Gameplay of Final Fantasy
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Although each installment of the Final Fantasy series is generally set in a different fictional world with separate storylines, there are several commonalities from game to game when it comes to gameplay, many aspects of which have remained relatively consistent throughout the series.
Parties and battles
Throughout the Final Fantasy series, the most basic element of the gameplay has been that players command a party of characters during battle. The maximum size of the party has been as low as two and as high as seven, depending on the game. Players must face a variety of enemies who continually try to damage the player, as well as afflict "status ailments" upon the characters, such as poisoning them or putting them to sleep. Many of the games feature a random encounter system, where the player is randomly drawn into battle with enemies that are not visible on the map. This remained true of the numbered entries in the series until Final Fantasy XI changed to a system where all enemies are visible as the player explores the game world.
In battle, the characters can select a variety of commands from a menu, such as "Fight", "Magic", "Item", as well as other special skills such as "Steal", "Throw" or "Summon." The battle is won when all enemies are defeated, whilst the game ends if all player characters are unable to fight (either by losing all of their health, or if they are stuck in a state which requires another ally to cure them in order to continue fighting, such as petrification). In some, but not all battles, the player may attempt to flee. While Final Fantasy VI introduced "Desperation Attacks," where characters very low on hit points had the chance to use a much stronger attack than usual, with each Desperation Attack unique to each character, Yoshinori Kitase created an improved system in Final Fantasy VII called "Limit Breaks". These were powerful attacks that gained strength as the player took damage, and were accompanied by a sophisticated animation. Since then, games in the series allow characters to perform special moves when they fill up a power meter, and this gameplay component has become synonymous with the series.
As the series has gone on, the battle system has evolved from the basic turn-based combat system used in the original Final Fantasy to incorporate more real-time elements. The original turn-based system, with the player characters on the right and the enemies on the left, has been imitated by numerous RPGs. A major departure from this system came in Final Fantasy IV, when Hiroyuki Ito introduced the "Active Time Battle" (ATB) system, where the time-keeping mechanism does not stop whilst the player selects commands. Square filed a Japanese patent application related to the ATB system on July 16, 1991 and a corresponding US application on March 16, 1992. One Japanese patent (JP2794230) and two US patents (US5390937 and US5649862) were granted based on these applications. On the battle screen, each character has an ATB meter that gradually fills, and the player is allowed to issue a command to that character once the meter is full. Because enemies can attack at any time, and the player can lose his turn if he doesn't attack quick enough, urgency and excitement are injected into the combat system. When designing the ATB system, Ito was inspired by Formula One racing. According to Final Fantasy IV's lead designer, Takashi Tokita, "the planner, Hiroyuki Ito, was watching a Formula One race. Seeing all the cars pass each other, we thought of an interesting idea where character speed would differ depending on, I suppose, the type of character it is. So, that's where the initial idea came from."
The ATB system remained the norm until Final Fantasy X implemented a "Conditional Turn-Based" (CTB) system, which slowed gameplay while making it important for the right characters to square off against the right monsters. Its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, used a faster paced variant of the ATB system. Final Fantasy XI altered the system further by instituting a real-time system, where characters continuously attack unless issued another command. Final Fantasy XII introduced the "Active Dimension Battle" system, where the player may issue commands to the characters, or allow them to act automatically with certain behavioral triggers. In Final Fantasy XIII, a completely new version of the ATB system was introduced. Here, the ATB gauge is divided into segments and commands can take up from one segment to the entire bar, so different commands can be mixed and matched as the player sees fit. The ATB bar can also be upgraded to have more segments via the game's Crystarium leveling system. This version of the ATB system returns in Final Fantasy XIII's sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2.
Final Fantasy has become known for its inclusion of one or more minigames as part of its core gameplay, beginning mainly with Final Fantasy VII. Participation and progression in these minigames generally does not affect the main game, but can often offer many items or "power ups" that are either very rare, or simply otherwise unavailable. However, in some Final Fantasy installments, such as Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X, certain minigames are sometimes necessary in order to progress the storyline.
