Fantasy Unlivable

Tags: video games, rpgs, world building

Fantasy Unlivable

Most fantasy worlds aren’t set up to be post-apocalyptic wastelands. Even the ones that are post-apocalypses are more barren than you might expect.

I’m guilty of this myself; when I made some of my own fantasy worlds I wasn’t really concerned with trade routes, farming capabilities, or even the logistics of how weather patterns worked in my world. Mostly what I focused on was providing variety, a semblance of consistency and history, and a decent enough path for my players to explore.

We should expect this; most of these worlds aren’t the main purpose of the game. It’s like criticizing the NES Mario’s soundtrack for only having 5 songs for the levels, when there are 9 different worlds.

I know I’m focusing on something that’s a backdrop to their respective media, but I think there’s something to explore, and some games do focus on the world as a character.

This is a huge topic, so I’ll be focusing on one game at a time, and this first one is a bit of a punching bag: Final Fantasy I. It’s the oldest of the series, so it’s probably aged the worst.

Final Fantasy I

Where to start with this game. Final Fantasy I is built up on the flimsiest of worlds, and it’s not really meant to be anything more than the “standard” JRPG. For the time, it really set the standard, and comparing it to its peers, you can see why it was so great. The peers for this game were also unconcerned with the worlds they were building; Legend of Zelda I and II both had a world, but it was more about mechanical mastery of the monsters in the dungeons rather than the character of anyone you were actually interacting with. I’m not even sure if the kingdom of Hyrule was named, even if it was it barely mattered.

Final Fantasy is also unconcerned with the characters you’re playing as, and the world is a backdrop like a stage to a play. To be fair, the story is also an afterthought…

So what is fleshed out in Final Fantasy I?

The length of the game itself.

While you don’t have an interesting intricate story (you do have a decent one), and you don’t have any characterization, and the world is a setting with monsters to kill, what you do get is a lot of game. At the time, this probably was the major selling point. That and weaving all of the aforementioned simple features together was pretty impressive for the time.


You start in Cornelia, a kingdom with questionable political reach, with unknown sources of… well anything really. They have a bridge to their north that apparently is theirs to repair, but it’s not clear if they really have any jurisdiction or claim to the rest of the continent. They do have a port, so presumably they get some freight. But step just outside the city and you’ll run into monsters. Monsters everywhere.

It’s explained that the world is falling into chaos due to “the plot,” so there’s random encounters with monsters everywhere. I would imagine that this would be pretty bad economically; your party is set up as the “Warriors of Light,” and are a small group of chosen ones, who start their journey by kicking the butt of Cornelia’s strongest knight gone rogue. The rest of the world is in dire straits, because many of these encounters are deadly to even this elite band of chosen ones.

The aforementioned rouge knight, Garland, also wants to take over the kingdom (for some reason) and thus enacts his plot by kidnapping the King’s Daughter Sarah. It seems like this would have worked, had the main characters not shown up in Cornelia. Why this would have worked other than the King’s own personal connection with his daughter is questionable; it seems like the King’s entire military couldn’t handle this - Cornelia is one of the largest kingdoms in the entire world with one of the largest castles, but 4 mercenaries are better equipped than the king’s own military.

It also seems like the passage to the north wasn’t important enough to keep maintained. Looking at what’s actually up there it makes sense: only the city / town of Pravoka is on the northern part of the continent and they’re a coastal city. Presumably trade relations with Pravoka are maintained via ships, which we never see but we should be able to assume exists.

Other than boats, it’s not really clear what happens in this slice of the world.

We never see any farmland, any manufacturing, or any other sources of activity and wealth. To be fair, when this came out (1987), such a thing was basically impossible while also having the rest of the game being as substantial as it is. But it paints a bleak picture if you stop and think about it.

What the heck is Gil?

Ok, this is a trope, but the consequences of this in the world is a bit strange. Effectively, the best thing to do for almost anyone in this world seems to be to go out into the wild and kill monsters. If you go off of the cost of certain goods, you can get a good idea for exactly how much money you get per encounter.

If we work back, you can find some other similar priced things here, which seems to be the source on the internet for these kinds of things. To avoid the risk of dead links, I’ll lay out some of the work here. A band of 3 goblins give 18 gil, or 6 gil per goblin. We find the cheapest hammer at 10 gil, Converted to a simple hammer in the real world, you see it as 8 shillings or 96 pence. So with some very hasty math, we can say that 1 gil is approximately 10 pence or almost exactly one shilling.

Checking our math and a knife is 4 gil (4 shillings, kinda steep?) and a broadsword is 175 gil or 8 pounds 15 shillings, about (with heavy asterisk) right.

Going off of this knowledge, it’s ridiculous that killing 3 goblins, which 4 mercenaries can do with relative ease, nets nearly 1 pound (that’s the currency, not a measure of weight) of actual money. It’s also ridiculous that killing one crocodile nets you 100 pounds. And it’s strange that no one is systematically farming these creatures for the gobs of cash they’re apparently made out of.

I get that it’s a game, but seriously, this implies some seriously strange economics. Every town uses gil, every town. This has never happened in our world (maybe today, but it’s questionable), so that there’s a single universal currency and on top of that, all monsters actually just drop it.

It’d be like if you went hunting and when you snagged a deer, inside there was a $100 bill. Or a bear you could expect to have $500, because they’re more dangerous.

Elves and Dwarves, I guess?

There are 2 other non-human settlements, Elfheim and Mount Duergar. We actually do see a dwarf outside of the mountain, but other than that they’re only in their own towns. The elves have their own king, so that must be its own distinct region, but it’s not clear what political connections they have with the human kingdom of Cornelia, besides that some humans know of the plot against the Elven prince.

