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Review: Final Fantasy

Updated on July 22, 2014

Note: This is the first of a multi-part series featuring reviews of Final Fantasy games.

Final Fantasy US Boxart
Final Fantasy US Boxart | Source

Literally, a Final Fantasy

Fans of the Final Fantasy series by now are aware of the stories behind the original Final Fantasy. Squaresoft was struggling to keep up in an expanding video game market, and bankruptcy was becoming a reality for the company. Hironobu Sakaguchi had been wanting to make a Fantasy RPG game for some time, but was denied that opportunity due to a perception that the genre would not sell well in Japan.

That perception was shattered with the release and subsequent popularity of the original Dragon Quest. That game proved so popular in Japan that Sakaguchi was finally given the okay to work on his fantasy RPG. Tentatively titled Fighting Fantasy at the time, Sakaguchi later changed the name to Final Fantasy, as it was believed that this game would be the final game released by Squaresoft before it went under as well as Sakaguchi's final game, believing its failure would mean his end as a game developer.

However, Final Fantasy proved to be quite a success itself (albeit not on Dragon Quest levels), garnering tons of sales, saving Squaresoft from bankruptcy, springing Sakaguchi's career back to life and spawning the oxymoronic franchise that is now among the most popular in the world.

Final Fantasy (PSP) on Amazon

A Class of Its Own

A key feature in Final Fantasy not featured in Dragon Quest (albeit featured in nearly every other fantasy RPG) is the use of specific classes. A player can make four players out of any combination of six classes, from the armor-heavy Fighter to the clerical White Mage. Unlike later games in the series, once the player chooses these classes, they're set for the entire game, though they can be promoted to stronger versions of their classes at some point in the game.

A problem that pops up is that some classes end up far more valuable than others. The Thief, for instance, doesn't hold a candle to the offensive capabilities of the Fighter or even the Monk. For reasons I'll later state, the Red Mage is a better magic user than the Black Mage. Basically, top tier parties consist of some balanced combination of Fighters, Red Mages and White Mages, with the other three classes not looked upon with a positive light. Again, the remake of the game attempts to remedy this by allow the Thief a higher hit count with its attacks and a buff to offensive magic to aid the Black Mage, but the same tiering mostly holds true for that game as well.

In a genre which nowadays makes it a point to open its game with an opening narrative, Final Fantasy plops your party near a town under the assumption you're capable of figuring out the rest from there. Four seemingly unknown Warriors of Light, tasked with restoring the light to the four crystals of the world. That's basically the narrative of the game until near the end when the game's plot gets kinda weird, but otherwise narrative is not Final Fantasy's strength, not that narrative needed to be a strength for Fantasy RPGs at the time.

Combat in Final Fantasy
Combat in Final Fantasy

Too Basic for Its Own Good?

Final Fantasy's combat isn't much in terms of originality or design, the original version of the game especially. In the original, if a player targets an enemy that flees or is defeated by another party member, that attack is basically wasted as the party member will not retarget its attack (something that wouldn't be fixed until Final Fantasy III for the series, and the first PSX remake for this particular game).

Magic is broken up into specific levels, with each character able to learn three spells per level and MP is issued for each specific level. Adding some strategy is that each level of Black or White magic has four spells, meaning Black and White Mages will be unable to learn one spell in that level. For Red Mages, which can learn both magics, that means they can only learn three of a total of eight spells per level for the lower levels of magic anyway. This magic system is somewhat trivialized by the overall worthlessness of magic in this game. Curative magic is fine, obviously, but the might of a properly equipped Fighter or a well trained Monk does just as well in most situations than Black Magic.

Overworld in Final Fantasy
Overworld in Final Fantasy

The Adventure

Still, exploring the world of Final Fantasy can be pretty fun if you like to explore. The party gets a ship early in the game which allows for sea travel, and there is plenty of dungeon crawling to be had throughout the game as the party looks to find the four crystals guarded by four elemental fiends. The world is very open, and the game does little to force the player along the path - the player has to discern where to go next by asking NPCs or simply by exploring, a far cry from what is found in a lot of modern RPGs, Final Fantasies included. It can be a bit jarring for younger or more inexperience players used to having direction and destination explained to them plainly, but that was also part of the charm of these kinds of game back then that sadly did not continue to this day.

Graphically, the game looks okay though the battles are mostly black and white with a little splash of color in the small battle window. The soundtrack is okay as well, nothing all too memorable on its own but the game features the now beloved "prelude" and "fanfare" themes that have become series staples. The remake of Final Fantasy really spruces up the visuals to look very 16-bit (Final Fantasies IV and V, especially), and it looks wonderful for the most part, especially the PSP version.

Where to Play Final Fantasy (Outside of Japan)

Name
Platform
Version
Notes
Final Fantasy
NES
Original
USA, not Europe
Final Fantasy Origins
PlayStation 1
Remake
Includes Final Fantasy II, considerably easier than the original, also on PSN.
Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls
Game Boy Advanced
Remake
Contains new dungeons compared to the PSX version
Final Fantasy
PlayStation Portable
Remake
Cleaner, higher-resolution version of the GBA game
Final Fantasy
Wii (via Virtual Console)
Original
Download only, playable on Wii U via Wii mode
Final Fantasy
iOS/Android/Windows Phone
Remake
Similar to PSP version, but with touch controls

Ratings

 
Rating
Gameplay
4/5
Graphics (by NES standards)
3/5
Audio
3/5
Plot
2/5
Replayability
2/5
Challenge
5/5 (NES version), 1/5 (Remake version)
3 stars for Final Fantasy

Conclusion

The original Final Fantasy for the NES has aged somewhat poorly when it comes to mechanics and gameplay. Its visual and audio elements have become part of the game's charm nowadays, but for a lot of players in this day and age this game will not be completable due to its difficulty. That's not a fault against the game, rather a sad truth. Its still a fun game for those who are able to forgive the game's failings, however there are other games, other Final Fantasies that offer a more polished experience than it.

The PlayStation remake of the game, with versions of it available across several handhelds and smartphones now, fixes a lot of these mechanical issues, making it much more fun to play. However, a lot of the game's challenge is removed from this version as many monsters and bosses are much easier to defeat than they were in the NES version. Much easier. For those seeking a challenge, I recommend sticking with the original game.

On its own merits, Final Fantasy is still one of the NES's finer games and a welcomed addition to that platform's RPG library.

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