The Fantasy Which Started It All, But It Hasn't Aged Well
Mar 27, 2010
Every gamer knows what Final Fantasy is, even if they don't play Final Fantasy. The series has made a name for itself. It all started here. With how the series has evolved now, looking back it seems painful to look at the first Final Fantasy. It was redefining then, but seeing what the series later became in future installments, it's hard to really look at the original game the same. Is Final Fantasy a good game? Yes. It was ground-breaking and innovative for its time, but much like many NES games out there, much of it hasn't exacty aged well. That actually makes talking about Final Fantasy hard. The game is wonderful, it's just held back by the same shortcomings just about any game in the 1980's had. Shortcomings that even then might have been a problem. And if some of them were problems then, they're downright frustrating now.
If you're a Final Fantasy fan, you know how the series began. In 1987 a company called Square was running low on funds. They hadn't made a lot of games that were selling well. That's not to say they weren't good. It's only to say they didn't turn a profit for the company. A man named Hironobu Sakaguchi was given the task of creating a game that would save Square. Sakaguchi, however, didn't think he could. At the time Square didn't really make a lot of RPGs, they made action games. Sakaguchi was convinced, however, that he was more of a storyteller. His faith in the project wasn't so big either. Convinced that this would be the last game that Square would ever produce he named it "Final Fantasy."
The game was released in Japan in December of 1987. It didn't hit stateside until 1990 when the NES was in its final year in the United States. There were a couple of things which inspired Final Fantasy. Games like Ultima, The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest among them. The game began with you naming four characters and giving each one a job. There were six jobs to choose from: Fighter, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage and Monk. Unlike future Final Fantasy, the differences wouldn't be humongous with some of them. Obviously Fighters and Monks were strong while the mages had various spells. But at the same time, it's not like any of the non-mage jobs had anything which made them that different from choosing a fighter. Thieves, for example, didn't have the steal ability and Monks couldn't kick. It's something that for a game made in 1987 is pretty forgivable, though. Especially because it wouldn't be long before Final Fantasy would start to correct these archetypes and expand them in later games.
After choosing your four heroes you went to the town of Corneria where you met with the King who asks you to go and save his daughter at the Temple of Chaos. When you go you fight a man named Garland. Once that's done with you can finally progress forward. After crossing the bridge the familiar Final Fantasy fanfare plays and you see the words "Final Fantasy" pop up on screen.
There is a story to Final Fantasy. Your characters are the Light Warriors tasked with finding four orbs (later known as Crystals in future reissues) from the four fiends. Using the power of these orbs you'll have to stop the evil lord Chaos from taking over the world. While there is a story, there's hardly any way you'd ever actually know what the story is about in the slightest. None of your main characters talk and there's no overall narrative. Why even the small synopsis I gave you isn't revealed in the game itself. Without reading an instruction manual or reading the back of the box (or just visiting some online forum) you wouldn't really know anything about Final Fantasy at all. In the present day this is something worth scratching your head over. In 1987, however, this was the state of the art. Most RPGs simply didn't focus on story the way they do now.
That's not to say there wasn't a flow to Final Fantasy... or that just because the story isn't at the forefront there's no such thing as pacing. There is. And it's where Final Fantasy falters the most. In the first place, the game paces painfully slow. It doesn't become exciting or even that much fun to play until you get about halfway through. Looking on the brightside, it's not like Final Fantasy is long enough to bore you to tears anyway. Again, a game of this length today would be laughable. It would take you longer to plow through the first quarter of just about any future Final Fantasy title. Indeed, Final Fantasy, at most, will only keep you busy for around 10 hours... at the most (my first play through was only 8 hours). There are no side quests. The only thing which may even pad the length of the game out that long eo begin with would be the serious grinding the game WILL put you through just to progress forward.
Final Fantasy was made in 1987. For those who began with installments from Final Fantasy VII onward, it's a definite "old school" RPG. This means that not only do you have to do a lot of serious grinding, but the way isn't laid out for you. For all those who complain about the JRPG being so linear now, Final Fantasy was actually a true non-linear experience. Since there was no narrative you were actually free to explore as you chose. That's not to say it was entirely non-linear. You'd be kept from visiting certain places because you might not have the right vehicle or because you needed to do something for an unnamed character. But this is perhaps the only time when you actually feel like you're not forced to go from Point A to Point B in order to progress things. This is all because there's no narrative here.
When I say it forces you to grind, however, that's not really a joke. In the 80's it was customary to make video games that woud keep you playing. The goal back then was to keep you playing a game (no doubt inspired by the arcade machines which HAD to have hard games to keep you putting quarters in). Remember, this is the age of games like Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. A master of these games can beat them in less than half an hour. For a game like Mega Man or Contra the solution was simply to make them ridiculously hard. Final Fantasy follows suit by making sure the player knows he's supposed to grind. If you're having trouble in one of Final Fantasy's battles, it's because you haven't been leveling up enough. Final Fantasy utilizes standard turn based fare. You go through and select the actions of all your party members and then watch them take place in battle. It's old hat and even back then it could become tiring. The enemies, however, came at you in droves. You could be attacked by as many as nine enemies at once and they all hit hard. Mix that in with Final Fantasy's lack of an auto targetting and battles could be lengthy, challenging and sometimes even a pain (thanks to the fact that they're random battles). What I mean by "auto-targeting" is that if a character hit an enemy and killed him, the next character up would not simply target the next enemy, they'd still target the same enemy... they'd just be attacking air. It could cost you a battle sometimes.
