Final Fantasy Maps Through the Ages: The SNES Era

We continue our look at the cartography of the Final Fantasy franchise by looking at the 1991 and 1994 SNES releases.

Previously, in Final Fantasy Maps Through the Ages: The NES Era, we looked at cartography in the original Final Fantasy from 1987 and found the game's map presentation to be primitive but serviceable, albeit hampered by technical limitations.

In this edition, we'll be studying the maps of two games for the SNES: Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI. Let's take a look...

Final Fantasy IV (1991, SNES)

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Originally known as Final Fantasy II in North America, Final Fantasy IV followed in the footsteps of previous Japan-only release Final Fantasy III by requiring the player to learn a spell (Sight) or use an item (Gnomish Bread) before they could view a map of the world.

Without any spells or items, players see the overworld (1). However, once the player acquires a hovercraft, their view of the world expands (2). This view takes advantage of the Mode 7 graphical feature of the SNES to scale the background world texture such that it tapers off toward the top of the screen and creates the impression of a 3D environment.

To get an even broader view of the world, the player can use Sight (3) or Gnomish Bread. The resulting map (4) is simply a zoomed-out view of the nearby overworld.

The Verdict

The approach here is interesting, in that the map view comes directly from the actual geography of the world, a technique seen in other games as recently as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This method has the advantage of filling the map with instantly recognizable landmarks and removing the need for abstractions or generalizations.

However, it is often in these abstractions that a map actually becomes useful. By simplifying the features of an area, a map can provide clear navigational cues that would otherwise become lost in the noise. The zoomed-out world view in Final Fantasy IV is sufficient for finding your way around, but doesn't quite approach the clarity and usefulness of a manually crafted world map.

Final Fantasy VI (1994, SNES)

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Originally known as Final Fantasy III in North America, Final Fantasy VI doubled down on the use of Mode 7 to create an even more 3D-looking world. It also featured two distinct maps: the World of Balance and the World of Ruin.

The basic overworld view (1 and 2) is similar to that seen in previous games, but a new, semi-transparent minimap has been added in the bottom-right corner of the screen.

The Verdict

The minimap proves useful when flying quickly over the world (as in 4), but it also consumes valuable screen real estate and can sometimes feel more obligatory than elegant. Nevertheless, it manages to simplify the geography of the world into a form that is relatively clean and easy to reference while traveling.

Stay Tuned

Next time on Final Fantasy Maps Through the Ages, we'll take a look at three games for the PlayStation: Final Fantasy VII from 1997, Final Fantasy VIII from 1999, and Final Fantasy IX from 2000, as we continue to work our way forward in time through the franchise.