who these characters are, and why they have had such a profound impact on my life. They are all characters from a saga called Final Fantasy. Not a book, nor a movie, Final Fantasy is a video game. A far cry from the Pac Mac days of old, Final Fantasy is a phenomenon, taking video games from sheer entertainment to a life changing entity for those who are fans. One does not just play Final Fantasy: one lives it.

In December of 1987, a fledgling software company called Squaresoft released their first Final Fantasy title in Japan. The 8-bit adventure for Nintendo created such a stir that in July of the following year it was released in the United States. It was an instant cult hit.

Introducing the combination of the black and white mages, the fighter and the thief, along with the engrossing storyline, it created a brand new genre. This type of game was dubbed a "Role Playing Game" (or RPG). Many people saw that this title had room to grow and to change gaming as the world knew it.

Fast forward to October of 1994. Following the release of Sony's much anticipated Playstation console, Squaresoft launches the most expensive advertising campaign in history for a video game: Final Fantasy VII. Commercials swept network television, occupying not only after school cartoon ad slots, but, for the first time ever, hitting prime time. Children and adults alike could hardly contain their excitement, myself among them. I hadn't owned a video game console since my original Nintendo, and now an adult, one would think I would be above childish video games. However, they were the only items I put on my Christmas list that year.

The graphics in Final Fantasy VII were beyond anything that anyone had ever seen (including PC users). The intense and emotional story took up three discs and would rival any movie plot. The characters and environments were rich and beautifully designed. It was truly a turning point for the world of video games.

Final Fantasy VII broke records by selling 8.6 million copies worldwide, becoming the biggest video game in history. Times that by the over 120 hours of gameplay provided, and you have more than something to just pass the time.

It was around this time that video games changed American culture. No longer for kids and geeks only, software publishers started creating games for the average adult gamer. Video games became more than a way to pass the time, they transcended the home television screen and became a part of people's lives, and Final Fantasy was at the center of it.

Squaresoft continues to make games, expanding into other RPG franchises, but their Final Fantasy titles still appear to be their bread and butter. Even after dismal box office numbers for their full length feature, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within", which almost bankrupted the company, Squaresoft bounced back by releasing some of their biggest hits to date.

Squaresoft continues to change American culture as well. Cosplay, which has been popular in Japan for some time, mostly regarding anime, has now caught on in the United States.

Cosplayers now include video game fans that dress up and do live role playing of their favorite video game characters. In fact, it has become so popular here that there are national conventions for cosplayers. Final Fantasy characters seem to be favorites for cosplayers, and the detail and work that are put into the costumes are extraordinary.

My sister and her friends are cosplayers, and attend Final Fantasy gatherings in Arizona regularly. When asked why, she simply says, "Football fans get together and paint each other funny colors and wear funny hats and stuff. It's no different. It's like-minded people getting together and having fun."
Another milestone in the Final Fantasy timeline came in May of 2005 when Squaresoft announced they would be doing a live concert of Final Fantasy music at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The concert, to be performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, sold out in only three days. It featured music by composer Nobuo Uemastu, who created most of the music for the Final Fantasy games, and had dubbed the concert "Dear Friends..." after the theme song from Final Fantasy V. After reading many of the great reviews, the title also seems appropriate for the thousands of fans who traveled from all over the country like it was Mecca for gamers. I wish I could have gone, as it sounds like it was truly an inspiring night.
From across the country to across the world, Final Fantasy is also connecting people from different nations.

With their release of the Final Fantasy XI, American gamers can play along with others from Japan, Europe and other regions from around the world, allowing players to interact and even speak to one another.

With a server that can support over a million and a half registered users, one can really submerse themselves in the Final Fantasy universe like never before.

Even now, more than 20 years later, the Final Fantasy fans still search for the old games. Though to many the old 8 and 16-bit games may look archaic, gamers have been turned into collectors, clamoring to find the rare treasures at game stores, pawn shops and garage sales. Ebay is bursting with auctions of old games and consoles, and people are paying lots of cash to once again play the games of old. I have purchased all the old Final Fantasy games, even spending money on the Japanese versions of the games I will never be able to play.

Over the past twenty years, Squaresoft and Final Fantasy have brought people together, either on the couch or on the internet, with their groundbreaking games. Final Fantasy is a cultural phenomenon, and has changed technology and life as we know it.

I know that as years pass, the Final Fantasy games will stand the test of time and become the subject of legend, and I will be there to say, "I've been there for them all."