Pros:Fun Party Customization Options, Huge Overworld, Fun Battle System, Great Atmosphere
Cons:Too Difficult at Times
The Bottom Line: As One of the Pioneers of the Genre, Final Fantasy is Also One of the Best RPGs Ever Made.
Squaresoft wasn't always the powerhouse developer that we all know and love. In the late 80s they were in serious trouble - they failed to release any real blockbusters and as such they were quickly going under. The company's head developer, Hironobu Sakaguchi decided to work on one last project for the company - the aptly named role playing game Final Fantasy. Eleven sequels later, and millions of sales has made this series one of the biggest in the entire world. Today we look at the humble beginnings of Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy is a series known for featuring deeply romantic love stories featuring largely developed characters and lush backstory. This isn't so much the case with this first game whose obvious focus was more on gameplay than anything else. In Final Fantasy you assume the role of a group of four prophesized light warriors. The world is slowly descending into chaos as the four orbs which control the elements of the world have lost their light, and it's up to your ragtag band to not only bring back power to these, but to eventually fight against the man behind the master plan.
While Final Fantasy didn't exactly invent the genre it's one of the early pioneers - Hironobu Sakaguchi basically drew up the blue print for all role playing games to come with the release of this game. The basic premise of the game is that you, as the four warriors of light, wander the game's fantasy world trekking across the overworld, through various towns/cities, and into the deepest and darkest dungeons. Meanwhile monsters will attack your party at which point battles break out against them.
Enemy encounters are strictly turn based affairs. It's your party against at times very large groups of monsters as you take turns inputting commands such as fight, magic, item, etc. Anyone who's familiar with this type of game will be able to jump right in because as one of the founders of the genre, Final Fantasy is one of the most pure and traditional experiences you'll find in the realm of RPGs.
That's not to say that there's nothing to separate Final Fantasy from other RPGs though. The first really big difference is in that you create your party right from the beginning of the game rather than having premade characters that fit into the story. This is both a blessing and a curse - on one hand you can customize your party and this makes the game worth replaying many different times, but at the same time this means that the characters are quite unconnected from the storyline. Most genre purists won't be bothered by this last fact but because of it those raised on modern RPGs might have a hard time really getting into the game.
What's nice is that the game gives you a surprising amount of choices in regards to the type of party you would like to create. While you can't choose a character's appearance you can select which class you would like them to be from a list of six. The options include fighters, black belts, thieves, red mages, white mages, and black mages. Each character type has their own strengths and weaknesses and the allows you to make some rather interesting combinations. What's especially cool is that halfway through the game the classes of your characters get upgraded. I for one have never even been able to make it more than a few hours into the game with a team of just black mages, but supposedly others have made it all the way through!
Because this is an early RPG you can expect the difficulty to be extremely high. Final Fantasy requires you to constantly fight through battles in order to gain experience points in order to increase your characters battle statistics. If you're not patient then this game will chew you up and spit you out because many of the dungeons are darn near impossible without building up your team a considerable amount. Even if you do train up your characters at every turn the game is still quite hard so don't expect to be able to roll through without dying quite a bit.
Furthermore money is extremely scant in the game. Keeping your characters outfitted with the most powerful weapons, armor, and magic spells is a very expensive process. Without the proper equipment most monsters will make short work of your team which is another reason why the game makes you fight through hundreds of gold earning battles. This is all well and fine except for the fact that you actually have to buy magic spells in a shop. I've always found this element to be a little unorthodox considering that in most RPGs magic is learned simply through earning experience points.
The game has a unique sense of style that is all it's own. The world map is sweeping and huge (complete with tons of locales including caves, castles, towns, towers, and more), and as you progress in the game you are given access to numerous vehicles (including, as far as I know, the very first airship to appear in an RPG). One rather interesting aspect to the story is that it often hints at an advanced ancient civilization, and you are actually given the chance to explore several ruins from this. There's a surprising amount of backstory and it helps paint a fantastical setting that's certainly worth exploring. Furthermore, to my knowledge this is the first game of it's kind to dabble in time travel as an element of the story.
Graphically Final Fantasy does not step out of the bounds of the 8-bit realm. That's not a bad thing considering that it's pretty good looking for a NES game. Final Fantasy has a unique visual style to it that's best represented through it's hundreds of monster designs. They're good enough that you won't mind seeing the same ones over and over again. The only drawbacks are that the game is fairly blocky looking at times, and that the battle screens feature only black backgrounds with a tiny backdrop at the top of the screen. Either way this is a pretty good looking game.
As one of Nobuo Uematsu's first video game soundtracks Final Fantasy is also one of his most memorable. Who could ever forget the witch Matoya's theme, or how about that sweeping world map song? Besides that the game features a surprising amount of music for an NES game, and while not all of it is memorable, the majority will stick with you long after you've completed the game. Sound effects are standard fare for NES RPGs with unrealistic weapon strikes and the like, but in general these aren't bad for what they are.
The game has no major issues with controls. Quite surprisingly Squaresoft didn't opt to copy the overly clunky command menu of Dragon Warrior which requires you to select a 'stairs' command to go up stairs. Instead things are kept simple - dpad moves around, A confirms choices and B is cancel. It's very simple which makes the game quite easy to learn.
Final Fantasy is a deep and extremely fun role playing game on a system that has always been more about pick up and play experiences. As one of the pioneers of the genre Final Fantasy became the basic blueprint for what a modern RPG should be, and it's extremely telling that most good games belonging to this genre borrow most of their gameplay elements from this single title. To put it simply, Final Fantasy is one of the most fun and pure RPG experiences out there.
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