Disciples of the Pen: Evolving the Fantasy

Raising the Bar -- And the Cost

This edition of Disciples of the Pen features another article by Sephrick who looks at the recent history of the Final Fantasy series from a hardware perspective.  Sephrick examines how the games have evolved over time, and how Square Enix continues to push the limits of current-gen with their flagship RPG series.  Each new installment raises the bar, but at what cost to the players?

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Evolving the Fantasy: Pay to Play

From the full-motion videos of Final Fantasy VII to the in-game aesthetics of it's successor seven installments later, Square-Enix has made it's mark on the gaming world with compelling stories intertwined with stunning graphics.

But, at what cost come those graphics to fans outside the console realm?

In 1997, Square-Enix released Final Fantasy VII – a mainstay for fans in the flagship series and a game filled with firsts for the developer.

Prior to this seventh installment, previous versions featured 2-D graphics with sprites traveling on flat backgrounds. Advancements in technology allowed designers to develop characters shaped by polygons to travel on pre-rendered scenes(1).

IGN(2) wrote: Accordingly, VII stepped off the 2D grid and into a breathtaking 3D world, with fully rendered battles and MIDI sound traded in for Nobuo Uematsu's deeper compositions. Super-deformed avatars roamed the world and field maps and switched to full-scale sprites for battle screens, but all were rendered in three dimensional polygons. VII's production team swelled into the triple digits with dozens of new faces working on 3D software packages the veteran FF team had never heard of before. [...] The size, the scope, the raw passion fueling the entire project swept everyone up. They were coding history, and they knew it.

In 1998, Square-Enix took on the task of porting the new installment for use on a budding gaming market, personal computers. Comparably, one could find a computer to run the game today for less than $300, however in 1998 the cost of witnessing the historic installment was steep.

In order to run Final Fantasy VII, a computer needed a 166 MHz Pentium CPU, 32 megabytes of RAM, the ability to support DirectX 5.1 sound and video, 260 megabytes of hard disc space and at least Windows 95. A set up near those specs, with only half the required RAM, would have cost around $840 (3).

Square-Enix continued this precedent of requiring mid- to high-end hardware with their next ported installment.

A mere two years after the series' PC debut, VIII required a 266 MHz Intel Pentium II CPU, 64 megabytes of RAM, a video card with 4 megabytes of RAM, 300 megabytes of hard drive space, DirectX 6.1 and at least Windows 95. A capable processor was released in May 1997, first hitting the market for $775(6).

The next few installments would not see a PC release. Rather, Final Fantasy IX ushered in the advent of PlayOnline, which was intended to be a source of information for players with access to a PC. Final Fantasy X would not make use of the PlayOnline system, however, Final Fantasy XI – the series' first online installment – would rely heavily on it.

Developed for, and initially released on, the Playstations 2, Final Fantasy XI was Square-Enix's bid into the massively-multiplayer online role playing game market. Between November 2002 and September 2004, XI was released throughout various regions with requirements set at a Pentium III 800 MHz CPU, Windows 2000 or XP, 128 megabytes of RAM, DirectX 8.1, an Nvidia GeForce with 32 megabytes of RAM or an ATI Radeon 9000 or higher and 9.5 gigabytes of free hard drive space. Some of the aforementioned requirements were released to market as recent as 2002, including the ATI Radeon 9000 which ran for $90 to $100 then(4), but can be scooped up today for less than $40(5). The Pentium III 800 was released in 1999 and at the time was estimated to hit shelves at just under $800(7).

Square-Enix would again dip Final Fantasy out of the PC market for it's experimental release X-2 as well as for XII and XIII.

As the release of Final Fantasy XIV – SE's next online installment – draws near, message boards and fan sites are ablaze with questions regarding the developer's choice in hardware requirements and recommendations. From self-building advice to top-of-the-line pre-built rigs, hopeful gamers face spending anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than $1,500 to get the experience of their choosing as SE prepares to release another game on the graphical cutting edge.

