Over the holiday break, we have been treated to a handful of tidbits and a plethora of screenshots for Final Fantasy XIV. The release of Final Fantasy XIII also brought with it the beta application signups. A nice gift from the folks at Square Enix, but there are still many mysteries about the upcoming MMO that are yet to be solved. One of these, which was recently mentioned, is the magic system.
According to Dengeki PlayStation, magic will take a similar form to past Final Fantasy titles. There will be single-target spells, area-of-effect spells, and different levels of magic will require longer casting times and higher MP consumption. Although the classes have been altered dramatically from what most fans are familiar with, the naming conventions for magic are said to be largely unchanged.
However, there have been several patterns throughout the history of the Final Fantasy series. Old school gamers grew up with the simple 1,2,3 numbering pattern, while folks who jumped in during the Playstation era may be more familiar with -ra and -ga, taken from the original Japanese. Now we have Final Fantasy XI, which mixed both of these to form a naming system that could better accommodate the range of spells available to adventurers in Vana'diel.
So, what might Eorzea's mystical side look like?
Oh my ~ Oh my-ra ~ Oh my God!
Until Final Fantasy VIII, the higher level spells of each element were simply numbered -- for example, Fire, Fire 2 and Fire 3. It seems Squall's "whatever" attitude was contagious, because with the 8th installment, they decided not to bother with the English system, and just leave the Japanese as-is, with -ra and -ga. Now Fire spells would progress from Fire to Fira and Firaga. Final Fantasy Tactics introduced a fourth level to this, which uses the suffix -ja.
In English, we might normally order items of the same category numerically or alphabetically. Japanese, employing different alphabets, (hiragana, katakana and kanji) follows different rules. Katakana acts as a special alternate alphabet that has a variety of uses. The most common use is to spell out foreign loanwords, for instance ファイナルファンタジー (Fainaru Fantajii) Final Fantasy. Anyone who has played the Japanese version of a Final Fantasy title can see the majority of spell names are phonetically spelled English words. Katakana can also be used to add emphasis to words, similar to how a word might be bold or italic or put in "quotes" to imply a hidden meaning. In some cases, characters will speak in full-on Katakana to help convey their speaking voice, whether it be monstrous (Diabolos), or comically disoriented (Cardians). One other usage, as we see with magic, is that katakana can order items within a shared category. On an exam or in a textbook, it is common to see multiple-choice problems ordered アイウエオ (ah-ee-oo-eh-oh), where we would use abcde or 12345.
However, if magic followed the standard ordering convention of Japanese, we would have Fire, Fira(ア), Firey(イ), Firoo(ウ). Instead, spell progression goes:
Lowest Rank: [spell name]
Middle Ranks: -ア(a) -ダ(da), -ラ(ra)
Highest Ranks: -ガ(ga), -ジャ(ja)
Like the English names, the system has been altered somewhat over the years, especially the interchanging of the middle ranks. So, what do all these suffixes mean?
The ア suffix was originally for mid-level White Magic spells, mirroring -ra for mid-level Black Magic. It has largely fallen out of use except for "Araise" -- a recurring spell familiar to most fans that uses ア as a prefix. プロテア (Protectra) uses ア and is an AoE version of Protect, although the English version changes the suffix to "ra" to match with other enhancing White Magic.
Another rank that has seen limited use, ダ used to occupy the space between ア and ガ under White Magic. While Black Magic had only three ranks, White Magic had four and went [spell name], -ア, -ダ, -ガ. This apparently disappeared after Final Fantasy IV, making only the occasional appearance when necessary. During the theater performance in Final Fantasy IX, ファイダ(Fireda) is available as one of the phony "SFX" spells.
Ra is the lucky little prefix that became the general representative for mid-level spells. A -ra spell is typically one step above the base level spell, whether it be in power, proc rate or by having an AoE. In Final Fantasy VIII, -ra spells were essentially "level 2" of the base spell. In Final Fantasy, -ra level Enfeebling spells had a higher chance of working. Final Fantasy XI uses the -ra suffix on Enhancing magic to indicate an AoE spell, such as Protectra or Shellra.
Image courtesy Sejon @ DeviantArt
Besides being what your enemies scream when assaulted by these powerful spells, -ga is used to indicate the highest levels of attack magic. Usually, this would be level 3 for Black Magic attack spells (Ice 3), or 4 if -da were included in the progression, (Cure 4). In Final Fantasy XI, -ga labels the AoE versions of Elemental or Enfeebling spells. There are rare instances where -ga is used for AoE Enhancing spells, such as Garuda's Hastega.
When -ga just won't cut it, -ja comes in to raise the stakes. First appearing in Final Fantasy Tactics, -ja came to represent level 4 Black Magic spells; the ultimate level above -ga. Those familiar with FFT's notoriously odd translations might be amused to hear that -ja itself was a communication error in the original Japanese. Apparently when working out the whole アダラガ system, there was a miscommunication along the way, and ジャ snuck its way in by accident. A Famitsu editor at the time wrote of the mix-up: "Luckily -ja still sounds pretty cool. We could have ended up with something like Thunder-byo."
Though if -ja level spells work their way into Final Fantasy XIV, I bet we could think of jokes for that too. "So on ze Puddinks ve cast Thunder, ja?"
Of course, there are many other suffixes and prefixes throughout the Final Fantasy series. Enhancing spells like バ→Bar→Barrier or エン→En→Enchant. In Final Fantasy XI, status effect healing spells use ナ(na), which speculation points to being the first character for phonetic spellings of "nullify," "nurse," or just the beginning of 治す(nao-su) "to heal." Going into all of them would be a whole other linguistic adventure, but feel free to discuss them in the forums.
Speaking of which, what naming scheme do you think Final Fantasy XIV will use? Which one would you prefer? As Square Enix continues to evolve the series and implement new battle systems, these terms come to have new meanings. Final Fantasy XI uses -ra to refer to AoE, and the recently released Final Fantasy XIII has brought back -da for Enhancing magic. As Final Fantasy XIV pulls from the series' past, what kind of naming system will it build? Head on over the ZAM forums to get your speculation on.