A visit to Square Enix's Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary Exhibition
On the scene at the series' celebratory installation event in Tokyo.
With the recent Space Invaders exhibit having just come to a close, Tokyo's Mori Arts Center has decided to keep the video game theme going with the launch of a Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary exhibition in their Center Gallery.
While the previous installation amounted more or less to an opportunity to play a few fun variations of Space Invaders with some historical tidbits on display, the new Final Fantasy event is a complete retrospective of the series as well as a full-on assault on the senses.
The exhibition is tied to a smartphone app, but you don’t need to download the app to your phone. In fact, you’re not even given the choice to do so. Instead, staff members hand you used smartphones with the app preloaded and a pair of headphones. Upon startup, the app asks for some basic information about you and the games in the series that you’ve played. Apparently it grooms your experience based on that, although I couldn’t really figure out how.
Guests are then funneled into a large room and told that they are boarding an airship. Via three large projection screens, they’re treated to a 10-minute movie showcasing the ship’s journey and an unexpected battle with Bahamut. Throughout the battle, guests have to tap their smart phone to launch magic attacks against the beast. It’s all scripted, of course, and you can’t lose — although it would be funny if you could, imagine dying to Bahumat and being asked to leave the museum —but its a fun diversion that hides the fact you’re basically in a glorified waiting room. It’s also more than just a simple movie, as it features booming surround sound, flashing lights, and even some high-powered fans that blow air in your face when Bahumat launches his attacks.
Once your group lays waste to Bahumat, you're allowed entrance into the main exhibition, and this is where the smartphone app really comes into play. It senses where you are and pumps information into your headphones about each display as you come close to one. Unlike the Space Invaders exhibition, everything here is available in English as well as Japanese.
It’s a cool idea, although it can be a little distracting. Between the narration being delivered to you via headphones, the text on the displays, and the movies playing, at times it’s a bit of an information overload. It's also important not to wander off once a clip starts playing, as many of them are extremely sensitive to your position. It seemed that some would stop or restart if I just moved a fraction of an inch away from the display. This could be a problem on more crowded days.
The theme of the exhibition is "farewell," which means it focuses on key farewell moments from each game, usually in the form of gameplay and cutscene footage. The early Final Fantasy games get a monitor and a quick blurb of text, but once you get to Final Fantasy VII (of course), things really open up with wall-sized graphics and projected videos of game footage. A few notable items from the series (such as Cloud’s iconic sword) appear as life-size reproductions as well. Not surprisingly, a large chunk of the event is dedicated to Final Fantasy XV, with several displays showcasing the development of the game – making it the only game in the series that gets any in-depth behind-the-scenes treatment at all. Of course, when I say "behind-the-scenes treatment," I mean some basic design documents and concept art. Those hoping for a look into the troubled development of Final Fantasy XIV or a peek at the drama behind the move to Sony with Final Fantasy VII shouldn’t get their hopes up. It’s probably unrealistic to expect a studio like Square Enix to make such information public, but it still would’ve been nice to get a little bit more of a peek behind the curtain.
For those disappointed with such exclusions, never fear! Capitalism is here to save you! Again, departing from the rather lackluster one at the Space Invaders exhibition, the gift shop here is stacked with countless goodies ready to suck your wallet dry. CDs, posters, cookies, figures, calendars and more are all featured in a gift shop so big that it’s given its own floor. Forget Bahamut, the real challenge of this exhibition is getting out of this gift shop with your finances intact.
And there’s also the required theme restaurant, featuring the to-be-expected rice in the shape of cute characters and colored rock sugar atop pancakes to give them that magical feeling. The food doesn't look especially appetizing, but the Potion-themed drinks (including the alcoholic red potion) really hit the spot.
This exhibition admittedly works out to more style than substance, but the style is quite good. It may be a flashy experience full of amazing visuals, but it treats its subject matter with the reverence it deserves. If you find yourself in Tokyo anytime this month and you call yourself a fan of any of the games, it’s well worth checking out.
Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary Exhibition – Memories of You runs through January 22nd to February 28th in the Center Art Gallery of the Mori Art Museum in the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. Admission is ¥2,500 yen or two tickets for ¥4,000. For more information, visit their site.