Final Fantasy Unlimited is based on the Squaresoft’s epic roleplaying series currently now on Playstation 2. The series is up to its twelfth iteration which makes something of a mockery of the finality of its titling. I’ve done my fair share of playing games in the series with Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X under my expanding belt. As each of these games take well over forty hours to complete, doing the maths either makes me crazy or something of an expert. I’m going with expert. At their best, the Final Fantasy games can be truly affecting experiences. Cloud’s farewell to Aeris following her death at the hands of the villain Sephiroth in VII remains a moment of profound sadness.
Final Fantasy with its grand fantasy themes, epic battles and conflicted heroes seems perfect for a translation to anime. Like Ikea kit furniture, simply grab the Alan key and assemble. Unlimited’s credits lead in with, ‘based on a ‘concept from Square’. To me, ‘based on a concept’, can range from scribblings on the back cocktail napkin to a full day workshop and PowerPoint presentation in Square’s boardroom. Unfortunately, it seems the former is more likely the case. Predictable elements point toward the series being targeted at a younger audience. There are Nutra-Sweet twins searching for lost parents in a bizarre world, an enigmatic outsider, Kaze, with his transforming revolver, the ‘Magun’, and a child-like villain with a Jamie Oliver-like obsession for creating the perfect meal.
The animation recalls a less ornate, more standard anime fantasy version of the games with some appealing slim-line designs especially for Kaze and the villains. Unfortunately where the anime diverges from the games, the design feels flat, with the kids’ visuals looking hopelessly generic. Interspersed with the traditional animation is some nice CG of a few of the repeated elements in the anime including Kaze’s ‘Magun’ transformation and a steam locomotive that delivers the twins to each new destination.
A few echoes of the Final Fantasy games appear with varying degrees of success. The chapters are picaresque, each episode featuring a new, exotic locale not unlike the games. There is a battle between Kaze and monster every episode where Kaze uses a combo of elemental bullets to summon a giant monster. These bits feel shoe-horned into the show and any consideration of their narrative logic will leave you wondering. Oddly, the most effective link to the games is the orchestral fanfare at the end of Kaze’s battles, which momentarily make you feel like a controller has been thrust into your hands and you have completed an epic battle from one of the games.
It’s hard to judge a Final Fantasy on just the first four episodes. It appears to be aimed squarely at kids as a ‘lite’ introduction to the series. There seems to be no high drama of the games. The twins feel like escapees from a Pokémon-type series and story is just not gripping. Final Fantasy Unlimited’s reliance on generic devices makes the whole package feel a little tired and a little lazy. So if you are looking for an anime equivalent of the games, on the evidence of the first disc, I would probably give it a miss.