I previously worked as a logo designer for about three years. I wasn't the designer per se, instead I took care of the business and strategy part and that allowed me to see beyond the aesthetics of logos and grasp their subliminal meanings.
Talking about RPGs with a friend, he mentioned that he doesn't understand the meaning of various Final Fantasy logos. In his confusion, I saw an opportunity. Because while some logo meanings are obvious (to anyone who has played), others are not.
To pretend that I am a good friend, I decided to write this article and talk about the meanings of the Final Fantasy logos. There are many spin-offs, so I will reserve only the main ones of the series and some sequels.
The illustrator of the franchise logos is Yoshitaka Amano. He illustrated almost all of them, except for the bad ones, and he has a very peculiar and interpretive process. While the game is still in development, Amano is given a handful of information about it, like a plot summary, and must illustrate something from what he gleans from reading it. This results in a logo that is often conceptual, but which characterizes the essence of the game - or describes its ending in some cases.
Technical curiosity: the font used in all titles is Runic MT Condensed.
Final Fantasy I
The first Final Fantasy logo had several versions before it got to the one we know today. First, it was all written in katakana with a bright, translucent blue, similar to the crystals in the game. It was presented with artwork done by Amano featuring a very familiar Warrior of Light. For the American release, the logo changed to just the English typography. It was only when it was re-released in 2000 for WonderSwan Color (damn, do you remember this handheld?) that the logo had its identity changed to today's standard.
The logo shows one of the four Warriors of Light, heroes of the first game, and the same as in Amano's artwork. This Warrior of Light represented the Warrior class, but soon became the icon to represent the first game in the franchise. Since then, the Warrior of Light, or WoL for short, has been the personification of Final Fantasy I, making appearances in various other media and crossovers as a gallant and righteous knight.
For the release celebrating 20 years of the game, WoL changed his position in the logo. Now looking directly at us, he holds his sword showing that he knows how to use it and is not afraid to. Soon after they released another version where the WoL abandoned the sideway model and opted for a frontal position.
Final Fantasy II
Being an old game like the first, its logo also had some variants. The first version had a style of its own and was written in English. There were dragon features all over it, most evident in the letter F which seemed to be an eye. The Japanese box art featured another artwork by Amano and a hero. It was Firion, the second game's protagonist. and in his hands was a sword that resembled, or possibly was, the Blood Sword.
When Final Fantasy II was re-released for WonderSwan Color, the logo received a revision. Instead of showing a protagonist, it gave the series' first villain in a logo, The Emperor.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release, another version of the logo was created, showing a more villainous Emperor prepared to make you spend a lot of Phoenix Down. Amano created an alternate version where the Emperor is sitting all the way across the typeface.
Final Fantasy III
You know the drill: old game, old logo, a lot of new designs. When Final Fantasy III was released, Square kept the same logo design as its predecessor, changing its color to gold and the series number like crystal pillars. As usual, a piece of artwork by Amano was marketed alongside the game. In the artwork, there was once again a Warrior of Light. After its re-release in 2006, guess what happened? That's right. The artwork was incorporated into the logo. Walk closely with me, because things get a little confusing from here.
Although the characters in the NES Final Fantasy III didn't have names, they were named in the Nintendo DS remake. The supposed protagonist, Luneth, had his appearance recreated in the Warrior of Light image from the logo. However, this doesn't mean it's him in the logo as many claims. After all, in most crossovers, the character representing Final Fantasy III is the Onion Knight, the orphans' starting class in the NES version, and a secret class in the DS remake.
Final Fantasy IV
It was the firstborn of the logos we know and love today. Final Fantasy IV's first logo was designed with the series' iconic font together with a central element important to the plot. In FFIV, this importance was within Kain Highwind. Although he is not the main character, Kain is responsible for a large chunk of the drama in FFIV, so the dragoon deserved to steal Cecil's thunder in the logo.
