This is the part of a long-term project to play and review/analyze all the Final Fantasy games. Whenever possible, I will play the original version, but in cases where it’s not available and/or there are time constraints, I’ll use a port and/or watch a Let’s Play, both of which contingencies will be indicated in the review. Ideally, I will attempt to play a portion so that I can remark more accurately on the gameplay experience. These will be long-form reviews with detailed plot analyses, so please be wary if you do not want spoilers.
Quick note: I really, really tried to find just an original Final Fantasy banner, but to no avail, which is why the one you see above has sprite characters from later games. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.
First a little history lesson of the now very ironic title. Final Fantasy was created by Hironobu Sakaguchi in 1987, first published in Japan by Square (now the infamous Square Enix). It was so named because it was to be the failing company’s “final” fantasy, but was so successful that it revitalized the corporation and allowed it to stay afloat. Sakaguchi readily admitted that he was not really good at making video games, but he knew how to tell a story. Nearly three decades later, you would be hard pressed to adequately disprove that. With music composed by Nobuo Uematsu and character designs by Yoshitaka Amano
you (retroactively) can’t go wrong.
The first thing that happens in Final Fantasy is the choosing of four characters of various classes. Once this choice is made there’s no going back unless you hit the reset button. There are six classes: Fighter, Thief, Black Belt, Red Mage, White Mage, Black Mage. The Fighter is exactly what it says on the tin. He’s very strong in physical attack and defense, but since he can wear the heaviest armor, he can also be the slowest. The Thief is actually not that great of a choice to go with since his physical attacks are weak, his defense is poor, and he can’t even steal anything. What a misnomer. The Black Belt’s kung fu is much stronger. In fact later on, it’s better for him not to have a weapon because it actually lowers some of his stats. Red Mage is a nice jack of all trades. He has a solid physical attack and can use both black and white magic, so I’d recommend bringing him along. He also is the only character choice in the game to sport some swanky head gear.
Finally the white mage and the black mage can use white and black magic respectively. They have very weak physical attacks and are the characters most bound to the limits of the spell charges, which I’ll get into soon.
For my party I picked Fighter, Thief, Black Mage, and White Mage naming them Hans, Sven, Olaf, and Elsa respectively because I am obsessed with Frozen (also you can only use four letter names). So you can already see that I didn’t listen to the advice that I just gave you. Had I known then what I know now I would’ve gone with a Fighter, Red Mage, Black Belt, and White Mage. This is still no where near as awesome as the party featured in 8 Bit Theater (although in terms of gameplay NOT the best).
Once you start the game proper with your chosen Light Warriors, you’re placed on the world map and essentially told you have to save the world (my favorite past time). There are your ever popular random battles with currently simple foes and a low encounter rate, but never fear it will grow harder. You also begin with very minimal Gold (the monetary measure in the game) around 400, I believe. So there’s grinding and leveling that has to be accomplished before you can fulfill your first task and even see the beginning credits, since you need to purchase weapons, armor, and spells.
There are some piece of equipment that everyone can use, but there are others limited to particular character classes. The Fighter can utilize the heavier weaponry (swords, axes, etc.), the Black and White Mages can use staffs and rods, the Black Belt can use things like nun-chucks and ninja swords, the Thief can use lighter swords, and the Red Mage can use general weaponry being a more generic guy. Seriously…I have no idea why I didn’t think to pick him in my play through. This is what I get for listening to the first source I see. Once you purchase your equipment you have to make sure you equip it, and you should see a little E next to any item you equip. We’ll get to why this so important a little further down. Each character can hold four weapons and four pieces of armor. For items your entire party can hold 99 of each item, and if you want that you have to go through the absolutely tedious process of buying them one by one. No, there is no way to specify the number of potions you want. This is a 1987 8 bit game!
The magic system in FF consists of purchasing spells and utilizing the fore mentioned spell charges. Each of the three mage classes has a particular number for each level, going up in number and adding levels as your characters do. Level 1 spells are the least expensive with the price going up at each increase. Once you are out of spell charges you can only recharge them by using a House, which is very expensive, or staying at an inn, which is cheaper and cheapest in the first town, Corneria. It needs to be mentioned that in the original version (or maybe just the emulator) many, many spells are bugged and either don’t work at all or don’t work like they should, but the more important elemental ones seem to do just fine.
Final Fantasy battles consist of your party to the right and the enemy to the left.
A command must be put in for each character, and there are five choices: Fight, Magic, Drink, Item, and Run. Fight is exactly what it says. Your character will perform a physical attack. Magic is also simple and only available for mages. You pick a magic spell to cast as either offense or defense depending on which one’s you’ve purchased and what spell charges you have. Drink will let you use a potion for regaining HP or healing a status ailment, mostly poison. There’s a spell called Dark that should inflict blindness, but it’s bugged so does nothing. The bugginess kind of goes both ways. Item lets you use an item, and Run lets you attempt to escape from battle. This doesn’t always work, and I noticed in my experience that certain characters were more likely to facilitate escape than others e.g. Black Mage or Thief. Fighter I noticed had the lowest chance of succeeding. My assumption was it had something to do with their speed stat. When you either defeat all of the enemies or have them run away the now famous Victory fanfare will play. Here is a cockatiel whistling it.
