|NB! Please note that the following article deals with the coverage of a fan-made product that isn't licensed by Square.|
- For a more comprehensive look at 8-Bit Theater, visit Sardapedia. Certain links present here automatically take you to the corresponding Sardapedia page for that term. Multiple spoilers for the series are present here.
8-Bit Theater is a sprite based webcomic written by Brian Clevinger and loosely based on the original Final Fantasy. The story follows the Four Light Warriors, Fighter, Black Mage, Red Mage and Thief as they attempt to collect the four Orbs to defeat the Demon King Chaos and save the world.
However, the four are largely inept, slow-witted, cowardly, and sometimes outright evil. Thus they end up causing more trouble than they stop, usually doing heroic deeds by sheer accident. The comic concluded June 1st, 2010, with a total of 1,225 strips over a course of more than nine years. Today it is one of the most popular sprite-based webcomics on the internet.
8-Bit Theater began as a school project for Clevinger in 2001, and he continued to produce the comics when he saw how popular they were. The website for the comic, Nuklear Power, was intended to host a variety of eight-bit sprite-based comics, including comics based on the Metroid and Mega Man games. However, the Final Fantasy comic proved the most popular and eventually became the site's focus with the other comics being abandoned. In 2002 the comic won the Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards for best fantasy comic in 2002.
In a 2007 article by 1Up.com on web comics, Nich Maragos stated, "Neglected Mario Characters is the true origin of sprite comics. Bob and George is where everyone mistakenly thinks they began. But it was unquestionably Brian Clevinger's 8-Bit Theater that took the style to its fullest expression and greatest popularity."
The comic's humor stems from anticlimaxes, pop-culture references, and the antics of the Light Warriors and their enemies who are usually just as incompetent. The comic follows the basic plot of the original Final Fantasy but introduces numerous subplots and original characters to flesh out the world of the comic. Strips usually consist of four rows of panels with two to four images on each row.
Sprites and backgrounds are recycled frequently. Most sprites are taken from the NES sprites of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III, but other, more detailed sprites are used on occasion. Many sprites used are modified due to copyright issues, and to incorporate a greater degree of expression and movement on the characters.
The comic originally ended at Strip 1,224 on March 20th, 2010 to fan outcry related to a lack of a true feeling of conclusion. However, Clevinger already was planning a final comic titled "The Epilogue" with Matt Speroni, the artist from another of his series, and hinted at it for some time as a "secret project." It was released June 1st the same year, featuring more conventional art as White Mage follows up on where the Light Warriors have gone three years after their quest ended.
- See Sardpedia's character list for more detailed descriptions.
- Fighter McWarrior - Fighter is characterized by his gullibility and innocence, though he sometimes shows brief flashes of intelligence. He has an obsession with swords and despite his stupidity is very strong and durable, doing most of the fighting among the team. His dream is to perfect his invention, "Sword-Chucks", a combination of swords and nun-chucks. He eventually class-changes to become a Knight.
- Black Mage Evilwizardington - Black Mage is an old colleague of Fighter's, but despises him. He openly admits he is evil and hates his allies, and constantly tries to kill them or ally with the villains for power. He is shown to have an intense love for White Mage, and as such, he frequently tries to attract her, with each and every time failing, much to his dismay. His trademark spell is the powerful "Hadoken", which siphons love from the universe to form a beam of destructive energy. He learns to use Blue Magic after his class-change.
- Prince of the Khee'Bler clan of Elves (aka Thief) - Thief is the self-proclaimed leader of the Light Warriors through a contract he lured Fighter to signing, and the prince of the Khee'Bler clan of Elves in Elfland. He uses a series of shady legal contracts to dupe people out of their money, and otherwise steals everything that "isn't nailed down or on fire." He class-changes to a Ninja by stealing the ability from his future self.
- Red Mage Statscowski - Red Mage understands that he is in a stat-based RPG, and is obsessed with maximizing his potential abilities in all fields, going so far as to carry a character sheet with him which he changes to affect his own abilities. He claims to be a genius and makes complicated plans to defeat enemies, but he overestimates the abilities of himself and the Light Warriors, so these plans rarely succeed. He becomes a Mime following his class-change.
- White Mage - White Mage is a kind, caring woman who follows the Light Warriors to assist them in their quest. However, she is perfectly aware they are stupid and evil, yet perseveres due to their standing as the chosen heroes. She is lusted after by Black Mage but finds him utterly repulsive.
- Black Belt - Black Belt is White Mage's bodyguard. He has good intentions and is an unbeatable master of martial arts, but he also has a terrible sense of direction and at times is as dumb as Fighter. He is killed by Kary, Fiend of Fire. Following his death, fans speculated on ways he might have been revived, citing at one point, his poor sense of direction actually created a duplicate of him, which Black Mage turned to stone. Clevinger finally devoted a comic to White Mage returning to the statue and reviving it, only for Black Belt to die once more due to the statue's head having been eroded.
- The Dark Warriors - Four villains allied to defeat the Light Warriors.
- Garland - Garland is the leader of the Dark Warriors. Initially a caring and pleasant person, Garland was coached by Sarah on how to be evil and reformed to be a better villain, but is still incompetent.
- Bikke - Bikke is a pirate captain who joins Garland to get revenge on the Light Warriors for stealing his ship. He constantly demands to be called "The Claw" despite having both hands, and has a stereotypical "pirate" accent.
- Drizz'l - Drizz'l, the Dark Elf Prince of the Sahn'Ta Clan, is the most intelligent and sensible of the Dark Warriors, but his Elven arrogance gets the better of him.
- Vilbert von Vampire - Vilbert is a goth vampire and Lich's son. Like Red Mage he is obsessed with Role Playing Games, and otherwise partakes in stereotypical "goth" activities like writing dark poetry.
