Over its 35-year history, Final Fantasy has become one of the most beloved video game franchises in the world. While the series continues to deliver incredible experiences, like this year’s Final Fantasy XVI, fans are equally enamored with the behind-the-scenes stories of how the franchise was made.
One of the longest-running mysteries surrounding the series is the meaning behind the name Final Fantasy, and in a recent fire-side chat from Square Enix, series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi finally set the record straight.
As the legend goes, the original 1987 game was titled Final Fantasy to reflect the dire situation at developer and publisher Square. The idea was that this game was the final fantasy of the company, and if it didn’t succeed then the company would go bankrupt. The myth also says that creator Hironobu Sakaguchi saw this as potentially being the last game he would develop before quitting game development. This has been the rumored reasoning behind the title Final Fantasy, for almost as long as the series itself has been around, but it has never been confirmed.
In reality “it's not actually that cool of a story,” says Sakaguchi.
On July 11th, Square released the Final Fantasy 35th Anniversary Special Interview on its YouTube. The interview brings together Sakaguchi, as well as Brand Manager Yoshinori Kitase (who has taken multiple roles throughout the franchise’s history), and pixel artist Kazuko Shibuya. The interview is a celebration of the franchise’s 25th anniversary and the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster.
Eight minutes into the interview, the three are asked about the reason for the name Final Fantasy. This is when Sakaguchi reveals that the reality is much simpler and less poetic than what fans have come to believe.
Sakaguchi wanted to be able to shorten the name because, “at the time, Dragon Quest had started to establish itself and was shortened to 'Drakue'.” According to Sakaguchi the name was originally going to be Fighting Fantasy and shortened to FF, but due to trademark issues (Fighting Fantasy is a series of single-player gamebooks) the team had to think of something else.
“So we reluctantly went with Final Fantasy as a last resort.” Sakaguchi recounts while bursting into laughter.
As for how the urban legend behind the name came to be, Sakaguchi also has an answer. “There was once a primary school English teacher who wrote Final Fantasy on the whiteboard, and explained to the class that it means “the ultimate illusion” in Japanese,” says Sakaguchi, “So the kids sent me a postcard because that was how long ago it was, and it said ‘our teacher told is it means this, is that true?’”
Sakaguchi’s response? “The second it arrived I said, ‘We’re using this!’ So, I told everyone present that’s what Final Fantasy really means now. It’s ‘the last illusion’ from now on, OK?!”
The truth behind Final Fantasy’s name is a fascinating reveal of the truth behind one of gaming’s biggest myths. But it also gives insight into how Sakaguchi and the original developers of the series thought about what the game would be.
Fighting Fantasy would have been an apt name for a game so focused on combat and a series that would go on to be defined as greatly by its deep combat systems as much as its emotional stories. In some ways, Final Fantasy XVI’s action-forward combat feels like a full-circle moment due to its heavy emphasis on incredible fighting.