Final Fantasy – NES
Release Date: December 18, 1987
Nerd Rating: 6.5/10
Reviewed by Paladin
This is it. The one that started it all. The first in a series of 15 games with over 50 spin-offs, sequels and prequels. Square’s Hail Mary. What do I mean by that? While we’re at it, does Japan not know the meaning of the word “final?” How can there be 65 Fantasies if they’re all Final? Let’s answer both questions with one response; in 1987, Square was barely a year old and had nothing to show for its efforts other than a string of unsuccessful games for the Famicom. With bankruptcy staring them in the face, they looked to another fledgling company for inspiration, Enix. (Foreshadow much?) Enix was enjoying commercial success with its own first entry in an epic RPG saga, Dragon Quest, and Square decided to try the genre for itself. Even with all remaining resources poured in, everyone was convinced that this FANTASY would be Square’s FINAL game. Instead, a legend was born and the rest is history.
To fully appreciate this game it must be understood what most RPGs were like at the time. After the complete text-based RPGs of the 70’s and early 80’s, the genre was slowly beginning to change. Now, the protagonist could be seen moving across a colorful world map and monsters actually appeared on the screen in full 8-bit detail. Instead of tediously typing every single command, players could now select the optimal action from a menu. RPGs were beginning to feel more like they’re namesake in that gamers actually took on the role of the character they were playing. Unfortunately, by the time Square decided to jump on board, Dragon Quest had already embodied this new style. So, how does Square make Final Fantasy stand out?
They make it better of course.
Final Fantasy took everything that was already great about RPGs and made innovative changes that would carry on for years to come. The game opens with a prophecy about the chosen four who would arrive to save the world from destruction, followed by the picking of the actual characters. This feature alone helped the game to shine; instead of being stuck with just one main character who remains the same combat-class the entire time, the player could choose from six different classes: Fighter (Warrior), Thief, Black Belt (Monk), Black Mage, White Mage, and Red Mage. Do I want a melee or magic strong party? Two White Mages would be great for healing, but an additional Black Mage would be great for offense. Then again, neither of those two can take very many hits. Perhaps two Fighters, a Red Mage and a Thief would be best? The list goes on and on. Being able to experiment with different variations on your party makes for some excellent replay value. (Has anyone ever actually tried four White Mages?)
Upon selecting your party, the game puts you on the world map in front of Corneria castle and town. At the time, the graphics were incredible. Every spire and tower of the castle is visible and discernible, the ocean steadily flows offshore, and grassy plains give way to forests and swamps, each with their own color palette and detail. The heroes (no default name) are represented as tiny versions of themselves, but as soon as a battle occurs, everything changes. True, RPGs at the time improved on the battle system, but your main character was never more than a mini-pixelated mashup, with the enemy taking up the entire screen during a battle. The idea was that you were looking at the monster through the eyes of the hero. Clever cost-cutter, but it made for a lot of redundant fighting, with attacks being represented by a mere slash across the screen or a magic spell being nothing more than a bright flash of light. In Final Fantasy, battles take you to a different screen altogether, with the four main characters, enlarged with way more detail, on the right side and the enemy on the left. Now, every action, whether it be attacking, using an item, casting a spell, or even running away is acted out by the heroes. This even makes shopping for new equipment more fun, as all new weapons have their own unique look to them when fighting.
A battle system this epic can only come with a story to match, right? Well… It was still 1987. Admittedly, this is an area where the game falls short. In a nutshell, the world is under attack by powerful monsters who are being led by an even more powerful monster. That’s pretty much all there is. It’s easy to take the complex and in-depth storytelling of today’s video games for granted, but back then there was only so much that could be done. So, did I only give it a 6.5 out of 10 because of a simple story? No. The story was standard for the time, but the execution was a little sloppy.
The first few quests are easy enough, but the longer you play, the more confusing things can get. Your next destination and task are rarely spelled out for you, and I don’t simply mean you’re given hints that are difficult to figure out. I mean there are times when NPCs (non-playable characters) simply don’t relay the required information to you. Originally, the game came with a large fold out map with every location numbered in the order you were supposed to go. Great, but what if you lost the map? There was no internet back then. Yeah, you can look one up now, but going to the internet for help should be a choice, not a necessity.
So, IF you have the map this is still an enjoyable game. You don’t merely go from one place to the next killing monsters like most RPGs of the time. Sometimes you have to backtrack to talk to someone again or obtain a certain item before proceeding. There are parts where nature gets in your way, like when you need TNT to blow up a small wall in order to sail your ship through. Oh yeah, did I mention the vehicles? Admiring the scenery during a brisk jaunt is nice, but it can get old, which makes the obtaining of a ship very convenient. It’s twice as fast as walking and you can access more areas. This goes doubly for the airship, now standard in every Final Fantasy game.
But awesome vehicles notwithstanding, doesn’t using the same characters get old? Perhaps it would if Bahamut didn’t lend a hand. Meeting the Lord of the Dragons is cool enough, but when he talks to you, its even better. After performing a task for him, he promotes your heroes into superior warriors; Fighter becomes Knight, Black Belt-Master, Thief-Ninja, Black Mage-Black Wizard, White Mage-White Wizard, and Red Mage-Red Wizard. Their appearance changes, their stats increase, and they can even use a wider variety of weapons and spells.
Unfortunately, this makes for a bigger shame when they never talk. Not once. It’s too bad that of all the flaws in RPGs that Final Fantasy improved upon at the time, character development wasn’t one. I know, I know, a silent main character means that the player can insert his or her own personality into the game and take on the role themselves, hence “Role-playing game,” but to me it always felt lazy. It makes for much more engaging interactions when the people you’re playing as have their own personalities and quirks. It was usual for the time and didn’t hurt the game at all, but I still feel that it could have benefitted from from some hero dialogue.
This game saved Squaresoft from bankruptcy, but is it perfect? Of course not. Its story is weak, the character development is non-existent, and I didn’t even touch on the erratic difficulty level of the enemies. However, Final Fantasy has rightfully earned a place in the hearts of RPG fans everywhere. The year it came out has to be taken into consideration when playing it and if this had ended up being the best entry in the series it would have been very a short lived series indeed. The fact that Final Fantasy is so lacking when compared to later Final Fantasies is a testament to the solid foundation this game set for the future. It has its flaws, but the good moments still shine through and, in my opinion, every RPG fan owes it a debt of gratitude.
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