A reader named Breno sent in a short question about something unusual about Final Fantasy for the NES:
While playing through the original Final Fantasy I noticed that the order the items are displayed on the item screen are not the order in which you buy them, and it does not seem to be arbitrary either. […]Is there something akin to a “alphabetical order” in japanese? If there is, is that the order the items are displayed on the item screen?
This is a two-part e-mail, so let’s look at each question separately.
First, how are the items in Final Fantasy ordered? To help answer this, Breno was kind enough to send sample images of the party’s inventory after visiting the first shop in the game:
|Final Fantasy (Famicom)||Final Fantasy (NES)|
It’s obvious that the English items aren’t in any standard order. The Japanese items are in the exact same order, yet they don’t follow any particularly obvious order either. They’re not arranged by name, and it seems odd for the Tent/Sleeping Bag item to appear before the potion items that are used much more regularly. So what gives?
My gut instinct as a programmer suggested that it must be some sort of internal order created by the developers. To check this, I opened up the English game in a modification utility called Final Fantasy Hackster:
Yep, it looks like the items follow the same order as their internal programming order. Still, just to be extra sure, I went into the game’s programming myself and pulled out the game’s item data directly:
So that seems to confirm that the items are sorted by the potentially arbitrary order the developers put them in, and why Tents appear before Heal potions and Pure potions when actually playing the game.
This was just a sample size of three items though, so I filled my inventory with a bunch of other items to be even more certain:
And yep, the results seem to conclusively confirm that the items are all sorted by the items’ internal IDs. This only applies to the NES/Famicom releases, of course – I’m sure the other twelve or so ports and remakes handle inventory sorting in their own ways.
Japanese “Alphabetical Order”
Breno also asked if the Japanese language has its own alphabetical order. It does indeed have something similar to it, but it’s a bit tough to explain with words alone.
First, Japanese doesn’t have an alphabet as we know it – it’s more like a syllabary. In simple terms, everything in Japanese is built around syllables rather than individual letters.
Japanese only has about 50 basic syllables (plus a few more if you combine some), and these syllables can be organized into a somewhat simple chart:
Japanese “alphabetical order” follows this chart from left to right, starting from the top row and working downward. So a word starting with あ (a) would appear in a dictionary before a word starting with え (e), while a word starting with こ (ko) would appear before a word that starts with み (mi). Because there are about 50 of these syllables on this chart (minus a few that got dropped decades ago), this ordering system is known as the “gojūon” (“fifty sounds”).
The gojūon isn’t just for dictionaries and name ordering, though. It plays a big part in Japanese text entry systems. For example, cell phones have long used the gojūon system:
And most naming screens in Japanese video games also follow the gojūon order:
|Lagrange Point (Famicom)||MOTHER 2 (Super Famicom)|
Anyway, all of this probably seems a bit convoluted at first, but hopefully it helps explain the basics of how Japanese text sorting works. Actually, because Japanese and English use slightly different sorting processes, the name sorting functions in games usually need a bit of reprogramming during localization. I vaguely recall hearing about a localization or two that didn’t take this into account, causing the item sorting to behave oddly. If anyone knows more, let me know in the comments!