“Final Fantasy: Unlimited” Review


Thanks to the Final Fantasy: Unlimited Wikia for the pictures!)

With Final Fantasy XIII-2 releasing soon, and the excitement I felt playing the demo and seeing the official released game footage, I fell into a renewed love for the Final Fantasy franchise that I haven’t felt since before Final Fantasy XIII released, when I thought it was the most awesome thing in the world.

With that I started Final Fantasy VI for the first time, researched the games I never played (especially the Gamecube Crystal Chronicles games), and was reminded of a series I forgot existed: Final Fanasy: Unlimited.

I first learned of this series nearly a decade ago through, out of all things, an AMV—anime music video, thousands of which are now on youtube—that I had downloaded just at the beginning of my love for Final Fantasy, with Final Fantasy VIII. I caught sight of a hooded man whose arm was encased in a long gold cannon, which turned into a huge gun and shot out three beams of light. The end result was the summoning of Phoenix, a huge blazing bird of fire, who destroyed his titanic enemy from the inside and then shined gloriously in the sky, a beacon of awe and terror.

It looked awesome.

But I couldn’t find any trace of it (the internet wasn’t nearly as awesome as it is now), until this year, when I ordered the complete series on DVD on Amazon and finally got to see just how awesome this series this could be.

The result?

Read on.

The Premise

Twelve years prior to the start of the series, a huge pillar of black energy erects itself in Japan. Any attack against it results in tendrils that lash out against tanks, helicopters, everything that’s thrown at it. Two scientists look on with a mixture of scientific interest and intense fright. And then, suddenly, a rift opens, and out from it comes two huge dragons: one a red dragon with a triple gun barrel snout and a fierce demeanor, one a white dragon with a divine light. The two clash in the sky, with the battle ending with both dragons shooting a lance of ferocious energy at each other, piercing each other, and an explosion that sends cataclysmic waves in all directions.

Fast foward to the present, where twelve year old twins Yu and Ai Hayakawa (get it, “you and I”?) are searching for their parents, the senior Hayakawa pair, Joe and Marie—the very same scientists who were observing the dangerous phenomena more than a decade ago despite Marie’s pregnancy.

Turns out their parents had ventured into the pillar of energy soon after with the use of an inter-dimensional train that brought them to a realm they later dubbed “Wonderland.” There they documented all sorts of wonders into their book, which they continued to update, up until their recent disappearance. Now Yu and Ai are on a journey to get into Wonderland and find their parents… which becomes more and more dangerous as the plot continues.

The Characters

On their journey, Yu and Ai are accompanied by Lisa Pacifist, who’s also looking for someone in Wonderland (or so she says), and becomes their series-long guardian as the twins search for their parents. While traveling Wonderland the group comes into conflict with Earl Tyrant, an evil child who is searching for something himself… and will send any of his four Lords of Gaudiam to get it, no matter what collateral damage they create.

Their main salvation comes in the Final Fantasy staple of an incredibly stoic and almost completely nonverbal “hero” name Kaze, who—you guessed it—can’t remember his past. He also seems to have no direction is his life (or lack thereof) besides wandering around and searching for his rival Makenshi (who is coincidentally in some kind of service to the Earl) to—you guessed it—destroy him for some unsettled debt between them.

As the plot unravels more characters come into play, the two most important plot-specific ones being Omega, a destructive entity (although whether it is evil or just destructive by nature is anyone’s guess) that was shattered into millions of pieces, but is now trying to become whole again, and Chaos, an entity (this one definitely evil) looking to take over the realms of Wonderland by absorbing the power of Omega. The cast expands as the story unfolds, including the Comodeen, a group of soldiers looking to overturn the Earl’s rule, Lou Lupus, a shapeshifter whose world was destroyed by Omega, and Clear, a being with a connection to one of the entities.

And it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy installment without certain key components, including Chocobos (large, mountable yellow birds, one of which becomes important to the twins), a Moogle (with an important connection to Kaze), a Cactuar (cute cactus beings who are impossible to catch) and a Cid (there is always a technological character named Cid, young or old, who makes an appearance or is mentioned in every Final Fantasy installment). But most importantly, while the series is bereft of any other major defining characteristics—like its job classes, particular magic spells and attacks, and reoccuring enemies—it features the heavy use of Summons, through Kaze.

To combat his enemies, Kaze makes use of the Magun, the aforementioned cannon device attached to his right arm. From it he can use any combination of three “Soil Charges“—capsules or bullets infused with some kind of special soul energy—to call forth series staples like Shiva, Ifrit, Odin, and what can only be Bahamut, who looks just like the dragon that came out of the pillar twelve years ago.

This helped give the series some FF street cred, but how does it handle as a story?

Final Fantasy… Limited?

