Mother, is that really the truth?
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- Square Enix's current view on the topic.
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- Firm evidence regarding backward compatibility..
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Virtual machines (VMs), also known as emulators, are programmatic methods by which one piece of hardware (called a host system) can be made to replicate the environment and the functions of a different piece of hardware (a guest system within the VM) within a predefined set of constraints. VMs are used to observe the behavior of a program as it would operate in the guest system, as well as to interact with the guest system as though it was physically present.
The process of creating a virtual machine is called virtualization or emulation, although the two terms are said to speak to different approaches to the same concept. In computer and video gaming, these terms are nearly identical. Typically, a VM may be used to run a particular program, such as a video game, that would not otherwise be available on the host unit. The host unit is responsible for providing the VM with access to its resources while also interpreting commands to and from the VM. Dozens of console emulators are known to exist for all major computers and mobile devices.
Video game emulation falls into a murky area with respect to its legal status, with opponents, including Nintendo  calling it a form of piracy of video games. Proponents of emulation argue that its use constitutes fair use of the emulated product and allows for the research, preservation and further awareness of video games from previous eras and overseas markets, in the face of the potential perishing and scarcity of hard copies of console games over the course of time. The latter argument remains a place of further debate regarding the matter of copyright laws in the United States and other territories, which uphold the creator's right of ownership to reproduce and gain monetary compensation for their work, and require that the holder is no longer living or functioning and that a specified period must pass before copyright is revoked for that copyright to be considered expired. At the same time, modern consoles may use a form of virtual machine to achieve backward compatibility, as their makers are also store operators who can generate revenue from marketing classic games on their consoles. How console makers use virtual machines is a matter not often disclosed to any outside source, i.e. a trade secret.
Virtualizing Final Fantasy for translation
With respect to the mainline series, emulators served as one of the only means of playing titles not released in the Western world before the year 2000, including the original Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III, and Final Fantasy V. The nature of emulators themselves allowed for expansion of text beyond the normal limits imposed by physical cartridges. Dedicated teams of fan programmers could then translate the original text of a game into any other language needed by potential players through a process known as patching (see below).
J2e and Final Fantasy IV
One such fan team, calling itself J2e Translations, gained widespread acclaim within the emulation community for its work on the Japanese "hard type" version of Final Fantasy IV, a project that began in August 1997 and culminated in a complete and (mostly) faithful translation when the project ended in 2001, the game's 10th anniversary of release. In retrospect, however, J2e's work has been criticized for its odd presentation style, blunt interpretation of Japanese humor, frequent use of extreme profanity, and questionable use of certain pop-culture references.
One recent particular instance of virtualizing Final Fantasy was that of Final Fantasy Type-0 for the PlayStation Portable, and a fan project headed by SkyBladeCloud in 2012 to translate an ISO of the game for Western audiences in light of the game's reception and in part due to demand overseas and a lack of response from Square Enix regarding its release outside Japan. While Square Enix has generally maintained a positive attitude toward fan translation as it did during a 2007 interview with RPGamer.com's Bryan Boulette, it has aggressively pursued activity that crosses the implicit line between fan translation and outright piracy, as was reported to have happened with the Type-0 patch.
Similar scenarios have played out for the recent remakes of Final Fantasy Legend II and Final Fantasy Legend III, where the SaGa series is not quite as popular in the West as Final Fantasy is, and yet there is a small but loyal fan base that remembers the Legend series and wishes to play these titles fresh. Here, emulation and fan translation are currently addressing the need, although the translation may not be as complete as if Square Enix had released these titles itself.
Emulation used for compatibility purposes is often a selling point for specific consoles, as it allows players to retain previous libraries of games without having to buy another system or keep a previous model, therefore reducing overall cost. However, depending on a number of factors including the nature of emulation (i.e. hardware vs. software) and its host, bugs and glitches may occur. One notable example of this is the menu screen/save screen glitch in the original release of the Final Fantasy Anthology version of Final Fantasy V when run on a PlayStation 2; here, the glitch corrupts the screen when viewing the menus or attempting to save data.
Compatibility emulation is officially supported on the following systems that also run at least one of their own series titles:
- Xbox One and Xbox (4th generation) (software only): Handle Xbox 360 compatibility through regular modifications to each console's OS, which includes a virtual machine manager (called a hypervisor in field parlance). As of the most recent system updates, both Crystal Defenders and the Lightning Saga are playable.
- Game Boy Advance (hardware only): Compatible with Game Boy games via the use of its secondary CPU. Excludes Game Boy micro.
