Final Fantasy games are usually pretty distinct from one another, with each game taking place in new worlds with new protagonists, even though they are all sequels to one another.
Despite that, there are some common threads that all the games share, like Chocobos, magic spells, and Moogles, that have all become tropes within the franchise. The three Final Fantasy games on the original PlayStation are quite different from one another, and yet they all share a lot of similarities as well.
Maybe it was just the zeitgeist at the height of Squaresoft’s success that led to these games having similarities or that they even had the conscious element of making them different. Plotwise, for example, Final Fantasy VII is a semi-cyberpunk story of environmentalism and one’s impact on the world, Final Fantasy VIII is a high school drama about how one defines themselves, and Final Fantasy IX is a classic fantasy story of warring nations and the existentialism of the heroes that put a stop to it.
So without further ado, here are some of the common elements found between the three games:
Main Character with Amnesia and Identity Crises
This is a pretty common trope within the JRPG franchise, it’s just easier to have players identify with a protagonist that didn’t really have much going on before the events of the game. And having a long-running thread of a mystery that leads to a major revelation of the main character is a great plot device no matter the medium.
Cloud from Final Fantasy VII had a major identity crisis happening around Disc 1 of the game, learning that he’s not the badass mercenary he thinks he is and it was all a figment of his imagination. Squall and his party on the other hand ups the ante by having the entire cast of Final Fantasy VIII experience amnesia throughout the story. Zidane’s identity crisis actually comes pretty late into Final Fantasy IX, only in Disc 3 do we find out who Zidane really is and his original role in the world.
Magical Female Lead and Modern Love
Final Fantasy VI was revolutionary in that it made two of its main characters being women with magical powers, and its next three sequels saw fit to continue this trend. Final Fantasy VII had Aerith, the last of her race and the only one who could pray for Holy to destroy Sephiroth’s Meteor. Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII had a whole story with her coming to terms with her newfound Sorcerer powers. And Princess Garnet a.k.a Dagger, was one of the last summoners in her world.
With the advent of CD-based games and more memory space, Squaresoft went crazy with FMV cutscenes, with some of them devoted to the romance between the male and female leads. While Aerith was the lead female character after a while, it was Tifa who stepped into the spotlight after Aerith’s untimely death, with most of the story centered around Tifa’s bond with Cloud.
Rinoa and Squall’s FMV dance scene is probably the most iconic part of Final Fantasy VIII, really showing off the budding romance between the two teenagers, which only grows stronger throughout their adventure. Zidane and Dagger had formed a spark really early in the game, with the two of them really becoming better people through their relationship. Final Fantasy X will then continue this trend with the romance of Tidus and Yuna.
Trips to Space
Funnily enough, these games weren’t the first Final Fantasy games that featured space travel, with Final Fantasy IV’s finale taking place on the moon, and even Final Fantasy V having players explore a whole other planet. Heck, even the first Final Fantasy features time-travel as a central plot device, so the series was always keen on breaking its fantastical confines.
Final Fantasy VII has the character Cid Highwind, who’s dreams of traveling to space squashed by Shinra. Eventually, the party manages to fulfill his dream by hijacking a spaceship. Final Fantasy VIII has Squall and the gang exploring a lunar base, before finding the airship Ragnarok to go back to their planet. Final Fantasy IX has you traveling to an adjacent planet through a strange portal on the Shimmering Isle, though it still technically counts as space travel.
Evolving the Progression Systems
Final Fantasy V was progressive in the sense that it lets players fully customise each of the game’s four party members, from their individual character classes, their moves and skills, and weapons and equipment. Final Fantasy VI kept predefined character classes but allowed players to teach any spell to any party members through Magicite.
Final Fantasy VII continued the freedom that the fifth entry of the series had, by introducing the Materia system that also worked liked Magicite as players still had to level up these equippable MacGuffins. Final Fantasy VIII had the curious mechanic of having character stats be based on the number of spells that are equipped to the character, with said spells only being able to be harnessed from enemies. Final Fantasy IX thankfully kept things simple, having both predefined character classes and roles, and having them learn shared skills through equipable equipment.
