Recent technological advances have produced the airship. Should these technical arts proliferate, they could one day drive magic from the world.
An airship (飛空艇?, ひくうてい, Hikūtei?, lit. Flying Boat; originally 飛空船?, ひくうせん, Hikūsen?, lit. Flying Boat) is a recurring feature throughout the Final Fantasy series, having made an appearance in almost every game. Airships are a form of aerial transport, although their appearance has differed widely.
Only very few airships in the series look like actual airships or blimps.
Use in games
An airship is generally received towards the middle or end of the game, opening up the world to player exploration and allowing one to both advance in the plot and revisit places. Gaining free access to an airship is often a major event and opens up many new sidequests. Depending on the game, airships may be in common use over the world, or the player's may be the only one. Some games in which they are more common, such as Final Fantasy XII, provide the player with ferry services using airships, but this is more restrictive compared to the player flying anywhere they wish.
Exactly how the player controls the airship has varied. In the games up to and including Final Fantasy V, the player could fly the airship in only four directions, except for the Nintendo DS release of Final Fantasy IV, which allowed piloting in eight directions. In Final Fantasy VI up to Final Fantasy IX, the player could fly the airship in three dimensions, and could turn, bank, dive and climb in any direction they wished. In Final Fantasy X and up to Final Fantasy XII, the player could not manually control their airship—while aboard they are shown a map and input a destination, and are immediately transported there. In Final Fantasy XV the player can again control a flying vehicle directly.
In the first two titles, airships did not include any facilities, and were simply a way for the player to travel around more quickly. Beginning with Final Fantasy III, airships frequently feature shops, save points, and some sort of bed or healing service. The airships in Final Fantasy VI have gambling tables for roulette and craps, though they cannot be used by the player. Beginning with Final Fantasy VI, the playable characters not in the current party can often be found wandering the airship awaiting their turn to join.
Often, a character named Cid is in charge of the airship, such as Cid Highwind and the Highwind in Final Fantasy VII, or Cid Pollendina and the Enterprise in Final Fantasy IV, among others. Whether Cid actually manufactures the airship, or if he simply owns it, varies. Besides the game's Cid, airships are often built by ancient civilizations and must be resurrected by the player, as was the case in the original Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X.
Some airships can be used as a means of transit beyond flight. The airship from Final Fantasy V cannot only fly, but can also be used on the surface of the water like a normal boat, and can even double as a submersible should it be required. The Ragnarok and the Lunar Whale are capable of space travel. The Enterprise in Final Fantasy IV is given a special attachment that allows it to pick up and carry the hovercraft. In Final Fantasy VII, chocobos can be transported in the airship, and the player can board and then exit the Highwind riding one.
In some games, flying monsters can attack the airship and battles can occur on the main deck. The first instance of this was in Final Fantasy III; enemies could attack the party on-deck on several continents. Most games since then have featured some fights taking place aboard airships. In Final Fantasy IV, Cecil must fight the monsters that attack the Red Wings on the deck of an airship. In Final Fantasy VIII, Propagators are fought inside the Ragnarok and not on its main deck as in most other games, while in Final Fantasy XII and Revenant Wings, battles are fought inside and outside of airships. Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X feature full boss battles on the main deck.
Airship fuel is often not mentioned, but when it is addressed, the power sources are as varied as the crafts themselves; the Lunar Whale is powered by Crystals, the Highwind is powered by Mako, and in Final Fantasy IX, all airships are powered by Mist, save for Regent Cid's Hilda Garde series. Airships in Final Fantasy XII are generally powered by skystones, but also by manufacted nethicite, the difference being that skystones do not function when flying over Jagd, while nethicite-powered airships suffer no such drawback.
In the earlier games, airships resemble carracks or galleons—wooden boats (or, in the case of the Dreadnought in Final Fantasy II, a Dreadnought-type warship), but with propellers to give them lift, fashioned like helicopters. Generally, propellers set vertically along the sides provide lift while the bow or stern rotors are used for maneuvering and propulsion. The craft may also possess wings to assist in lift. In essence, they were simply normal boats with wings and propellers, literal "air-ships". Airships of this type feature prominently in earlier Final Fantasy games, but do still appear in newer titles, such as Final Fantasy XI.
Another type of airship seen in only a few of the series's installments actually resembles and occasionally behaves like real-life dirigibles. The two airships of Final Fantasy VI, the Blackjack and the Falcon, are such, along with the Highwind of Final Fantasy VII. The Falcon and the Blackjack are large zeppelins, with a balloon-like cavity filled with air and the actual airship hanging from below, propellers on both the balloon and the craft providing thrust. As with real airships, the Highwind utilizes moorings to "land", essentially remaining aloft but tethered to the ground.
In a few of the more recent games, the airships have taken on more technologically advanced appearances, with elements of sci-fi, steampunk, and fantasy being reflected in the hull architecture (e.g., the Ragnarok from Final Fantasy VIII, the Fahrenheit from Final Fantasy X, and the Galbana from Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings).
The airship provides a quicker, easier way to travel throughout the game world, enabling the bypass of large expanses without encountering enemies. Some areas are unreachable without the use of an airship, which may be needed to progress the game further. Most airships can land only on certain terrain, restricting access to some areas—they can land only on grassland and cannot land on mountains, deserts or forests.
In Final Fantasy III, the Enterprise can only land in water, because it was originally a boat. Often when an airship cannot cross these areas, a chocobo may be needed, or the player may have to walk. In Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII, the player cannot fly their airship freely, so this restriction doesn't apply.
Depending on the game, other airships have other limitations. Firstly, in Final Fantasy III, none of the airships can cross mountain ranges and only the Invincible can pass over small parts of mountainous terrain. In Final Fantasy IV, at first, the Falcon cannot fly over magma until it is remodeled, and the Lunar Whale cannot enter the underworld because it is too large to pass through the crater. In Final Fantasy IX, airships are common but, as they are powered by Mist, they only function on the Mist Continent. In Final Fantasy XII, most airships are powered by skystones, which do not work when flying over Jagd.