Final Fantasy - Review

The Dream that Spawned an Empire


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 6
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 8
   Plot 7
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

20 - 30 hours


Title Screen

   The story is probably known by many now. The Gooch (Sakaguchi, for the uninformed) and Square were floundering in the late eighties, in danger of folding over. The Rad Racer series couldn't be their only claim to fame, no doubt. But a tiny spark of inspiration was kicking the company in the head, saying, "Look at me!" That inspiration's first name was Dragon Quest, and its last name was Enix. Why not create a game, thought Gooch, in the style of Dragon Quest, that at the same time made it look like child's play in comparison? They had only the money left to invest in this potentially final project, and if a failure, it was to be Square's Final Fantasy. What a failure it wasn't. Through 9 games and 1 spawn (that being Tactics; Mystic Quest doesn't count as a spawn, or even a maggot), the Final Fantasy series has grown and developed to each era's audience, finally bursting the blissful Role Playing genre into the total mainstream with the advent of Final Fantasy VII, and exposing this mainstream to the old classics through re-releases. Square has become one of the most popular developers to date, and Final Fantasy sells on the name alone. Heck, a Square game sells on the company name alone. So with this tale of a journey from desperation to success, yours truly welcomes you to dive into the dream -- and last hope -- that started what has become a fanatic necessity in life: Final Fantasy. (cue harp...)

   Think back to 1989. What RPGs were out there? My memory is foggy, but I remember the typical dungeon crawls with the first person perspective. Definitely Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in the States), the Zelda games -- although they weren't seen in the same light as true RPGs, and still aren't (and in some cases shouldn't be). So there it was -- ol' Dragon Warrior. Wizardry. Might and Magic. AD & D spinoffs. Dragon Warrior pitted you one-against-monster with little variety to select from. The others seemed or at least looked complicated to the novices, and unworthy of their time. Wasn't "battle" supposed to be dynamic and fun? When we look back at Final Fantasy, to many it may not seem either dynamic or fun, regarding battles. Realize, however, that Final Fantasy pioneered the core battle engines that we see remnants of in quite a few games today. All the FF sequels. Chrono Trigger. Breath of Fire. We notice that they are heavily concentrated on not only simplistic menus, but a visual of allies' actions and enemy figures. Text is minimized, unlike Dragon Warrior and those other games, and in the SaGa games for GameBoy. Usually, multiple characters are in a party. And, melee attacks happen like a snap.

We can look back to Final Fantasy Original for that. While the menu still did look complicated -- Fight, Drink, Item, Run, and Spell -- the actual attacking did not. You saw the attacker step forward, swipe, and step back. On the lower part of the screen, you saw in minimal text what was attacked and how much damage, if any, it did. While painfully slow by today's standards, it seemed quite fast back when it came out. Reducing text had a lot to do with it, as did the illusion that the graphics presented. When you see your character step forward and slice at the enemy, it seems quicker than reading in a text box, "You attack monster with ____". (And before you get started on the GameBoy SaGa games, at least the text went by fast and the different classes made combat interesting.) Although probably just a visual illusion, it still keeps one from falling asleep in front of the screen. Melee combat was simple -- a character could hold 2 weapons but only actually wield one; this was set in the Equip screen. So you just attack with the weapon you're holding. Having four characters to target different enemies is what made it interesting. The only problem arises when you select an enemy to attack, twice, but one character kills it before the other one gets his/her licks in; you end up with an "ineffective" instead of watching your second character intelligently moving on to the next closest monster. But then, this could be interpreted as a challenge-builder; who knows?

Another interesting thing to note about the battle system is the magic system. Unlike the MP we're used to, where each character has a pool of available "spending" points for magic, deducted by the cost of the spell, Final Fantasy started out with a uses-per-level system. How does it work? Well, spells came in levels back then, generally indicating their strength and usefulness. Each level had a certain amount of uses, with the lowest level having the most available uses. Which meant that if you wanted to cast Fire 5 times, so be it -- just don't come crying to Square when you couldn't cast Lightning, which was in the same spell level. While limiting in that respect, it also opened up the ability to not worry about "wasting MP" on lower level spells against weak monsters only to find out later that you can't cast Nuke when you really needed it.

