To those unfamiliar with the history of video game developer Square (now merged with former rival Enix and renamed Square Enix), the title of the prolific Final Fantasy series must seem pretty ironic. After all, the franchise’s Roman numeral-numbered sequels now go all the way up to XV, and by the time you add in the sequel’s sequels, like the recently rereleased Final Fantasy X-2, and spinoffs like Final Fantasy Tactics (which of course has a sequel of its own, too), there doesn’t seem to be anything “final” about the series at all.

Some gamers will be quick to point out, though, that had the original Final Fantasy not been a hit, Square wouldn’t have had the financial resources to keep going and would have had to shut its doors, and the title is a nod to that desperation. Others will correct them, saying that in fact the “Final” portion of the title was chosen because Hironobu Sakaguchi, the driving force behind the creation of the series and its most popular installments, was going to quit the gaming industry if the first Final Fantasy wasn’t a success.

But as Sakaguchi himself recently revealed, neither of those was really the reason Square decided to call what would go on to be its defining game series Final Fantasy.

While his exact credits ranged from “design” to director to executive producer, Sakaguchi was the one calling the shots from the first Final Fantasy all the way up through Final Fantasy XI. In 2004, partially due to the fallout from the catastrophic box office failure of the Sakaguchi-spearheaded Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within motion picture, Sakaguchi left Square and formed his own video game studio, Mistwalker.

While Mistwalker has had moderate success, Final Fantasy remains the first thing many gamers think of when they hear Sakaguchi’s name. So when Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University recently hosted a conference on the globalization of Japanese-produced games with Sakaguchi delivering the keynote address, of course the genesis of Final Fantasy, Sakaguchi’s biggest international hit to-date, was going to be part of the discussion.

Sakaguchi recalled that the development of the first Final Fantasy, which was released in 1987, was particularly difficult, as it taxed the hardware of Nintendo’s 8-bit Famicom hardware, which was already four years old at that point. Still, the team persevered, and in the end, the game launched the franchise that would become first Square’s, and then Square Enix’s, cash cow for decades to come.

Imps, meanwhile, would go on to become cash cows for low-level Light Warriors.

But what about that title? Sakaguchi says that even before figuring out exactly what to call their ambitious fantasy role-playing game, the team had already decided they wanted something that could be easily abbreviated using the Roman alphabet. They were also set on something that could be condensed into a four-syllable abbreviated version in Japanese, and FF (pronounced “efu efu” in Japanese), fit both criteria.

Given the genre the game fell into, making one of those Fs “fantasy” was a no-brainer. But what about the other one? Actually, “Final” wasn’t the team’s first choice, as Sakaguchi says the initial idea was to call the game Fighting Fantasy. However, they had to nix that plan when they discovered there was already a board game called Fighting Fantasy, which was in turn based on a series of British gamebooks

So with Fighting Fantasy out of the running, Sakaguchi and his cohorts settled on Final Fantasy. “To be sure, we had our backs to the wall when we were developing Final Fantasy,” Sakaguchi told the audience, “but really, anything that started with an F would have been fine for the title.”

So it turns out that while the early members of Square did indeed pour their hearts and souls into making Final Fantasy, the game’s title itself wasn’t necessarily as indicative of that last-ditch effort as many believed. Still, the team’s all-out commitment resulted in, for the time, beautiful graphics, emotional music, and deeply rewarding gameplay, so we think we can forgive them for being a little indifferent to what the name would be for their first true masterpiece.

Source: Famitsu via Jin