Table Not Required: Final Fantasy

If you missed the introduction from last week, today I am starting a series of entries discussing roleplay game series that I feel embodies one of the pillars of tabletop roleplay games.  To start, I decided to tackle one of the juggernauts of the JRPG (Japanese Roleplay Game) world, Final Fantasy!

You might be wondering why there are so many games in a series that always refers to itself as a “final fantasy”.  The history behind the name is actually quite interesting (to me at least, but you’re coming along for the ride).  Legend has it Hironobu Sakaguchi was growing weary of the gaming industry.  Having developed several video games on the Famicom Disk System, he decided on one last ditch effort to avoid returning to university.  Combining elements from Dragon Quest (Enix), The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo), and Ultima (Origin Systems), he created what would be his “Final Fantasy”.  Then the game became a commercial success, and the rest was history!

Final Fantasy is one of those Series that sometimes feels as if it needs little to no introduction.  In the event that some readers are aware of the name but have never looked any deeper, Final Fantasy is a Japanese Roleplaying Game series produced by Square-Enix (back when they were two separate companies, Squaresoft worked on the series).  Along with its direct competition, this series has shaped and defined what we recognized as JRPGs.

As a genre, JRPGs best fulfill the storytelling aspect of tabletop roleplaying games.  You won’t get the freedom of choice that you would sitting around the table and plotting with your friends, but if you’ve ever played a narrative one-shot or mini adventure then you understand the value of a well told story.

Certain entries in the series, such as XI and XIV, are Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Games (MMORPG).  They are played with thousands of players simultaneously.  Unlike some MMORPGs, these games continue the tradition of a strong narrative, but also include the social aspect that the traditional main games lack.  If you want a narrative you can explore with friends, I suggest looking at these titles.

If the idea of turn based roleplay (a JRPG standard) leaves you hesitant, the recent Final Fantasy XV (and some other side entries) eschew it in favor of real time action battle systems.

Final Fantasy also has a large number of spin-off games that cover a wide assortment of game genres.  For those who like tactical battle games, I recommend Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions.  Though it is an older game, it is still an approachable entry with dozens of hours of content.  There are rogue-like dungeon crawls such as Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon, fighting games such as Dissidia Final Fantasy, or even wilder entries such as Theatrhythm, which tells a Final Fantasy tale through song (with RPG elements, of course).  In short, if you have been interested in the series but don’t typically enjoy JRPG games, Final Fantasy likely has a game in a category you’d enjoy.

All of this is to say, if you miss the twists and turns of an engaging RPG story, give Final Fantasy a shot.  With dozens of games available on PC/Mac, Mobile, and virtually every generation of video game consoles you are sure to find something that will get you through to your next session.

Honorable Mention: Dragon Quest

Remember in the beginning when I mentioned creator Sakaguchi took inspiration from a number of games when they created the first Final Fantasy game?  One of those inspirations came from game company Enix (now of Square-Enix) and through their flagship series Dragon Quest.  Although not as popular in the west, Dragon Quest consistently outsells Final Fantasy in Japan!  And while the two companies have joined forces, they were at one time each other’s fiercest competitors.

Final Fantasy owes a lot of its classic mechanics to Dragon Quest, which is highly evident if you go back to the first couple of games in either series.  As time went on, however, Final Fantasy began to experiment in ways to shake up the JRPG formula.  This is a great thing, and I encourage companies to look at ways to reinvent themselves through their games.  However, if you’re itching for a classic JRPG feel, look no further than Dragon Quest.  They still offer classic turn-based battles, equipment systems, and level-up paths featured in the RPGs of the classic era of gaming (which I would argue is the NES/SNES generations of games).  While they’ve modernized enough to remove some of the more archaic elements of the genre, they have otherwise stayed true to form.

If you like JRPGs but have played through most of the Final Fantasy catalog, consider a jump to Dragon Quest.  It offers a welcome mix of novelty and nostalgia.

Do you have a favorite game to play when a TTRPG session isn’t an option?

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