By Pat R, originally seen at SMPS dot net

Final Fantasy - NES / MSX / Wonderswan Color / Playstation / Gameboy Advance / Playstation Portable (1987)


American Cover

Japanese Famicom Cover

Japanese Playstation Cover

THE WORLD IS VEILED IN DARKNESS (a preamble)

So. I finished Kingdom Hearts II not long ago. "Abandoned" would probably be a better word for it, though. Despite all its glitz and production values, the game is a trainwreck. About halfway though, you realize using magic, items, summons, limits, reaction commands, and even jumping are completely unnecessary for succeeding in combat. All you need to do is hit the "X" button a lot. You usually don't even have to look at the television screen while you're doing it. Keep an open book next to you as you play -- preferably something light, like a Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side collection. When enemies appear, start mashing the X button and begin reading; you'll know to look back up when the battle music calms down. It doesn't take long to notice how small Kingdom Hearts II's various worlds are, either. You can run from one end of each Disney locale to the other in about five minutes if you keep moving and don't stop to fight the enemies that pop up. And the levels aren't just small, they're barren. The bazaar of Agrabah has no people or shops. The Pirates of the Carribean world is comprised of an empty town, a pirate cave, and about a dozen "surprise" battles on the deck of the same pirate ship. Even the dark city of the World That Never Was -- originally glimpsed in the secret ending of the first Kingdom Hearts and depicted on the World Map as being at least three times bigger than the other locations -- turns out to be a completely empty (save for a few treasure chests and enemies) area consisting of only three or four screens. There are no townspeople, no way of entering the buildings, no possibility of getting lost, no sense of exploration whatsoever.

But okay. Whatever. These days, an amazing story can sometimes compensate for a game's weaknesses. I mean, that's the only reason I played Soul Reaver 2 more than once. No dice here, either. Kingdom Hearts II is afflicted with what I like to call the "FF8 Complex": it tries too hard to do too much and is completely all over the place as a result. Fans liked the Square cameos, so Square Enix gave them MORE cameos; therefore, about 50% of the characters you meet in Kingdom Hearts II serve no function whatsoever. I'm probably not in the position to criticize, but unnecessary characters usually equals sloppy storytelling. Kingdom Hearts fans liked Riku, the pretty boy with a mean streak, so Square packed the sequel full of as many pretty boys with mean streaks as they could. And thus did Organization XIII -- the most redundant and poorly-developed group of villains you will ever meet -- come into being. Fans liked the first game's metaphysical storyline, so Square Enix cranked it up a notch by adding the Nobodies to the Heartless/Disney Villains mix. The result is a tangled, contrived story that is really nothing but a semitransparent excuse for Sora to once again take up the Keyblade and battle evil so millions of eager fans will shell out fifty bucks a head to watch him do it. "Watching," come to think of it, is an especially apt term, seeing as how Kingdom Hearts II's innumerable cutscenes are substantially more enjoyable than its tedious "exploration" and half-mindless combat. God, this game sucks. Why did it take me thirty hours to realize it?

Square Enix is beginning to remind me of LucasFilms. I remember seeing Attack of the Clones in the theatre a few years back and being spellbound. OH MY GOD CHECK OUT THAT CGI PLANET! OH MY GOD SUCH A COOL BATTLE SEQUENCE! OH MY GOD YODA! On the way home, all my friends and I could talk about was REMEMBER THE PART WITH THE JEDIS AND THE ROBOTS AND STUFF? THAT WAS AWESOME! Then, about a week later, it dawned on us that Attack of the Clones was actually kind of a crappy movie. Sometimes it's hard to tell as you're watching. You get so caught up in the effects, pace and aesthetics that you don't realize how unimpressive just about everything else is. In Attack of the Clones's case, it took a week for it to sink in. It took twenty-four hours with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If Kingdom Hearts II were a movie, I would have realized it during the last twenty minutes and walked out of the theatre. In the end, I watched the ending on YouTube and tossed Kingdom Hearts II into the closet to gather dust with the .hack games.

Square's future isn't looking so good either. I recently saw the trailer for Final Fantasy XIII and felt like I was watching a preview for the next multi-million dollar summer movie assembled overnight by a Hollywood exec board for the purpose of selling soundtracks, action figures, Burger King meals, and lousy PS2 and XBox 360 games made by Electronic Arts. It's all become so formulaic. Hey! An exotic world where magic and science collide! Hey! A stylish hero with a fuzzy past who cuts through swarms of enemies with a signature weapon of some kind! Hey! The combat is more like Devil May Cry now! Devil May Cry is what's hip these days, right? Hey! An evil empire that uses robots and legions of faceless footsoliders to oppress the world! Hey! Remember Final Fantasy VII and how cool it was? DO YOU? Well, this new game's gonna be JUST LIKE THAT, ONLY LIKE A BILLION TIMES BETTER BECAUSE AREN'T THESE GRAPHICS AMAZING?! You'd better preorder a PS3 right now!

