I developed a love for art at a very young age, appreciating it on a different level than many of my peers. Do you remember as a kid you would flip through the instruction manual for your NES games like Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda, and they had that FANTASTIC artwork of all the wondrous creatures you would be encountering on your adventure? And then, you pop in the game and each of these beautiful designs is depicted as a tiny, 8-bit red or blue splotch on the screen? Friends would ask me why they’d put so much effort into these drawings if the final product isn’t going to resemble it in the slightest? For me, it helped paint the picture in my head of exactly what dangers I was facing. Sure, on screen they didn’t look all that special, but those images from the booklet helped paint a picture for my young mind to conjure up heroes, princesses, and assorted baddies I’d meet during my travels.
These are the thoughts that came flooding back to me as I flipped through the pages of The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy, a five-book collection showcasing the elegant and alluring artwork of Yoshitaka Amano through the first ten Final Fantasy games. Having been a Final Fantasy enthusiast since day one, I would latch onto anything FF-related I could get my grubby, little hands on. Freshman year of college I took advantage of the high-speed internet to download the FF games that had only been released in Japan.
Addiction is a fair word.
That said, sitting down with this book was a refreshing trip down memory lane. Starting with the art of Final Fantasy 1, I had a harder time remembering the creatures from the actual game and the concept art I had before me, though some illustrations came right from the instruction manual and I recognized immediately. These were the same drawings I tried to recreate on my notepad during 4th grade Math class, and they looked just as beautiful as I remember. Everything from the infamous Evil Eye to the Hydra to Chaos himself are all here. As I scrolled throughout the series, I had to take a moment and appreciate the vast amount of creativity involved in creating all these monsters. Over the series’ 25 years, I kind of took for granted the beasts I’d been hacking and slashing for hours on end as mere annoyances preventing me from reaching my greater goal. Through this book, I was able to get a better understanding of just what goes into creating something as a simple goblin whose only purpose is to be destroyed a thousand times over by games’ end.
I got most excited when I reached Final Fantasy 6 (FF3 for us Americans), which is one of my all-time favorites, and the artwork became more recognizable. I was surprised, however, that the section for FF7 wasn’t larger, as it’s often regarded as the most popular of the series. Nevertheless, the art of FF7 had some fantastic pieces for Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth. A good number of the Cloud drawings have Red XIII proudly by his side, depicting him as if he was a more integral part of Cloud’s story in the earlier drafts. I was reminded of a large Red XIII subplot that was cut from the final game, so perhaps that’s the case.
In addition to all the books of art, we are also treated to All About Yoshitaka Amano, an in-depth look at the man himself. Included here is an interview with Amano along with mail from fans, a timeline of his career, a look into his studio, and his life in SoHo. This is probably the most comprehensive look into Amano’s world for the English-speaking audience. As a long-time fan, I appreciated hearing him speak of how each game is different and not a continuing story, and how his art reflects that. When you see art from FF1, you know its from FF1 and not, say, FFIV.
The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy is a must have for Final Fantasy fans or even those who are just passionate about art. With the holiday season approaching, I would recommend adding this to the ol’ Wish List.