RPG #1 – Final Fantasy

FF1 Starting section on NES

Released: Dec. 18, 1986
Developer: Squaresoft
Platform: NES/Famicom

When I began this idea of playing through RPGs… a choice had to be made as to which would inevitably be the first. Given that I had removed the idea that I would go through RPGs in order of release, it no longer had to be the first, yet I didn’t want it to be a modern RPG either. And really it didn’t take much to get to Final Fantasy as the first roleplaying game to be done in this project.

Final Fantasy is a very special game to me. It isn’t the first game I played, by far. It isn’t even one of the games I likely played in my first five years of gaming. But it was a game that completely changed in me what a game could be. And it changed how I felt about games in general. This was the first game that I got lost in. I remember specifically renting Final Fantasy at the local video store and bringing it back a week or two later with fines to deal with because I just could not put the game down. I could not turn the Nintendo off. I was hooked in a very real way. It also should not be a surprise that when I started collecting video games, Final Fantasy was one of the first that I made a point to buy. And for the last 5 or 6 years, it has been a game that I have made the decision to play every single year to remind myself of why I love video games the way I do.

So I will try, to the best of my ability, to take off my rose colored glasses and give the most honest review of this game to which I can. To be honest, the game doesn’t hold up well with the test of time, but we’ll get into exactly why.

Final Fantasy was originally released in Japan on December 18th, 1987. It wasn’t the first RPG on consoles by far, but it has turned out to be one of the most longstanding and popular RPGs on the planet. The franchise has produced arguably the best incarnations of RPG, but this was not even close to it. This was the only Final Fantasy to get translated and ported over to the Americas.

Story

The story of Final Fantasy is simple yet complex. The 4 Heroes of Light one day get together and talk to the king. Why they get together and why they are walk up to the king and why he asks them to help him are all unknown, it is a game after all. But he needs their help to save the princess who was kidnapped by Garland. (I’m not sure if we are ever told why this happens exactly either.) So we, the heroes, wander to the local evil shrine and defeat Garland to save the princess. What we don’t know, is in order to escape his death, four elemental fiends get together after we have saved the princess to send Garland back in time to save him. I don’t entirely understand why this saves him, but apparently this does. Once in the past, he sends into the future the four elemental fiends in order to save him. Now, it is our jobs as the heroes to stop this loop from occurring.

This is the complex part of the story. The simple part is that this whole story happens with very little explanation to you the player. Most of the story comes from a few minor one or two sentences from oracles, a fair amount of dialogue from Garland at the end, and the epilogue after you have defeated him. Almost the entire story, you have no idea what is going on, and truthfully, you are kind of just going from one town to another stopping minor problems in each town you go to, all of which seem to lead to each other. And to the credit of the game, you do get a sense that in doing these small things, you are both going about your normal life as a hero and learning that something bigger is happening at the same time, as they do seem connected.

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Overall, I’m going to give the story a meh. The story, while complex, seems a little more complex than it need be and doesn’t particularly make a lot of sense. The fact that you are wandering around the entire game plodding through the plot without knowing what the plot even is until the very end, while is done in a clever way to cover up technological limitations of the time (I believe at least), is still a hindrance to the overall story. The epilogue jokes a bit at the end about “did this ever even happen?” and that just brought to mind all the bad episodes of Star Trek: Voyager that involved time travel that never really happened. This is one of my least favorite story types in sci-fi… the ones where the story itself was erased by the events of the story’s use of time travel. I hate that kind of time travel. And so I can’t give this a good grade, but I do recognize, for the time, this was an advancement for the Nintendo, so i can’t completely give it a bad grade.

Characters

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I can’t really give this category a low enough score. Your characters are almost entirely blank. There is no motive for doing what they do, you have no idea where they came from or how they got together. And there is no character development outside the moment where your characters get to evolve into more powerful versions of their class. I am pretty sure a big reason for all this is to allow you to create your character’s storylines which is a fairly common WRPG tactic, though this game doesn’t really allow much in the ways of tools to allow you to do this. If you do this, it’s all on you, and nothing is done in game. I’d also say even WRPGs tend to give you a few bits of development. Still, I think they made a valid choice, I just have no capability of giving them a solid character score.

Combat Mechanics

Combat Mechanics could have a lot going for them. Leveling, classes, how damage and xp were applied, etc, were all very base and vanilla which can be excused for the time frame. I really liked that if you choose to fight something with a character and it dies, then that turn is lost for that character, they didn’t just move onto another creature. This keeps the difficulty up. I very much liked that classes “evolved” at a certain point in time. It gave you a great sense of advancement and was one of the key things that I liked as a child.