I'm tired, Square. So tired. I miss the simpler times -- when you were more fun and less predictable. I miss when the Final Fantasy series was more like FINAL FANTASY.

That's right. Final Fantasy. The very first one. It has a bad rap amongst today's audience, presumably because they latched onto Final Fantasy and the JRPG genre during or after the Final Fantasy VII boom. A lot of people don't like the original Final Fantasy; some go so far as to say it's unplayable at this point. There is definitely a consistancy to their greivances. The storyline is too basic. The magic system doesn't use MP. The dungeon crawling is tedious. The characters don't even speak, much have individual backstories. Dungeons don't have any Save Points. It's tough getting a party member up off the ground after his HP has been reduced to zero. But most people, I've noticed, complain that Final Fantasy is too difficult.

Pansies.

I bought Final Fantasy within a year of its American release. Soon afterwards, the other kids in my neighborhood saw me playing and realized they needed it as well. During the final years of the NES era, just about every kid on my block with a Nintendo was a Final Fantasy addict. It spread like the clap on a college campus. Nobody had ever seen or played anything else like it before. Probably because they missed Dragon Warrior -- but so did I, for that matter. I don't think it makes a difference, though. Dragon Quest/Warrior may have invented the JRPG, but Final Fantasy made it good.

Final Fantasy's genesis is something of a legend at this point. Square wasn't always synonymous with massive-budget JRPGs, prettyman heroes, and gratutiously overdone spell effects. It was once a small, obscure outfit proably best known in the States for the NES game Rad Racer, an OutRun clone. Chances are, you've never even heard of its other games, like 3-D World Runner or King's Knight, but trust me: I wouldn't sweat it. Anyway, the story goes that lukewarm sales led to financial problems, and SquareSoft was about to go under. It only had the resources to produce one more game. Since they believed it was going to be the last one they'd ever make, they called it Final Fantasy. (The title wasn't always an oxymoron.)

Whether that's true or not is anyone's guess -- I read the story on the Internet, just like everybody else who continues to propagate it. The truth could well be a lot simpler. This is Japan we're talking about, after all: a place that has a pharmacy chain called Drug Penguin, where people wear shirts proclaiming "I HAVE A CAT," and where you can stop by a place called HAPPY DINING GHETTO if you're hungry. They really do just stamp English words and phrases on products regardless of how little or much sense they makes or how relevant it is to the product itself. But I digress. I'm just saying it's possible that Squaresoft slapped the words "Final" and "Fantasy" together on the box, and it happened to work out. (Capcom's Devil May Cry, on the other hand, is a somewhat less fortunate case.)

But maybe the title isn't an inside gallows joke or a fortunate random pairing of an English adjective and noun. Maybe Square intended to suggest that its new creation was going to be the adventure game to end adventure games -- because at the time, this was kind of true. Final Fantasy was an NES epic, with a much vaster scope than the other adventure and role-playing console games preceding it. Its world was bigger and its dungeons were deeper. There were more monsters, more spells, and more items. And while this might come as a surprise to some, it had a better story, too. Even though it can be difficult to get a feel for the mute Light Warriors as characters, you find yourself drawn into their world as you explore it from corner to corner, unraveling its past and mysteries. What particularly sets Final Fantasy's story apart from other adventure games of the time is that you initially don't know what's waiting for you at the end. In Legend of Zelda and Dragon Warrior, you're told right away: "Gannon/the Dragonlord has kidnapped the princess. Kill him and get her back!" In Final Fantasy, you're never told who or what is responsible for the darkness engulfing the world. You've just gotta figure it out for yourself. Moreover, until Final Fantasy came along, the hero's primary objective in most adventure games was usually the same: save the princess! Final Fantasy has a princess that needs rescuing too, but its situation is a little different. Saving the princess isn't the last thing you do in the game -- it's the very first. It's the prelude; something you need to get out of the way before you start your real quest. You don't even see the title screen before Princess Sara is returned home. I honestly think this was Square's way of saying, let Erdrick and Link save the damn Princess. You've got bigger fish to fry, kid.

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

CHARACTERS

Even though Final Fantasy's characters are relatively two-dimensional compared to those of more recent JRPG's, you have to remember that it came out during a time when most video game characters -- save for townspeople or weird old men in caves -- were silent. Next to the characters in Adventure of Link and Dragon Warrior 2 (both released in '87, the same year Final Fantasy hit Japan) Final Fantasy's cast is more colorful and more interesting, not to mention larger. Even if it's still several years before characters with the complexity or charisma of Cloud and Kefka became the norm, Final Fantasy still has its share of memorable faces.


The Light Warriors

Pick four and get going!

