Final Fantasy Origins and Influences
Sources and Roots of Final Fantasy Games
Unsurprisingly, the video games of Final Fantasy derive some of their magic from other creations of the imagination, including names, motifs, and game details.
Few writers begin with a blank slate: Shakespeare adapted plays of Plautus, Star Wars borrowed heavily from mythology, and even J.R.R. Tolkien cribbed the names of the dwarves and wizard in The Hobbit from an old Norse poem. There is no shame in such borrowings, as long as they are transformative!
Below are just some of the origins, roots, influences and sources of particular details in Final Fantasy. You'll recognize some. Others may surprise you. Some are my own speculations, while others are confirmed from Final Fantasy's creators, Squaresoft (now Square-Enix).
My Old D&D Dice and Figures, with Final Fantasy Minis
#1: Dungeons and Dragons
Stats, Spells, Job Classes, Monsters, Turn-Based Combat...
I played Dungeons & Dragons with dice and character sheets from 1978. When I came to FInal Fantasy, I was puzzled that a video game could be called a RPG. I came to understand that I was still "playing" a role, even if I hadn't designed my characters from scratch and wasn't totally able to control their actions as in tabletop gaming. Original Final Fantasy was essentially SimD&D, as much as one can simulate it with a preprogrammed game taking the place of dungeon master and player interaction.
D&D's game mechanics were adapted by Final Fantasy (and many other early video games): hit points, gold pieces ("gil"), stats like strength and agility, spells, character classes, "equipped" armor and weapons slots, maps, encounters/battles, turns, and resting in inns/pubs to regain depleted health and advance the story. Also, of course, dungeons.
I didn't fully appreciate how much Final Fantasy job classes are based on old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, since I came into Final Fantasy around FFVII-VII, by which time they were fairly well disguised (Tifa, a monk, or Zidane, a thief, for example). Playing FFI-III was a real eye-opener: the white mage was allowed to use hammers and staves — just like an old D&D cleric! — while the black mage could originally use bows, like a D&D magic-user/wizard. Fighters, Rangers, Paladins, Monks/BlackBelts,, Samurai, Bards and Thieves are all D&D character classes.
Many of the monsters in Final Fantasy come from D&D's original Monster Manual, including Tiamat, queen of evil dragons, and Bahamut the Platinum Dragon, king of good dragons. In fact, during the course of my Final Fantasy I playthrough, I found that every single monster in the original FF game was from D&D, although some names were disguised. See my chart.
Final Fantasy XII: Sky City
#2 Hayao Miyazaki Fims
- Chocobos and Airships
Aha! I was right. I already knew that Final Fantasy's creator Hironobu Sakaguchi has said that chocobos were inspired by the ostrich-like Horseclaws in Hayao Miyazaki's manga and beautiful animated film, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind. (It's a little hard to see, but there's a blue horseclaw on the front cover of the manga boxset, right.)
I've long suspected that the airships of Final Fantasy, with their physics-defying propellers and dirigible airbags, draw inspiration from the airship-and-flying motif that appears in nearly every Miyazaki film. Confirmed: Sakaguchi apparently traces the inspiration of his airships to Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Of course, Laputa is more of a floating continent.... also a frequent Final Fantasy motif!
In general, the young female heroines of Miyazaki share some archetypal characteristics with many of the wistful, magical, innocent girls of Final Fantasy: Terra, Rydia, Lenna, Vanille, Yuna, Rinoa and Eiko all seem to have a touch of Miyazaki-heroine about them.
#3 -Tolkien and Lord of the Rings
Mythril, Quests and Fellowships of Light
It's hard to say how much of Final Fantasy is directly inspired by Tolkien's rich world of MIddle-earth in The Lord of the Rings. Nearly every fantasy universe, and in fact, the entire fantasy genre, is inspired more or less by the genius of Tolkien. D&D was essentially a glorified boardgame that invented game mechanics so that we could play in worlds like Middle-earth, complete with quests, a fellowship of party members with particular "job classes," races and so on.
