maanantai 27. syyskuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy (1987)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 1987
Available on: MSX2, NES, Virtual Console
Developer(s): Square
Publisher(s): Square
Players: 1

A little history lesson: in 1983, Masafumi Miyamoto (no relation to Shigeru) founded Square, which was originally a subdivision of a power line company and developed interactive adventure games for the NEC PC-8801; its first game was called The Death Trap, and it sold pretty well in Japan. In 1985, despite initially condemning video game consoles because of their limitations in comparison to home computers, Square began designing games for the Famicom, testing out their new endeavor with a port of the arcade game Thexder. In late 1986, the confident Square severed ties with its parent company, and soon fell into dire straits financially. After many commercial failures, the company was all but ready to close its doors. The main designer of The Death Trap, Hironobu Sakaguchi, stepped up with a console role-playing game influenced by Enix's Dragon Quest, he liked to call Final Fantasy, due to its potential of being the very last game to be developed by Square. Well, it wasn't. Final Fantasy was the breakthrough Square needed. 23 years after the game's original Japanese release, Square has merged with their old rival Enix and is one of the most respected companies in the history of the video game business. And Final Fantasy? 12 sequels, and countless spin-offs and remakes later, the very original NES game is still considered a cult classic. Does that guarantee quality? Depends on who you ask. Me? I'm a sucker for retro, as well as a huge Final Fantasy fan, and everyone knows that, but I have certain limits that the original game exceeds for multiple reasons.

Very 'eavy, very 'umble

The elemental powers of the world have failed. An old sage's prophecy tells of four Warriors of Light, who will emerge to save the world in a time of darkness. 400 years after the first elemental orb went dark, these four Warriors with different talents arrive to the Kingdom of Coneria, to begin their mission of restoring the world.

Where it all began.
Before going into how God damn awful the graphics look, I have to reflect on them for a second and think how big the game is for an NES title, that was released in '87. The budget probably consisted of at least 80% of everything Square had left at that point. So the game looks quite awful, but most likely the best Square could do at that point, or any other, much more stable company, with a game like this. Besides, the magic effects are actually quite cool in a retro sort of way; at least in this game, you can tell the difference between a fire spell and a lightning spell. 28-year old Nobuo Uematsu, who had worked on every Square game since 1985's Genesis, composed the music, and it has been proven since that when remixed right, the stuff is awesome. In this original game, it just gets on one's nerves since the game is simply that slow. The sound effects are the worst - every opening dialogue box and starting battle makes a very familiar 8-bit screech usually associated with damage. If I ever touch the original game again, I'll just mute the monitor and whip out some arranged soundtrack CD's for atmosphere.

I have no complaints about the story whatsoever, and besides, it might start out very generic and completely unimaginative, but it actually turns out one of the most captivating and unique stories of its own time as the game progresses. Did you really expect a guy that was seeing his income go to shit to mix up a delicate masterpiece of a story like those of Final Fantasy IV and VI, not to mention VII, right away, not foreseeing the game's ultimate commercial fate at all? Final Fantasy's story is very traditional fantasy fiction, basically the kind anyone could write, but just a few dare to do it. You control four mute Warriors of Light, their classes and names are up to you, and you travel around the world in an attempt to restore its four main elements - earth, wind, water and fire - to make it a happier place. On the way, you must engage in different quests to convince different people of your ultimate agenda and sincere desire to help... OR, people are just fucking with you since you're the almighty Warriors they were promised in the prophecy, and you can't actually say no to their petty requests. Save the princess. Deliver this, deliver that. Stop the time paradox. How about we Warriors just go home, order pizza and watch porn?

My team oozes with masculinity.
Well, seriously, Square was in a hurry when they created Final Fantasy. No sane man can expect miracles or the amazing gameplay from Final Fantasy IV forward - but really, the original game is extremely tedious. Extremely slow, and heavy duty. That, and it's also a cryptic mess. If you really want a positive opinion from me on any version of the game, you should wait until I get to the Game Boy Advance remake. The original game is nearly unplayable, as far as I'm concerned and I'll tell you why.

The game was probably one of the first games that doesn't begin with its title screen; the title screen shows up about an hour into the game, actually. There's a short narrative in the beginning which vaguely explains the origins of the story, then a Continue / New screen pops up, looking like a damn bundle of glitch; very promising. Well, then there's the Character Select screen. It took me forever to get past it before I figured out I just gotta keep pressing A once I've entered all the four-letter names and classes. Any other button press would've probably changed a class or two, or reset my "fabulous" choices for character names. I think Fighter's pretty much a staple choice for everyone in the game, since he's the only character that can deal decent physical damage from the very beginning, but other classes are yours to choose depending wholly on your style of playing. Besides Fighter, you can choose a Black Belt, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage (who has skills in both white and black magic) and a Thief. Certain attributes of all classes grow as you level up - like Strength and HP for Fighter and Magic and Spell Charges for all mages - and all classes have a Master level accomplished at a late point in the storyline. You can't change these characters or classes at any point, so choose wisely.

It's not really clear in the beginning that the Coneria castle and town are actually two different locations inside the same walls. I've got to admit I was really awestruck by the first few battles on my first time of playing, since I practically couldn't do shit to the enemies with anyone except the Fighter, and there are always about three to six, even nine enemies on the screen. Then I figured out that there's a town. Oh yeah, now we're talking: there's an Inn, in which you can save your progress - for a certain amount of money, which is a bitch - a chapel (according to the game's manual) where you can resurrect your fallen party members, and five different stores. Being a warrior by heart, I rush into the weapon and armor stores first. Oh yeah, now we're talking some more: I have 400 gil in my pocket, and every weapon and piece of equipment sells for about a measly 10 gil. I equip all of my party, which now consists of Fighter, Thief, Red Mage and Black Belt and head out much happier. Well, then I visit the mana store and find out that each spell sells for a 100 gil. Well, that's OK, since mana is very important in this game, very much more effective than any physical attack. I buy two of them, Lightning and Fire. Well, I have no money left to buy any white magic. I guess I could cope without it for a while, I'll just check in at the item store and stock up on some Potions. 60 gil each. I'm no cheapskate, but for fuck's sake: 10 gil for chained armor, and 60 gil for a standard damn Potion?

