For a long running and expansive franchise like Final Fantasy it is rather difficult for even the vicarious of fans to keep track of all the media that exist. From blockbuster films that flopped to neat smaller projects, there is something enjoyable about flipping through the portfolio of sometimes forgotten projects. Gonzo’s 2001 anime production of Final Fantasy: Unlimited under the supervision of Square Enix definitely fits the bill of an obscure piece of media and probably deservedly so for the reasons you might already have in mind.
Title: Final Fantasy Unlimited
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure
Ai and Yu, after reading their parent’s research and after their parents disappearance, they decided to go on search for them. They ride a strange train to the Inner World in search of their parents and meets up with Lisa in the train and together they begin their journey within the Inner World.
Despite having the classic “FF” in its title, Final Fantasy: Unlimited is apart of the franchise in name only. Sure, it has the iconic creatures like a very odd Chocobo and trademarks like the summons (which hold a role in the plot), yet other than that, not much else exist that represents the Final Fantasy brand in its entirety. On par with a lot of spin-off and side projects, this one falls into the younger audience demographic – specifically, preteens or those around that age that still have yet to interact with the franchise. That would probably describe the rather generic fantasy world and baseline plot that is simple enough to follow. Add to that the series composition featuring the “villain of the week” format and episodes that span of 24 minuets, but usually resolved within 4 minuets and you have yourself a low-budget, low-energy adaptation of a popular work. I wish I could go ahead and say that is true, but where there is not much going on in most of the episodes, the script writers do seem to care about this production a far amount since they do have some defined roles for the characters in mind and the writing does have some idiosyncratic traits synonymous with the titular name.
Sadly, while there is a lot of planning and more to Unlimited than meets the eye, it is the nature of the episodes that are the undoing of this series. Granted that there are more story beats going on like Lisa’s purpose in all this and the past relationship for two other characters that isn’t heavily explored, there is a lot of teasing that something else is going on behind the scenes other than the big bad causing trouble. Then again, with pacing moving with the finesse of snail there is a lot of unanswered questions especially during the surprising revelations in the last two episodes. Seeing how many small details that were crammed in, it is possible that another season was planned out, yet judging from the visuals, the budgeting didn’t quite hold out. Everything does get sorted out with the twins journey, but the final fade out does suggest more to come and feels like a nagging cliffhanger that will not go away. However, to even get to that point it is a lot of suffering through humdrum episodes that end the same way almost every single time with little to nothing of importance.
As aforementioned, even with Square playing a very minor overseer role in the production, the staff really did go the extra mile in regards to the animation and artwork. Using a blend of 3D and 2D graphics (much like most of Gonzo’s productions), the contrast makes for some interesting visual effects and gives the stilted action sequences some life. There is a ton of reused animation, but to be expected even though for a production like this one the frequency is higher than normal. The character designs are just as great; with characters like Kaze and Makenshi giving off some classic Final Fantasy vibes and the summons simply amazing. There are some unintentionally goofy and funny looking ones (Phoenix has this weird buck tooth thing going on), yet the majority look alright. The soundtrack choice is okay, but much of it feels like generic background noise and not at all memorable. The official English release does include both the subtitled and dubbed audio tracks, but as much as I like dubs this one is a little harsher on the ears due to the casting and voice directing feeling too dialed in and like most of the actors are reading straight from the script. Of course, with the actually writing not all that demanding it could be for the purpose of excitement which the series lack.
Where there are plenty of bad video game adaptations that began to come into existence around the early to mid 2000’s, this iteration of Final Fantasy at least appears to be trying and deserves enough slack not to be thrown out into the trash along with the other slapdash projects. This one in particular was popular enough to get a novel continuation (in Japan only), but feel that is was only marketed in North America due to the “FF” brand finally gaining some traction. Either way, if you count yourself among the legion of FF fanatics or at all curious, this a media project you are better off skipping all together unless you do not mind a rushed and half-baked title. Then again, it is a lot better than The Spirits Within so it is more like choosing your own poison. Unlimited is not as lethal so that should make the choice easier.
Pros: Animation and artwork style, later episode provide some nice story revelations, great for younger audiences.
Cons: Visual quality drops off in 2nd half, most episodes feel like filler, direction of later episodes are rushed.
Final Verdict: Not exactly being a shining example of the franchise, Final Fantasy: Unlimited is a fair and forgettable title in the already expansive catalog of media. Unless you count yourself as someone that must experience all things “FF”, it is a entry most people will most likely want to pass on despite the average production values.