- Nintendo DS (hardware only, later hardware and software): First two revisions are compatible with GBA games, but not earlier Game Boy games. DSi and later revisions can download Virtual Console software from the DSi Shop.
- Nintendo GameCube (hardware/software hybrid): Can play Game Boy and GBA games using the Game Boy Player pass-through adapter and program disc.
- Nintendo 3DS (hardware and software): Can play earlier DS titles in DS Mode (emulates DSi). Nintendo eShop allows users to purchase Virtual Console titles that emulate earlier Nintendo systems.
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System (hardware/software hybrid): Can play Game Boy titles using the Super Game Boy pass-through cartridge.
- Wii (hardware and software): Can play earlier Nintendo GameCube games on optical disc and use GameCube peripherals except for the Game Boy Player add-on. Wii Shop Channel provided access to earlier game software via Virtual Console as originally distributed by region.
- Wii U (hardware and software): Can play earlier Wii games on optical disc and use Wii peripherals, but cannot play GameCube games on optical disc. However, the Nintendo eShop provides access to select earlier titles via Virtual Console download. Used Wii Mode to replicate online functions of the Wii, including Wii Shop Channel, discontinued March 2018.
- PlayStation 2 (hardware only): The onboard I/O controller is actually the same CPU as in the original PlayStation, albeit slightly faster. This allows it to play all PSX games, but it must run slower to do so.
- PlayStation 3 (hardware/software hybrid): Plays all PSX titles on optical disc or via PlayStation Network. The A and B revisions also incorporated PS2 hardware to play PS2 games. The C (60 GB PAL) and E (80 GB NTSC) revisions (mid-2007) transfer most PS2 functions to software instead, so a few titles may be glitchy. Memory Cards exist by software emulation as well.
- PlayStation Portable (software only): While the interface is similar to the PS3's, PSP emulation of PSX titles is strictly software-based. Titles must be downloaded from PSN onto Memory Stick media. PSP Go units must save games to onboard flash or Memory Stick Micro M2 media.
- PlayStation Vita (unknown type): Can play PSP and PSX games from PSN downloaded to a Vita Card, similar to PSP Go.
- PlayStation 4 (software only): Can play select PS2 and PS3 games via PlayStation Now or software repackaging in the PlayStation Store.
- PlayStation 5 (hardware only): Can play the majority of PS4 titles on Blu-ray disc or via PlayStation Network, which benefit from the console's solid-state drive and increased processing power.
In an effort to capitalize on public tastes for retro gaming in the late 2010s, both Nintendo and Sony have released scale replicas of their "classic" consoles, complete with proprietary emulation technology and libraries of popular software. In addition, these devices have been adapted for current screens, utilizing the ubiquitous High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) as their output connection.
With the NES Classic Edition (2016), SNES Classic Edition (2017), and PlayStation Classic (2018) all "in the wild", Square Enix has a significant footprint in microconsole gaming: the NES Classic carries the original Final Fantasy (the Japanese version instead containing Final Fantasy III); the SNES Classic has both Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana; and the PlayStation Classic hosts Final Fantasy VII.
Fan patching is the process of coding a compiled batch of data to be utilized with a specific game ROM cartridge dump or optical ISO image file, and is done by groups of fans as a hobby regarding specific games, whether it be to add more features, correct various bugs and errors in programming, translate its text for accessibility to other parts of the world, or tinker with the game's engine and properties. Patches whose purpose is to modify the game on a greater scale make up what is known as a ROMhack, or a Homebrew, which are terms used online regarding that category of software.
- Kay, Russell: "Emulation or Virtualization?", Computerworld, 22 Jun 2009.
- O'Rourke, Patrick, "Emulate This: Are game emulators legal?", Mobilesyrup.com, 15 Mar 2015
- Nintendo, "Legal Information: Copyrights, Emulators, ROMs, etc."
- Anonymous, "The Legality of Emulation, Part 1", Metro News UK, 18 Feb 2013
- J2e Translations, "Final Fantasy IV English Patch v3.21 ReadMe File" , 3 Jul 2001
- Mandelyn, Clyde, "Reader Feedback: FFIV's Fan Translation", Legends of Localization, 16 Jul 2013
- Schrier, Jason, "Final Fantasy Fan Translation Has Become a Fiasco", Kotaku, 21 Jul 2014.
- SCE PlayStation Support (US): "Backward Compatibility Alert", 31 Mar 2005