To be honest, I don't remember the circumstances
behind getting my copy of the first Final Fantasy
. I don't
remember if I got it before or after my copy of Dragon
, and whether the NES port of Ultima: Exodus
the trouble I got in for opening that particular Christmas present
a good three months too early--entered my collection first.
All I know is that Final Fantasy
captured my imagination
like few RPGs before and since.
Part of that resulted from the fantastic Strategy Guide--you have
to capitalize that, you see, for back in those days Strategy Guides
were not the dime-a-dozen wastes of paper they tend towards
now--that came with my subscription to the greatest propaganda
magazine of all time, Nintendo Power
. I was still a wee lad,
recovering from the devestation of my mother accidentally
destroying one of the discs of my Apple //c copy of Pool of
, and RPGs had not become part and parcel of my life.
The Strategy Guide showed me all of the secrets necessary to Win
The Game, if only I had the perseverance to complete the quest for
the four Orbs with my hand-picked group of Light Warriors.
After managing to get to the Temple of Fiends Revisited, I stopped.
This came directly from a particular affliction I have had since
youth and still possess--the fear of beating a game. I love playing
them, but when I get near the end, I become tense and easily
startled, and I start to worry about my abilities as a true Game
Player--am I good enough to complete this challenge? Will I simply
suffer ignoble defeat? Should I just not bother, since I'm
certainly incapable of surmounting the difficulties ahead?
Occasionally, I'd glance at the cartridge while digging through my
other NES games, and think wistfully of a time when I might have
had the gumption to pick it up and finish it. But another
affliction of mine kept me from finally trouncing the game--my deep
desire for continuity. I don't like playing sequels before I play
and beat the original games, and if I don't remember what I was
doing in an RPG or adventure game when I pick it up weeks, months
or years after the last time I played it, I have a habit of wiping
the save game and starting over. So picking up Final Fantasy
ten years later felt dirty to me, even though I knew all I had left
to do was the final stage.
Not too long ago, however, I decided to embark on an Epic Quest of
RPG History. The plan is to play all the way through every Final
and Dragon Warrior
ever released, starting at
the first one and finishing up wherever the series end at the time
of the Quest. Due to the twin wonders of emulation and fan
translation, I can play the two Final Fantasies
released here in America, along with tighter versions of the fourth
and sixth games in the series--both of which I own twice, one SNES
copy and one rereleased PSX copy apiece.
And so the quest began with the original Final Fantasy
game that, along with Dragon Warrior
, could be said to have
started it all. Throughout the game, I kept asking myself--how
does this game hold up? Is it still worth playing today?
I believe the answer is yes.
To be sure, Final Fantasy
has a number of problems.
Levelling up is not only suggested but necessary; you'll find
yourself quickly trounced if you don't take the time to boost your
characters' statistics, and while the last boss of the game is a
joke for any party of decent strength, getting there can be a great
challenge if you are underpowered. This problem is compounded if,
like me, you like to complete games 'perfectly,' with no character
deaths; a number of bosses have instant death attacks that can
force you to replay a dungeon over and over until you're lucky
enough to not die. [Those who suggest using save states to make
this easier miss the true
point of emulation, that of
experiencing gaming as it really
was.] There are also a
number of puzzles in the game that could be very frustrating if you
didn't memorize the Strategy Guide when you were a kid, or don't
make use of a resource like GameFAQs. The location of the airship
is only vaguely hinted at, and learning Leifinish requires you to
engage in the classic Talk-To-Everyone-All-The-Time RPG trope.
There's also a nasty bug with the Black Belt character that can
either hurt or help you, depending on how far into the game you
are; fortunately, by the end of the game it's considerably more
helpful than anything else.
There are things about Final Fantasy
that, while not
outright problems with the game, have definitely been refined
since. The spell system seems ripped wholesale from Dungeons and
Dragons, with spell levels and the like, but the spells themselves
lack any description in-game and neither the manual nor the
Strategy Guide made things any clearer. The combat engine, while a
large step above the single-enemy fights of Dragon Warrior
has your characters attacking thin air if the enemy has already
been killed before their turn. This can be frustrating, but it
requires you to gain intimate knowledge of your characters'
strengths and the strengths of the enemies they fight; a fine
balance between spreading the attacks out too much and
consolidating damage makes for a challenging game. The storyline is
also practically nonexistent, and your characters are nothing more
than non-speaking sprites; part of this comes from the fact that
you can create your party out of any mix of characters you like,
and part of it undoubtedly comes from the newishness of the genre
at the time. [I, of course, used the Strategy Guide-suggested party
of a fighter, a black belt, a white mage, and a black mage.] And a
few helpful bugs in the game, such as the infamous Peninsula
enemy-mapping, make the game less tedious than it could have been
if you know how to break the rules.
However, despite all of these issues and semi-issues, the game has
a certain charm. Its almost-innocent plotline is simplistic, but
also honest; the fact that the last dungeon in the game is also the
first, and the actual circumstances behind the whole situation,
make for a nice loop that has rarely been done better in gaming.
The lack of characterization of the Light Warriors allows you to
make up personalities for them, and indeed construct any party you
like. [I suggest ignoring the fact that the White Mage looks male
once they've 'grown up;' otherwise, there are no female
characters.] And the battle engine, while refined over the years,
has an amazing number of similarities with most of the RPG battle
engines in games today.
Aside from all of this, there's something to be said for
participating in a piece of history. Playing Final Fantasy
lets you see where the roots of the genre lie, their swift
divergence from adherance to Dungeons and Dragons-style rules, and
some stupid tropes that still hang around the collective necks of
the genre like ugly albatrosses--random battles be damned! Anyone
who is capable of looking beyond the simplistic graphics and
storyline of the original Final Fantasy
find a lot to like. It doesn't quite stand up to modern
masterpieces, but it's fun enough and short enough to entertain and
educate during a slow summer week.
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