Final Fantasy and I have a lot in common. We’re both charming, aging rapidly, and occasionally haunted by anime ladies. Also, we both turned 30 this year.
On December 18, 1987, the company formerly known as Square released Final Fantasy, a desperate game that mixed Dragon Quest with Lord of the Rings and added a dash of Wizardry to cook up a uniquely delicious stew. Thanks to the magical art of Yoshitaka Amano, the brilliant music of Nobuo Uematsu, the meticulous pixels of Kazuko Shibuya, programming by the elusive Nasir Gebelli, and design work by Akitoshi Kawazu and Hironobu Sakaguchi, among others, Final Fantasy was instantly special.
Since then, we’ve seen 14 mainline sequels (including two full-fledged massively multiplayer online games), dozens of spinoffs, and more memories than anyone can count. Tellah staring down Golbez on a mechanical tower in the sky. Celes flinging herself from a cliff in despair after failing to save her ailing grandfather. Tidus laughing. Cloud crying. Squall joining a band.
It is impossible to overstate the impact that Final Fantasy has had on my life, and it’s safe to say that without it, I wouldn’t be at Kotaku right now. I sunk hours and hours into the first game as a child, starting and restarting over and over because I couldn’t figure out how to get past the Marsh Cave. I had better luck with Final Fantasy IV, which taught me that video games could actually tell stories, and then Final Fantasy VI came around and blew my damn mind. From the Battle of Narshe to the Opera House, every scene in the game felt like a spectacle. Terra and Setzer and Locke seemed as real to me as anyone I actually knew. I devoured Final Fantasy VI, playing through the game dozens of times and voraciously reading everything about it, from strategy guides to AOL rumors about how you really could revive General Leo.
Things have been rockier since then, as one might expect from a series spanning three decades. The transition to high-definition graphics hit Final Fantasy pretty hard, as evidenced in FFXIII, and Square is still trying to recover from the disastrous development cycle of Final Fantasy XV, aka Versus XIII. A planned remake of Final Fantasy VII, announced at E3 2015, is going through its own stint in development hell, having switched studios earlier this year. It’s hard to guess what the future will look like—or how influenced it will be by service games. Will we make it to Final Fantasy XX? When will they pull a Call of Duty and just start using subtitles? When will we just get a single Final Fantasy game that is patched and updated for years to come?
It’s astounding that we’ve made it this far. Even if the series ended today, Final Fantasy’s impact on the world of video games—and on the millions of people who have played it—would remain extraordinary. Happy 30th birthday, Final Fantasy. Stay weird.