Ironically, the prince put under a magical slumber (it’s ironic because in D&D elves are immune to sleep-like effects). This basically spells certain disaster for the kingdom until the heroes of light save them, by killing the false king who is holed up in a fortress on the other end of the continent. Seems kinda wild; the elves don’t have a succession plan, nor any political actors who would take control of the nation.

The dwarves seem to be relatively happy; they live in one mountain, Mount Duregar, and happily smith and mine. In fact, it’s one of the only settlements who isn’t directly affected by the corruption of the world. One Dwarf actually travels outside of their home settlement and comments that the earth is becomming corrupted. Maybe in this world, had the prophesied light team not come to save the world, the dwarves would have figured out how to fix everything. I only say this because every other person simply comments on how bad things are, the only character that seems to have done anything about the destruction of the world is this dwarf.

It’s nice that in this world so many different peoples can live together harmoniously. Unfortunately, it seems like the only reason that’s the case is that they’re effectively living in an apocalypse, so they’re more worried about the end of the world.

Smart People living in Caves

This is another strange piece of lore to this world; the wisest people in the game live off the grid. Matoya, the witch and the nameless sage aren’t part of any larger society nor do they seem to align with any faction on the over world.

I can’t figure out why these two would live away from most of civilization, besides the fact that those towns and castles seem to all be falling into ruin. Maybe they saw the problems from the 4 fiends' plot coming and decided that they’d be safer away from large settlements. We do see that Melmond had been directly attacked and sacked by a single vampire and essentially they could do nothing. The entire town of Pravoka got held hostage by one ship of pirates. Pravoka doesn’t even hold the pirate captain accountable after his the heroes defeat his crew; they just let him hang around in town!

It seems like this world’s settlements are not very safe, and not well armed. Odd, since the shops have infinite items. So maybe your best bet is to live out in the wild by yourself.

The Wisdom of the Ancients

Oh right, there’s also the robot building super intelligent peoples who made the airship.

They’re called Lufenians.

Oh, their language is so difficult to understand for outsiders. It’s impossible to talk to them until one rock with runes on it gets some analysis. The Rosetta Stone here allows a single scholar to reconstruct the language. That same scholar can then teach 4 mercenaries to speak it.

Truly strange.

Anyway, the Lufenians are yet another isolated city in the midst of an inhospitable moster ocean. Their town has fewer resources still than most other towns. To be fair, I think their civilization was basically wiped out by the dragon Tiamat. No, not the one from D&D: this one is related but not the same.

This civilization was so advanced that they had robots, sky ships, and probably a lot of other really cool stuff. After getting utterly annihilated by Tiamat, they basically gave up.

I mention them because, yes, they are technically another civilization here on the world. Yes, they did have an outsized influence more than 400 years ago. But what that influence was, how they left their mark on the world and what changed when they were suddenly destroyed? No one knows, because really not even the writers knew, because it’s all a bunch of bad writing. Sure they made the biggest tower in the world, and a flying fortress, but we don’t really know anything else about them.

The Ancients had secret knowledge which made them better. Oh but they’re still around and don’t do anything for reasons.

Who were the Warriors?

Your team shows up at the right time, and in the right place. The Warriors of Light are a Mac Guffin wrapped up in a party. Who they were or even who they are in the context of the game doesn’t matter beyond that they restore the Crystals to light, and defeat the evil plot (that also has time travel).

What sticks out here is that every single kingdom, city, and settlement is helpless, waiting, and worthless in the common recognized struggle that is the corruption of their world. True, two civilizations (I didn’t mention the mermaids) got knocked down 400 then 200 years ago, but since then the rest of the world has done nothing about this magical disaster.

The 4 heroes that show up out of nowhere are nothing less than dieties in this passive world.

This isn’t to say that Final Fantasy I needed to have intricate characters and story lines; it basically broke new grounds when it came out. But because of the limitations that we get from this first installment, you get a truly bizarre world.

How Unlivable is this World?

Final Fantasy I’s world is pretty bleak for the un-chosen. It seems like if you’re a normal person in this world, you have basically 2 outcomes: die in an invasion of your hometown, die after hundreds of years of magical plot ruins your land. There doesn’t seem to be any positive action that the people of this world can take to prevent their demise, they have to wait for a prophesy to come.

They also don’t seem to use the resources given out by monsters, namely gil. Mages are few and far between, each town has 1 priest, who is probably a White Wizard using the Life spell (except for Melmond whose chapel was sacked), and there seem to be 2 mages, 1 white and 1 black, who sell spells - but I’m not sure if they’d actually be able to fight. Most towns also don’t seem to have a guard or fighting force. Cornelia’s entire army was basically composed of 1 guy who wanted to take over. I can’t even tell where people get food; there’s 1 farmer in an early village, but other than that no one seems to make any food. Presumably the inns have a cook, but that’s about all.

They do have Airships and other high-fantasy tools at their disposal, but as far as I can tell only the chosen heroes actually use them. There are naval ships, but the seas are infested with pirates and monsters as bad as the overland. It’s not clear that it’s actually a healthy international economy.

The shortcomings of this world are a result of the limitations at the time. There is no world progression outside of the character’s involvement; the world “responds” when the characters progress the plot, but you can grind for 100 years and the world wouldn’t fall into darkness, nor would the monsters be eradicated. The world may not seem unlivable, because as the player we get privileged access to competent and strong individuals. Apparently, beyond the 4 warriors of light, everyone is waiting to die to the Fiends, random encounters, or a 2000 year plot. “Reality” in this fantasy game seems bleak and near-hopless.

All in all, this world is pretty bad. It feels like you’d probably die if you lived in the world, and if you didn’t your best bet was to live alone, like Matoya and the sage. Even Matoya was robbed, so really you’re not safe anywhere!