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Finishing the Game – Final Fantasy I

The Final Fantasy series is one of the best known video game franchises today, the original being a product of the mind of Hironobu Sakaguchi and the “Square A-Team” back in 1987. Since that time, there have been fourteen main titles in the series and a number of spin-offs and sequels from Final Fantasy Tactics to the Disney-themed crossover Kingdom Hearts. Whatever your opinion of the series as a whole, it would be dishonest to say that this is anything but a great achievement. But I hardly have the time to go back and play all of those games, especially when my focus is on those games that I started but never finished. Which narrows down the list to four potential candidates. And while I will probably write an article for each of these games, I am going to be starting off at the beginning. So here is my review of the first Final Fantasy.

Image Credit: Sony Playstation

Image Credit: Sony Playstation

Let’s start with a brief history lesson, as not all our readers will know about the origins of this most humble title. Final Fantasy was originally released on December 18, 1987 for the Famicon and since that time it has received multiple re-releases on numerous platforms both in Japan and abroad. This game clocks in at twelve different releases in total, but I am going to be sticking to the Game Boy Advance release, Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls, as that was the only one that I’ve played. Fun fact: Final Fantasy is so titled because Sakaguchi had sworn that he would be going back to university if the game had not sold well, contrary to the popular belief that the title was spawned because the company was being threatened with bankruptcy.

Fair warning: I am going to assume that my readers have limited video game experience. That may make some of this a boring read for those of you with more gaming experience. I apologize in advance and welcome any useful critique that can help me to make this more enjoyable for everybody.

Peek-a-boo!

Image Credit: Square Enix

The plot of the game is rather simple, but that is to be expected given the game’s age. The story beings with four characters—described only as youths and continuing the trend of underage heroes—who are each carrying one of the four elemental crystals. Once these crystals had a brilliant inner glow to them, but each has gone out, which heralds the corruption of the four elemental shrines. From there, the plot turns into a quest to cleanse these shrines and defeat the evil that is infesting the land, while helping others that you meet along the way. The game lacks any sort of strong character backstory, but again that is to be expected given the time at which Final Fantasy was released. If this really bothers you (like it did me), then at least the game leaves it open for you to craft your own story. It helps when you are wandering through the landscape for half an age.

Creating your adventurers is a relatively easy affair, as the six playable classes are outlined in the instruction booklet. You have the Fighter, who is capable of wearing all armor and weapons. His responsibility is to play tank and, as such, he has a lot of hit points. He also has some good punch to him, thanks to his impressive strength, and he is a solid choice. Next up is the Thief, who actually doesn’t do a whole lot of thieving in the game. Instead, he is a good damage dealer and serves as the archetype for the DPS character. While his ability to use weapons and armor are not at the same level as the Fighter, he can still hold his own with a large number of attacks. On that same level is the Red Mage, who is something of the jack of all trades character. He can learn both white and black magic, wear good armor, and wield weapons. However, he never quite makes it to the level that the other classes can achieve in their specialties.

After that, we have the Black Belt, who is something of an oddball. He has the potential to do the most damage of any of the fighting classes, but he doesn’t need any equipment to do so. This makes him an interesting replacement for either the Fighter or the Thief and helps you save some cash on equipment. (A minor benefit, as you will have a pretty good amount of gil saved up from your grind sessions.) Then we have the White Mage, who is capable of casting white magic—I am sure that this fact shocks many of you, but it is true. White magic is useful as it is capable of healing your party, bolstering their defenses against enemy damage, and defeating undead enemies. You are going to want one, unless you have settled on the Red Mage. While it is possible to do without a healer, I would not recommend it for a first play through. Finally, we have the Black Mage, who uses black magic, and is the exact opposite of his white mage counterpart. Black magic is incredibly destructive, it bolsters the offensive abilities of your party, and reduces the combat effectiveness of your enemies.

A land of excitement and adventure!

Image Credit: Square Enix

For my play through, I decided to emulate the classic party from 8-Bit Theater, so I had a Fighter, a Thief, a Red Mage, and a Black Mage. Through the course of the game, I found this party to work, but not to the level that I would have liked. The Red Mage is quite useful early on when you don’t have a lot of spell power and really don’t even need it, but later in the game I found myself hurting because I lacked higher level white magic and couldn’t get extra uses of the higher level black magic spells that my Black mage was chucking around. Some of the later boss fights became a real challenge because I was unable to keep all of my team members upright throughout the fight.

If I was going to do it all over again, I would replace the Red Mage with a White Mage and call it good. I remember from my very first game, all those years ago, that the healing on the White Mage was excellent and a quick browse through the guides one can find online (more on those later) backed me up. Anybody looking to give the game a try is encourage to take a Fighter, White Black, and Black Mage. The fourth slot I leave to you, as these three cover the essentials well enough on their own. Now there is a part of me that wants to also replace the Fighter with the Black Belt to see how that changes the party layout. In fact, if you are like me and want to try different party combinations then you will find a lot of replay value in your game, which is a positive. If I had more time then you could bet that I would go for a game with an unorthodox party, just to see how it came out.

Something I should discuss is that, about halfway through the game, you will be able to complete a quest that gives you a class change. After the class change, each of the characters gets an upgrade and learns new a more powerful abilities. For instance, the Fighter becomes the Knight and gains access to some low-level white magic. Where as the Black Mage becomes the Black Wizard and can start to fling the nastiest high-level black magic available. However, this quest is not exactly advertised and it is possible to completely miss it. Which is something I will discuss more of a little later on. You are going to want to get your characters powered up through the class change, so looked up how to do it after you snag the airship. You can always have a second run where you go without the class change if you want a challenge.

