The titles in the series feature a variety of music, but frequently reuse themes. Most of the games open with a piece called "Prelude", which has evolved from a simple, 2-voice arpeggio in the early games to a complex, melodic arrangement in recent installments. Victories in combat are often accompanied by a victory fanfare, a theme that has become one of the most recognized pieces of music in the series. The basic theme that accompanies Chocobo appearances has been rearranged in a different musical style for each installment. A piece called "Prologue" (and sometimes "Final Fantasy"), originally featured in the first game, is often played during the ending credits. Although leitmotifs are common in the more character-driven installments, theme music is typically reserved for main characters and recurring plot elements.
Nobuo Uematsu was the chief music composer of the Final Fantasy series until his resignation from Square Enix in November 2004. Other composers include Masashi Hamauzu, Hitoshi Sakimoto and Junya Nakano. Uematsu was allowed to create much of the music with little direction from the production staff. Sakaguchi, however, would request pieces to fit specific game scenes including battles and exploring different areas of the game world. Once a game's major scenarios were completed, Uematsu would begin writing the music based on the story, characters, and accompanying artwork. He started with a game's main theme, and developed other pieces to match its style. In creating character themes, Uematsu read the game's scenario to determine the characters' personality. He would also ask the scenario writer for more details to scenes he was unsure about. Technical limitations were prevalent in earlier titles; Sakaguchi would sometimes instruct Uematsu to only use specific notes. It was not until Final Fantasy IV on the SNES that Uematsu was able to add more subtlety to the music.
Overall, the Final Fantasy series has been critically acclaimed and commercially successful, though each installment has seen different levels of success. The series has seen a steady increase in total sales; it sold 45 million units worldwide by August 2003, 63 million by December 2005, and 85 million by July 2008. In June 2010, Square Enix announced that the series has sold over 97 million units. Its high sales numbers have ranked it as one of the best-selling video game franchises in the industry; in January 2007, the series was listed as number three, and later in July as number four. Several games within the series have become best-selling titles. At the end of 2007, the seventh, eighth, and ninth best-selling RPGs were Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, and Final Fantasy X respectively. Final Fantasy VII has sold more than 9.5 million copies worldwide, earning it the position of the best-selling Final Fantasy title. Within two days of Final Fantasy VIII's North American release on September 9, 1999, it became the top-selling video game in the United States, a position it held for more than three weeks. Final Fantasy X sold over 1.4 million Japanese units in pre-orders alone, which set a record for the fastest-selling console RPG. Final Fantasy XII sold more than 1.7 million copies in its first week in Japan. By November 6, 2006—one week after its release—Final Fantasy XII had shipped approximately 1.5 million copies in North America.
The series has received critical acclaim for the quality of its visuals and soundtracks. It was awarded a star on the Walk of Game in 2006, making it the first franchise to win a star on the event (other winners were individual games, not franchises). WalkOfGame.com commented that the series has sought perfection as well as been a risk taker in innovation. In a 2008 public poll held by The Game Group plc, Final Fantasy was voted the best game series, with five titles appearing in their "Greatest Games of All Time" list. IGN has commented the menu system used by the series is a major detractor for many and is a "significant reason why they haven't touched the series." The site has also heavily criticized the use of random encounters in the series' battle systems. IGN further stated the various attempts to bring the series into film and animation have either been unsuccessful, unremarkable, or did not live up to the standards of the games. In July 2007, UK-based Edge magazine criticized the series for a number of related titles that include the phrase "Final Fantasy" in their titles, which are considered to be not of the same quality as previous titles. It also commented that with the departure of Hironobu Sakaguchi, the series might be in danger of growing stale.
Many Final Fantasy games have been included in various lists of top games. Several games have been listed on multiple IGN "Top Games" lists. Eleven games were listed on Famitsu's 2006 "Top 100 Favorite Games of All Time", four of which were in the top ten, with Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy VII being first and second, respectively. The series holds seven Guinness World Records in the Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2008, which include the "Most Games in an RPG Series" (13 main titles, 7 enhanced titles, and 32 spin-off titles), the "Longest Development Period" (the production of Final Fantasy XII took five years), and the "Fastest-Selling Console RPG in a Single Day" (Final Fantasy X). The 2009 edition listed two titles from the series among the top 50 consoles games: Final Fantasy XII at number 8 and Final Fantasy VII at number 20.
Several individual Final Fantasy titles have garnered extra attention; some for their positive reception and others for their negative reception. Despite the success of Final Fantasy VII, it is sometimes criticized as being overrated. In 2003, GameSpy listed it as the seventh most overrated game of all time, a comment echoed by IGN. Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII shipped 392,000 units in its first week of release, but received review scores that were much lower than that of other Final Fantasy games. A delayed, negative review after the Japanese release of Dirge of Cerberus from Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu hinted at a controversy between the magazine and Square Enix. The MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI, reached over 200,000 active daily players in March 2006 and had reached over half a million subscribers by July 2007. Though Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was praised for its visuals, the plot was criticized and was considered a box office bomb. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube received overall positive review scores, but reviews stated that the use of Game Boy Advances as controllers was a big detractor.
Impact and legacy
The Final Fantasy series and several specific games within it have been credited for introducing and popularizing many concepts that are today widely used in console RPGs. The original title is often cited as one of the most influential early console RPGs, and played a major role in legitimizing and popularizing the genre. Prior to the series, RPGs featured one-on-one battles against monsters from a first person perspective. Final Fantasy introduced a side view perspective with groups of monsters against a group of characters that has been frequently imitated. Final Fantasy II was the first sequel in the industry to omit characters and locations from the previous title. Final Fantasy VII is credited with allowing console role-playing games to find a place in markets outside Japan.
The series' success affected Square's business on several levels. The financial success of the first game saved Square from bankruptcy, while the commercial failure of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within resulted in hesitation and delays from Enix during merger discussions. Square's decision to produce games exclusively for the Sony PlayStation—a move followed by Enix's decision with the Dragon Quest series—severed their relationship with Nintendo. Final Fantasy games were absent from Nintendo consoles, specifically the Nintendo 64, for seven years. Critics attribute the switch of strong third-party titles like the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games to Sony's PlayStation, and away from the Nintendo 64, as one of the reasons behind PlayStation being the more successful of the two consoles. The release of the Nintendo GameCube, which used optical disc media, in 2001 caught the attention of Square. To produce games for the system, Square created the shell company The Game Designers Studio and released Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which spawned its own metaseries within the main franchise. Final Fantasy XI's lack of an online method of subscription cancellation prompted the creation of legislation in Illinois that requires internet gaming services to provide such a method to the state's residents.
The series' popularity has resulted in its appearance and reference in numerous facets of popular culture like anime, TV series, and webcomics. Music from the series has permeated into different areas of culture. Final Fantasy IV's "Theme of Love" was integrated into the curriculum of Japanese school children and has been performed live by orchestras and metal bands. In 2003, Uematsu became involved with The Black Mages, a rock group independent of Square that has released albums of arranged Final Fantasy tunes. Bronze medalists Alison Bartosik and Anna Kozlova performed their synchronized swimming routine at the 2004 Summer Olympics to music from Final Fantasy VIII. Many of the titles' official soundtracks have been released for sale as well. Numerous companion books, which normally provide in-depth game information, have been published. In Japan, they are published by Square and are called Ultimania books. In North America, they take the form of standard strategy guides.