Final Fantasy: Unlimited is beset by a few problems. Namely, it’s an extremely formuliac show. Extremely. It’s a defining characteristic of many Japanese cartoon and TV shows, but it’s something that the show relies on far too much, and takes too long to get away from.
Think traditional Power Rangers: in each episode, the “teenagers with attitude” are hanging out. Rita Repulsa cooks up a devious plan and has a monster created with some random gimmick. First she sends down her Putty Men, who the teenagers completely annihilate with ease, just like they do in every episode. After a while, it’s just another chore, like raking leaves or shoveling snow. Then, she sends down her big bad “Villain of the Week” and some more Putties, and the teenagers shift into Ranger form, kick ass, and look cool. It is only then that Rita thinks to enlarge her monster into a titanic form and the Rangers call out their Megazord, fight the monster, call out the super-awesome-ultra-badass sword thingamajig and destroy the monster… until the next episode.

Final Fantasy: Unlimited follows the same routine, with the gang coming to a new world, running into a new weird situation, fighting a Lord (or Lady) of Gaudium, that Lord (or Lady) creating an unstoppable monster, and then Kaze calling out an unstoppable Summon who is more unstoppable than that unstoppable monster.

Worst yet, even the Summoning process is very formulaic. I understand the fundamentals of a TV show like this, and more importantly, an anime cartoon show marketed towards a younger audience, but the experience loses its luster after the first several episodes. Each summon goes like this: Kaze’s in a tough situation, and for some reason his Magun won’t “move” (it seems it needs to be “moved” to be active and useable). Kaze will see a circle on his Magun glow white, at which point he says “the Magun has moved.” He will then hold out his arm as the Magun transforms from an arm-concealing cannon into a triple barrelled gun (reminiscent of the monster that may be Bahamut) that is held like a pistol, as long as a rifle, and attaches to Kaze’s wrist. He will say “the Magun has thawed”, followed by “the Soil Charge Triad I’ve chosen for you has been decided!” and will then pick three different colored-bullets with very Crayola-like names… including some awkward ones like “The brillance of intelligence… Marvelous Orange!” and “The one that does not forgive creation… Virgin White!”, and my personal favorite “The origin of all things… Mother Black!” Together these capsules call forth a Summon, the Summon destroys monster, Lord of Gaudium reports back to the Earl who whines some more. The gang realizes they’re about to be late for the train to the next world, run like crazy, and reboard just before the doors shut. And then Ai, the sister, starts yelling for no reason, like usual.

Every now and then Final Fantasy: Unlimited tries to shake things up and throws in a twist of some sort… like a bad guy who inexplicably steals the Magun and uses it himself, or the Magun being broken, or Lisa exploring her own powers, or the gang missing the train, or the bad guy converting a Summon… but ultimately these do little to expand the series beyond mediocrity.

Maybe I’m just a burned out critic. Maybe I’m looking for too much maturity in a kid’s show. Afterall, I’ve never really liked Pokemon for its unending formulaic format (seriously, how many times can Team Rocket “blast off again”? [and besides the memorable intro song, I’ve always preferred Digimon anyway]). But it just seems like they were going for this deep theme and it came out—like many Final Fantasy games—to be a lot of overused cliches, dry dialogue, and plots muddled with too many metaphysical mysteries.

The budget played a part in that, especially towards the end, leaving a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of possible plotholes… like why Kaze can seemingly travel between worlds unaided? Or why Cid, the creator of the inter-dimensional train, seemed confused by its creation earlier in the series as if he thought it just a myth? Some things just don’t make sense, and you stop caring after a while.

Is There Any Reason To Watch This Show?

With all of my criticisms put on the table, there was something mildly charming about the series. It’s simplicity made it easy to watch and I was curious about how the series would end. Would the children find their parents? What had happened to the Hayakawas? Would Kaze recover his past? Who is that girl he keeps remembering? What is the past Kaze and Makenshi share? What is there connection to the fight between dragons twelve years ago? What is Lisa really doing in Wonderland?

And is Fabula, the series narrator, connected to the mythology of the Fabula Nova Crystallisor “New Tale of the Crystal”? (which includes Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Final Fantasy Versus XIII [whenever that finally comes out] and Final Fantasy Type-0). As mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy has a habit of reusing characters and themes, and it’s been on my mind for the longest.

But beyond the trivial aspects of the show that connect it to the franchise (like Nobuo Uematsu’s music) there’re just too many great anime shows out there that Final Fantasy: Unlimited can’t keep up with. Maybe if they gave it a proper sequel (beyond the Japanese book and radio show that attempted to wrap up the story and the anime prequel that tells you Kaze’s past) in the form of a new series, movie, or game, this would be a world worth visiting, but for now pick one of the great Final Fantasy games out there already and immerse yourself in something more substantial and… fantastic.

I Give This Series

2

Soil Charges out of 5.

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