   Because of the seemingly speedier and more exciting battles, the game would seem to go faster than the typical RPG of the era. Not so fast, Skip! Remember, part of it was the visual illusion of action on-screen. Another thing to consider is this, which I'll get to later: the game was and still is freakin' hard, even considered the most difficult one in the series by quite a few gamers. Hence, level-building was the only way to make it through without pulling your hair. Experience points to be gained, gold pieces to be earned; expensive weapons and armor to be bought, and even more expensive spells to be bought as well. This slows the game down to a stop-n-go pace. You stop to accumulate, then zoom off to your next goal... stop to gain levels again, then zoom off again to your next goal. In that respect, the gameplay would seem unbalanced to some, and the pace quite slow to many. But what was intriguing about the game was the scope of the world and the dungeon levels you explored. You come across quite a few nations and towns along the way, traversing caves, mountain passes, and castles. You sail along in boats and canoes, and fly around in airships -- even battling in these modes of transportation. You talk to many, many people to get every last drop of information, and you marvel at the sheer variety of the spells, weapons, items and enemies the whole world that this Final Fantasy has to offer. Although rather slow, the sheer variety of the game which has become a standard in FF's is what garnered my attention.

Use the Farce, Luke!
A Star Wars fanatic, no?  

   As you might have guessed by now, if you've read all of my reviews, I'm heavy into the music of games. As a cellist (who never turned out to be too good), I had started to scrutinize many aspects of music that I listen to a lot. This includes game music. Oh the respect I have for Square and Konami composers, and how I've dreamed of composing works as good as those in their games. So with my disgusting fanaticism in mind, you can imagine how closely I listen to Final Fantasy's music just to see where Nobuo started out his illustrious career. In short, I'll say, "Not bad." Yep, not bad. Mind you, the music didn't knock my socks off. But it didn't make me roll my eyes in disgust either. I felt that quite a few of the tunes were a bit too cheesy or cutesy (the town music, the shop music), and some others were repetitive. But we can see that Nobuo makes an effort to catch the moods of the scenarios that our party encounters throughout the game. The battle music, even back then, holds up a sign that says to you, "We're gonna kick your arse if you don't put up a fight." The world map music gives the feeling of journey, adventure, voyage. The music in Garland's palace has that evil-yet-regal appeal to it, and of course, there's the prelude. The prelude. How can one forget? Nothing more than a scale that skips a couple of notes, traveling up and down, right? But as simple as it is, (a) no one else thought of it and (b) it's intriguing in its simplicity. Just a scale, just moving up and down, just a sine wave. Yet, there's beauty in the way each note glides easily to the next, and how the general movement gives that fluctuating feeling of defeat and triumph, guts and glory, life and death, good and evil. And in this first game, Nobuo hadn't even added the melody that comes in later. The highlights of the soundtrack are enough to keep the overall aural experience of this game above average.

   And let's not forget... although some of the tunes remain mediocre, at least they manage to be original. A bit cheesy, yes; but at least inspired for the most part. We can say the same for the whole game... no no, not the cheesy or mediocre part. Just the originality part. Most of this comes from the sheer variety of everything in the game, which I mentioned before. But the classes also deserve some mention. We have the usual brawler and spellcasters -- fighter, black and white mages. Then there are the thieves, whose specialty includes... well... running away. Steal hadn't been implemented quite yet. Most notable, and what I'm focusing on, are the monks and red mages. If anyone finds a pre-Final Fantasy RPG that sports a kung-fu kick-yo-arse no-nonsense fighter, and a warrior that could cast both black and white magic while still delivering a sound beating with a sleek sword, please let me know and I'll eat the undeserved originality points. Also, we can look forward to upgrading our characters. Upgrading? Ah-hah. Yes folks, in mid-game your guys meet [Don't think I'ma spoil it, now...] and get promoted, if you will. New equipping/casting abilities or new stats, or even both, are rewarded with this promotion. Your characters also get graphical upgrades, looking buffer and meaner. Again, find a pre-Final Fantasy RPG that offered a midgame prize such as that and I'll eat the unde- well, you get the picture. Lastly, to top the originality of this game off, is the way in which Square simplified the game. Remember having to select from Talk, Search, Stairs, and Door, etc.? Well, no more. If you're walking into a door or stairway, you'll enter it. No need to press. Otherwise, just press the A button. If you want to talk, you'll do so to a talkable being. If you want to search, you'll do so to a searchable item. Your spells, items, weapons and armor? All organized into a neat menu screen, with the press of your Start button. Square thought of how to improve upon the RPG and it did, by thinking with open minds and steering away from complication.

   Now some of you might not catch it, but open-mindedness helped the plot along too. You don't rescue a princess and then get a Kiss and a Game Over. You don't just kill some seedy king or knight and then are granted with the right to rule the land. You have to save the freakin world, and do it through numerous quests all described through lots of dialogue. Ok, I'll admit, there's a princess to be rescued. But oh ho, that's just the beginning. You have to find stuff for people. You have to help people recover. You have to explore and uncover secrets of the world's history. You have to go and get blessed with that "promotion" I talked about to be "worthy" of completing your quest. You have to defeat evil supernatural spirits that contaminate the four essential elements of this earth, and you have to disrupt the manipulation of time by a mysterious person. The entire Final Fantasy strives to shout "Epic" -- and as evidenced by this game, it has done so since the very, very beginning.

