By Pat R., as originally seen at Socks Make People Sexy


American Cover

Japanese Famicom Cover

Japanese Playstation Cover

Not too long ago, I finished Kingdom Hearts II. "Abandoned" would probably be a better word for it, though. Despite all its glitz and production values, Kingdom Hearts II is a trainwreck. About halfway though the game, you realize that using magic, items, summons, limits, reaction commands, and even jumping are completely unnecessary to succeed in combat. All you need to do is hit the "X" button a lot. You don't really 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 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 also doesn't take very long to notice how small Kingdom Hearts II's various worlds actually are. You can move from one end of each Disney location to the other in about five minutes if you keep running and don't stop to fight the enemies that pop up. What's worse is that in addition to being small, the levels are also rather barren. The bazaar of Agrabah has no people or shops. The Pirates of the Carribean world consists 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 (first seen in KH1's "secret ending"), depicted on the World Map as being at least three times the size of any of the other worlds, turns out to be a completely empty area (save for a few treasure chests and enemies) consisting of only three or four screens. There are no townspeople, no way of getting inside the buildings, no possibility of getting lost, no sense of exploration whatsoever.

But okay. Whatever. Sometimes an amazing storyline can 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 2 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 metaphysical storyline of the first Kingdom Hearts, 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 to have Sora once again take up the Keyblade to battle evil so millions of eager fans will shell out fifty bucks each 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 LucasArts. I remember when I saw Attack of the Clones in the theatres, I was 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 from the theatre, 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 it 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, the pace, and the 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. With The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it took twenty-four hours. If Kingdom Hearts II were a movie, I would have realized it within the last twenty minutes and walked out of the theatre. I watched the ending on the Internet and tossed it into the closet to gather dust with the .hack games.

Square's future isn't looking so good, either. Not long ago, I 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! You kids like Devil May Cry, 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 RPG audience, presumably because they latched onto Final Fantasy and the JRPG genre either 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: they think the storyline is too basic. They don't like the magic system. They complain that the dungeon crawling is tedious. They don't like the mute characters. They don't like not having Save Points. They don't like how tough it is to get a character back off the ground after he's been killed. Most of all, however, they complain that it's too difficult.

Pussies.

I bought Final Fantasy within a year of its release. I saw an article and a mini-walkthrough in Nintendo power, and for some reason, it just screamed out to me. Not too long after I bought it, the other kids in my neighborhood saw me playing it and realized they had to get 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 wildfire. 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.

The genesis of Final Fantasy is something of a legend at this point. Square wasn't always synonymous with RPG's, you know. Early on, it was probably best known for the Rad Racer games, a pair of OutRun clones on the NES. 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, as the story goes, 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. (It 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 very 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. Therefore, it's quite possible that Squaresoft slapped the words "Final" and "Fantasy" together on the box, and it chanced to work out. (Capcom's Devil May Cry, on the other hand, is somewhat less fortunate case.)

But maybe the Final Fantasy title isn't an inside gallows joke or a fortunate random pairing of an English adjective and noun. Maybe Square really did intend to suggest that its new creation was going to be the adventure game to end all adventure games...because at the time, this was quite true. Final Fantasy was an NES epic, with a much vaster scope than the other adventure and role-playing games that preceded 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 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. I guess what particularly sets Final Fantasy's story apart from other adventure games at the time is the fact 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 that has engulfed the world. You just gotta figure it out for yourself. Moreover, until Final Fantasy came along, the hero's primary objective in most adventure games was always the same: save the princess! Final Fantasy also has a princess that needs rescuing, but its situation is somewhat different. Saving the princess is the first thing you do -- not the last. 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)

Final Fantasy (NES)

THE CAST
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 which were 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 Good Guys
Pick four and get going!


FIGHTER/KNIGHT
More broken than DuoLon in King of Fighters 2003. Obscure game references aside, Fighter is hands down the most effective class in Final Fantasy. 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,h 400 lbs, and doesn't answer to Newton's laws of motion. His teammates hand him the football, say gnow run in that direction,h 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 wel 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 basically like a Fighter, only he can't equip heavy weapons or armor, has few hit points, and isn't nearly as strong or durable. But he is good at running away from battle! That's what they tell me, anyway.

Thieves are all right. Their saving grace is the fact that they become Ninjas after Class Change, and Ninjas are pretty awesome. They have access to almost as much equipment as the Knight and can learn some useful Black Magic to boot. When the Ninja walks around on the world map, 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 deal 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 her. 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 near-useless status 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.

The Bad Guys



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



BIKKE AND THE PIRATES
Useless seafaring pansies who have somehow managed to take over the port town of Pravoka. After the two minutes you spend wiping them out, their boss gives you their ship.



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 being 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. Though he looks like an anorexic drag queen with a meth problem, he 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. Now, from her inner sanctum in the depths of the Gurgu Volcano, she 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 Onrac. Now the Water Fiend lurks in the shadowed depths of the sunken Sea Shrine. The battle with him tends to be either very easy or extremely difficult: sometimes he'll pathetically cast INK and LIT2, and sometimes 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.



Other people!



ARRYLON, THE DANCER
The legend herself.



