Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Final Fantasy Series's Odd Elemental Imbalance

Not really a complaint today, just an observation of something strange. Did you ever notice how early Final Fantasies have an odd disconnect between the plot-important elements and the actually useable magical elements?

What I mean is...alright, see, for the first couple generations of Final Fantasy titles, the plot was pretty squarely centered around the four elemental crystals of Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth. The idea was that these all-important plot devices were what infused the elements of a living, functional, and magical world into the planet and nature, and without them, the elements would either fade out (FF5) or go out of control (FF Mystic Quest) and the world would be doomed. Pretty standard stuff all around, of course; the idea of super magical sparkly special plot item crystals performing essential, mystical maintenance for a world’s life force has been a part of fantasy- and anime-styled stories for ages, and the idea of Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth being the main 4 elements of all creation has been around for a bit longer. And by that, I mean thousands of years.

So you’ve got earlier Final Fantasy games--and maybe more recent ones; I haven’t played anything more recent than FF Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, so I couldn’t say--having these mystical elemental crystals of Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire governing all the world’s magic and essential natural functions and life force and whatnot. Okay, cool. But then what’s up with the elemental magic system?

As far as the standardized black magic of the earlier Final Fantasy games goes, the all-important crystals are barely represented. Okay, sure, Fire spells are in abundance, as you’d expect, but the other elements with the highest number of spells, practicality, and plot focus are Ice/Blizzard and Bolt/Thunder spells. Yeah, you’ll get a token Earth spell, Water spell, and Wind spell, but of the 3 major magical elements of the game’s battle system, which again tend to be the most likely to get out-of-battle use during story events, only 1 actually has anything to do with the major all-important magical plot crystal elements.

And no, Ice/Blizzard spells do not count as representations of the Water Crystal. Water and Ice/Blizzard are considered 2 different elements in the typical FF magic system. And even if you do want to count it as related to the Water Crystal, you’re still missing strong representation from half of the sources of magic in the world, so it still doesn’t make much sense, at least not to me.

And yeah, sure, Wind spells had a little more early game exposure than I’m giving credit for, in that there were a couple for White magic in FF1 and a proper 3 levels of Aero spells for Blue Magic in FF5. I guess that counts for FF1 to an extent, since White Magic is as basic and inescapable a standard for Final Fantasy as Black Magic, but Blue Magic’s kind of its own thing, an odd-ball type that doesn’t really conform to the rest of a game’s magic systems, so I don’t reckon it really counts. That could just be me being picky, I suppose. Still, it’s kind of a shaky point for Wind magic to stand on regardless.

Wouldn’t you think the basic spells of the most basic magic type would correspond to the elements established by the plot to the be major and important ones, the source of all magic? Instead of Fire-Fira-Firaga, Blizzard-Blizzara-Blizzaga, and Thunder-Thundara-Thundaga, shouldn’t it really be Fire-Fira-Firaga, Water-Watera-Waterga, Aero-Aerora-Aeroga, and Stone-Stonera-Stonega? The series later brought Earth magic properly into the mix in FF7, and Water magic in FF10, but the crystals aren’t a part of those games anyway. For the games where they would make the most sense to be the most basic building blocks of magic, most of the crystal elements are represented as only individual spells achieved late in the game, or parts of odd side-magic systems, rather than as the iconic basic spells of the iconic basic magic style of the series.

Like I said, it’s not a big deal, or anything that actually bothers me. Just a little oddity I noticed, that’s all.


  1. What about FFVII having Aero 3(IIRC) as an enemy-only spell*, or IX only having Water as a usable spell, only to see Waterga against Kraken? VII's Quake Spells were badass, but it's also the last time such an appearance really means anything. Relatively speaking. Why your ass is dealing elemental damage and not using Enemy Skill or Choco-Mog <> Elemental on a weapon is a bigger problem, pragmatically speaking. Poison being a standard element is notable as well, as VII's elemental distribution is concerned.

    FF still has very imbalanced elemental distribution. Earth and Wind simply aren't elements in X, have fun dealing magical Earth or Water damage in XII, for example (helps sell some weapons to the player, at least). XIII has full sets of Fire/Thunder/Blizzard/Aero spells, while Quake is a "Technique" that costs the somewhat expensive TP, which feels even more restrictive as XIII doesn't have an MP cost system, so it's the only offensive spell with a resource cost. It has unique mechanics to be a proper niche skill, but it's a major quirk. So yeah, the imbalance is still around, but at least it's meaningful and not feeling like some spells didn't have time to have animations made for them.

    My typical gameplay BS aside, the Crystals/ORBs/etc seem to be representations of broad forces of nature, with spells being more localized manifestations of those forces, if there's an intended connection at all. Note that only The Heroes seem to have any stated connection to Crystals/Orbs, and Magic is a relatively mundane set of skills not necessarily tied to the four elements. While the heroes are obviously connected to the crystals, they are utilizing schools of magic that predate this relationship, and AFAIK a relation between the four elements and Magic isn't offered up.

    My take? Fire and Water are honestly too basic and fundamental to not implement, Lightning is more or less a product of Wind even in the real world and is a very real form of the power of nature(more than a breeze at least; full on tornadoes create an issue of being unfocused which was touched upon in FFVI!), and Ice is manipulated Water. A rough connection in RPG Land where these are all specific damage alignments, but it reconciles the matter for me. I have loose principles, granted.

    *Where's my fucking Wind Enemy Skill?

    1. Man, FF7's Aero not being an E.Skill pissed me right the fuck off. Way more than it had any right to.

      Technically speaking, I THINK that some of the later FFs have had Stone spells as a major elemental black magic skill, so FF7's Quake series weren't the last time...but that might have been in one of those MMORPG FFs, so maybe that doesn't even count.

      Now see, I know the Crystals are the source of elemental balance and all that, but I could have sworn there was some canonical statement at least somewhere or other in a Crystal-based FF that they also are the origin of all magic in that world, too. But I can't remember well enough to stake anything on that, so perhaps your interpretation is the only supportable one.

    2. You might be thinking of how, in FFV, the crystals were the origin of oceans, fire, wind and... I'm not sure what the Earth Crystal is meant to be the origin of.

    3. Arpy, it makes you mad because Aero is a Blue spell, and up to that point, Wind was a Blue element. It not being an Enemy Skill is not only odd, but removes the element from its dedicated school from the previous two games. This in the game where POISON and EARTH are standard three level elements. Hope you like Tornado.

      Stone/Break is a status spell, and I don't recall any high level Earth magic outside of Quake which isn't consistently present. I am wholly unfamiliar with the MMOs.

      Magicite is a magic source, IX's Crystal is the source of all life, old school crystals are vaguely important to the balance of nature amd stuff, but I don't recall magical connections beyond that. I'm hardly confident on brief comments tucked into the script, though.