Let me take you back to 1987, when Square was facing bankruptcy and needed a small miracle to dig itself out of a hole. Enter the first installment of a grand franchise known as Final Fantasy. I first picked this game up several years after its release, since I was only two at the time and I was more interested in my toes and running around screaming, and it didn’t reach the US until 1990. It has been re-released on several platforms since its debut on the NES. As we examine the first in the series, I feel the need to mention this overlook will contain spoilers – but since the game is 29 years old that shouldn’t be a problem. Then again, there are people out there who have never seen Star Wars: Episode IV, so I guess I shouldn’t be shocked.
Most grand adventures start out like Final Fantasy: a kingdom in need, and a princess to save. Yes, the Kingdom of Coneria was crying out for their princess Sara to be saved from the evil knight, Garland. Enter our four heroes, the legendary “Light Warriors.” As foretold by the wise sage, Lukahn, these fine young warriors were destined to save the world from darkness!
It is a basic plot, but that’s how games were back then and we LIKED it. The glory of Final Fantasy 1 was in the simplicity of the story. Players had one main quest; the object of the game was to defeat the four fiends that have caused the Elemental Orbs to darken; the Lich, the Kary, the Kraken, and the Tiamat. The adventure was far greater. This quest lead the warriors through the Earth Cave, Gurgu Volcano, the Ice Cave, and the Castle of Ordeal. On their journey, they must battle dark elves, team with witches and mermaids, and prove their courage to the King of Dragons, Bahamut. The warriors must then go fathoms below to the Sunken Shrine, learn Lefeinish in order to reach the Floating Castle and finally, defeat Chaos – who turns out to be the very knight they vanquished on their first quest, Garland!
Who wouldn’t want an adventure like that?
The Good, the Bad, and the Unsightly
As far as plots go, this was the one to start them all. It was unique for the time and didn’t require much explanation – until, of course, the end. It turns out that the elemental fiends sent Garland back in time, and Garland sent them forward to do so in order to create a time loop so he could live eternally, but the mission is clear – restore the crystals and defeat Chaos. There were no questions about mission, but the game made it very easy to get lost. (Of course, that’s not the plot’s fault.) This game was about exploration, and the simple guidelines gave the player goals to follow and a few main characters.
The quest itself was made more difficult by the little puzzles and side missions that really filled out the game play. This game was also limited by the strength of the NES; it was limited as far as NPC or character development is concerned. There are a handful of characters: Matoya, Princess Sara, the King, The Pirate, Nerrick, the Elf Prince, and Bahamut. Unfortunately, interaction and growth of these characters isn’t really extensive. The villains are established, but the only one that really shows any growth is Garland.
As for the main characters, they are silent protagonists. They have no backstory; players can choose their own characters. It’s a generic cookie-cutter storyline for the four Light Warriors so each party can fit the mold.
Still, the game was very engaging and the plot takes a player to very different settings and ends with the now classic, far-out twist that we have come to love from Final Fantasy games.
Final Fantasy I is a basic RPG. The player is given four character slots and six possible job classes to pick from: Fighter, Thief, Black Belt, Red Mage, White Mage and Black Mage. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, but a player must choose only four. After meeting with Bahamut during the game, these characters will receive an upgrade that will give these characters new abilities. The characters are allowed to equip items specific to their class; overtime, players can find better weapons with stronger properties, but it is important to keep upgrading armor. Magic can also be purchased with the choice being either Black or White. The spell levels players can purchase rises with the difficulty of the game, but only certain party members can learn these spells.
It’s important to choose a party wisely – otherwise, a player may not make it far.
The game takes place on an over world map, where the party will travel across the continents, through dungeons and towns, battling monsters on the way. The monsters are random encounters on the map when traveled by any way other than airship.
The player must visit towns to get information and supplies, while they must explore dungeons, caves, forests, and other places in order to find rare items and fulfill quest objectives.
In order to get stronger, a player must “gain experience” by getting into battles. Each of the four characters gets to try his hand using a weapon, an item, or magic to win the battle. Players also have an option to flee. The game essentially centers on exploring the world – discovering which areas are too difficult, grinding for levels, and uncovering all of the secrets on a quest to save the world.
Pros & Cons:
There are a lot of positives about the game play. There is a giant open world for players to explore, and they can do so at their own pace. The ability for a player to make his or her own party is also fun for multiple adventures – so the replay value is there. A player can customize how the party learns, levels, and each experience can be new and different.
Just be aware of NES syndrome; there are situations that can completely level a party if a player isn’t prepared.
However, if someone is new to the RPG world (and this was the first so…like almost everyone who didn’t play Dragon Warrior at the time) it may take some trial and error. This could also be good for someone who likes a challenge. No one would try to beat the game with four white mages the first play through…right?
The battle system is pretty archaic – it was limited by the system capability back in the day. A player would have to choose the enemy she planned to fight with one character (a warrior perhaps?), but if that enemy was killed by another character first, then the warrior would just attack the empty space. Still, each battle requires a bit of strategy depending on your party and the enemies you encounter; for example, some enemies are weak to magic and strong against physical attacks, while others, like zombies, can have a weakness to particular spells, like cure or fire.
Also, customizable characters are great – but that limits character development. The story for each of the characters is the same every single time. The journey may different, but the adventure is just the same. Another issue comes in the form of grinding, or spending hours leveling characters just to get on to the next part. The random battles aspect makes it impossible to avoid battles completely.
It’s a very simple game – with complex puzzles and difficult boss battles.
How it Compares
This game was the first; there really is no comparison. This game laid the groundwork of what has grown into the franchise we know today. It is a classic hero’s journey story: four youths setting out on a journey they may not have wanted or asked for, but they must go on to save the world. The only thing missing is having a solid character to take the journey – but that is part of the game. Creating your own heroes and traveling each time with a different group gives it a personal touch.
Oh, and have I mentioned the music? Iconic? Classic? Amazing – but at times repetitive. Hey, it was NES. Overall, though it is the first of the series, it’s not necessarily the best of the series. There were some issues with the battle system, the character development needed some improvement, and it did get a little dull grinding for levels endlessly. Still, it was the beginning, and it is worth a play-through for all fans of the series.
It’s amazing to see where this game has started and where it will go. The rough graphics, the glitches, and the crazy plot twists aren’t just old favorites; it’s a foundation for the future. Don’t forget the roots – it’s what brought us to where we are today. Want to read about Final Fantasy II?
Final Fantasy 1 - Original
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Story/plot - 5/105/10
- Music - 8/108/10
- Game Mechanics - 7/107/10
- Game Play - 8/108/10
Final Fantasy 1 - NES
A great start to the franchise, but not without its bugs and repetitive quests. The music, however, is very good and more than one tune is very memorable, but it can get repetitive. (Granted this was during the NES days) The plot was basic but it was an overall fun game to play over again.