Adapted from BOX=ART
Yoshitaka Amano is one of the most revered Japanese illustrators of his generation; a legendary artist who defined the the long running Final Fantasy series.
While visiting a friend in Tokyo in 1967, Yoshitaka boldly took his paintings to the famed animation studio Tatsunoko Productions. His talent was instantly recognized, and at the age of 15, his family reluctantly moved him to a company dormitory in the capital city. During his fifteen-year tenure with Tatsunoko, Yoshitaka prospered, carving out the then-unheard role of character designer, penciling such classics as Gatchaman and Casshan. In this period, Yoshitaka would develop his trademark style of delicate, wispy lines, bold comic book inspired coloring, and effeminate looking characters.
After Tatsunoko, in 1982, Yoshitaka went independent and became a freelance artist, finding success as an illustrator for numerous authors, and worked on best-selling novel series, such as The Guin Saga and Vampire Hunter D. Yoshitaka illustrated the cover for the first Vampire Hunter D novel, and in creating the enduring design for the character D, Yoshitaka would find worldwide recognition with the titular character’s debut anime: Vampire Hunter D (1985).
In 1987, Yoshitaka joined fledgling developer Square as a promotional illustrator and character designer for its latest game, Final Fantasy, with Yoshitaka also creating the game's debut box art. With the success of Final Fantasy, Square set about turning the game into a series and Yoshitaka’s artwork would be used on the Famicom releases of Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III (1988 and 1990). Strangely, Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy V’s box arts on the Super Famicom (1991 and 1992) eschewed Yoshitaka’s hallmark painted style in favor of character art reminiscent of their equivalent in-game sprites. Yoshitaka would however remain responsible for the title and logo design for these games in what would become an enduring tradition, as Yoshitaka’s title/logo designs have graced the boxes of every main-series release to this day.
Among his work with Square for the Final Fantasy series, Japanese studio KSK enlisted Yoshitaka to illustrate the box art for Silver Ghost and First Queen, two titles that helped establish KSK’s newly invented "Gochyakyara" (ゴチャキャラ "Multiple Character") system, a unique hybrid between the real-time strategy, action role-playing game and tactical role-playing game genres that would later inspire such series as Shining Force and Fire Emblem. Yoshitaka would illustrate the next two entries in the First Queen series, after Jun Suemi was tapped to take the reins. For KSK, Yoshitaka would also illustrate the boxes for Duel (1989) and Kawanakajima Ibunroku (1992).
Yoshitaka returned to illustrate the box art for Final Fantasy VI (1994), but it would be the last time until a plethora of compilations and remakes, from the PlayStation era onwards, started using his works. Amazingly, these compilations and remakes would be the first exposure for Western gamers to Yoshitaka’s original box art, as North America’s Final Fantasy I–III had little-to-no connection to his artistic vision and Europe didn’t receive the games at all.
In 1995, Yoshitaka would lend his talents to another Square series in creating the box art for Front Mission followed by the art for its sequel Front Mission: Gun Hazard (1996).
Beyond his long-running work with Square, in 2000, Yoshitaka teamed up with Capcom to illustrate the box art for all seven releases of its Japan-only episodic series El Dorado Gate for the Sega Dreamcast. While the depicted characters display traits familiar to those in Yoshitaka’s earlier box art, he would execute the art for these boxes with a distinct, anime-inspired look of heavier linework and shading in complement to the in-game cel shaded aesthetic of the franchise.
Post-El Dorado Gate, his box art catalog has almost been exclusively for the Final Fantasy franchise, returning to the traditional painted style of the debut’s box art, using watercolor and ink.
With his open appreciation for the western art that has inspired his works—from 60s comic books to art nouveau—Yoshitaka has astutely pointed out that he owes his global success over the past twenty years to his blurring of both eastern and western art styles. Moreover, beyond his own success, his resulting blended style was pivotal in distinguishing Final Fantasy as one of video games’ most enduring and iconic series.
