One of my favorite aspects of our own Final Fantasy celebration here at RPGFan is the artwork we've been able to feature as part of our Memoria tales. It would be impossible to understate the importance of art across Final Fantasy's history. I won't attempt to turn this into a brief history lesson on the stunning works of Yoshitaka Amano, and Tetsuya Nomura, among others. Though that's a fun future topic idea.
What I am here to talk about is the ongoing art exhibition that Gallery Nucleus is hosting in collaboration with Square Enix near Los Angeles. Final Fantasy: A Legacy of Art opened on December 2nd, and will run until January 7th. If you're in the LA area (specifically, Alhambra), you definitely need to pay it a visit.
I stopped by on opening day, and I was glad I did. It wasn't my first time at Gallery Nucleus: My first visit was also Square Enix-themed, as it was the company's choice of venue for Final Fantasy X | X-2's launch event. Nucleus is by no means a sprawling museum-sized space; it's small and intimate, and with the day one crowds, it would have been easily overcrowded. Yet once inside, I easily understood why Square Enix and Nucleus staff were so hardcore about line management. They maintained a healthy number of people that didn't make it (too) hard to move about.
Sadly, I did not manage to snag one of the special tickets for artist Toshiyuki Itahana's (character designer on Final Fantasy IX and Crystal Chronicles) signings, but I also won't complain about the general event's free admission and launch day refreshments. On hand were some kind of blue and red "potion" drinks, ginger ales, and most importantly, the "why didn't I order these before they sold out?" Final Fantasy Anniversary wines.
The "bartender" kindly poured me some Ifrit Rouge, and while there was only a half-glass in that bottle... it turned out to be the very last drop of the stuff on the premises, so I counted myself fortunate. And dammit, it's good! I was equally pleased that I got to taste it, and sad that I can't buy a bottle.
But I suppose we should talk about the art. One thing that struck me right away was that for almost every game represented here — all fifteen mainline games, plus some bonus art from Mobius and Brave Exvius — I found a piece of artwork I'd either never seen, or is lesser-known. Sure, the well-known stuff is here, but as an admirer of Final Fantasy art, I wasn't expecting so many surprises.
I was familiar with most of the pieces for the first two games, but it was nice seeing the cast illustration for the second game in person, as the dramatic stances and looming Emperor always leaves a lasting impact.
A few of the works on display for FFIII were new to me, though it's not one of the titles I'm overly familiar with. In fact, most of my knowledge of FFIII are simply from the characters and places that were transplanted into Final Fantasy XIV. As such, the gleaming tower silhouetting the Light Warriors resonated with me.
Yoshitaka Amano's artwork of Emperor Xande is also striking. It's well-known that no matter how the characters ended up being rendered in-game, more often than not, Amano's rendition features pale skin tones and light, often blonde hair. Xande's got the nearly-luminous hair going on, but his obsidian skin makes it a piece that's impossible not to look at twice.
Final Fantasy IV is dear to me, and while this event featured a surprising single piece of Amano art, at least it was the iconic (it's the logo, even!) rendition of the "original" dragoon, Kain. (I know FFII had a dragoon first, but nobody cares about him) My favorite little surprise here though? The grid of chibified FFIV cast members, randomly interspersed with traditional FF jobs like Fighter and Black Mage:
Now we're talking. While the classic piece of Terra on her Magitek Armor was shockingly small (like, maybe 6" across small), I was more than happy with the others on display. I don't know if this first piece was created specifically for Final Fantasy VI's Grand Finale arrangement album, but it's the only place I've seen it used. Seeing the entire landscape though? Breathtaking.
And while I quickly found this next one online once I looked for it, I'd never seen this black and white line art of Kefka's final form before. The grotesque form of the mad clown and the Warring Triad merged into one horrible abomination of gods made those singular abomination final bosses of past games look like pussycats. It's a masterful piece of work, and even though we all get a laugh at Tetsuya Nomura's penchant for belts and zippers, the man was in charge of monster design on Final Fantasy VI, and this piece is unmistakably his work, with twisting forms and sharp edges. It's dense with detail, and I could just stare at it for hours.