The earliest origins of these minigames were in the form of simple easter eggs which could be unlocked by pressing special button combinations in a particular location. For example, in the first Final Fantasy, a sliding puzzle can be unlocked while on board the ship. In Final Fantasy II, a matching game can be unlocked while boarding the ice sled and meeting a certain requirement. However, Final Fantasy VII was the first game to feature a large number of 'proper' minigames. A number of minigames appear occasionally throughout the main storyline and at various locations, many of which can later be played at the Gold Saucer theme park within the game, along with various other minigames exclusive to the Gold Saucer. These include, amongst others, a chocobo racing game, chocobo breeding, motorbike racing, a snowboarding game, an arm wrestling game, a martial arts game, and a basketball game. A port of the snowboarding minigame was released in Japan and North America in 2005 as a separate game for mobile phones, entitled Final Fantasy VII Snowboarding.
Final Fantasy VIII introduced the card game "Triple Triad". It was not considered an essential part of the game, but instead served to provide light relief to the storyline and allow the player to interact with minor characters in a different way. Through the use of a "Card Mod" ability, the player is able to create rare items by converting cards earned by defeating various competitors. Final Fantasy VIII was the first of the series to introduce a side-game with such interaction. Triple Triad was praised by GameSpot as a "more-than-worthy RPG minigame." Following the release of the game, Japanese games company Bandai produced a full set of collectible Triple Triad cards. The set was made up of the 110 cards, as seen in the game, along with 72 artwork cards and a collector's edition playing mat.
Another major minigame in Final Fantasy VIII is "Chocobo World" which was released as a handheld electronic game for the PocketStation (a peripheral for PlayStation). The game could be played exclusively, or as a minigame. The game was present in all localizations of Final Fantasy VIII, but the PocketStation itself was only released in Japan. In 2000, Chocobo World was ported to the Windows version of Final Fantasy VIII. The game allows players to control Boko, a chicobo (young chocobo), on his quest to save his friend Mog from the clutches of an evil demon. The game's screen consists of black and white pixel graphics and is presented in a manner similar to the "virtual pet" concept conceived by Bandai's Tamagotchi. To play in conjunction with Final Fantasy VIII, the player must find Boko in the world of the main game. Once accomplished, the player receives a user interface for communicating with the minigame. At any time, the player may send Boko into Chocobo World to gain experience and collect special items, which are transferred back for use in the main game. In addition, Boko may be used as a summon in Final Fantasy VIII.
Similar to Triple Triad, "Tetra Master" is a card game found in Final Fantasy IX. Unlike most of the minigames in the series, a few Tetra Master games must be played, one at the beginning of the game, and several closer to the end. Tetra Master was seen by GameSpot as inferior and confusing compared to Triple Triad, as the rules were only vaguely explained in the game, and there were very few rewards earned from playing it despite its extensiveness. Final Fantasy IX also had an additional minigame named "Chocobo Hot and Cold". Upon the acquisition of a chocobo, the player is able to access the game inside of Chocobo Forest. No games of "Chocobo Hot and Cold" are required to progress through the main game, although items received through the game could be used in the main game, including both regular game items and clues towards discovering more items.
In Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2, the main minigame is "Blitzball", an underwater sport featuring six-man teams that combines the physicality of rugby and soccer for scoring, and the hand passes of water polo. The game is played in a large sphere pool suspended in the air. Although blitzball is a crucial element to Final Fantasy X's plot, only one game must be played, although the player has the option of playing through an entire season of the game if they wish. In Final Fantasy X, the player controls the individual players on the team, while in X-2 they act as manager and coach. X-2 also has a game called Sphere Break, a mathematical game using numbered coins that possess several different attributes which can help the player in the Sphere Break minigame itself or gain items that can help in the various battles throughout the main game. GameSpot were unimpressed with blitzball, commenting that "trivial minigames have been creeping into the Final Fantasy games at an alarming rate over the last few years, and in this regard, X-2 is definitely the most egregious offender in the series".
Character growth and classes
The Final Fantasy series is like many role-playing video games in that it uses a level-up system, where players gain experience points and raise their character's experience level by killing enemies. Players may have difficulty defeating an enemy until they reach a higher experience level, although Final Fantasy VIII reduces the need to level-up by making the enemy's experience level always match that of the player's.
