Thursday, September 03, 2009

Magical, More Magical, Most Magical: Spell Suffixes in Final Fantasy

A quick post here on an aspect of the Final Fantasy games that might have gone unnoticed by many players but stands out to me as an unusual staple of the series. I’m talking about spell suffixes. In nearly all of the games, characters who use magic can learn multiple versions certain spells: the base level, a stronger version, and even stronger version and the strongest version yet.

In the early days, when the English localizations of these games were less than stellar, these gradations were represented by numbers. (In the first English version of Final Fantasy IV, for example, the lightning magic spells are known as Lit1, Lit2, and Lit3.) But in the original Japanese and now in more recent releases here in the U.S., a spell’s power is indicated by suffixes. The base level is just the name of the spell: Cure, Thunder, Blizzard, Fire. The second level gets the suffix -ra: Cura, Thundara, Blizzara, Fira. The third level gets the suffix -ga: Curaga, Thundaga, Blizzaga, Firaga. And the fourth level, which appears in only a few entries in the series, gets -ja: Curaja, Thundaja, Blizzaja, Firaja.

magical zapping, but before the suffixes came stateside

It’s a curious convention, this set of comparative suffixes that seem to be specific with the series. I don’t speak Japanese, and for all I know -ra, -ga, and -ja could be straight out that language. I tried looking into the matter online and didn’t find all that much helpful, perhaps because it’s something most people don’t think about and perhaps because it’s not the easiest subject to find using a search engine. So I’m throwing this up here in hopes that someone else curious about the subject will come along and explain this little system to me.

Anyone? Anyone?

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  1. Anonymous12:35 AM

    For what it's worth, the Shin Megami Tensei series has its own set of suffixes (AND prefixes) for spells. There's have "Agi" (the basic single target Fire spell), Agilao (slightly stronger), Agidyne (strongest in the Agi series). And then there's the "Ma-" and "Mar-" prefixes for multiple target spells, like Maragi, Maragion and Maragidyne. Then there's the "-ja" and "-nda" suffixes for buff and debuff spells, and so on.

    I have studied Japanese for a while and none of these suffixes and prefixes ring a bell. I guess it's just arbitrary, and that the original bad translations were in part due to length constraints in the original texts. Thundara would be too long to fit in the small frame in your screenshot, though it'd be OK written in Katakana.

    But anyway, these are just my two cents. :-D

  2. No clue, but interesting nonetheless. I always like it when it's just Ice 1, Ice 2, Ice 3, etc. It's WAY easier to know what higher level enemies are killing you repeatedly with when you know you'll get that same spell next.

  3. The English versions of the Dragon Quest games originally used "-more" and "-most" to denote progressively more powerful versions of a spell, but now they usually just use a variation on the word, like "Crack" and "Crackle."

  4. It doesn't actually mean anything as far as I know either. I was going to say that it goes by alphabetical order in Japanese, but then it would have gone ga, ja, then ra.
    A more likely theory is that it's a remnant of Dragon Quest series. I don't remember too well anymore, but a lot of the spells in older DQ seem to have this kind of prefix and suffix system. Or at least the manga version do.

    But wow, I totally forgot about the -ja level. I never find it to be useful anyway, since even normal attack will hit for max damage, and doesn't even need casting time or MP. Spells in FF are useless until you hit FF12, when there is an actual advantage in using spells to kill multiple enemies at once.

  5. Not perhaps what you were looking for (the spell suffixes in and of themselves are essentially meaningless), but the spell names actually follow a much stricter pattern in Japanese.

    Let's take the example of Blizzard-- In Japanese, the spell would follow the progression Burizado (ブリザド), Burizara (ブリザラ), Burizaga (ブリザガ).

    Since Japanese is a syllabic language, this essentially means that the final letter of the initial spell is just switched out for each successive level and replaced with a "ra" and then a "ga".

    This pattern holds true even in the weirder circumstances-- take Fire, for example: Faia (ファイア), Faira (ファイラ), Faiga (ファイガ).

    Two final notes-- first, weirdly, the spell Cure in Japanese is written as "kearu" (ケアル)-- I have absolutely no idea where this is supposed to come from or what it might mean.

    And second, if memory serves, the -ja prefix in English games is actually -da in Japanese games. No idea why the difference.

    As an earlier commenter pointed out, if you're interested in nuances like this, the Shin Megami Tensei series is rife with them, as it has a very complex and regular set of rules for its spell names, applied across a very large number of spells.