In regards to game play, it is as straight forward as it gets. Anybody who has played an RPG will have an easy time picking this game up. Your characters are represented by a sprite, matching the lead character in your party, on the overworld map. From here you can walk around the map, engage in fights with monsters, and to visit towns and other locations, which are more self contained. Most of your time is going to be spent here and the music can get repetitive, so be sure to find something else to listen to as you play. Otherwise, you will start to feel your sanity slipping away to the unceasing drone of the retro-tunes for hours on end. It just kept going and going…

Sorry, blanked out for a second. Where was I? Oh yeah, gameplay. Let’s talk about towns.

Image Credit: Square Enix

In town you can buy gear and magic, rest at the inn to bring your characters back to full health and mana (for a price), and get yourself healed of annoying status conditions or resurrected at the sanctuary. After a while you will pretty much only be visiting town to rest at the inn and restock on your essential inventory items. Be sure to keep a healthy supply of items that cure status ailments, because you will need them in many of the larger dungeons, and don’t be stingy with the Gil. You can always grind more just by walking around outside of town, unlike in a game like early edition Pok’emon, so it isn’t anything to sweat over.

Also in town, There are also all sorts of characters wandering around that you can talk to, which can help you to find new quests or figure out where you need to go next. TALK TO EVERYBODY. I made the mistake of just running into town, getting new gear and items, maybe talking to somebody who looked important, and then stumbling around for a while trying to figure out what to do next. You are going to want to pay attention of whatever you read, because that is the only way you are going to figure out what comes next. And even then, there are times when you are going to struggle to figure out what is going on.

Outside of the towns you can visit, there is another location type called dungeons. They are like towns in that you wander around in a more detailed location that the overworld and here you fight in battles and try to kill a boss monster or find an important item. Keep an eye out for treasure chests, because you are going to want the loot more often than not. It may be junk, but it is the easiest way of getting a hold of powerful magic items and equipment. Seeing as I have mentioned battles several times already, lets take a look at what that is like.

Image Credit: Square Enix

In battle your four characters line up on one side of the screen and the monsters stand at the other. You choose each of your characters actions and then, depending on their speed, everybody takes their turn attacking, casting spells, and using items. One important thing to note is that the way your characters are lined up influences their defense, so it is best to have the fighter in the top slot of your party where he can take the hits. Once the enemy is dead, your characters are award experience points and they return to the overworld to keep exploring. If you get enough experience points then you level up, rewarding you with more hit points, more mana, and increased abilities that influence the strength of your attacks, your defenses, and the number of times you swing your weapon. Like I said, this is all pretty simple stuff, but there are some issues with the game.

For those of use who are used to newer games, you might find the world of Final Fantasy a little harsh. Beyond the manual, you really don’t know the full extent of what your characters can do, you can find yourself in a slump where you are talking to everybody you can think of just to keep the story going, and you will be forced to grind through monsters near town to make sure you are strong enough to take on the more dangerous dungeons. It is possible to play without grinding, but that will leave your characters struggling against the enemy and with you hurling the game across the room in frustration. Final Fantasy really has not stood the test of time and is probably remembered more fondly than it actually was to play. I don’t mean to say that this is a bad game, because it’s not, but there are times when it gets taxing.

For instance, if I hadn’t known about the class change quest and been on the look out for it then I would have missed it entirely. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a hidden quest—if so then mission accomplished—but it seems pretty important to me. There was also a time when I had to visit a caravan in the desert and ended up wandering around for a half hour before I got lucky and stumbled onto the correct spot. This is largely because it lacked any kind of identifying marker beyond a little bit of green jutting out in to the desert. I highly recommend that you keep a guide in your bookmarks so that you have a place to go if you get lost, which will ease your frustrations considerably. I know that some people consider it cheating and they want to do it without help, but it is a game. You play it to have fun, so why aggravate yourself?

As for why I didn’t finish Final Fantasy the first time I played it? I am going to guess that I just found it boring. I never got further than the first of the four Fiends, who corrupts the Earth Shrine, because I got sick of trudging around having to fight monsters for a hour so that I would be strong enough to take on the enemy. In fact, on this most recent play through I went a little overboard on the grinding and found some parts of the game to be too easy because I had spend so much time farming the monsters in the area; something I tried to keep in mind while typing that I found the game really grind-heavy.

If you can find it on the cheap then I would recommend picking it up to just get a feel for some real gaming history. I have seen it for as cheap as ten dollars, which is pretty reasonable compared to the prices of modern games. You get a pair of games that give you a look into the dim past and you can kill more than a few hours of your afternoon or on the bus. Thankfully, I can finally say that I finished Final Fantasy and I can finally lay it to rest. After all, as much fun as it would be to go through it again with the White Mage and Black Belt in my part, I have a sequel to fry. So join me next time as I tackle the second game on the cartridge: Final Fantasy II.

Title: Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Game Boy Advance

About the Author
____________________________________________

Liam “the Wildonion” Cassidy is doing something inappropriate right now. Or maybe he’s just napping. Or writing, yeah he’s writing. Totally on topic right there. You believe me right? Of course you do, for I am the ever-present and ever-faithful narrator! So believe me when I say that Liam is writing right this very moment. And saving the world! Or something. Oh and you can follow Liam on his Twitter as @wildonion13.

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