The Final Fantasy series has a long and rich history from which the developers can pull many beloved characters and themes. With each new installment, many fans wait anxiously for the quote or screenshot that reveals their favorite icon will appear once again. Some are borrowed from the page of history, and others crafted from the imaginations of creators at Square Enix. All of them, however, have changed and developed over the 20-plus years since the series' inception.
As we look back, we hope to show long-time fans how Eorzea has been shaped by these influences while newcomers may gain some insight as to why these aspects of Final Fantasy are so special.
Today we look at Gil!
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Like many aspects of Final Fantasy, the early years can contain many inconsistancies when comparing the Japanese and English versions. However, in the first title for the NES, the Japanese version alone was confusing in its own right.
In Final Fantasy the first, money in the Japanese version was "Gold" and units of gold were "Gil." So, when you defeated a monster, you would receive "10 gil in gold." Then on the status screen, your gil-gold was simply labeled "G". It's no wonder why the English translation simply went with "gold" and left it that way.
But what is "gil" exactly? There doesn't seem to be a clear explanation for the initial use of gil. In Final Fantasy IV, it was claimed that the family of Gilbert (Edward the Bard's Japanese name) coined the term, but this only really applies to that particular world and appears to be an after-the-fact explanation anyway.
There is an old English measurement of volume, the gill, which is about a quarter-pint. While it's written the same way (ギル） and would fit in terms of the medieval fantasy setting, the gill is apparently only used for liquids. Another theory is that Square derived the term from the word "kill," as in money you get when you kill the enemy. "Kill" by itself was a little too harsh, so it was modified to gil.
It could even have a connection to the word guild, which is similar to gold in Japanese ギルド・ゴルド. According to my JP-JP dictionary, guild is defined as a group of merchants in medeival Europe, so it's possible they modified the word to serve as units of gold when dealing with merchants. But who knows, at this point we're just grasping at straws.
UPDATE: At the risk of going overboard on the theories, PLDXavier in the forums also had an interesting suggestion that "gil" may have come from the word "gilt." Gilt, in its noun form refers to gold applied in the process of gilding, as well as serves as a slang term for money. The first two characters also match up with gil (ギル).
Gil has not changed very much over the years. On the Japanese side, it started in katakana (ギル) which is an alphabet for phonetically spelling foreign words, among other uses. In Final Fantasy II, it became hiragana (ぎる) then switched to simply (G) in Final Fantasy III, and then from the SNES era on was known as gil ギル in katakana.
In RPGs released in North America, we've seen a couple different translations. There was the standard "gold" at first, which old-school table-top RPGers would certainly be familiar with. We have also seen "zeni" in certain instances, like "Zeni Toss" in older fan-translations and even other RPG series. Now, we also have Zeni Notorious Monsters in Final Fantasy XI.
Zeni (pictured above) is actually the Japanese word for coin, usually in the way we use "change" to refer in small coins in general. The kanji also reads "sen", and can specifically refer to the unit sen, which is equal to 0.01 yen. If you think that's tiny, there is also the rin which is 1/10th of a sen! Fortunately, all coins under the yen were removed from circulation in 1953. Coins are used for everything up through 500 yen (about $5) so it can be a pain carrying them all around. Nowadays, the unit sen is used mainly for accuracy in currency exchange rates and the stock market.
Gil and Zeni have played off each other a bit throughout the Final Fantasy series. The previously mentioned "Zeni Toss" (銭投げ) remains the same in Japan, but English translations now use Gil Toss, which replaces Zeni with the in-game currency, or Spare Change, which refers to the literal meaning of Zeni as "coins of a small denomination." There is also the Gilgame (ギルガメ), a somewhat recurring turtle monster, which is a play on the word Zenigame （ゼニガメ）, a baby pond turtle.
Beyond the little yellow coins we have seen during a Gil Toss, it has never been very clear how these coins actually look. In Final Fantasy XI, we simply have the gold coin for an icon, while ancient currency is more detailed. Final Fantasy X was probably the first game that made it clear, and we can see they roughly correspond to the style of yen, being mostly circular, printed in the same denominations, and some having holes in the middle.
No surprise here, but gil has been confirmed by the developers to be the standard currency in Final Fantasy XIV. Also, to the joy of Vana'diel veterans, it stands to be much more plentiful. Gil can be earned by defeating monsters, selling goods and participating in Guildleves. For the beta, the developers stated they were altering the Guildleve system to better reward all party members instead of just the player who initiates the quest. Earning gil will be much less of a chore in the land of Eorzea if things work out as planned.
A stroll through Limsa-Lominsa's merchant area also reveals that NPC shops will play a much larger role in the daily life of an adventurer. Instead of a limited selection of overpriced goods, it seems there will be a lot more places to put your gil to good use.
The only thing we don't know about gil yet is what its exchange rate to dollars is going to be. Let's hope Sage Sundi and the Eorzean Special Task Force make it so we never find out!