- “Recent technological advances have produced the airship. Should these technical arts proliferate, they could one day drive magic from the world.”
- —Bookshelf at Mysidia, Final Fantasy II
An Airship (飛空艇, Hikūtei?, lit. "flying boat") is a recurring feature throughout the Final Fantasy series, having made an appearance in almost every game. As the name suggests, airships are a form of aerial transport, although their appearance has differed widely between games.
The airship is generally received towards the middle or end of the game, opening up the entire world to player exploration. This allows the player to both advance in the game's plot, and revisit places they've already been. Receiving free access to an airship is often a major event in the plot 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 much 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 cannot manually control their airship - while aboard the airship, they are shown a map and input a destination, and they are immediately transported there.
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 for the party. The airships in Final Fantasy VI are shown to include 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 in battle.
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. If 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 can not 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 being used for 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 nethicite in some instances, 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 appear very much like carracks or galleons—wooden boats, 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 on the sides 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' 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 floating 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 any enemies. Some areas are altogether unreachable without the use of an airship, which may be needed to progress the game further. Most airships can land on certain terrain, restricting access to some areas - they can land only on grassland and cannot land in 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 to so, or the player may have to walk on foot. 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 could go over any 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 Underground because it is too large to pass through the crater. In Final Fantasy IX, airships are common but all are powered by Mist, so they only function on the Mist Continent and cannot fly elsewhere. In Final Fantasy XII, airships are powered by skystones, which do not work when flying over Jagd, and thus airships cannot travel over such places.
The airship appears as a Tetra Master card in Final Fantasy IX. Its appearance is based on the unnamed airship in Final Fantasy V.