However, Final Fantasy makes no secret of its Tolkien inheritance. Many Final Fantasy swords and weapons are made of mythril, a misspelling of Tolkien's mithril. Like D&D, Final Fantasy borrows Tolkien's "Ranger" class, which he invented. Tolkien's Ents, Orcs (a word he seems to have coined) and Goblins, Trolls and Wargs frequent Final Fantasy's bestiaries. Wizards have staffs (staves), because of Tolkien. Halflings are more scarce, but the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI had to have them (Tarutaru), plus Elves. Giant spiders are a frequent menace in forests and caves. Before Tolkien, mythologies and fantasy fiction did not marshal the forces of evil under a singular "Dark Lord." Now the concept is so common that we do not realize Sauron was the first Evil Overlord. The mega-villains of Final Fantasy owe something to Sauron, the powerful mostly-unseen presence with his sub-bosses and evil lieutenants.
Final Fantasy seems to have settled on fellowships of four to seven more often than nine, but even the idea of a "questing party" really comes from Tolkien.
#4 - Star Wars
Biggs, Wedge -- Fancy Meeting You Here!
Ah, Biggs and Wedge. Biggs got most of his part cut out of the original Star Wars, but not to worry. He lives forever (sometimes as "Vicks") in Final Fantasy, from VI onward, and has been inserted into remakes of the older games. Oddly, Biggs and Wedge seem to be missing in IX. (In XII, they are Deweg and Gibbs, but we are not fooled). Usually they are pesky grunt soldiers that our heroes kill off or fight at some point, although in X they are simply guards at Luca Stadium. Although even in X, they can't catch a break; they're very likely the security guards beaten up by Paine and Rikku in the opening of X-2!
Any other Star Wars motifs? Well, yes and no. Broad themes and archetypes, and rather a lot of Imperial Empires with stormtroopers, but the themes are not usually overt.
However, Final Fantasy II and its spiritual descendent, Final Fantasy XII, are obviously riffing on the original Star Wars movie (see screencap). There's a feisty princess leading a rebellion against an evil empire, and one of the party members has a brother who's fallen to the Dark Side and become a puppet for the evil Emperor. Sky pirates and Luke-like protagonists, even Lando/Count Ondore all seem strangely familiar. Vaan never turns into a Jedi, however, and Fran with her crossbow is a dangsight more attractive and communicative than Chewie. (Also, Chewie doesn't speak Beaver.)
Maybe it's just me, but I think Final Fantasy XII's Soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto picks up themes and notes from the Star Wars Soundtrack by John Williams, eespecially in Bhujerba's mines.
Also, I can't help wondering if Star Wars Jawas may explain the odd black faces and glowing eyes of Final Fantasy's black mages, although the costumes obviously differ.
#5 - Robotech, Transformers, Akira
Mecha-- armored robots whose operators ride inside a cockpit-- predate the ground-breaking Japanese anime Robotech, but that series definitely brought the concept to fruition and set off a fad. Mobile Suit Gundam, Evangelion, and countless other Japanese anime have played with the trope, spilling over into mainstream American SF in films like Alien and Avatar.
Final Fantasy was originally fantasy, so it did not have mechs, save in weird techno-future dungeons. Mecha were, however, an important component of Final Fantasy VI and have made frequent appearances in Final Fantasy ever since, depending on the technological level of the game universe. Usually they are gear for bad guys, and usually they are a major challenge inboss battles. Sometimes they are dirty technology, as in the "forbidden machina" of Final Fantasy X. Sometimes the mech are Akira-style motorbikes, like Cloud's Fenrir in Advent Children.
Final Fantasy XIII combined mech and some of its summons, as befitting one of the more futuristic installments of Final Fantasy. Sazh rides inside a car. For most of the other summons, the main character simply perches on rather than inside the Eidolon. (Hope's is very definitely a giant mech). FFXIII's mechs are also Transformers, converting from a battle buddy to a vehicle.
I've just listed a few of the obvious influences of Final Fantasy. There are many more. Which ones have you noticed?
© 2011 auronlu