The first Final Fantasy, as most of us know, was to be the swansong of a failing Squaresoft back in the late 1980s. Fortunately for the company and for the RPG loving gamers the world over, the game was a commercial and critical success, spawning a franchise that would produce hit after hit for years to come. While the game was developed in Japan, much of the lore surrounding the game are inspired largely by European myth and legend.
Media from Japan had been influenced by Western history for some time, but Final Fantasy’s scenario writer, Kenji Terada, graduated in 1973 from Waseda University with a degree in European History. He infused the game with the knowledge he had gained in university, setting the stage for the high fantasy medieval atmosphere the series would follow for a number of entries to follow. The game doesn’t only draw from European legend, however, and as a Japanese game, does include references from that nation’s history as well.
Weapons and Equipment
Final Fantasy draws on mythology to fuel all aspects of the story and atmosphere, and the weapons and equipment players find within the game are no exception.
The Excalibur is a very obvious example of a mythological reference in Final Fantasy. In game, it’s one of the most powerful weapons you can acquire, and can only be used by a knight. The sword is named after the famous king-maker weapon that is wielded by King Arthur, the legendary figure from English mythology. King Arthur’s weapon would only allow itself to be wielded by the true king of England, a noble and just man.
In the legend, the sword is created by the Lady of the Lake, and given to either Arthur directly, or his father, Uther Pendragon. In most versions of the tale, Arthur retrieves the sword from a stone his father had driven Excalibur into, proving to all that he was the rightful heir to the English throne.
Thor’s Hammer is also an acquirable weapon in Final Fantasy. It’s the second most powerful hammer weapon, and will even cast a lightning (or Thunder spell in later ports) when used in battle as an item. The mighty hammer is inspired by the legendary Mjölnir, used by the Norse god Thor. The legends state that the hammer, forged by two dwarven brothers Sindri and Brokkr, is infused with the power of thunder. While the in game weapon isn’t stated to be forged by anyone in particular, dwarves do make an appearance.
According to the Norse legend, the hammer was forged incorrectly, resulting in a one handed weapon with a short handle as opposed to the traditional two handed war hammer. The weapon could destroy mountains, as well as smite Thor’s enemies, and would never miss if thrown at an enemy. Mjölnir is also famously known for it’s portrayal in the Marvel Comics series, Thor, where the god of thunder himself wields the weapon with aplomb.
In the North American release of Final Fantasy on the NES, the player can obtain Silver weapons and equipment, which can be purchased from elves in the appropriately named Elfland kingdom. In the original Japanese version of the game, the Silver equipment are actually named Mithril. Mithril is an elfish forged metal found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series of novels. While this isn’t necessarily European mythology, it is an incredibly famous and influential piece of European high fantasy fiction, and is still worth mentioning.
In Lord of the Rings, Mithril is stronger than steel and has looks a lot like silver. Armor made from Mithril can withstand blows by even the strongest opponents and their conventional weapons. The lead protagonist, Frodo the hobbit, wears a shirt made from the powerful metal that was given to him by his uncle, Bilbo Baggins. Frodo is attacked by an orc chieftan, whose spear throw would have penetrated any ordinary armor. The mythical armor saves Frodo, who survives the encounter without injury, and lives to continue his quest.
The last weapon I’d like to mention is the best weapon in the game, the Masamune. The Masamune is arguably one of the most recognizable recurring weapons in the Final Fantasy series, with it’s most famous depiction as an incredibly long daikatana like weapon wielded by the infamous Sephiroth. In Final Fantasy, it’s found in the last dungeon of the game and can be wielded by any party member, regardless of class. The sword is named after the real historical swordsmith, Goro Nyudo Masamune, who forged weapons in the late 13th and early 14th century Japan.
While the man was apparently a real historical figure, legends do surround his name, such as the test between Masamune and his pupil, Muramasa. They laid their best swords in a stream with the edge facing the current. Muramasa’s blade cut leaves, fish, and everything that floated past, while Masamune’s only cut the leaves. While Muramasa heckled his master for not creating as fine a sword as he, a monk that was observing nearby explained that Masamune’s sword was the finer work, as it would not needlessly cut the innocent and undeserving; Murasame’s weapon was bloodthirsty and evil, cutting anything in its path.
In Final Fantasy games to come, more and more weapons and items reference mythological sources and draw inspiration from legend. In later ports of the original release, more equipment is added, such as the Ragnarok sword, further cementing Final Fantasy as a game rich in historical references. Part 2 of “Finding Mythology and Legend in Final Fantasy” will cover characters and events from the original game.