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Imagine this: you are a party of adventurers in a generic European fantasy setting trying to do what all parties of adventurers do—save the world. Is there a prophecy? You betcha. Does the black mage have a fancy hat? It’s a fancy hat so big it covers up the fact that I’m pretty sure they have no corporeal form. Are there dwarves just smithying (smithing? smoting?) away? Of course.
And then suddenly, in your quest to save the world via the time-honored tradition of dungeon clearing, you are in space.
Not, like, magically or cosmically or symbolically in a way that would make sense in a fantasy setting. Like, you’re on a abandoned space station full of metal doors and murderous robots lit by fluorescent lights and stars. What you, the player, previously thought was a generic European fantasy setting has revealed itself to be positively postapocalyptic.
This is what greets players of Final Fantasy I when they ascend to the Sky Castle, the fourth dungeon of the game.
Or, at least, it used to.
Tragically, most remakes, starting with the WonderSwan Color port in 2000, end up rendering the Sky Castle as more of a fantastical castle in the sky as part of the overall graphical haul. (It’s also been rebranded as the Flying Fortress. Points for alliteration, at the very least.) True, one could argue that it’s still a space station, just in a very low orbit, but the more generic fantasy graphics lack that total gut punch of finding yourself in the future.
And that’s a shame, because the Sky Castle is not only incredibly cool, it’s the start of something amazing. Its appearance—even more than the airships—heralds the franchise’s long-running commitment to mixing sci-fi and fantasy to great narrative effect.
Ah, well. At least that’s one thing the notoriously buggy NES version has over its younger sisters…