Each character class in a Final Fantasy game has unique abilities which develop as the player's level increases. In some titles, the player can assign a character with a specific class at the start of the game, while others allow characters to combine and learn abilities from a number of classes. In addition to other abilities, a character's class usually determines the types of weapons and armor that they can use. Some of the more traditional classes include the Warrior/Fighter, the Dragoon, the Thief and the different Mages/Wizards. Mage classes have included Black Mages (who use offensive spells), White Mages (who cast healing magic), Red Mages (who use both), Blue Mages (who use enemy spells and attacks cast against them), and Time Mages (who cast spells which speed up or slow down time). More original classes have appeared throughout the series, such as Bards, Scholars, and Summoners. Due to the series' popularity, they have become staples of RPGs since they debuted in Final Fantasy III.
The complexity of the class system varies from game to game. In the original Final Fantasy, the player allocates permanent class selections to the four playable characters at the beginning of the game, and each of the six starting classes can be upgraded to a corresponding advanced class midway through the game.
Characters in Final Fantasy II are molded according to their performance in battle. Final Fantasy III changed the formula by allowing the player to change a character's class, as well as acquire new and advanced classes and combine class abilities.
In Final Fantasy IV, the characters are assigned a job class that reflects their personality in the storyline, and in some cases the character's classes are not explicitly stated; abilities related to the character's class are learned as the character gains experience points. Final Fantasy IV also introduced the concept of characters joining or leaving the party throughout the storyline, which requires players to adjust their battle plans constantly.
In Final Fantasy V, each character can be assigned and reassigned one of 22 'jobs', gaining attributes in that job as they win battles. Many praised the game for the freedom this system afforded, although some considered the system highly complex, and it has been speculated that this may have been one of the reasons the game was not initially released in North America.
In Final Fantasy VI, characters are locked into specific classes from the start of the game, and each has a signature command, such as "Dance", "Lore" or "Mimic." In Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII, characters lack classes, and they all play the same in battle; nevertheless, each character has one or more unique limit breaks, and particular characters statistically support the informal adoption of class roles.
In Final Fantasy IX, characters have predetermined "dormant abilities" similar to Final Fantasy IV; however, the characters in Final Fantasy IX learn abilities by wearing equipment instead of gaining levels. Final Fantasy X introduced the "sphere grid"; characters began at certain areas of the grid, which represent traditional character classes by their statistical bonuses and abilities. Character classes were re-introduced in Final Fantasy X-2 as "dresspheres"; these classes are gradually acquired and can be changed at any point, including battle mode.
The classes that appear in Final Fantasy XI, the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) title in the series, have certain unique implementations that more closely follow MMORPG convention. Notably, in Final Fantasy XI a player can equip a secondary job, called a "subjob", and have half the abilities of that class. Extensive backstories are often given to Final Fantasy XI's job classes to add to the setting's lore.
In Final Fantasy XII, the player can mold characters into anything, without restriction of traditional classes. However, in the game's international version and in Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, the growth system is modified to have more clearly defined classes. In Final Fantasy XIII, characters can switch class mid-battle and in the field, utilizing the Paradigm system. In Final Fantasy XIV, player classes vary by what weapon they are wielding (i.e. wielding a sword turns that player into a Gladiator, while wielding knuckles turns the player into a Pugilist etc.). Additionally, abilities learned from other classes may be junctioned onto the player's current class (i.e. a Pugilist may use Red Lotus from the Gladiator class)
In Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, classes are once again chosen by the player from one of the starting jobs; however, characters must meet prerequisites before changing classes.
Like many role-playing games, the titles in the Final Fantasy series feature a system of magic. While the first game in the series had eight levels of spells with one to eight uses per level, later games jettisoned this concept for a common pool of magic points that all spells consume. Magic in the series is generally divided into classes, which are usually organized by color. The actual magic classes vary from game to game, but most games include "White Magic", which is focused primarily on spells that help teammates, and "Black Magic", which is focused on harming enemies. A character who is proficient in White or Black magic is often known as a White Mage or Black Mage, respectively. Other games include other types of mages and spells, such as Geomancers, who can cast spells based on the terrain, Blue Mages who can cast spells that are learned from enemies in battle, and Red Mages who can cast both white and black magic. In most games, the most powerful offensive White Magic spell is "Holy", while the most powerful black magic spell is often "Ultima" (a White Magic in Final Fantasy II), "Meteor", or "Meltdown".