After the DS remake, the logo got a second version. The typography remained the same, but instead of Kain, we now have the figure of Golbez, one of the main and best-known antagonists of the series. Although not created by Amano, the designer was inspired by the illustrator's artwork.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years
The direct sequel to Final Fantasy IV, (we have Interlude in between, but as it is considered a bonus game, it did not pass the screening), brings a logo showing a recurring element of the game: moons. One of the moons you met in the previous game; the second, which appears in this game, is the main mystery of the plot.
Besides directly influencing the story of the game, the phases of the moon change the game mechanics. Depending on which phase it is during gameplay, it can increase physical damage and decrease magic damage or vice versa. With such lunar relevance, we can understand why they illustrate the logo.
Final Fantasy V
In the FFV logo, we have a dragon, more specifically, the wind drake. The creature is recurrent throughout the adventure. In the game's beginning, we see Lenna flying with one. Krile also has one wind drake as a pet. It seems the drakes are fond of princesses. Moreover, it is our aerial transport on the game's world map. A very simple and straightforward logo representing the best of any franchise: dragons.
Final Fantasy VI
To explain this one, first, a warning: spoiler alert. I could simply say that we have Terra riding a Magitek, and I would be correct. But that is obvious, right? You want to grasp and understand its intrinsic and deepest meaning. And that meaning is filled with spoilers.
In the world of FFVI, the Espers returned to their own world. Considering they were the main conduits of magic, when they vanished, so did magic. Technology rises in the Empire, but they, hungry for more power, try to extract magic from some stranded Espers for its own use. Attempting to find the world of the Espers to further increase their magic stock, they find Terra, a girl who has an innate ability to cast magic. The Empire captures and manipulates her with a mind-control device.
So what does this history lesson have anything to do with the logo? As said, that's Terra, mounted on a Magitek, which is a technology powered by energy extracted from Espers. Terra can use magic because she is a half-Esper, meaning that the logo features Terra under mind control riding on a technology-fueled by her deceased family members. Bizarre.
Final Fantasy VII
One of the most - if not THE most - famous Final Fantasy. If you have played it, you know what this game is all about. If you haven't played it, stop reading this article and go play it. Are you done? Then let's proceed. The logo represents Meteor, the magic Sephiroth invokes with the Black Materia to hurt the planet and use this recovery time to absorb the Lifestream and become a god.
Near the meteor's tail, we see a small green sphere, which most likely represents a Materia, crucial elements in the game mechanics as well as in the story. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, the logo kept its meaning, but now with 3D perspective and a darker green.
Final Fantasy VIII
Pretty romantic, right? While previous games in the franchise had their share of romance, it was in FFVIII that Square amplified and poured the whole ingredient on the formula. The love story between Squall and Rinoa is often the trigger (press R1) that the protagonist needs to carry on his journey and advance the plot.
Amano didn't have his routine process in creating this logo. The game team itself requested that the logo be this specific scene, where Squall releases Rinoa and she runs to give him a tight hug. The team knew - or thought they did - it would be one of the most remarkable moments of the game.
Final Fantasy IX
I confess that I had to do a lot of research to understand this one. I was pretty young when I first played FFIX and must not have paid attention to the finer details about the world's formation. To my bad luck, since this is exactly what the logo represents.
The golden crystal was chosen because in the game it is from the crystal that all life originates and all life returns to end. More precisely, our souls. The crystal was an emotional rescue that Square achieved by returning with the high fantasy settings in the ninth installment of the franchise. So much that at the time, FFIX was advertised with the slogan "The Crystal Comes Back".
Final Fantasy X
Have you ever been mindlessly minding your own business and been shot at by some flying object or other material forms that lightly assaults you? It used to happen a lot in school days via paper balls with crooked trajectories.
No matter how unintentionally, you get a little upset. Now imagine if something similar happened all of a sudden, but in this event, you die. You would be VERY upset, to the point of unaccepting your fate. This is what happens in FFX when innocent bystanders are killed by Sin, the game's monstrous antagonist. The soul refuses to go to the Farplane (a kind of limbo) and a summoner must do the Sending, a ceremony that guides the spirits of the dead through a ritual dance.
