In 1990, a revolutionary new game was introduced to the United States. Final Fantasy was the first in a series of console role-playing games introduced by Square Enix. In the first Final Fantasy, you start of by choosing a group of four "Warriors of Light". You're allowed to choose from six classes: Fighter, Thief, Black Belt, Red Mage, White Mage, and Black Mage giving the player up to 24 combinations to choose from. Final Fantasy was revolutionary in the sense that for the first time, the player controlled a party of multiple characters (positioned on the left side of the screen) and faced enemy parties with up to 9 enemies (positioned on the right side of the screen). The game also focuses more on a story rather than action. The story line focuses on the four “Warriors of Light” bearers of 4 ancient elemental artifacts, tasked with saving the world from a growing threat.
Although the characters the gamer plays as are all humanoids, the game falls in with Huizinga’s criteria that play is not “ordinary or real life” and that by playing the game we are “stepping out of real life into a temporary sphere of activity” . Final Fantasy also falls into Huizinga’s criteria that play is free, not in the monetary sense, but rather in the sense that it is not an arduous task, it is a game that is played at someone’s leisure, for fun.
Roger Caillois agrees and disagrees with Huizinga on different aspects of the definition of play, but one particular aspect of his definition of play is quite interesting in the scope of video games. Caillois writes, “An outcome known in advance, with no possibility of error or surprise, clearly leading to an inescapable result, is incompatible with the nature of play” . A RPG like Final Fantasy is story driven and thus has a pre-defined ending. Though it is not known to the player in their first experience with the game, what the conclusion of the story will be, each time the game is subsequently played, the player knows the outcome, which doesn’t follow with Caillois criteria of play. It can however be argued, that in a story-boarded game like Final Fantasy the play aspect is in the variety of paths you can take on your way to the end, rather than the end itself.
One thing that has always intrigued me about linear story based role-playing games like Final Fantasy is that although you can win, that is, reach the conclusion of the story, you cannot lose. True, your party can perish and you’ll be restarted at your most recent save, but if you continue to play the game, you will eventually come to the end. Suits touches on the subject a bit when he discusses a restriction of means for obtaining the end which invokes the activity of trying to win, thus resulting in play. In Final Fantasy, you’re restricted by the constant enemies (with increasing strength as the game progresses) which act as an obstacle to keep the player from reaching the end, thus invoking a state of play.