In the mid-‘80s, Square was a Japanese video game company with no real successes. One of its employees, Hironobu Sakaguchi, had been wanting to develop a role-playing game for a while, but the company had been mostly making money on shooting action games. However, with the huge success of Dragon Quest in Japan in 1986, the market for RPGs suddenly opened up, and Sakaguchi got his wish. The next year, Square moved to a new office and Sakaguchi officially started development on the company’s first RPG, Final Fantasy.
Like many games back then, the team making Final Fantasy was tiny. Initially, there were only seven people developing it, although several others were brought in later. All the coding for the game was handled by one person, an Iranian-American man named Nasir Gebelli.
The title, Final Fantasy, was meaningful. For Sakaguchi, this was to potentially be his final project--if this game didn’t succeed, he was going to go back to school to start a different career. For the rest of the staff, it could have been their final game as well, as Square’s financial situation was dire.
Looking at the game today, it looks like a rough template of the Final Fantasy games to follow. The combat was unrefined and slow, but had many of the same attacks and magic spells that appear in all the later games. The story, too, was more straightforward, and didn’t have the depth that the sequels had, but it was one of the biggest stories in a video game up to that point.
Final Fantasy was a hit, and was even released in the United States, which was unusual at the time for such a text-heavy game. As a result, Square survived, and Sakaguchi directed the next 10 Final Fantasy games.