How magic is acquired in the series tends to differ radically from game to game. For example, in Final Fantasy VI, magic spells are obtained from a "magicite" remnant of a god-like creature called an "Esper" who had died; this also allows for the ability to summon the Esper during battle when the magicite is equipped by a character. In Final Fantasy VII, materia works similarly to Final Fantasy VI's magicite, but unlike in Final Fantasy VI where magic learned by a character is permanently at their disposal, magic in Final Fantasy VII is attached to the materia and not the character.
Another recurring class of magic is Summoning Magic, which calls forth magical creatures to attack enemies and/or heal or protect party members. These entities have been known by different names throughout the series; "Call Beasts" (Final Fantasy IV), "Espers" (Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy XII), "Guardian Force" (Final Fantasy VIII), "Eidolons" (Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy XIII, and the DS version of Final Fantasy IV), "Aeons" (Final Fantasy X), "Avatars" (Final Fantasy XI), or simply "Summon Monsters." They were first introduced in Final Fantasy III, with eight different summons, and hit a peak of 51 different summons in Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. These summoned creatures often draw their names from classic mythology, or derivations thereof. For example, Ifrit and Bahamut come from Arabian mythology, though Bahamut is more akin to the draconic deity from Dungeons & Dragons. Carbuncle and Quetzalcoatl come from The Mesoamerican mythology. Shiva, Garuda, and Lakshmi come from Hindu mythology. Ramuh is also a Hindu-inspired summon, drawn from Indra and Rama. Meanwhile, the serpent Leviathan is inspired by the Old Testament, and Phoenix is drawn from Egyptian mythology. Greek mythology inspired Titan, Hecatonchires, Hades, Typhon, Cerberus, and Siren, while Norse mythology was the source for Odin the warrior, Fenrir the wolf, and Midgardsormr the serpent. Doomtrain's Japanese name, Glasya-Labolas, is taken from the grimoire of demons, The Lesser Key of Solomon. Cait Sith is derived from the Celtic Cat Sìth or Cat Sidhe (pronounced cat shee), a black cat with a white patch on its chest.
Airships and transport
Although some Final Fantasy games have featured unique vehicles such as a spaceplane or hovercraft, many vehicles are common to several games in the series. Many games in the series allowed players to pilot a ship over oceans and seas, with some even allowing players to pilot a submarine underwater. Trains also appear in several games in the series. The first three games allowed players to ride a canoe through rivers. All games since Final Fantasy II have featured a chocobo, a species of fictional bird which often acts as a mode of transport.
One of the most iconic modes of transport in the Final Fantasy series is the airship, which has appeared in every game. The visual style of each airship varies between games. In several games, they are repaired and improved during the story, allowing the player to access new areas. In many games, they have built in weapons for random encounters, which attack at the beginning of a battle. However, in Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, and Final Fantasy XII, flight is abstracted with a short cutscene, and essentially allows the player to teleport between locations. The impossibly fast 'Nautilus' in Final Fantasy III was dubbed the fastest airship in the whole series, travelling across the world map in less than 10 seconds.
Elemental orbs or crystals have appeared in more than ten of the fourteen main titles in the series. They usually drive the plot as an essential link to the planet's life force, and thus the player must often find or collect these crystals to advance the plot.
All Final Fantasy games allow players to purchase various items and equipment from shops, using a currency known as Gil (ギル giru?). Final Fantasy IV is the only game to explain the origin of the word; in that game, the word Gil is derived from Gilbart, a common name for members of the royal family of Damcyan, and was originally used as the currency of Damcyan. The most common way to earn gil in the series is from random battles, although Final Fantasy VIII is a notable exception where gil is earned as a regular stipend from an academy for mercenaries, and in Final Fantasy XI, where it is dropped less from monsters (only Beastmen drop gil, and it's a very small amount), and more from the in-game auction house in which players can sell goods to other players for a more substantial amount of gil.