Bahamut in the Spotlight
The King of Dragons had always served as a pretty big element to any Final Fantasy, with the very first game having the dragon as the only way to advance your party’s character classes. And with the PS1 being able to crank out amazing looking cinematics, it was a no-brainer that Bahamut will be getting the spotlight in these scenes.
Final Fantasy VII allowed players to summon three different kinds of Bahamut, all with more devastating attacks than before. Bahamut in Final Fantasy VIII was a late-game summon, that required players to answer riddles and best the dragon first. Bahamut made a huge impression in Final Fantasy IX and appears in two major FMV cutscenes in the game. One against the main antagonist Kuja, and another under Kuja’s control, battling the mighty Alexander summon.
Desperation Attacks Redefined
JRPGs at that point, mainly had you grind out characters to max level, and learn stronger spells or get access to better weapons. That was no ace in the hole that players could employ when things get rough. Final Fantasy VI introduced such a trump card with desperation attacks, though the game doesn’t do a good job at telegraphing it.
Final Fantasy VII changed that with their Limit Break system and having a dedicated bar fill up whenever the player receives damage. The Limit Breaks of Final Fantasy VIII reverted to the way Final Fantasy VI did it, with no bar or indication that a character is about to gain access to the move. It was Final Fantasy IX that bucked the trend by having characters basically going Super Saiyan with the Trance move, with its own dedicated bar. The only drawback was that this move couldn’t be activated manually by the player.
Open Worlds In The Forefront
These days, it seems that the series has moved beyond having an open-world, with Final Fantasy X being the first one to have you be teleported across the world instead. Even Final Fantasy XV’s open-world was more limiting, having so many invisible walls that stop players from fully exploring the world.
All three Final Fantasy games on the PS1 let players explore a massive open-world, and slowly gave out extra vehicles for players to use to traverse the land. Typically, it started out with a Chocobo, then some sort of ground vehicle, a boat, and then culminating with the game’s signature airship.
Too Many Minigames
Somehow, the addition of minigames can be detrimental to the flow of a JRPG, stopping the story to a halt and having the player come in first on some arbitrary race. Final Fantasy IX had some mini-games, from the opening’s sword-fighting and skip rope games, to the infuriating Chocobo Hot and Cold and the middling Tetra Master.
In many ways, fans fondly remember Final Fantasy VIII’s card-based minigame, Triple Triad, much better than any other minigame in the series. Having way too many minigames is the sole crime of Final Fantasy VII, everything from snowboarding, submarine battles, and Chocobo racing is included here. It even has an entire area called the Golden Saucer dedicated to these minigames, which must be completed to get Cloud’s ultimate Limit Break.
Nobuo Uematsu At His Best
Series composer, Nobuo Uematsu was limited in his compositions, with the NES and SNES only letting him do so much in enriching the worlds of Final Fantasy with music. The PlayStation’s CD-ROMs allowed Uematsu to truly expand his horizons and bring more nuance and panache to the franchise’s soundtrack.
Spectacular examples during this time include the tearful “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII, the main theme of Final Fantasy IX “Melodies of Life”, and of course, the moving and orchestra-backed “Liberi Fatali” being a bombastic opener to the events of Final Fantasy VIII, especially as the duel between Squall and his rival Seifer plays out in timing to the song.
Despite being revolutionary and basically cemented the legacy of Sony’s debut console, time did not do any favours to this trio of games. Playing these games on original hardware can be a tedious experience, with severe load times, choppy graphics that look terrible on modern TVs, and not to mention the fact that players have to swap between three CDs to experience an entire game.
All three games have since been given enhanced high definition ports to modern systems, with the added feature of letting players speed the game up, minimal load times, and no switching CDs. Final Fantasy VII definitely looks better despite still keeping its blocky character models. Final Fantasy IX’s bright and colourful worlds are enhanced even further thanks to the new HD port. Final Fantasy VIII’s remastering is the most extensive, with all-new character models, making this HD port the best looking out of the three.
All in all, there are probably way more similarities these three entries in the Final Fantasy games share, but these are the ten we thought were worth highlighting. They are still some of the best games Square Enix has ever produced and every JRPG fan owes it to themselves to revisit these games.