OVGA has included below Yoshitaka Amano 天野喜孝's full known box art catalog:
- Final Fantasy (Square | MSX, NES-JPN, PS1 | 1987)
- Final Fantasy II (Square | NES-JPN | 1988)
- First Queen | Kure Software Koubou (DOS, PC-98, X68000 | 1988)
- Silver Ghost (Kure Software Koubou | PC-88, Sharp X1 | 1988)
- Duel (Kure Software Koubou | PC-88, PC-98 | 1989)
- Duel II/ 98 (Kure Software Koubou | PC-88, PC-98 | 1989)
- Final Fantasy III | Square | NES | 1990)
- First Queen II (Kure Software Koubou | PC-98, X68000 | 1990)
- Ys (Nihon Falcom | X68000 | 1991)
- Kawanakajima Ibunroku (Kure Software Koubou | PC-98 | 1992)
- First Queen III (Kure Software Koubou | PC-98 | 1993)
- Final Fantasy IV | Square | SNES | 1994)
- Front Mission (Square | SNES, WonderSwan Color | 1995)
- Front Mission: Gun Hazard (Square | SNES | 1996)
- Final Fantasy IV (Square | PS1 | 1997)
- Final Fantasy VII (Square | PS1 | 1997)
- Kartia: The Word of Fate (Atlus Software Inc. | PS1 | 1998)
- Final Fantasy Anthology (Square Enix | PS1 | 1999)
- Eldorado Gate vol. 1-7 | Capcom | Dreamcast | 2000-2001)
- Final Fantasy Anthology: European Edition (Square Enix | PS1 | 2002)
- Final Fantasy XI Online (Square Enix | PS2-JPN, Windows-JPN | 2003)
- Front Mission 1st (Square Enix | PS1 | 2003)
- Final Fantasy XI Online (Square Enix | PS2-USA/EUR, Windows-USA/EUR | 2004)
- Final Fantasy IV Advance (Square Enix | Game Boy Advance-USA/EUR | 2005)
- Final Fantasy IV Advance (Square Enix | Game Boy Advance-JPN | 2005)
- Front Mission Online (Square Enix | PS2, Windows | 2005)
- Final Fantasy III DS (Square Enix | Nintendo DS | 2006)
- Final Fantasy V Advance (Square Enix | Game Boy Advance | 2006)
- Final Fantasy VI Advance (Square Enix | Game Boy Advance | 2006)
- Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition | Square Enix | PSP | 2007)
- Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition | Square Enix | PSP | 2007)
- Final Fantasy IV DS (Square Enix | Nintendo DS | 2007)
- Final Fantasy XI Online: Wings of the Goddess (Square Enix | PS2, Windows, Xbox 360 | 2007)
- Final Fantasy XIV Online (Collectors Edition) (Square Enix | Windows | 2010)
- Final Fantasy Type-0 (Square Enix | PSP | 2011)
- Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Edition| Square Enix | PSP-USA | 2007)
- Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Edition | Square Enix | PSP-EUR/JPN | 2007)
- Final Fantasy XIII-2 (Nordic Edition) (Square Enix | PS3, Xbox 360 | 2012)
- Final Fantasy XI Online: Seekers of Adoulin (Square Enix | PS2, Windows, Xbox 360 | 2013)
- Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn (Collectors Edition) (Square Enix | PS3, PS4, Windows | 2013)
- Final Fantasy XV: Deluxe Edition (Square Enix | PS4 | 2016)
- Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition (Square Enix | PS4, Xbox One | 2018)
The box art that debuted the enduring Final Fantasy series would also be the start of Illustrator Yoshitaka Amano’s career in video games. He would bring this delicate ukiyo-e style design to life through the use of his trademark wispy lines and vibrant colours, and flavour it with eastern romanticism. It was a cover art seeped in sorrow and anguish, setting the tone for one of gaming’s most epic adventures.
The cover's artistry would be quite unlike anything seen on the Famicom at that point and would be a central part of the game’s - and series’ - early success. It was a style of fine art at odds with a great deal of Manga/anime inspired Japanese box art in the 1980's, of which is especially apparent when compared to the cover art to Final Fantasy’s main competitor, Dragon Quest. The art arguably allowed Amano to complement Square’s vision of promoting video games that could emotionally appeal to their audience through story and art.
Unfortunately, as with much Japanese artwork from the late 80’s, Final Fantasy’s cover would be deemed unsuitable for the American market in 1990 and replaced. It would not see a western release until over a decade later.