Retro games are a hot commodity. With the Xbox Live Arcade and Wii's Virtual Console, it's quickly becoming a prolific segment of the industry. Blogcritics is going to start looking at gaming's generally under-appreciated past in a different way.
Teaming up with classic gaming database Digital Press, Blogcritics will be presenting some lost or under-appreciated classics in short reviews. Extras may include odd facts, the title's impact on the industry, some personal retrospective, different ports the game may have received, and how well they hold up on today's market. Our hope would be to introduce a new generation of gamers, or even those who recently purchased a game console for the first time to those games they missed and the legacy they left behind.
The United States wasn’t really a very friendly place to put out RPGs in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Meanwhile, gaming developer Square was running out of time, money, and resources. In a spectacular display which solved both problems, Final Fantasy was released for the NES, and the rest is history.
Considering the highly developed and carefully thought out storylines of RPGs today, the scant one provided for FFI seems almost laughable. You play as a group of four young’uns traveling for no particular reason into the city of Coneria. As it is often in RPGs, the group just happens to be the legendary group of Light Warriors destined to save the world from the evil Chaos that is plaguing the world. (Literally and figuratively, of course. The end boss is actually named Chaos. Heh.)
One of the main draws for this is the ability to mix and match the various light warrior models in your team, making for some decent customization. You can even name them, as long as your names don’t include more than four letters. God forbid if you want to name your Red Mage “Rumplestiltskin.” Then again, with only four letters available most people just automatically go for the dirty words, so no problem there.
The customization of team can even change the way you play the game. Enjoy exploding things? Go with a team of four Black Mages. Enjoy swords? Four Fighters is the way to go. Enjoy getting your team slaughtered mercilessly and barely making it one step away from a city without getting beaten by a bunny rabbit? Four Black Belts for you, thank you very much.
The game, being one of the first real games of its type, did have its fair share of flaws. Apparently the Light Warriors aren’t the smartest bunch, as you often find yourself attacking the empty spaces where enemies once stood. The rate at which random encounters occur is often overwhelming, and the speed of the game is at a slug's pace, something which may claw at your patience after a long session of game play. The inability to buy items in groups is also a bit of a nerve-wracker. Buying 99 potions one at a time may eventually make you want to claw your eyes out with a spork on the fourth time doing so.
The sprites for this game aren’t nearly up to par with even some other games on the NES. They do have their own little charming kind of demeanor about them, even if it’s just the cuteness factor. Some of the enemy sprites are quite well made as well. Animation sprites are practically non-existent, with only six different movements available for each character, and only one for each enemy.
Obviously the Final Fantasy series worked out, as it’s still Square’s (now called Square Enix) biggest money-maker. The original still stands strong, though. Many of the elements found in the future Final Fantasy games came from this original. Customizable character parties, selectable spells, various differing mage classes — all came from the gem of a series starter.
FFI itself has seen numerous ports to the Game Boy and PlayStation One in years past, often packaged with FFII for some odd reason. I’d personally say none of the ports have the original game’s inlaid charms, but at least some of the problems in the original were fixed. I’m looking at you, “attacking already dead enemies.”
Facts and notables
The name of the game is a bit of a pun. Since Square was about to go under due to lack of funds, that game could truly have been the FINAL fantasy they would release.
An interesting Easter egg appears when you’re on the ship. Pressing the B button 55 times while holding the A button brings up a sliding tile game, which gives you 100 free gold when beaten. The game can be replayed as many times as you wish.
A misplaced enemy overlay map in the game allows you to fight enemies almost twice your level near the beginning of the game, allowing easy level-ups in that area.
Two of the most well known songs in the Final Fantasy series originated in this game, the "End of Battle" jingle and the chiming main series theme.
Seeing as how I was only 3 years old when the game was released, I really didn’t have much of a stake in its original success. It was, however, one of the first games I played on the beat-up NES I received when I was 7. Even back in those days, the greatness of the game did not elude me. I was struck by the team customization abilities and incredible variety of enemies. You might even say that FFI was one of the biggest triggers to making RPGs my favorite genre. Even today it remains one of my personal favorites, and I still quite enjoy striking up a new game every so often, if only just to see how quickly one dies with a team of four white mages.
The answer is very quickly, by the way. Very, very quickly. Seriously, I lost to a freaking Goblin on my way out of Coneria.
Images and review courtesy of Digital Press.