FIGHTER / KNIGHT
More broken than DuoLon in King of Fighters 2003. Esoteric game references aside, Fighter is hands down the most effective class in the game. He's like that guy who can't do long division but gets accepted with a full scholarship to some ivy-league school because he's 6'8, 400 lbs, and doesn't answer to Newton's laws of motion. His teammates hand him the football, say "now run in that direction," and he just GOES.

Well, that's Fighter. He dishes out the big damage every turn with his swords and becomes virtually immune to physical attacks once you buy him enough armor (and magical attacks as well if you know what you're doing). He learns low-level White Magic after his Class Change, too. By not putting a Fighter at the front of your party you are castrating it.


THIEF / NINJA
He's a lot like a Fighter, only he can't equip heavy weapons or armor, has fewer hit points, and isn't nearly as strong or durable. But he is good at running away from battles! That's what they tell me, anyway.

Thieves are all right. Their saving grace is that they become Ninjas after Class Change, and Ninjas are great. They have access to almost as much equipment as the Knight and can learn some useful Black Magic, to boot. Plus, when the Ninja walks around on the field, he sorta looks like he has a tail.


BLACK BELT / MASTER
Black Belt punches stuff.

That's really all there is to say. Black Belts are low-maintenance units. They dish out about as much damage as Fighters, but they're also vastly less versatile and customizable. They don't use weapons, can only equip basic armor, and never learn any spells -- even after Class Change. Boring.


RED MAGE / RED WIZARD
He always made me think of Robin Hood when I was younger. But Robin Hood wore green, and they don't get much redder than Red Mage. THAT'S WHERE THE NAME COMES FROM, DIG?

The name of the Red Mage game is versatility. He triples as a Fighter, White Mage and Black Mage, which means swords, light armor, and access to two different spellbooks. Though he never really excels at any of his skills, the fact that he can do a little of everything makes him a nice addition to almost any party.


WHITE MAGE / WHITE WIZARD
Hammers and healing: all you really need to know about White Mage. She's also good for elemental protection and anti-undead spells. Class Change gives her access to EXIT, LIF2, and FADE (Holy), but also makes her a lot less cute.


BLACK MAGE / BLACK WIZARD
His two primary functions are mowing down whole zip codes of enemies with elemental magic and to using FAST to turn your Fighter into a frothing, andrenochrome-crazed death machine. His secondary functions are wielding useless status magic and instant death spells, and getting killed by a single hit. After Class Change he can learn the infamous NUKE (Flare) spell. It's damn powerful, but you need to do a whole lot of leveling to even be able to use it, much less get enough LV 8 charges to make it worthwhile. From a gameplay perspective, Black Mages are actually kinda overrated, but they're awesome anyway.

Villains

GARLAND


The first Final Fantasy boss EVER, who used to be a good knight, until...


BIKKE AND THE PIRATES


Useless seafaring slobs who somehow managed to take over the port town of Pravoka. After the two minutes you spend wiping them out, their boss gives you their boat.


ASTOS


The Dark Elf who put a curse on the Elf Prince in order to usurp the throne. Astos is a prick.


THE VAMPIRE


Here he is at last: the vicious demon whose attacks left Melmond in ruins and decimated its population. That said, FIR3 usually kills him in one hit.


LICH, THE FIEND OF EARTH


Residing in the, uh, Earth Cave, Lich is responsible for the blight spreading across the planet. Even though he looks like an anorexic drag queen with a meth problem, Lich can easily rip an unprepared party apart. Even scarier, he uses NUKE when you face him again in the final dungeon.


KARY, THE FIEND OF FIRE


Kary was in the middle of a few-thousand year nap until you just had to kill off Lich and wake her up. Nice going there, hero. Now, from her inner sanctum in the depths of the Gurgu Volcano, this vengeful demon schemes to set the entire planet on fire. Oddly enough, FIRE magic works better than ICE against her, and she has a vulnerability to STUN.


KRAKEN, THE FIEND OF WATER


1,000 years ago, Kraken and Tiamat joined forces and effectively destroyed civilization. To mark their triumph, they established themselves at the former nerve centers of the societies they brought down. Tiamat struck at the Sky People, while Kraken took out the nation of Onrac. Now the Water Fiend lurks in the shadowed depths of Onrac's sunken Sea Shrine. The battle with him is only ever very easy or extremely difficult. Either he'll waste turns with wimpy spells like INK and LIT2, or he'll smash your party members one by one with tremendous physical attacks.


TIAMAT, THE FIEND OF WIND


The mightiest of the Four is responsible for the fall of the technologically advanced Sky People and has taken over their orbiting Sky Castle for his own nefarious use. Tiamat is a jerk and doesn't have any real weaknesses. They say he's vulnerable to BANE, but it's never once worked for me.


CHAOS


The evil will of Garland combined with the powers of the Four Fiends. This is already looking bad.



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