Son of a submariner! An Ultimania book is now in English, so you don’t have to speak Beaver or Japanese. Will this volume knock you all down with its greatness? Follow me, and behold the dwarven moonwalk!
Enough expository banter! Now we read like men! And ladies! And ladies who dress like men!
Warning: image-heavy post ahoy!
Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive Volume 1
ファイナルファンタジー25th メモリアルアルティマニア (Final Fantasy 25th Memorial Ultimania)
Release Date: July 24th, 2018
This first volume (out of three) covers the NES and SNES Final Fantasy games by providing character information, maps, and storyline information.
I heard “Ultimania”, and I pictured the usual Ultimania. I didn’t realize that even the Japanese release was a large coffee table book. The usual Ultimania volumes are nice, no doubt about that, but they can pack 900 pages in a short softcover volume. Still, though, don’t let the extra page space fool you — this book is heavy! It may look like the size of a usual Final Fantasy strategy guide, but this is even bigger in both height and weight.
The tops of book’s pages have a color gradient which matches the front cover when you look down at the top which slowly fades to white. (The bottom of the book is white except for the dark final pages of each section.) You can jump to a section just by looking at the colors, and each section kicks off with some dark pages to help separate the games. Which is nice because IV and V‘s sections are both shades of purple. Still a nice touch though, and you can see how much more info there is on the SNES games than the NES ones.
The paper must also be quite thick. (The cover definitely is.) Despite being technically shorter than the collector’s edition guide of Final Fantasy XV, it is significantly thicker. These pages aren’t going to easily rip, but the book itself is not easily fit in many bookshelves.
I am a little worried about the binding for the last 20 or so pages. The rest of the book seems fine, and it could just be my copy, but it almost feels like most of the book was bound and the last few pages added on. Obviously, pages are most sensitive at the end of the book, but it goes from okay to just weak. It’s hard to describe, but I could feel a difference right away. Doing a flip-through of the book (an actual flip-through, as if looking at a flip book animation), there’s a noticeable stutter right at the last few pages of the Final Fantasy VI section. I looked at the top, and it’s like the cord needed to be another millimeter or something. You can see some slight smushing in my copy, which is, unfortunately, incredibly common with these type of books, so maybe that threw the binding off by a bit? Or it could be a problem with all copies. If you get one, let me know. I included a picture of this section in my gallery above. It probably is strong enough still, but it has the look like the string is going to snap. I am a worrywart though, as I am a book lover who likes to keep her collection as pristine as possible.
The content itself looks amazing. I haven’t sat down and read much of it, but this includes sketches, whole story outlines, character profiles, maps, and more. Each game has the same basic sections, as you can see in the table of contents. There’s information on both the original versions and various rereleases, so you don’t just have to look at original NES/SNES graphics.
If you have any of the other Ultimania books, you know that they tend to dissect every aspect of the game. This is very much an artbook at heart. There’s some interviews at the end, game quotes, and story overviews, but don’t expect any Boss data or story explanations. Of course, considering it does show all the characters and provide summaries, Ultimania Archive is not for people who dislike spoilers if you haven’t played the game(s).
Speaking of that, many of you probably have only played half of these games — or less. Final Fantasy II, III, and V didn’t head westward until the PS1 era (II, V) or until the DS (III). So, yeah, depending on how many games you’ve played, there’s going to be some weighing on how much you like the games you have played. Between the table of contents and the spine, you can see how long each game’s portion is. I think for a lot of people, it’s really about getting the SNES games’ materials, but the NES games are still pretty neat to go through.
Amano fans will be happy, as lots of his drawings are included. Not too surprising, but this can serve as a short, simpler version of The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy set if all you are really interested in is character portraits.
You can also see how ideas changed during development. For example, in the Final Fantasy III section, there’s a drawing of a woman riding a Sea Lion. But the sprite in the final game did not have a rider (and did not have a saddle). The text explains the developers had an idea that Sea Lions could be ridden like horses. It doesn’t explain why the idea was dropped though, but it’s still a neat little fact. I’m hoping the book will be full of those, like having a mini version of the Trivia section of the Final Fantasy Wiki.
Now, as for the translation…
First of all, I was surprised to not only see characters’ names written in Japanese but also what they approximate. So it isn’t just Sabin, but マッシュ, Masshu, Mash. Alternatives like Cain for Kain are also included. I thought a lot of this would be scrubbed, so if you’ve never looked much into the name differences, it’s nice to see.
Also, I’m guessing Dark Horse themselves edited the screenshots. Take a look at the NES image of Final Fantasy‘s Garland quote. The font is too modern. Even the other versions of that game from what I’ve seen don’t appear to use that font. Here’s what the NES version looks like in English:
Even if Square Enix themselves had given Dark Horse screenshots, I doubt they would have one with exactly the same amount of damage. But there’s much more to look at. Ingus’ HP has been cut in half in English, but he’s doing a lot better than his friends! I guess everyone else is a zombie with 0 max HP, LOL.
Again, notice the exact same font found in the other English screenshots from this book, and this obviously couldn’t be from any English NES version as there was none.
I don’t know how many other errors like this are in the Ultimania Archive, but I’m hoping no wrong information is translated. Yes, it’s disappointing to see such an obvious mistake, but at least it isn’t anything important.
On the bright side, it doesn’t look like Dark Horse took out any pages, unlike, for example, Prima Guide’s version of the Persona 5 artbook. I saw the Japanese version had the Ahriman picture on page 114, and, sure enough, it was on page 114 in English. Amazon also has the two books within one page of each other, but that is probably a difference in how the credits page is counted.
However, let’s connect these two points. Remember Final Fantasy VI‘s infamous octopus and pal? They’re オルトロス and テュポーン in Japanese, which was translated as Ultros and Chupon in the SNES English version. The screenshots included show Ultros and Typhon, and the octopus’ name is sounded out in romaji as Orutorosu instead of what it’s trying to appoxomate, Orthros. I mention this because there are a lot of names that are reused in the Final Fantasy series that are mishandled or otherwise localized completely different, like Brachioraidos. So, for example, if there’s the list of Summon Materia for Final Fantasy VII in the next volume, will it be the incorrect Typhoon Materia or Typhon, the character it’s referencing? Might be some more of that, but I’m definitely not going to look up any more names unless something really, really major jumps out at me.
Two final things:
First, why not keep the Memorial part of the title at least, even if they wanted to add the Archive part? Seems like a waste to redo the “Memorial Scenes” as “Memorable Scenes”, even if the former is a bit awkward in English. It does harken back to the title though, which is the point of the book.
Also, for the romance chart featuring romances, Dark Horse uses “favors”, which is a little odd to say about canon couples like Cecil and Rosa or unrequited feelings like Kain and Edge have. The Japanese version appears to use 好意, which can mean favor, but would usually be used as “like” or “is (romantically) interested in” in a sentence. It still sounds odd — if not old-fashioned.
This looks like a must-have for a Final Fantasy fan. The $39.99 is in line with other game artbooks, but you can buy it for 30% off or more at Amazon or elsewhere. Other fans who like to see how graphics have changed may also get a kick out of this, although a significant part of the book (relationship charts, maps, etc.) may be rendered pointless. So far, I am already counting down until the next volume releases in December, and based upon the size and number of illustrations, I don’t think that will change.