Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review: Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy
Role-Playing Game, Nintendo Entertainment System
1987 Square

The vast media franchise of video games, spinoffs, films, toys, and merchandise galore that we know as Final Fantasy began long ago as a desperate last attempt by a failing game company to stay afloat. Hironobu Sakaguchi, the brain behind the series, titled it as such because it was his final attempt to succeed in the gaming industry before giving up altogether. As we all know by now, the game sold well enough to not only keep Mr. Sakaguchi working, but to propel it into becoming one of the best selling game franchises in history.

Though primitive in comparison to its successors, Final Fantasy 1 really got the ball rolling for the RPG genre as a whole. The "Light Warriors" - the band of heroes the player controls - are four anonymous, generic warriors whose names and classes can be chosen at the beginning of the game. Want four fighters? Go for it. A diverse group of different styles? All yours. Four healers (though I don't know why you would)? Feel free. Half way through the game, you can take each character and branch them into a further specialization as well.

The verdant lands of Corneria.

As far as game mechanics go, there are two major items of note here:
  • Inventory Limitations - By either primitive programming in NES cartridges or an intentional design decision, there are tight limitations on equipment in this game. Each character has 4 slots for weapons, 4 slots for armor, and 3 slots on any given "level" of spells. This means that inventory management is actually important through the game, and the player can't simply grab everything they see without consequence. The reason this is so unique is because of the fact that subsequent games in the Final Fantasy series abandon this notion altogether. In later entries like Final Fantasy 3 for the SNES (a.k.a. Final Fantasy 6), stacks of 99 of every item in the game can theoretically be carried simultaneously, eliminating any need for inventory management.
  • Battle Style - As far as I'm aware, this was the first RPG ever to add the "side view" perspective in turn-based battles. In and of itself it's not that big of a deal, but the same perspective would be used through the entire rest of the 2D Final Fantasy games, and even still mimicked in the 3D ones later on. Dozens, if not hundreds, of other RPGs would also come to imitate this style.

The Light Warriors' journey leads them across multiple continents, slaying demons, awakening the male equivalent of Snow White from a cursed slumber, aiding dwarves with mass amounts of explosives to blow up an entire peninsula, and so many more bizarre and captivating quests. Ultimately, they face the demon Garland (Chaos) on a floating castle and banish him from whence he came.

Miles from the nearest inn and trapped underground, our hero begins to question his career choice.

While all of this is just fine and good, I would be remiss not to warn you of the difficulty of this game. Level grinders rejoice, because you will be fighting a lot of enemies that yield very little experience and are at times absurdly difficult. You will buy items not knowing whether they're better than your current equipment, or if you characters can even equip them. You will find yourself fleeing from more battles than you fight. You will fill your mage's 3 spell slots with indecipherable spells, casting at random and hoping for the best. Not too many games nowadays would flagrantly display this level of challenge, and that's a big part of why I love Final Fantasy so much.

Between the slow curtain-close screen transitions, the acid-trip rainbow flicker when the menu opens, and the many other odd design features, 3D-era Final Fantasy fans may want to tear their hair out in exasperation. For me, revisiting this game meant slowing down a bit. Back to a time before loud, fast-paced, flamboyant games full of gore and testosterone. Back to a time before the JRPG genre was the fluffy-haired, teen angsty beast that it is today. Just four generic characters fighting a powerful demon who likes to travel through time and destroy elemental crystals. And you know what? There is a whole lot to enjoy in a game like that.


  1. I do enjoy level grinding and do remember the good ol days when challenge wasn’t considered unmarketable in a video game. I think people who think they are experienced and skilled RPG gamers that haven’t played this, should give it a try, as they will likely find out they may not be so skilled after all. I remember feeling seriously frustrated after traveling a long way into a dungeon and accomplishing what I needed to and traveling a long way back, only to have my party wiped out a short distance from the town. Since there were no save points other than the town inn, I’d have to do it all over again, usually several times. But I loved it as much as I hated it.

    1. The challenge is simultaneously frustrating and fulfilling. When I finally beat the dungeon to get the item you're supposed to give to the "Witch" so you can get the Mystic Key, it had been so long since I started that quest that I couldn't remember where the Witch even was. I spent a good 30 minutes going to every location on the world map trying to find her.