Along with their settings, characters, and conflicts, each new Final Fantasy game also introduces a brand-new twist on the series’ tried-and-true mechanics. Usually this results in changes to how the game’s character progression and battle systems work, with some of the most significant changes throughout the years culminating in the series’ most recent shift into real-time combat versus the traditional turn-based menu style of RPG battling. Regardless of the system at play, though, every Final Fantasy game incorporates magic in some meaningful way, often including it as a key component of each game’s battle mechanics. In terms of the best of these magic systems in the series, it really comes down to the battle of Espers vs Materia.
Both Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII were revolutionary in their approach to magic following how the series had traditionally implemented spellcasting up to the point of their release. The original Final Fantasy restricts magic use to specific classes, Final Fantasy II allows anyone to learn a spell but they can only learn a certain amount and have to use them repeatedly to power them up, and the Job system of Final Fantasy III and V requires players to master the magic-using jobs and assign them before they can use magic. Final Fantasy IV is the first game in the series to have each unique character have their own specific set class (with some capable of using magic and others not), but IV and VII combine this premise with the potential for all characters to also learn every magic spell in the game thanks to Espers and Materia, respectively.
Espers vs Materia: Side-by-Side Comparison
The general idea behind both Espers and Materia are that characters in Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII can equip these items and learn magic, regardless of their class specialization. The ensemble cast of Final Fantasy VI features an ecclectic mix of characters that each have their own specific class and abilities (Edgar’s Tool command, Sabin’s Blitz, Locke’s Steal/Mug, etc.), but the equippable Magicite (the crystalized form of Espers) allow players to both learn magic and summon creatures. Similarly, Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia are equippable by every character in the game, slotting them into weapons in specific combinations to reach the desired effect.
|Final Fantasy VI
|Final Fantasy VII
|Total Number Available
|83 Unique Materia
|Player characters equip Magicite as Espers, learn spells at specific growth rates
|Players slot Materia into characters’ weapons and armor to use spells and abilities, Materia grow and multiply at specific growth rates
|Impact on Character Progression
|Some Magicite impart unique stat bonuses on level-up in addition to teaching spells
|Materia provide benefits or detriments to certain stats while equipped
|Magic and Summons Combined
|Can Negatively Impact Stats
|Improvement & Evolution
|Magicite are permanent and do not change with only one exception (Odin to Raiden)
|Materia regularly level up until becoming Master Materia, then spawn a new Materia
|Allow All Characters to Learn Magic
Espers vs Materia: 5 Must-Know Facts
Here are 5 must-know facts when comparing Final Fantasy VI‘s Espers to Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia:
- The Magicite that players acquire in Final Fantasy VI are 27 unique items containing the capacity to learn specific sets of Black and White magic and the summon spell for the associated Esper. Conversely, Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia is separated into 5 unique types, with Magic and Summon Materia being separate.
- While equipping Materia can sometimes negatively impact player stats in Final Fantasy VII, the same is not true of Final Fantasy VI‘s Espers. Instead, equipping characters with specific Magicite and leveling them up will allow the player control over their party’s stat growth.
- Every game that takes place in the Final Fantasy VII universe, including the recent remake trilogy, includes the appearance and use of Materia. Comparatively, Final Fantasy VI is the only game in the entire franchise in which Espers and Magicite appear.
- Both Espers/Magicite and Materia give the player greater agency over party composition. Since both items can effectively impart the ability to use magic on any character, it’s possible to create “best-of-both-worlds” party members that are heavy melee hitters that can also cast powerful offensive magic or regularly heal the party.
- Magicite will teach Final Fantasy VI‘s characters spells at specific growth rates, and after learning the spell each character knows it permanently. Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia, however, only allow the use of their respective magic or abilities for as long as characters have them equipped.
Espers vs Materia: Combining Magic and Summon Spells
The Magicite in Final Fantasy VI contains both the soul of the Esper they come from and a specific set of magic spells that thematically align with that Esper. As a result, players don’t just learn magic from equipping a Magicite, they also gain access to a powerful summon spell that calls upon the spirit of the Esper. In the case of Final Fantasy VII’s Materia, there are 5 unique types — Magic Materia allows players to cast spells, Command Materia grants access to new abilities during combat, Support Materia provides passive bonuses to attacking or magic, Complete Materia grants permanent upgrades to EXP or Gil earning rates, and Summon Materia call upon summon monsters. In Final Fantasy VII, players must equip both Magic and Summon Materia if they want to cast spells and summon a powerful ally.
Espers vs Materia: Min/Maxing and Level-Up Bonuses
The greatest benefit to Final Fantasy VI‘s utilization of Espers and Magicite in its Magic System comes in the effect it has on character progression and leveling. Each Magicite provides a specific stat bonus when characters have it equipped on level-up. Essentially, after equipping a Magicite and learning all of the spells it includes, players can either swap out Magicite among their party members or equip them with specific Magicite that will allow them to control their stat growth, effectively min/maxing their characters. While Materia does provide both positive and negative effects to character stats, equipping them provides no level-up bonuses to stat growth.
Espers vs Materia: Unique to Their Respective Games
Including the original game, there are more than 5 other titles that take place within Final Fantasy VII‘s universe to give fans more insight into its incredible world and characters. In each of these games, Materia makes an appearance as that universe’s primary means of allowing the use of magic and special abilities. Additionally, Materia has an incredibly poignant relevance to the plot and themes present in the games that take place in Final Fantasy VII‘s universe. Conversely, Final Fantasy VI is the only game in the franchise to feature either the magical beings known as Espers or their crystalized spirit forms, the equippable Magicite.
Espers vs Materia: Everyone Can Learn Magic
The point of both Espers and Materia is to allow not just specific Mage classes or magic-using characters to be effective spellcasters, but instead grant the ability to use magic to every character in their respective games. The difference, though, is in whether those abilities are permanent or temporary. While all characters in Final Fantasy VII can equip Materia, those spells, and abilities are only active for as long as the character has the Materia slotted into their weapon or armor. Magicite, however, provides permanent changes to character abilities by teaching them spells they can use indefinitely. Once a character in Final Fantasy VI masters a particular Magicite, they can swap it for another and keep growing their magic skill.
Though both Espers/Magicite and Materia are two of the best magic systems in the entirety of the Final Fantasy franchise, only one can take the crown for the best implementation of magic in the series. Without a doubt, that honor has to go to Final Fantasy VI‘s Espers thanks to the sheer amount of player agency they grant in terms of controlling stat growth, allowing every party member to learn all of the most powerful spells in the game, and their relatively quicker growth rates and permanent teaching of spells. Materia are an iconic part of the Final Fantasy franchise and an obviously important part of the enduring charm of Final Fantasy VII, but as a tool for party customization and role-playing, they fall slightly short of Espers’ greatness.