So it’s confession time guys. I was an absolute moron and didn’t realize you couldn’t just give your characters weapons and armor, you actually had to make sure they were equipped with an E next to it (as mentioned above) so I spent the better part of a week battling the weakest monsters in the hardest way possible. I could not for the life of me understand why even my Fighter, the tank of the group, was only taking off like 3 HP (on a good hit) from a simple imp. I knew the game was hard, but I didn’t expect it to be this hard. I finally figured it out and was able to progress as I should, and I got as far as the Earth Cave after, I don’t know, a few months (time and I aren’t really friends, so I didn’t have much on the side to play as often as I wanted) when I decided I had done enough to be able to say something about the gameplay, but I could probably watch an LP and not feel too guilty about it to get the rest of the story. So I found HCBailly’s Final Fantasy Let’s Play and watched that.
It was from this that I learned what I’d been doing wrong, and I half considered going back, starting over, and remedying my errors, but at this point I really just wanted to see it, review it, and move on to the next. I have three Final Fantasies to play through until I get to one I’ve actually finished and am really looking forward to reviewing, because as you know, I’m all about the…
I’m not putting up spoilers for an almost 30 year old game just like I have no qualms about telling you Darth Vader is Luke’s father and Luke and Leia are siblings, but they are definitely NOT the worst case of twincest ever.
The story of Final Fantasy is revealed to be a time-loop at the end, and I was quite surprised by that. I didn’t think they did all the wibley wobbly timey wimey stuff until VIII, but playing/watching this game made me realized how strong of a foundation for the others it is. I did guess that the final boss was going to be Garland even after you defeated him as the first boss, and hey the first Final Fantasy is a book end in a way just like the seventh. When you first meet Garland he threatens to “knock you all down!” a bold statement from a man named after a Christmas decoration and our first foray into poor FF translations. Garland has kidnapped Corneria’s Princess Sara. You hear about this in the town, while simultaneously being told that he used to be a “good knight.” FF seems to love the paradigm of the fall. IV, VII, VIII (arguable as Seifer was never really that “good,” but also not really that bad either. He was really just a confused kid who wanted attention) IX (subverts it with a very late potential redemption arc/redemption equals death), and X. The time-loop thing is confusing as time-loops are, but I can see the precursor to VIII. I also see the sci-fi/fantasy fusion and realize that also happened earlier than I’d thought. I initially pegged VII as too sci-fi and not enough fantasy for my tastes (hilarious), but really VII just has the sci-fi aspect as the main veneer. You start out in a dystopian/cyberpunk setting whereas the ones prior begin in more bucolic locales. That tide seems to run through them all including the first with the more advanced Lefeins who built robots and a castle that floats in the sky.
Sorry, tangent, VII was calling. So the Light Warriors show up in accordance with prophecy each holding a dark orb that represents the four elements: earth, air, fire, water. They need to make the orbs glow again by defeating the four fiends that represent these forces. The earth is rotting (especially in the town of Melmond where the Earth Cave is located), the sea is wild, winds are erratic, and Mt. Gurugu is wreaking havoc. But the game starts with a kidnapped princess…this led to my suspicion that Garland was far more important than just as easy, throwaway boss. Why include him in the mix at all? Once Garland is thoroughly thrashed and Princess Sara is returned to her kingdom, the king builds a bridge to the neighboring continent in gratitude and it’s here the prelude ends and the story proper begins. The Light Warriors go on a fetch quest involving Matoya’s crystal, magical herbs, a crown, and a dark elf saddled with the unfortunate name of Astos. Geez, I’d be in hiding and pissed, too, if I had to carry around a moniker like that. The herbs are used to wake up the prince of Elfland who had been put to sleep by the dark elf who was brooding over his terrible name in his castle. Once the prince wakes up he gives you the mystic key, which can open all of the locked doors in the world. Let me just say that these things reminded me a lot of Enix’s Dragon Warrior with the kidnapped princess (and hell, Mario or double hell, fairytales for that) and the mystic key, but Enix’s game came out only a year ago, so they were contemporaries after all. It’s after this that you begin your true quest to relight the orbs finally ending the game by going back 2000 years when all of the problems began. In what should’ve been expected, Final Fantasy is all about the past.
So Garland had the four fiends send him back 2000 years through time. Then he sent them forward 400 years (from that? or 400 years from the present past? I think it’s the latter) to cause the world its troubles. Even if they were defeated, Garland would just send them back again, and if Garland were defeated (in the present) the fiends would just send him back so the time-loop would continue. Only by defeating Garland in the past would the cycle finally end. Yeah…it’s still confusing. Time stuff does that to me, too. I want to know who swiped this super time materia, but I suppose that’s another story and will be told another time.