However, with this installment marking another first for SE – the first installment designed to be initially released for the PC market – the company shows that it is committed to staying on top of a rapidly changing hardware market. A sign that, for some gamers, there always is a steep price to pay.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-rendering 
  2. http://retro.ign.com/articles/870/870770p2.html 
  3. http://news.cnet.com/IBM-Pentium-II-PC-dips-to-1,099/2100-1001_3-209286.html 
  4. http://www.techspot.com/reviews/hardware/fic_radeon9000pro/ 
  5. http://techspot.pricegrabber.com/search_getprod.php/masterid=607037/search=radeon%209000 
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Intel_Pentium_II_microprocessors 
  7. http://www.activewin.com/reviews/hardware/processors/Intel/iii800/conclusion.shtml



Post Comment
New compy
# Aug 23 2010 at 10:06 PM Rating: Default
I ran the benchmark, and was happy with the results on my current rig... but of course I will be wanting a new computer. I was going to build another computer anyway, but the motivation for this game is just icing on the cake.
I remember having to do the wife-beg-shuffle to get a new vid card when 11 first came out, lucky for me she is WAAAAYYY more forgiving with my computer habit now then she was then.
I'm not going to go over board and get a 2600. rig, I am quite jealous of that one, but I will be building my own from the case up, and will probably be able to run most games at very high settings for at least the next 3-4 years after !!
Yay for full settings on games... amiright ?
Will my system run FFXIV?
# Aug 21 2010 at 10:05 PM Rating: Decent
I actually just ordered a new PC in order to keep up with FFXIV, but I'm not sure how it will fare. Any feedback would help! It's a quad-core processor with a nVidia GeForce 9800, 500GB HDD, and 4GB of RAM. Think that will handle the game without any issues? The nice part was that I got it for $700.
# Aug 16 2010 at 11:37 PM Rating: Excellent
236 posts
It's probably awesome that you dropped $2600 to build a new gaming PC for FFXIV and I'm sure you'll enjoy a top-end graphical experience, never know lag and be set for years to come with regards to PC games, but I just spent $650 total to build my own PC that I KNOW will run FFXIV and I somewhat doubt the necessity of spending 1k+ on a setup. If you're a huge PC gamer and want to be set for a while than... maybe, if you have that kind of cash to spend, but if you're just a gamer who wants to play FFXIV without terrible lag, you need not spend over $700 (windows will add to your costs) in order to play.
# Aug 17 2010 at 4:48 PM Rating: Decent
I probably should mention that my gamer pc is also my work pc, so half the motivation was upgrading my PC for my work as well. I could work fine my old machine so it wasn't a necessary upgrade, but it does help with my work performance when working on heavy files. maybe it would be more fair to say FFXIV is the 'tipping' point for getting an upgrade.
From this perspective 2600 bucks isn't really a big deal (tax write off, and 2 weeks of work pay for it). Additionally I was needing to build a machine that could run the game at the resolution of my monitor (2560x1600). Granted the benchmark program does go above 1080p, but I'm guessing like with FFXI, there is a registry address somewhere that can be tweaked.

I don't want to discourage anyone into thinking that you need to spend 2600 bucks to play game, sorry =P.
hurray for pc!
# Aug 16 2010 at 7:42 PM Rating: Decent
I wouldn't have gotten to play FFVII or VIII had they not been on PC (I didn't have a PS1).
steep price indeed
# Aug 16 2010 at 5:48 PM Rating: Decent
yeah I just dropped about 2600 bucks to build a new computer for FFXIV...
steep price indeed
# Aug 16 2010 at 6:19 PM Rating: Good
268 posts
The good thing about this game is 5 years from now, your $2600 computer will be able to play any game that will come out then and still be able to play all aspects of FFXIV. Well worth the money.

I am glad a game developer has made the choice to move forward with graphics. I even looked at the new Star Wars MMO and questioned their next-gen MMO graphics engine. In my opinion it looks just a tad better than FFXI's. I was proud when AION came out, was just a beautiful game.

But all-together I enjoyed reading this article. As my first Final Fantasy was Final Fantasy 7, It was really nice to see how this franchise has evolved. I really hope they don't stop making Final Fantasy. I have been long looking forward for this game's release since E3 2009!
steep price indeed
# Aug 17 2010 at 1:02 PM Rating: Decent
indeed, I figured if I'm gonna drop money for an upgrade anyway, I might as well future proof it for a couple years.
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