Numerous weapons have seen recurring use throughout the series; others have been influenced by a variety of mythological and fantasy concepts. For example, the Excalibur, named after the King Arthur legend, and Masamune, named after the Japanese swordsmith, have been top-tier blade weapons since the first Final Fantasy. As the series has progressed, other weapons, such as the Ultima Weapon, the Blood Sword, Sasuke's Katana and the Ragnarok, have been introduced. Interspersed between unique weapons are a graded scale of other, more common weapons, usually sold in shops. They are typically labeled according to the following progression, from weakest to strongest: Bronze, Iron, Steel, Mythril/Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Crystal, Adamantite (found in Final Fantasy), and Adamantine. "Wooden" weapons and "Leather" armor are also often seen throughout the series.
Swords are commonly seen throughout the series, and come in various forms. Elemental swords, which include a certain element, such as fire or wind, are seen in almost every installment in the series. Some elemental swords launch an additional magical attack during battle, such as the Lightbringer in Final Fantasy VI. Elemental swords have had many names, fire-elemental swords are usually named 'Flame Saber' or 'Flametongue', ice-elemental swords are named 'Blizzard' or 'Ice Brand', and thunder-elemental swords are named 'Thunderblade' or 'Coral Sword'. A water-elemental sword hasn't been used often, but in Final Fantasy X the main character obtains one called 'Brotherhood', and in Final Fantasy X-2, the Warrior dresssphere has a water-elemental sword attack called 'Liquid Steel'.
There are also various staffs/rods featured in many of the games, which often use special actions, many of do not directly damage (or deal very low damage) and are often beneficial, such as the "Healing Staff" found in Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy V. Additionally, some weapons can be used from the items menu, and can produce a variety of effects, such as dealing damage to an enemy, placing a negative status effect on an enemy, healing the user or an ally, or placing a positive status effect on the user or an ally.
The Final Fantasy installments also feature several types of projectile weapons, including bows, balls, guns, boomerangs, and launchers. Gunblades have a gun-like handle which contains a firing mechanism, but are not considered projectile as the firing mechanism only makes the blade vibrate causing extra damage, and does not fire any actual shells, with the exception of Yazoo's gunblades from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Weiss's twin gunblades from Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, and Lightning's gunblades from Final Fantasy XIII. In some installments, such as Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV, ammunition (bullets and arrows) is limited; others, like Final Fantasy XII, require the player to carry a stock of ammunition that can never be depleted. Other installments, like Final Fantasy VII, omit ammunition completely. Some of the common recurring projectile weapons include Yoichi's Bow, and the Full Moon boomerang.
In addition to the types of weapons above, the series has also included whips, dice, lances, axes, knives, daggers, hammers, claws and other common weapons.
Armor and accessories
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Armor typically follows the same alloy progression as swords. A common type of armour in the series is the "Genji" armor, which is seen in Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. The Genji armor consists of a shield, helmet, body armor, and sometimes gloves. Some armor featured in the series is named after metals or stones; others are based on colors or spells. Armor and accessories used in the series consist of bracers, shields, rings, bangles, shoes, helmets, body armor, robes, and dresses. However, not all games in the series have an armor system; for example, Final Fantasy X-2 uses the equipping of dressspheres instead of armor. Final Fantasy VIII uses stat increases from equipping Guardian Forces, a form of summoning in the game, rather than the use of armor.
Several individual pieces of armor and accessories recur throughout the series. Two of the most common are the Aegis shield and the Protect Ring, which provide various effects for the character, depending on the game. The Golden Hairpin almost always benefits the spellcasters in the party. For example, in Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI, it was an accessory that reduced spell costs by half; in Final Fantasy Tactics, it was head armor that gave a significant boost to the maximum MP value and nullified the silence status effect. The Ribbon is also an accessory in most Final Fantasy games, which allows the equipped user to become immune to most or all status ailments.
