Book Review: The Psychology of Final Fantasy – Surpassing The Limit Break

On the one hand, it’s a bit simplistic to call myself a Final Fantasy fan. Without context and a proper understanding of the franchise, it would be very easy to take that sentence for granted. If you’re a gamer like myself, however, you may appreciate the Final Fantasy franchise for one aspect or another, even if you don’t consider yourself a fan. The series was first conceived and released to the public in 1987, almost forty years ago. There have been numerous games in the series, as well as spinoffs, crossovers, popular culture references, and additional media in those thirty-plus years. It consists of some of the most beloved characters, stories, and settings in all of gaming that continue to make a strong impact for players all over the world. 

The Psychology of Final Fantasy is a book recently published that celebrates the Final Fantasy series, and interprets different aspects of the games through the lens of psychology. Edited by Dr. Anthony M. Bean, a licensed clinical psychologist and video game researcher, the book consists of multiple contributors from different institutions as they discuss the meaningful connections players have made with the Final Fantasy franchise over the years, and their own observations through playing the games. The focus of the book, per the back cover, states: “Think you know Final Fantasy? The Psychology of Final Fantasy explores how this game resonates with a player’s psychological drive toward an emotional sense of wholeness, bonding, and completion as they take part in this epic quest.” The question becomes for the potential reader, does this book and its multiple contributors succeed in making this connection between the psychological findings and a player’s personal connection to a Final Fantasy story that is offered to them? After reading through the book and contemplating its points, the following are my thoughts on how I thought the book did in this goal and my opinions overall. 

The book is broken up into twelve different chapters, with contributors highlighting a psychological element within the Final Fantasy series’ settings, and connecting players’ experiences with scientific findings and research. Some of these elements include:

  • Storytelling elements within the Final Fantasy franchise that are intermittent with Japanese ideals and philosophies.
  • The observation of the importance of music in the stories, including repetitions of musical themes and leitmotifs that help amplify storytelling.
  • Diving into the psychology and impacts of trauma, and how they shape a character’s development in the story.
  • And many other examples…

There are three aspects that I observed and really enjoyed while reading the book. The first was that it’s very obvious that all of the contributors are knowledgeable in their field and are professionals, while also having at least a working understanding of the Final Fantasy stories to make appropriate connections to make their points. The fact that they would choose to do this project suggests to me that they at least have an appreciation for the stories and Final Fantasy’s legacy, even if they’re not as familiar with the series as other fans. 

The second point I enjoyed while reading was just being able to learn new things while going through the book. I have a working appreciation of psychology and how it affects when we react to different scenarios and events in our lives; comparing these real-life facets to events in the games and how characters react to them. This makes the concepts and theories they present more realistic and applicable to the reader so that they can contemplate how these can occur in their own lives based on the observations the contributors shared. This isn’t limited to just psychology that readers can take something away from, but other themes and concepts that they may not already be familiar with. I know for myself I enjoyed reading the first chapter by Dr. Rachel Kowert about the storytelling in the Final Fantasy franchise, and the Japanese influences that make it stand out from other forms of storytelling in video games. These are just a few examples of what readers can expect to find throughout these twelve different chapters; chances are you may find yourself learning something new from this wonderful series and these observations that you may never have thought about before.

Finally, it’s just exciting as a fan to see other fans share what they’re passionate about when it comes to Final Fantasy, and to be able to combine that with their respective fields of expertise. It’s obvious that this book is very much a passion project, albeit one with a lot of details and work put into it. The passion the book emits from fans makes me enjoy it as one, and I know that as a Final Fantasy fan I would appreciate more books like these being written. I’m very grateful to Dr. Bean and the contributors for taking the time to observe the series in a way most of us have never seen before. 

Cloud & Tifa from Final Fantasy VII Remake

That being said, there were some issues I found while reading through the chapters that I thought were rather distracting and were things potential readers ought to know about. The most prevalent were the several misspellings made throughout the book, mostly of the names of the characters. As a big fan of these characters, it was something that didn’t escape my notice, and may be something that other fans may come across too as they read. There are also inconsistencies present in plot points, as well as characters, that also distracted me from time to time while reading through these chapters. I think tighter editing would have benefited this from occurring as frequently as it did, and would probably be something to keep in mind for future publications.

Something else I noticed was that there were fewer references and examples given from earlier Final Fantasy titles in comparison to those from Final Fantasy VI and on. Although this is understandable, given that the early games were not as complex as the more recent ones, it still would have been nice to see more content pulled from these earlier titles, or give potential readers some thoughts to contemplate over using these earlier stories with the concepts presented. 

Overall, it’s clear that a lot of love and passion was put into this project. My own criticisms aside, this really is a must-have book for any Final Fantasy fan. I hope that more books like these will be published, with hopefully more polished editing, but this is a great book worthy of any gamer’s bookshelf, especially for those of us who appreciate psychology in both video games and in the real world.

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