The logo portrays Yuna doing the Sending in Kilika Port after the village is attacked and devastated by Sin. I would be pretty pissed if I died while leisurely fishing on my day off.
Final Fantasy X-2
I will try to be brief so I can avoid the stones thrown at me, since this game is notoriously hated. The logo represents the three Sphere Hunters we control during the quest for more spheres, Yuna, Rikku, and Paine. Nothing fancy, like the game.
Final Fantasy XI
The first MMORPG of the franchise receives updates to this day, almost 20 years after its release. The game logo is represented by a crowd, and while some speculate it signifies the massive amount of players in an MMO, each representing one job, others say it may refer to the Crystal War of the past, and the logo shows the allied army.
The game had five expansions and six add-on scenarios, each represented by a title. Every update got a different logo, but the only change was on the typography, so they didn't make the cut to be here.
Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII takes us back to Ivalice, the same world where the Final Fantasy Tactics series takes place. The judges, recurrent characters in Tactics Advance, stars in FFXII. But in the twelfth game of the series, their functions are different. Instead of punishing you for walking only one tile or using an ether, here the judges serve the Minister of Law of the Archadian Empire and act as commanders.
In FFXII's logo, we see Judge Gabranth in his vertical grandeur. Although he is not the main antagonist, his actions generated aftershocks that defined the history of Dalmasca and the Empire. In a plot worthy of Ivalice, with betrayals, plenty of politics, and a well-blurred grayish morality, if Gabranth didn't get a VIP seat at the front, he was the one putting on the show.
I will not include Revenant Wings because unlike Final Fantasy IV: After Years and Final Fantasy X-2, the game is not necessarily a sequel, more like a spinoff. But if you're wondering what's depicted in the logo, it's the Galbana, the ship Vaan and Penelo use to pirate the sky.
Final Fantasy XIII
The first time I saw this logo, I didn't understand it at all. As well as the second, third and tenth. Only after finishing the game, it started to make sense. Be warned, the logo represents the game's ending, so if you have spoiler phobia, I don't recommend reading the following paragraph.
The big and round part of the logo represents Cocoon, the flying continent of Gran Pulse. Above it, we can see two female figures, representations of Fang and Vanille. A little below, an upside-down dragon embracing Cocoon (I told you, spoilers) and underneath it all, the crystal pillar, in the shape of Serah's pendant.
What does this amalgam of elements mean? At the end of the game, after you have killed the supposed god that holds Cocoon, the massive flying acorn is falling towards Gran Pulse, and should this happen, millions of lives would be lost. Before dooming an entire civilization, Fang and Vanille transform into Ragnarok, a dragon god, who technically was supposed to bring about the end of the world. As the power of friendship changed their motivations, the girls decided to save everyone by embracing themselves in Cocoon, crystallizing and forming a pillar that prevents it from colliding with the world below.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
The direct continuation of the game introduces us to the protagonists Serah and Noel, but as usual, the logo gives us other characters of the story. In this case, we have Lightning and Caius, the protagonist of the first FFXIII and the antagonist of the second. Eternal rivals, Caius appears constantly as we travel through different timelines to hamper our progression, and Lightning is protecting a goddess while her younger sister does all the quests and goes about patching up the timelines.
A remarkable facet of this logo is the coloring of the characters. Lightning is pink because of her and her sister's colors, which highlight the characters well. Caius was also painted purple because of his hair, some details of his armor. His transformation, the Chaos Bahamut, is a phenomenal violet dragon.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
The black sheep of logos. Lightning Returns was the first that didn't use Amano's artwork and renounced the good old-fashioned typography. The logo has an emblem resembling a crystal but fragmented like a lightning bolt, a comparison to the heroine Lightning. In-game, the emblem is the savior's crest.
The producer explained that the Lightning Returns logo was redesigned because the team wanted to reflect the gameplay difference compared to the series previous games. And indeed it was different, especially the gameplay. Instead of a party, we control only Lightning in a battle with a mix between turn-based, paradigms, and action. For those who expected a traditional turn-based jRPG gameplay, it may have been a shock, as it was for me. But the game is worth facing to conclude Lightning's saga.