This is where things shift for Final Fantasy, art-wise. While Amano would still contribute to the series in varying degrees, Nomura was in charge of character design in FFVII. I love seeing finished pieces, but as someone who would sketch in pencil constantly as a kid, I loved seeing the pure pencil sketches of Cloud and The Turks. The clarity and perfect shading on Cloud and the Hardy Daytona? Sublime.
Now, you might be wondering where my full shot of the Final Fantasy X area is. A legit question, and one I realized was missing once I got home. I had a hard time getting into that corner to photograph it, and intended to go back when it was less busy, and... well. I was distracted by the pretties and forgot. Obviously, I should attend the show again and fix this... Still, it's lovely to see a wall of pure Amano for FFIX. It was yet another reminder of that game's "back to the roots" driving force.
Update 1/22/18: Thanks to a generous reader who wishes to remain anonymous, we have added a trio of images from the Final Fantasy X area of this exhibit, making this article that much more complete! We thank you, kind person.
Oh, FFXII. Your giant logo is striking, and somehow as wall-filling as the entire set of artworks. I talked about intense levels of detail on Nomura's FFVI piece, but the artwork for FFXII is on a whole different level.
There are two big things to note here. First, when you think of Final Fantasy XIII artwork, your first thought probably goes to its myriad pieces of CG/3D art. All of it is gorgeous, but the hand-drawn and concept work is certainly lesser-seen, but dammit, it needs to be!
Second, Peter wrote an insightful article about FFXIII's tumultuous development cycle. If you ever doubted how drastically things changed behind the scenes and how loose a grasp they had on things early on, check out this crazy cyberpunk piece, easily my biggest surprise of the exhibit. Are these early versions of Lightning and Snow, or others entirely? The girl's position of driver lends a sense of leadership to her, so was Lightning first dreamt of as a spandex-wearing teenager? Her passenger's bandana and muscled appearance could easily be an early concept for Snow and his tank/monk-like role in battle. In any case, just when I thought I'd seen it all when it came to FFXIII, this art piece took me by complete surprise.
FFXIV's displayed artwork is a perfect homage to its history, with the lovely wide Adventurer's Guild art that dates from the MMO's early days, to Bismarck, who appeared in the Heavensward expansion, to the key artwork for Stormblood and its delightfully warm tones.
Oh, and this crazy boss collage, which masterfully crams most of XIV's primals, alliance, and raid bosses into one twisting, organic mass of horrors that requires extended viewing to catch all the detail.
Much like FFXIII, if we're presented with artwork for Final Fantasy XV, it's almost always CG. And it's lovely CG, but I still want to see the processes that led to that point, so it was neat seeing so much of it on display here.
Even so, it's really hard to pay attention to the others when that monumentally-stunning Yoshitaka Amano piece is staring at you. As I said before, Amano contributes at least something to almost every Final Fantasy game, even if he's no longer the series' main artist. He's never forgotten, but it can be easy to think of his work in Final Fantasy — beyond the logo illustrations — in a largely historical context, back when he was the artist on the series.
But if you ever stop and wonder, "He doesn't live and breathe Final Fantasy anymore, so how invested is he these days?", just look at this piece for Final Fantasy XV. I bought the limited edition game just to have this artwork wrap the Steelcase, but seeing it in pieces in my hand doesn't even compare to seeing the complete work four feet across. It's the only piece in the exhibit that isn't in a frame with a mat, but printed on a canvas stretched over a frame. There was a clear reverence for this piece that backs up my own awe.
That about does it! If you will be in the Los Angeles area between now and January 7th, I highly recommend you stop by and see A Legacy of Art for yourself. Admission is free, and the gallery itself still has its own merchandise for sale — you'll find plenty of books, prints, and more.
In the short term, Square Enix and Nucleus are also auctioning off several Final Fantasy prints on nucleusauctions.com, until December 9th. If you have several hundred dollars (that's just the opening bid, mind you), check it out! If you want to buy me the Stormblood piece for the holidays, I won't stop you. And hey, most of the proceeds from the auction go to the Global Giving charity, so you'd be doing good work, too.
In closing, I leave you with a last batch of photos with some Mobius Final Fantasy art, and some important fan messages being left on the onsite Dedication Wall, and, of course, the Cup Noodle photo booth. Because why wouldn't this exist?