FF DOT: The Pixel Art of Final Fantasy
Square Enix / Dark Horse
Revisit both old and new Final Fantasy games in the pixel style in this collection of sprites and backgrounds done in NES and SNES-style graphics.
FF DOT: The Pixel Art of Final Fantasy is one of those books where the title says it all, and you shouldn’t expect much else. But even then, you may be surprised at what is included.
The book is on the small side (although it’s slightly taller than Miniature Final Fantasy: No Adventures Too Large), but it’s thick, coming in at about 280 pages. While you can’t tell from the image of the cover, the front cover is made up of a square grid. So the “FF DOT” on the front is actually colored squares, emulating the pixel style. A nice addition that keeps the theme. The spine and back covers have this same grid, but the text just floats in the middle instead of being part of individual squares.
Inside is — surprise! — images of Final Fantasy games in the pixel style. There are character field sprites, battle sprites, enemies, mascots, maps, cutscene images, and even cursors. Of course, the book heavily favors Final Fantasy through Final Fantasy VI. If you’re a fan of the PS1 games or later generations, don’t despair; FF DOT includes pixel-style art of the 3D generations. However, the post-VI stuff is limited to about 17 pages, and it’s all just sprites of the main characters of the games up to Final Fantasy XV versus the variety of the older games’ sections.
The book doesn’t separate itself by game. In fact, it doesn’t even have a Table of Contents. But each of the first six games are arranged roughly in the same way: characters, enemies, maps/cutscenes/items, and interlude pages. Most of those are self-explanatory. The interlude pages have a theme like Chocobo or Bomb and then show some images from various games. One of my favorite parts of FF DOT are pages where images of them from each game they are featured in are arranged as if they are pictures hanging on a wall. It’s kind of a neat way to see the evolution of Final Fantasy in a simple but cute way.
Some of this book is going to feel like a rehash of Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive Volume 1. In fact, a lot of it is, because obviously Fighter in Final Fantasy, Cecil of Final Fantasy IV, and the other playable characters are going to be featured. And because of the console limitations back then, it’s not like there are a whole lot of options to showcase them. However, one way that FF DOT separates itself from Ultimania Archive Volume 1 is that most of the main characters are shown in detail twice. There’s their original NES/SNES selves, and a 2018 updated model that appear to have been made just for the book. (Maybe they’re also in some of the recent mobile games?) For some of the sections, the 2018 character sprites are in its own little section while others are a part of the opening pages. I’d have to go check to see if or how the 2018 are different than, say, the Anniversary Editions of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II, but either way, they (and the post-VI sprites) capture the old pixel style of the characters but with more attractive art.
After the game art, there is a lengthy 15 page interview with a woman who worked on many Final Fantasy games as a graphic artist, starting with the original Final Fantasy. It’s an interesting interview even though the book doesn’t provide much of a setup and just kind of throws you into her recalling how she got into art and then, several pages in, how she eventually became a part of Square.
However, what was disappointing is that this is the only text (outside of names and translating the couple of screenshots) in the whole book. There are no game summaries, character info, fun facts, or behind-the-scenes information. I know this is an artbook, which means the focus is on the art. But it’s not like this is an artbook where you get original sketches or other exclusives. This is all just rips from games, and since there is no additional info, FF DOT is going to target people who have played the NES/SNES games and probably have spent hours staring at these same graphics.
I think a good use of this book is if you’re into Perler (fused bead) art. For some of the characters (particularly the NES ones), they are blown up to give you an idea of how the 16 x 24 (or whatever) pixels were broken down and the color palette. Buy a big Perler board and the right colored beads, and these pages are just like the official Perler booklets that you buy on Amazon and at craft stores. If you are really good at making those Perler and don’t need a specific 1-on-1 layout plan, you can also use it as a reference if you want to see some of the animations, like a Black Mage cheering or Galuf walking on the world map. Of course, you could find these on the Internet, but this provides you a go-to reference guide. Plus, a lot of the animations are really cute to look at.
Unfortunately, not every game gets this level of attention, let alone every main sprite. FF DOT gives the most detail on the NES games. In fact, the NES games take up about 150 pages versus about 85 for the SNES games. That doesn’t seem right considering (obviously) the SNES games have more content than their predecessors. Final Fantasy IV in particular felt very short, and it didn’t even include the battle sprites for the characters. That’s a glaring omission. So while more people are going to fans of the SNES games — or at least be more interested in a breakdown of SNES games instead of NES games — FF DOT lets readers down. Where was the Cecil, Kain, and Rosa versions of the Black Mage breakdown seen above?? Bartz with low HP?
I mean, I didn’t expect every single area or key moment, but there were a couple of times (again, Final Fantasy IV comes to mind) where I wondered why this was chosen over that. There’s seriously a two-page spread of the character name selection in Final Fantasy III. I guess it’s good for the two people who are going to rip out a page and hang up a Japanese kana chart on their wall? But they couldn’t find anything more worthwhile than to show off how entering あいうえお looked on the NES? Another page is just three 1″ in height images of a chocobo, canoe, and boat. At least make it as if they’re decorating the wall like in some of the interlude pages!
There were also other obvious additions that the book could have included like all the summons or Final Bosses. I wish that either the post-VI stuff and the interview were skipped in favor of more of the main pixel art. Also, if page count was a concern, stuff like the maps and items should have been dropped. I can see why they were included, as it adds variety and gives an excuse for some technical breakdown. But why not more of this level of detail? I started off thinking FF DOT: The Pixel Art of Final Fantasy was pretty neat, but my enthusiasm dropped the further I went.
… Except for pixel Red XIII, as he was cute.
The book includes the original Japanese name for most characters with the English localized version in parentheses. One exception is Bartz. Otherwise, the Japanese game text is translated in a box below, and outside of the interview, there’s not much to translate…
Maybe FF DOT: The Pixel Art of Final Fantasy should have just featured the character sprites. Or maybe it could have been two or three volumes, dividing the book up by game so that we could see stuff like all the different Behemoths or show the different Desperation Moves of Final Fantasy VI. FF DOT can be a beautiful nostalgic trip to the past, but readers should be aware of the book’s limitations and exclusions.