Final Fantasy XIV
After the success of Final Fantasy XI, Square decided to bet again on the MMORPG genre and released its second Final Fantasy online. The logo featured a group of warriors, each with its distinctive coloring and weapon, representing the wide variety of classes and jobs in the game.
However, if you haven't heard, the original game was doomed due to numerous issues. Halfway through its lifetime, it changed directors. The new one, Yoshi-P, suggested virtually burning the game and restructuring it entirely to prepare for a re-release. The second version was released, entitled A Realm Reborn, presenting the same logo, but adding the subtitle A Realm Reborn. The letter O in Reborn features a meteor design, symbolizing the one that exploded the old game and led to the MMO's success today.
The game has three expansions to date and the fourth was announced, each with its own logo. Heavensward shows a dragon, as the expansion focuses on Dragonsong War, a war between dragons and the inhabitants of Ishgard. On the side, there is a dragoon, the featured job of the expansion.
Stormblood's central plot is the liberation of Ala-Mhigo, one of the city-states conquered by the Garlean Empire. The second expansion logo highlights characters essential to the expansion's development, such as Lyse and Raubahn. Warrior of Light appears as a Monk, one of the standout jobs of the expansion, the second being Samurai.
Shadowbringers, considered the best expansion of the game by many, and even the best Final Fantasy of the franchise, shows an imposing Dark Knight above the title. The game plot dimensioned to other worlds and showed the Warrior of Light should take on the mantle of darkness to face the light-born enemies. To do so, he needed to become the Warrior of Darkness. While it is not necessary to use the Dark Knight job to advance, it was the highlight of this majestic and enlightened (until you bring back the night) expansion.
Finally, Endwalker was announced and from the information absorbed from its announcement, I can speak with great certainty that the moon is one of the key elements of the next chapter and the logo. Next to it appears to be a ship, the likely means of transport that will take us to the satellite. The expansion promises to end the story that began in version 2.0, A Realm Reborn, but guarantees that it is not the last of Final Fantasy XIV. Great news, because I was having a crisis after investing thousands of hours and money in this life-force-sucking game. I have no regrets.
Final Fantasy XV
By far, one of my least favorite entries. But since we must be professionals, let's move on. The logo shows Oracle, a healer who keeps the balance of Eos, the world of FFXV. She appears to be delightful napping. As we progress through the game, we discover that the current Oracle is Luna, princess of Tenebrae and bride-to-be to Noctis, our brooding protagonist.
While the logo could be a representation of the Oracle's role and not exactly Luna, it proves otherwise later on. After beating the game, the logo is updated and adds a new character to the title, Noctis. The heir to Lucis is sitting regally while Luna sleeps propped up on the throne. The lead developer said that this change in the logo symbolizes Noctis' own Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy XVI
Finally, one of the most anticipated games for worshippers of the franchise, jRPG, and RPGs in general. Final Fantasy XVI was announced last year and we have all the information available in a juicy article.
The game promises to reinforce the Fantasy of its title, eschewing technology or futuristic elements. Yoshi-P, director of FFXIV, is the producer of the sixteenth game and we can see his influences right away in the game's first trailer. Also, Masayoshi Soken's orchestral soundtrack is brimming all the way.
In the world of Valisthea, there are summons, called Eikons (the Empire in FFXIV also calls them this manner, Yoshi-P putting his finger on the denominations). Eikons reside within Dominants, a man or woman, who can summon the power of these creatures. There is only one of each element, and Joshua, brother of the protagonist Clive, is the Phoenix's Dominant, one of fire. However, Ifrit appears, another fire Eikon, and he disrupts the hitherto peace between kingdoms and the plot starts to unravel.
As for the logo, it shows the two fire eikons, Phoenix and Ifrit, facing each other. They were the spark that ignited the fate that awaits our protagonist. I close the article with a plea: please, Square, don't make a solo game and include party members. The trailer scared me, but I know it was just to lower the expectation bar and surprise everyone in the next one. Kisses of light.