- The Four Fiends - Four fiends which keep the elemental orbs.
- Lich: Lich, a powerful sorcerer who sealed his soul in the Earth Orb for immortality and eventually takes over Hell.
- Kary: Kary, a short-tempered swordswoman who kills her minions at a whim to prove how cruel and evil she is.
- Ur: Kraken is an ancient being worshiped by the Doom Cultists, who call him "Ur" (short for Jnn'efur).
- Muffin: Muffin is the comic's version of Tiamat, going by an alias. She is a dragon who owns a flying castle kept afloat by the Air Orb.
- Sarda - Sarda is a great sage who, though his role as such isn't made clear until the final story arc, is the main villain of the story. He would have been the creator of the universe, but he sent White Mage into the past where she inadvertently usurped the role from him. He is actually "Onion Kid", an orphan who had several foster families killed due to the actions of the Light Warriors. Twisted by hatred and vengeance, Sarda sends his young self into the past (a reference to the time loop of the original Final Fantasy) and trained for years to become the most powerful wizard alive. He guides the Light Warriors on their quest for the pleasure of destroying them at the peak of their power, but is consumed by the power of the four Orbs and becomes Chaos before he can take his vengeance.
Two comrades, the simplistic Fighter and power-hungry Black Mage, search the Giant's Forest for the Armor of Invincibility, but their search proves fruitless. They return to Corneria and see a sign calling for four Light Warriors to save the kingdom, and decide to sign up after recruiting two allies: the treacherous elf Thief and stat-obsessed Red Mage. Black Mage attempts to get White Mage, a kind healer whom he lusts for, to join the group, but she is voted out. The four are first sent by King Steve to save his daughter Sarah from the knight Garland in the Temple of Fiends to the north.
However, Garland is a genuinely good person who needs to be coached by Sarah on how to be a proper villain. The Light Warriors travel to the temple, and eventually Garland is defeated by White Mage's bodyguard Black Belt. White Mage and Black Belt would continue to be recurring characters in the comic for some time. With Garland defeated and Sarah safe the Light Warriors return to Corneria where King Steve builds a bridge in their honor.
On the next continent the Light Warriors meet Matoya, a witch who poisons them and blackmails them to recovery her crystal ball from the pirate Bikke. The Light Warriors find Bikke and his pirates, Garland accompanying them, and commandeer Bikke's ship to sail to Elfland, Thief's homeland. They find Thief's father the king poisoned by Astos, who also has Matoya's crystal. They defeat Astos and his son Drizz'l and retrieve the king's crown, Drizz'l being carried away by Garland Bikke. The Elfland king sends the Light Warriors to the Earth Shrine to retrieve the Earth Orb from the fiend Lich and his son Vilbert.
Lich kills Black Mage, who conquers Hell and returns to earth where he kills Lich. Lich then heals the incapacitated Hell demons and overthrows Black Mage's rule, restoring him to life. Vilbert is meanwhile recruited as the fourth Dark Warrior. White Mage takes the Light Warriors to see Sarda the sage, who tells them to find the other three orbs and return them to him. The Light Warriors enter a volcano to confront the second Fiend, Kary, who kills Black Belt before being killed and sent to Hell with Lich.
The Light Warriors meet the Dragon God-King Bahamut, who asks them to retrieve a Rat's Tail from the Castle of Ordeals in exchange for power. The Light Warriors accomplish this and are rewarded with class changes. The Light Warriors travel through the cities of Gaia and Onrac, and eventually use a submarine provided by Sarda to reach the Sunken Shrine where the Water Orb is kept. They defeat a doom cult trying to summon the third Fiend, "Ur", but Fighter accidentally summons Ur by invoking its true name, "Jnn'efur".
Ur swallows Red Mage in a frenzy, and Red Mage cuts his way out, killing Ur. The Light Warriors then travel to Lefein and meet Dragoon, last of the dragon knights who lives in the Mirage Tower. When they meet Dragoon's pet parrot Muffin, who unbeknown to him is actually a dragon, they attack her sky castle and kill her to claim the four and final Orb.
The Light Warriors return to Sarda, who directs them back to the Temple of Fiends, now drastically more menacing in appearance. The Dark Warriors also return here, and after a night's rest the two groups plan to stage a final battle. During the night Drizz'l summons demons from hell to assist them, and calls back the Four Fiends. However, they are killed once again by Black Mage, using the dark energy he absorbed from an evil clone of himself in the Castle of Ordeals.
Sarda arrives and strips the Light Warriors of their powers, revealing his plan to destroy them after their quest to prove to them how pathetic and powerless they are. Sarda absorbs the power of the Four Orbs as well as all the dark energy from Black Mage, and becomes the vessel for the Demon King Chaos. Chaos gives the Light Warriors 24 hours to prepare for their battle, confident he is invincible.
However, White Mage arrives with three other White Mages, and after proving to Chaos his desire for a chaotic universe is paradoxically impossible, they unite their power to kill him. Unwilling to let the Light Warriors take credit for Chaos' defeat due to their actions, White Mage has the Dark Warriors championed as the heroes and the Light Warriors go their separate ways. Three years later Red Mage and Dragoon are in a sect for "last surviving members of an order," Thief is the ruler of Elfland, and Fighter and Black Mage continue to travel together, Fighter still harboring hopes of finding the Armor of Invincibility and suggesting they set out in search for it in a nod to the original game's time loop.
- Clevinger wrote the series using a mix of elements planned out far in advance and ideas gained (and often avoided) from users of the forums.
- Matt Speroni ad-libbed nearly all of the visual jokes in the epilogue, as he was given only a basic script to work from. According to Speroni, he wanted to include those small touches as a fan of the work since nearly the beginning and was honored he was able to do the comic as a fan, for the fans.