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"Items" are collected objects that may affect the status or health of a character or enemy. Many objects are one-use and include a limit to how many are stocked in the party's inventory. In every installment, the basic HP-recovering item is some form of potion. The items' names varies in earlier games, such as being called "Heal Potions" in the first game, "Cure Potions" in the English translation of Final Fantasy IV, and "Tonics" in the English translation of Final Fantasy VI. Other variants, which heal more HP, include the mid-level "Hi-Potion", the high-level "X-Potion", and the multi-target "Mega Potion."
Since Final Fantasy IV, the lead MP-recovering item has been the "Ether". The name is derived from "Aether", a classical term used in medieval times to describe a possible substance between air, earth, fire, and water. The English language localization of Final Fantasy VI renamed the Ether "Tincture," and also featured a second-level MP-restoration item, "Hi-Ether", which was renamed simply "Ether". The Turbo Ether (also known as "Dry Ether") has appeared in numerous games and restores either a significant or complete portion of a character's MP.
The "Elixir", which appears in most Final Fantasy games, is both a HP and MP recovery item. Some games include the "Megalixir" (or "Last Elixir"), which fully restores the party's HP and MP. Other items recover both HP and MP at specific locations. "Tents" are often used on field maps or at Save Points as replacements for an Inn, as they completely restore the party's HP and MP. Variants such as "Cabin", "Cottage", and "Sleeping Bag" restore more or less HP and MP; sometimes to only one character. In Final Fantasy IX, Tents can be used during battle, although there is chance of being inflicted with abnormal status effects when used.
Status effect-curing items are also recurring. For example, "Antidote" heals poison and venom, "Echo Screen"/"Echo Herbs"/"Echo Drops" removes silence, "Eye Drops" cures blindness, and "Soft" (originally "Golden Needle") cures petrification. "Phoenix Down" (also translated as "Phoenix Tail") is used in most Final Fantasy games to revive an unconscious party member with a small portion of their HP. In some of the earlier games, the word was translated as "FenixDown" because of size issues with fitting English letters in the space previously occupied by Japanese characters. Phoenix Down often instantly kills or inflicts maximum damage on undead and other creatures harmed by curative spells. The item is supposed to be the feather of a Phoenix a common symbol of life and rebirth; "down" refers to the down feathers of a bird, the undercoat of feathers beneath the visible layer on top. Other representations of Phoenix Down include the "Bottled Tears" of a Phoenix, "Bolted Quivers" and "Bead Necklaces." Variants of this item include the "Phoenix Pinion" and "Mega Phoenix", which revive all party members. Final Fantasy XI is the exception to this, using instead the "Regain Feather" (grants 100% HP, 100% MP and 300% TP), "Rebirth Feather" (Reraise III), "Revive Feather" (Reraise I), "Fire Feather" (Enfire), and "Blaze Feather" (Blaze Spikes).
There are other basic items seen throughout the Final Fantasy series, including "Gysahl Greens", which can be used for a variety of effects; to summon Fat Chocobo, an item storage service, at specific locations in Final Fantasy IV; to catch, feed and race chocobos in Final Fantasy VII; to summon a pet chocobo in Final Fantasy VIII; to ride a chocobo in Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII. The "Rename Card" renames characters that have already been named. This first appeared in Final Fantasy VI, though the character Namingway had a similar function in Final Fantasy IV. In Final Fantasy VIII, a Rename Card renames Guardian Forces, and Pet's Nametag renames Rinoa's dog's name. In Final Fantasy IX, the Namingway Card had the effect of renaming the characters in Daguerreo, and in Final Fantasy X, it was used to rename Aeons.
All Final Fantasy games also have "key items", which must be acquired to further the game's story or complete a sidequest. Key items are usually kept in their own special inventory separate from the player's stock of usable items. Examples of key items include the "Nitro" from the original Final Fantasy, the "Huge Materia" from Final Fantasy VII, and the "Supersoft" from Final Fantasy IX. A key item is typically received shortly before the player reaches the point where it is needed. After a key item is used, it usually remains in the player's inventory permanently, but serves no further purpose. Some items or key items are/may be almost completely useless, like "Tissue" from the American release of Final Fantasy VII.
Reception and legacy
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The Final Fantasy series is credited with defining the structure of subsequent role-playing games.
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