Final Fantasy - Retroview

An Inspiration

By: jaraph

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

15-20 hours


Title Screen

   Over the years, the RPG community has come to owe much to the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy VI provided a standard against which all RPGs will forever be judged. Final Fantasy VII brought the beloved genre to the mainstream. Published in the US in 1990, Final Fantasy provided inspiration for nearly every role-playing game that has followed it. Though this title is definitely showing its age, no gamer will regret spending the time required to give FF a once-through and glimpse a bit of our collective roots at the same time.

   The player is first required to choose four characters from among the six available classes. The classes are typical, by and large - fighter, white mage, black mage, thief - and though it is possible at one point to "upgrade" your characters, there is no in-game class change. Despite these facts, choosing the characters’ classes is perhaps the most fun part of FF and offers what small amount of replay value there is; seeking to complete the game with four black mages, for example. Unfortunately, any semblance of balance between the various types is absent, causing some classes to be magnitudes more useful than others.

   Once you have chosen your party, Final Fantasy plunges you into a typical 8-bit RPG world. The central story line is weak and undeveloped for most of the game. Rather, it serves as an excuse to venture into the world and complete a loose collection of smaller quests. The story does contain a couple of shining moments, however; the ending is actually more satisfying than that of recent games I’ve played.

Yeah, I Know, But I Couldn't Find The Title Screen
Yeah, I Know, But I Couldn't Find The Title Screen 

   FF’s menu system, though not as fluid or powerful as those found in modern games, is much less tedious and bulky than those of many other titles from the 8-bit era. The single most annoying feature is the inability to purchase multiple items at the same time. Buying 99 herbs one at a time becomes so ridiculous, there have actually been entire fanfictions written about the subject. Shopping aside, however, the menus of Final Fantasy are satisfactory.

   Considering the time and medium of release, Final Fantasy’s musical score is extremely good. Nobuo Uematsu, the man responsible for the music of the series even today, composed some excellent and memorable tracks for this title. The sound effects are minimal, but decent, and they blend well with the background music.

   Text is sparse, and the translation is decent, accordingly. Every NPC gets one and only one box of text with which to deliver the entirety of his contribution to the game; this at least partly explains the slight underdevelopment in the story. I didn’t notice any huge errors in spelling or grammar, and what dialogue there was usually got the point across; amusingly, there is a gravestone in one of the many towns that, when examined, proclaims to mark the resting place of Erdrick, the hero of Dragon Warrior fame.

   Though preceded by Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy has many original points. The battle and character development system has provided inspiration for nearly every subsequent RPG; so much so, in fact, that FF now seems archetypical and cliché. Though it has been tweaked and revamped many times even within the Final Fantasy series itself, the gameplay set forth in the original was both innovative and inspired.

Nope. You Can't Summon This Bahamut.
Nope. You Can't Summon This Bahamut. 

   Battle is completely turn-based. Each round, you choose the actions for each of your party members, then sit back and watch as those actions and the enemies’ attacks are executed. The pool of actions consists mainly of the common attack, magic, run, drink (item), though there is one command that allows you to ‘use’ the equipment the character is currently holding. The order of action seems to be based on random chance rather than on any particular statistic of the characters/monsters. Within the battle screen, the characters and the enemies actually reside in two separate windows. This setup seems strange at first, but one quickly grows accustomed to it. Magic spells are purchased in towns rather than learned through battle. Also, instead of the familiar "magic points" system used in most RPGs, spells are grouped by level. As the magic-user gains experience levels, both the number and level-range of spells he can learn increases. There are many useful offensive and defensive spells to learn, and, as mentioned below, the spell animations are enjoyable, lending a bit more fun to the battle system as a whole.

   Final Fantasy’s graphics are pleasing, especially in battle. The spell animations are satisfying and go well with the spells they are portraying. While the enemies are without animation, the sprites are large and well drawn. They are not as cartoony as those found in many games of the same era and, thusly, accurately support the feeling of seriousness conveyed by the dungeon and over-world backgrounds.

   Most play-time will be spent in the various dungeons. In fact, the ‘find next dungeon; defeat boss/collect item; find next dungeon’ pattern drives most of the game. Actually, linearly following the game’s natural progression isn’t required, though it will make things much easier.

   Though a bit of level building may be required from time to time, this is not a difficult title, and most players should have no trouble finishing in 15 or fewer hours. While playing through with different classes does offer some replay value, little else in the game does. What sparse side quests exist are easily found and usually prove necessary for the completion of the game in reasonable time. That said, Final Fantasy does provide enough pure fun to warrant a second or third chunk of 15 hours.

The Beginning Of The End
The Beginning Of The End 

   Working NES titles and an NES itself, for that matter, are hard to come by these days. If, however, you are somehow able to get your hands on Final Fantasy I, I suggest you do so. Even the most experienced gamer will find something to enjoy here, and seeing where many modern RPG elements found their beginnings is well worth the required time and effort.

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