Coneria's infested with Imps.
Forgiving the game's inane logic and the cutthroats in town for now, I head into the woods to fight for money and to level up. Well, it's just not that simple. The battles in the game... let's just say that at one point in my life, I temporarily quit role-playing to primarily move on to third-person action. I just grew tired of the genre for a while. After that while, it took some time from me to get used to standard Final Fantasy gameplay again; I fell asleep playing Final Fantasy IX, while leveling up, several times at that, and we're talking about one of the series' highlights here. For some reason, I started thinking what if modern Final Fantasy games would be like the first one. What if in Final Fantasy IX, only one of your characters was able to actually do something to a small horde of enemies, each of your attacks had to be "planned" in the beginning of the battle, chosen from a slow and hard to use list of commands, and the game deemed your attack "Ineffective" when you attacked an already fallen enemy, instead of automatically switching the target to the nearest foe alive? Of course you can also miss your target with any sort of attack, and that happens way more often than it needs to. Too bad a Fighter-Fighter-Fighter-Fighter combination just doesn't work in a game like this. Black Belt and Thief are useless until they get to a certain level, and it takes forever to level up. All of the Mages are of great help once they actually have some spells equipped, but those spells cost as much as your ass can take, and you can only use each spell for a set number of times in each battle. Yeah, these battles last long. Of course they do: Fighter does all the real damage, and he probably misses each third or fourth hit. Plus, even he can't defeat an enemy with one punch or slash in the beginning of the game. Any enemy. With any weapon. Money flows in decent amounts, EXP doesn't.

This is all a bit unfair, I know. I'm just tired of some purists pushing and selling the game as the greatest Final Fantasy game ever; we normal people know that's far from the truth. It's classic because of what it started, not because of the game it is now. What's most unfair, but I just have to mention it, is my reaction towards the dialogue and storytelling. In the game's defense, I must say that my favourite game of all time, the seventh game in the main series, has big problems in the quality of the dialogue - the English version, that is. Yet, Final Fantasy has to be one of the most cryptic games I've ever personally played more than mere hours. The townsfolk speak total irrelevancies; they're not quite as high as the people in Castlevania II or Zelda II, but still pretty stoned. If it weren't for just the town, the Coneria castle and the Temple of Fiends you can go to in the beginning of the game, you wouldn't know what the hell you're supposed to do or where you're supposed to go. Everyone says different things... and some of them, the EXACT same things. You can also check fountains and remarkable items for more irrelevancies. Oh yeah, and even each pixel on the ground speaks to you: "Nothing here." Just move around and press the A button like crazy if you're bored. You'll see there's just nothing, everywhere.

Well, well. A well. Just an ordinary well. Well,
I'll be damned.
Returning to this world, the menus are extremely tiring to use even outside battle. The main menu is a scrambled mess, and I don't really understand why we should even be given the opportunity to "drop" anything. Every bit of gil in this game is ultimately a treasure, so at least I'd rather sell each item and piece of equipment I don't have a need for. Pressing Select brings up the character order menu, and the character order really doesn't make any difference for casual players. So much useless scramble. Once again, it's not that the game is so obsolete in terms of gameplay, the gameplay wasn't great to begin with. I would've absolutely hated the game as a kid. Honest. And hey, I liked any game as a kid, like I have stated before. What if I'd never played a Final Fantasy game again because of this one? I shudder to think.

Final Fantasy is a hard game, but for the utterly wrong reasons. The ultra boring battles and the amount of them you need to engage in to fully develop your party to the point that damn Chaos dude doesn't stand a chance against you are way too much to bear in this day and age. Just about everything about the game is hard to bear...

...Still, due to what this one game created, I can't find it in my heart to fully bash it. Besides, we've seen what it's like with all the tweaks that came along several sequels later: a good game, with an equally ordinary storyline, but a perfectly playable RPG. Final Fantasy is a game that used to scream for a remake, it got a few of them and none are useless. I strongly recommend you turn to the Dawn of Souls bundle on the Game Boy Advance if you want to experience the game as it was intended.

Graphics : 6.0
Sound : 6.5
Playability : 5.9
Challenge : 6.5
Overall : 6.1


Nintendo Power ranks Final Fantasy #49 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

The game was released in the United States in 1990. The original NES version was never released in Europe, neither were the original versions of the first five sequels.

A version of the NES game was released on the MSX2 by Micro Cabin in 1989. Since then, the game has been remade for the WonderSwan Color (2000), Sony PlayStation as part of Final Fantasy Origins (2002), Game Boy Advance as part of Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (2004), and Sony PSP as part of Final Fantasy - 20th Anniversary in 2007.

In the North American version of the game, one of the tombstones in ElfLand says: "Here lies Erdrick". Erdrick is a character in Enix's Dragon Quest series. In the Japanese version, the same tombstone reads: "Here lies Link", which of course refers to the protagonist of the Legend of Zelda series.

Warrior of Light (voiced by Grant George) and Chaos (voiced by Keith David) are rivals in Square Enix's all-star anniversary game Dissidia - Final Fantasy, released on the PSP in 2008.

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