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However, there was a lot of broken code in this game. I chose to play an all blackbelt team on this run and chose not to evolve. This choice to not involve was due to a bug. Blackbelts gained 4 magic defense per level, their evolved counterparts gained 1. I imagine it was supposed to either be 1 the whole time, or the reverse, I’m not sure. In addition, there were bugs with armor stopping working when you leveled unless you go back to the armor screen. I actually think there may have been a similar bug with weapons, though I’m not 100% sure. There are bugs with how you run, there are bugs with many spells broken, and damage on weapons not being correct. These last two I’ll get into more later but they do affect combat and the mechanics in the game. For instance, creatures will often have it in their AI to cast a particular spell that doesn’t actually do anything in the game due to a bug, making some fights easier than they are supposed to be. All the bugs in the game really diminish the what the game could have been, and unfortunately they come in some of the game’s more complicated features… which makes sense. But there are very few complicated features in the game even so which give you less to work with. Even if the game worked as intended, I may have only given it a meh. Instead, it gets a thumbs down.

Magic & Items

Spells in the game I think were really good in theory. They had the base fire spell, sleep spell and cure spells, as well as advancements with them that target more than one and more damage/health. But they also had spells that would be instant death, they had spells to exit dungeons, and they had spells that would speed up party members or slow down opponents. So they had normal and interesting spells both. The problem is that many spells didn’t work due to bugs and many spells just weren’t good… like Dark (though maybe it was bugged?). On top of that Intelligence did nothing as a stat, it didn’t create a magical accuracy or help damage of the spells. So while spells were pretty interesting overall, there were a number of problems with them that limited them.

Items had the same situation. There were a ton of weapons in the game for this day and age. And many of them had secondary powers, like Thor’s Hammer could be used to cast Lit2. This was a very cool idea and made items great in this game. BUT, the damage of them was kind of messed up. Damage was based, not off damage stat, but off of the item number, so the weapon that did the most damage was not what you thought, and early items like Silver were actually some of the better making them last longer than the devs intended. Armor similarly was good and interesting with a fair variety, and only offering 3 ribbons created strategy in who to give it to, though as an all black belt party, it just meant one member always took 4x the damage from spells. I would say I did have multiple issues with potions. There wasn’t any way to revive, and there was only a heal potion that healed 30hp, which wasn’t sufficient as you got up in level. If your characters got down in health at higher levels, you easily could consume 10-20 potions in a sitting which was a huge problem when you had no option to return to an item shop and were capped at 99.

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Still, despite all the problems I think I am going to give this category a meh. I decided that even with the potion issues, I probably would have given this category a thumbs up if not for the bugs. This goes back to rating this based off the timeframe and the technology involved. I feel for the days of the NES and considering technology limitations, Square provided a good array of weapons and spells and a few interesting ideas. For the time, I would not expected much more, unfortunately there were so many bugs!

Visuals and Audio

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This is probably the most difficult category to judge. Again, I want to base it more off the time than now. But was it even good considering the limitations? For this, I don’t know. Audio wasn’t bad, a lot of the tunes were catchy, and during the NES days music was incredibly repetitive so we can excuse that. But I think the visuals were subpar overall. Nothing made me think “that’s a cool looking creature” even and creature art was probably the most detailed parts of the game. I think the most interesting creature was the final boss, Garland, and that is kind of to be expected. There weren’t many other bosses. The 4 fiends also had better than average art. But other bosses in the game were essentially the first instance of a new mob and weren’t particularly great. I’m giving this category a meh, because overall it wasn’t bad, just not particularly good.

Skew

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Weirdly, this is another difficult category for me. Skew is supposed to be how I personally feel about the game. And as such everything else, and everyone else’s opinion be damned. This game has a very special place in my heart. I recognize it isn’t the best game in the world, but it helped evolve my feelings of video games in a way that I am very appreciative of. I think I am going to give it a meh. I can’t for the life of me give this game a thumbs down, it means too much to me. But I do recognize that it isn’t a game without flaws. So Meh it is.

Overall Score

2.6 of 5 total points (rounding to 2.5)

The overall score given the individual categories averaged out in my calculation is a 2.66 out of 5. Which puts it at just about average. Thinking about the game as a whole, I think this number seems about right, so I think my calculations are coming out to a good start!

Videos

If you want to watch my playthrough below. You can find the entire playlist here.

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