   Unfortunately, when an Epic can't talk to you in grammatically correct sentences, you're in trouble. Fortunately, for a game released over 11 years ago, Final Fantasy doesn't give us any "A winner is you" or "Congraturation". It still gives the impression, however, that Japanese is a hard language to truly master and interpret. While detailed, the dialogue was bland and mostly unemotional. Sometimes it was too cliche to not laugh at. At other times, the little people said too much of the same thing. For instance, while you'd expect soldiers in the first castle to at least say a tiny variation of the same thing, rescuing the princess only gives you (can't remember word for word), "Thank you for rescuing the princess!" ... from four or five different people. But on the flip side, I never found myself getting truly stuck because I didn't understand what informants were saying, or because informants didn't even give information... or worse yet, no informants to be found (think the first Final Fantasy Legend...). A mixed bag, the game's localization was an average job.

What is this 'data'?
Extraneous, Comma, Syndrome, , ,  

   The okay job on the localization (or the rather slow pace) shouldn't stop you from coming back for more, however. In fact, I'd say you should try to play it through more than once. Yes, it is linear, and there're not too many optional items or quests. But, since you can only pick 4 characters while you have the choice of 6 classes, there's a bit of experimentation to be had. Try bulldozing through the game with four fighters and scrambling to make as much money as possible to fund their weaponry. Try two fighters and black and white mages, or a fighter, a red, a black and a white; or even two fighters and two red mages. Let's not forget about the thieves and monks, either. And hey, ever try the infamous four-white-mage party? Well, maybe now's the time to dust off the cartridge and see how it goes. Concentrating on mixing up my characters really did make me forget about the linearity of the game.

Now, although my score may seem iffy, I felt the replay value was pretty good even though it was linear, being that you could do some experimentation. Bear in mind that, when I'm giving this same rating in the visuals department, I'm considering the fact that this is a chunky old 8-bitter that came out back in the Dragon Warrior and Zelda days so long ago. Final Fantasy made nice usage of color in the maps and sprites. Where some enemy sprites adhered to a seemingly limited color scheme, Square still managed to draw them with quite a bit of detail. Except for the feet of your characters in battle, not much really looks too "blocky" either. The graphics aren't splendid, mind you; not like Super Mario 3 good. But I can *see* my characters, and I didn't often get lost in blocky, repetitive map graphics. Enemies were distinct from one another and the art was done well. All in all, the visuals are on par with the NES Zelda games -- not spectacular but fun to see.

Of course, you won't be thinking that as you slam your NES controller against the TV screen. Final Fantasy, as I mentioned above, has the reputation of being the absolute hardest game in the series. Some of this is due to bad planning in the battle department, i.e. the aforementioned "Ineffective!" problem. Some of it's also due to the high attack rate -- don't think for a second that you'll ever get through a big screen without running into enemies once (which has happened in later FF games...) But most of it is just due to plain enemy difficulty. Monsters do quite a bit of damage, and when in packs of 9, you'd best be praying for Misses. Which, naturally, seem to happen to *you* at the most inopportune times. But with Final Fantasy, you've just got to grin and bear it... and gain as many levels as your gaming skills can possibly muster. It's a difficult game, plain and simple.

Flirting Zidane style.
"Hey bebbe, wanna go for a ride?"  

So naturally, the game takes a bit of a while to win. At least by NES standards, the game might seem to go on for eternity. If you're a pro I see you whizzing through it at 20 hours; I found myself going at it for at least 30. The constant level building, the frequent battles, and that funny habit of getting your butt kicked into the Game Over screen pushes those hours up.

But enjoy the long ride while it lasts. Final Fantasy was and still is a pretty solid RPG. It's not fancy or anything, and there isn't any FMV (oh what a shame =P, I'm heartbroken), or pretty rendered graphics... but it's the root of all that is sacred in today's console RPGs. It's simple yet challenging, with a touch of variety to it. It's a shame that it came out back in the day when almost no one wanted to sit choosing battle actions, rather than just pushing A to jump and B to shoot, and maybe collect the occasional powerup. It probably never got the attention it deserved; heck, I paid no mind to it until after I'd played Final Fantasy Legend. So do the little guy a favor if you've never played it before -- go out and find a fanatic friend with an old copy of Final Fantasy (that still works). Head over to eBay and find it, even. And if you have played it before? Go back and play it again, this time with the Four White Mages party. We Final Fantasy Fanatics owe it to ourselves to throw some controllers, no?

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