It's those little aspects of its gameplay that haven't really been updated enough. To the point where, yes, the age of the game really shows. The lack of auto-targeting and the grinding can grate on the nerves of any RPGer who began with an RPG post Final Fantasy VII. Personally, I like the grinding, it's just hard to separate from the fact that even the first Final Fantasy... strangely isn't fun to do it in. Not because of the simplistic battle system but because it can just be monotonous. The battles can be long and difficult. The worst of it is actually not that, but that saving is just as painful. The idea of "Save Points" didn't become a staple for Final Fantasy until the fourth installment. In the first Final Fantasy the only way you could save was to go to an Inn and rest. You'd be given the option to save then. This means that if you got deep into a dungeon (and you couldn't run through them either, you could only WALK) and you suddenly died, you'd lose all that progress. It was more annoying because some of the dungeons could be rather long. Using magic was also a challenge. Each "level" of magic only gave you a certain number of times you could cast. So level 1 magic could be cast up to 9 times per battle. Once you cast level 1 magic nine times... that was it. Nothing more could be done until you rested up at an Inn. No MP restoring stuff. The last level of magic could be cast 1 or 2 times at best.
In 1987 it was state of the art. After all, the goal was to keep players... well... playing. The goal in many games nowadays is to ensure that people can finish them and see the whole story unfold. With the original NES game you can give credit to the fact that it was a game that for it's time was simply incredible.
On the other hand, with future releases it was inexcusable to do many of these things. Final Fantasy has probably been reissued more times than any other Final Fantasy game before it. It came out originally in 1987. It was released again along with Final Fantasy II in a compilation NES cartridge in Japan. It had another release on the Wonderswan and Wonderswan Color. In 2003 it was packaged with Final Fantasy II in "Final Fantasy Origins" for the Playstation. It was then reissued with Final Fantasy II once more in the "Dawn of Souls" package. It was also released to mobile phones in Japan and lastly Final Fantasy just got another release on the PSP. Quite a bit was worked out as "Auto-Targeting" was implimented and some of these reissues actually allowed you to save anywhere. If you're the type that hasn't played the original Final Fantasy and wants to give them a try... the best version to get is the one on the GBA. The game not only fixed many issues (allowing you to save anywhere, auto-targeting... actual MP) but also comes packaged with Final Fantasy II. The WORST version you could get, is actually the one on the PSP. It may look slightly better than the GBA version, but it cost more money and you're only getting a single game rather than the one packaged with Final Fantasy II. If you MUST play the original Final Fantasy, the GBA is perhaps your best bet.
Graphically, the first Final Fantasy was one hell of a good looking game in 1987. Presently, we've never seen Final Fantasy look any better than what you'll get on the PSP. We've never seen these sprites rendered in 3D or anything like that before. The NES version looked incredible for its time, and the GBA version looked pretty darn good for its time. The Playstation and PSP versions added a cinema or two.
As you well know, Final Fantasy has never really been "final." After the first installment a multitude of Final Fantasy titles followed. Even the second game in the series made a big leap forward, by giving us characters with default names and an actual story. As the series evolved it only got better. While Final Fantasy II actually had a real cast, Final Fantasy IV was perhaps the first time the JRPG went above and beyond anything we could imagine. By handig us a cast of vibrant characters and giving us a story worth playing through the game for (the first Final Fantasy to actually put the story at the forefront). It all started with the original Final Fantasy in 1987. Unfortunately, it's also the FInal Fantasy that has aged among the worst.
The first three Final Fantasy titles haven't aged that well at all. They are good games for their time. There are certain games that age well in spite of everything. The original Super Mario Bros continues to be enormously fun. Contra, Mega Man, Metroid, etc. all manage to be incredibly fun to play even now. The first Final Fantasy, however, doesn't exactly fall into that category. Nearly 23 years later, Final Fantasy is perhaps worth playing for historical purposes but many of its conventions just haven't aged well enough to make it worthwhile anymore. The reissues really hit this point home. The overall game is slow paced, making a ten hour game feel much longer. The monotonous grinding is also something that may annoy this current generation of gamers. It's a memorable game, but it's not one you tell people to play because you think they'll love it to death. It's one you tell people to play who want to learn more about Final Fantasy. It's a good game and has its merits firmly planted in 1987. And I don't expect a game made in 1987 to play like a game made in 2010. It's only to say that even going back to the NES and playing it, these faults are still apt to stand out. The lack of a narrative and such are things that no one can really fault Final Fantasy for. And it seems a little unfair to detract from it simply because time wasn't as kind to Final Fantasy as it was to... several other NES games. It has it's strong points that no one can deny. The strongest of which is that it saved Square. If it hadn't we would've never gotten future Final Fantasy titles... or great games like Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears or anything like that.
The hardest test for a video game to go through is the test of time. Many games go through it and come out fine. Even when time hasn't been too kind. It's hard to admit, but Final Fantasy just isn't a game that time was very kind to. It's worth a look for FInal Fantasy fans interested in the evolution of the series, but it's unlikely to really hold firm in the memory of many fans of the series.
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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