After seeing a bit about some Final Fantasy V charity stream on YouTube, I’ve taken an interest in the early Final Fantasy games. I never touched the remakes on the GBA and DS, and I’d like to see what improvements have been made. So I’m going to play through the first six games as they appear on the handhelds.
I have many fond memories of playing the original Final Fantasy on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s a pretty typical role-playing game: you explore the world, fight lots of monsters, delve into caves and castles, and purchase spells and items. The object is to slay four big monsters and save the world. My brother and I worked together: he would handle the dungeons and battle strategy, while I took care of grinding, shopping, and planning. We sat and watched each other as we took turns, seeing the quest unfold.
Unfortunately, the NES game had many problems and inconveniences due to its new and unrefined gameplay style. The worst of these was the ineffective attack. If one of your characters slew a monster that another character targeted, the second character would simply slash at the air, wasting a turn. You couldn’t choose the quantities of purchased items, so if you wanted to stock up on Healing Potions, you had to buy them one at a time. We had an NES Advantage controller, which featured auto fire, so when we hit the item store, I would place my brother’s quarter jar on the A button and go read a book. There was no way to tell which weapons or armor were more effective than others without checking the status screen. Spells were extremely limited in use, and there were no items to recover magic power. The menus were clunky and the in-game map took several seconds to draw onscreen. Debuff and death spells had so little chance to work that they were practically useless. Also, there’s no real plot to speak of, no dramatic moments. The world is static, waiting for you to go clean it up.
I don’t really mind that last part, though. RPGs of this time rarely had elaborate plots. Final Fantasy II put great emphasis on story, but that game didn’t come out in the United States until the GBA version came along years later. I’ve never played it, and I’m curious to see what it’s all about.
Anyway, FF1 puts everything on the player. You create and name every character (I like to use my friends’ names), and they only get whatever personalities you dream up for them. You have to talk to people in towns to figure out where to go next, and you have to go explore on your own with no real guidance. There’s a risk of running into enemies that are too strong for you, but it’s very low. Grinding really isn’t necessary as long you fight most battles.
Preparation is a big part of FF1. Sometimes you’re required to travel long distances from civilization to reach an important dungeon, fighting monsters along the way. Then you have to fight your way through that dungeon, beat its boss, and fight back out. You eventually get to learn a quick-exit spell, but it’s a ways into the game, and only certain character types can use it. Without the proper spells, equipment, and a huge stock of healing items, you won’t complete your trips. Thankfully, the updated version of the game has a much fairer economy than the NES original did, and buying great amounts of items is a breeze.
You’ll enter a variety of settings in the game, from ruined fortresses to burning volcanoes, and some of them get a little out there near the end. The monsters are all suited to their environments, and each type has different resistances and weaknesses. Experimentation with different magic spells is recommended.
The semblance of a story features only one last-minute development, and it’s a silly one. It’s not the last time you’ll see this in the series; Final Fantasy games often falter at their ends, introducing sudden twists that have little to do with the build-up before them. Still, the first game is not about a designer’s story; it’s about player-driven quests and adventures. Players are meant to create their own tales as their little heroes travel the world, fight, die, and overcome adversities.
FF1 is a simple, fun fantasy adventure that rewards inquisitive and attentive players. The niggling problems of the NES game are cleared up in the GBA version, and the graphics and music all have impressive overhauls. Even though it’s been polished up in this way, it still turns me back to my eleven-year-old self, who teamed up with his brother to destroy evil.