Since I have played the other Final Fantasies I definitely see where many of the references now originate. No Cid in this one though. He apparently doesn’t show up until the second installment.
Princess Sarah (IX), Garland (IX), “Crescent” Lake (VII, IX), the time-loop (VIII), the advanced castle/tower/city (IV, VI, VII, VIII, IX, subverted in X), the millennia old, ancient evil (VII, X), Doga and Unne (IX) to just name a few. Granted IX is a gigantic reference to all of the prior ones, but still a solid story in its own right. No real character development in this game as the Light Warriors are just arbitrary avatars representing the idea of good as the fiends represent the idea of evil. The deeper characterizations come later in the series. The Four Light warriors are pitted against the four fiends (dark warriors) so you have that dichotomy there.
Final Fantasy is the template from which the others were cut from, the foundation from which they spring. This was an era where games weren’t created or played for their story so Square’s offering was pretty revolutionary. Now today, even non-RPGs have cohesive storylines that put many movies to shame, and Final Fantasy (at least up to FFX) both shines and sings bright among, because we cannot forget the…
We get to one of the major offerings Final Fantasy gave to the zeitgeist, the music. Written by the brilliant Nobuo Uematsu, even the first in the franchise stands as a paragon of video game music despite being rendered in midi. Most of the songs are written in a minor key (my favorite): Matoya’s Cavern, The Temple of Fiends, and both Dungeon Themes. Considering the limitations of the time, Uematsu does a fantastic job as always, although this was his 16th foray into video game music per the Wikipedia article linked far above. Many of Final Fantasy’s songs were most deservedly rendered into orchestrations, and the Symphonic Suite is just exquisite. I’m listening to it as a write up this article.
My favorite and I think the best song in the entire game is the Temple of Fiends. Even the midi music carries that sense of forlorn. My second favorite is what I’m calling Dungeon Theme 2. The other Dungeon Theme is a little too frenetic for me, whereas the second is much darker and more descriptive of a monster filled den. It’s the music heard in the Earth Cave. The Overworld Theme is solid, not the best I’ve heard, but I’ll do my final rankings at the end of all the reviews.
Now it’s time to rate the aspects of the game all together. I have various questions and rankings for all of the Final Fantasies. Some of them will not be applicable to this one since it doesn’t have all of the aspects of the other games. This may just be the case for the earlier ones, so I’ll adjust and add rankings accordingly.
Gameplay: 7 – a lot of the spells and stats were bugged, but there were workarounds to this, nor did it really take the enjoyment or functionality out of playing the game. Final Fantasy introduced the standard of the brand and did a good job setting the template and foundation.
Graphics: 9 – for the time
Difficulty: 8 – if this were 20 years ago, I’d probably give it a 6 because games were just harder back then. The 8 is a bit of a compromise. It’s difficult comparatively, but probably not that difficult for a game of the era
Story: 7 – No real character development as mentioned, but given the era it was written in this is not overly surprising. Final Fantasy has always been plot driven in even the later installments as the characters are so often at the whim of fate, and they find their strength and courage through what it makes them endure.
Overall Music: 8
Overworld Theme: 7
Town Theme: 6
Airship Theme: 5 – a very frantic song so probably appropriate for an airship, but not really my cup of tea
Battle Theme: 6
Dungeon Theme 1 (e.g. Marsh Cave): 5 – this was similarly frantic as the Airship Theme
Dungeon theme 2 (e.g. Earth Cave): 8
Dungeon Theme 3 (e.g. Temple of Fiends): 10
Boss Theme: N/A – there is no special music for bosses. In HCBailly’s LP, he substituted boss music from later games to spice things up
Final Boss Theme: N/A – again NO boss music whatsoever not even for the final one
Ending Theme: 7
Most Beautiful Song: N/A – nothing really stood out. I decided on this entry for later iterations
Saddest Song: N/A – again nothing stood out. See above.
Best Character Leitmotif: N/A – Uematsu-san wasn’t doing character leitmotifs yet
Best Song: Temple of Fiends
Best Male Character: N/A – my assumption is they’re all male although nowadays the White Mage is generally portrayed as female
Best Female Character: N/A – see above
Best Character: Fighter – physical attacks really were the way to go in this first installment, plus I general prefer the tanks
Best Town Music: N/A – all the town music is the same.
Favorite Character: N/A – no character development
Least Favorite Character: N/A – no character development
Favorite Town: Crescent Lake – it’s where you meet the sages and find out what you’re supposed to do. Also, I like how the later games use the name “Crescent”
I’m a firm believer that you have to know where you came from before you know where you’re going. I started in the middle of the Final Fantasy series with VI and only saw flashes and references to the origin. It’s similar to how I know bits and pieces of Paradise Lost from other sources, but need to read it myself in order to understand its true impact. While I didn’t finish FFI myself and it will in no way come close to my favorite(s), I am very happy that I had the experience in playing/watching it. I’m supremely looking forward to trying my hand at Final Fantasy II and also checking out Dawn of Souls and seeing the modern upgrade.