MATOYA
A blind, cave-dwelling witch whose Crystal of sight was stolen. After you return her Crystal she helps you out by giving you a special herb to awaken the sleeping Elf Prince, but then becomes kind of bitchy.



TALKING BROOMS
Like fifty times cooler than Chocobos and twice as cool as Moogles. Why they only appear in the first game is beyond me.



THE ELF PRINCE
He's been put under a sleeping spell by Astos and it's your job to wake him up so you can move onto more important matters. Elves suck.



DOCTOR UNNE
Famous linguist and baller of the Final Fantasy world; everyone's heard of the U-Dawg, as they call him over in Melmond.



THE CIRCLE OF SAGES
Twelve wise men led to Crescent Lake by stars and prophecy. Dispensers of wisdom, plot developments and canoes, the Circle is an okay bunch of guys by me. Tuesday is Bingo Night.



BAHAMUT
There was actually a time when Bahamut wasn't a summon spell. Wild, right? Warriors who want to prove their worth can seek out Bahamut in the Cardia Islands and submit to his test of courage.



THAT OTHER PIRATE
Son of a bitch.


AND NOW!

Because I'm running out of steam and want to keep the rest of this simple, I present a list of twenty reasons why Final Fantasy kicks ass. Read them and weep.

1.) Vehicles. Final Fantasy had three of them, which is three more than you usually got in an NES adventure game. People take them for granted now -- especially airships. They've become a cliche at this point. These days it's strange when you don't get some sort of flying machine in an RPG. Final Fantasy was the first game that gave you one, and in 1990, it was probably one of the coolest things ever.

2.) The bosses. Final Fantasy's got some memorable ones. Just as you start getting the hang of fighting them after beating Garland, Astos, and the Vampire and are feeling confident, it throws Lich at you. I appreciate how Final Fantasy always ups the ante.

3.) While Final Fantasy doesn't have towns like Midgar or Zozo just yet, its cities are still more colorful than that of its contemporaries. Elfland, Melmond, and Crescent Lake are much easier to differentiate than Adventure of Link's Rauru, Saria, and Mido.

4.) Ancient, high-tech civilizations are another RPG cliche at this point. It began with Final Fantasy.

5.) It's also taken for granted that you'll encounter villages or cities inhabited by races other than humans in most RPG's. Final Fantasy started this as well with Elfland, the Dwarf Cave, and the Cardia Islands.

6.) Magic. Dragon Warrior has nine spells, Dragon Warrior II has thirteen, Magic of Scherezade has nineteen, and Ultima IV has twenty-four. Final Fantasy has sixty-four.

7.) Some people give this game flak because there's no character development. Please. Don't tell me Rinoa, Selphie, Quina, Zidane, Tidus, Yuna, and Wakka wouldn't have been exponentially better without dialogue or personalities.

8.) Suceeding at Final Fantasy means knowing how to CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES. You have limited resources and no Guardian Forces or Limit Breaks to save you in a pinch. Strategy outside of combat is just as important as strategy during combat.

9.) This is Final Fantasy before Sephiroth existed -- meaning that there are no moody bishonen types anywhere to be seen. Honestly, what the hell is with those? Does anybody actually like them? (I'm afraid to have this question answered.)

10.) There aren't any gimmicky weapons, with the possible exceptions of the Katana, Xcalibur, and Masamune (the three strongest swords in the game). Some people may grudge it for that, but I kinda miss the days when a sword was just a damn sword.

11.) I like the Magic system in Final Fantasy. Not that it would work in the series' later games, but it certainly does here. One of the reasons why Dawn of Souls turned out so terribly was the magic system's "update."

12.) Final Fantasy has aged remarkably well. Better than Dragon Warrior, anyway. For one thing, you don't have to press "A" to go up and down stairs...

13.) Class Changes are amazing fun. To the best of my knowledge, Final Fantasy had them first.

14.) Ice enemies are weak against fire. Fire enemies are weak against ice. Water enemies are weak against lightning. Only seems natural, right? Not before Final Fantasy. To the best of my knowledge, it also introduced the concept of elemental weaknesses.

15.) The final dungeon. I always think it's nice form for a story to come full circle. I'm certain verybody who played Final Fantasy back in the day probably had a heart attack when Lich unexpectedly reappeared on floor B1, then had another one when they put two and two together and realized the other three fiends were probably lurking elsewhere.

16.) Final Fantasy has pirates. About twelve of them.

17.) Before Omega Weapon, before Emerald and Ruby Weapon, before Siegfried, before even Shinryuu and Omega, there was the Warmech. You did not want to bump into this guy in the Floating Castle.

18.) That nine-note "victory" tune that's been remixed in just about every other Final Fantasy game. I'll never get sick of hearing it.

19.) God, I don't know. Uh...it has good graphics, given when it was released. Look, I'm tired.

20.) Garland.



OTHER VERSIONS

The original Final Fantasy has seen a number of ports and revisions. The earliest was on the Japanese MSX 2 computer system, and it's nearly identical to the Famicom version. The most striking difference is the game's colors. The MSX 2 has a better capacity for color than the Famicom, and the port takes full advantage of this (and comes off as sort of gaudy by comparison). According to Wikipedia, there were also a few minor alterations such as switched dungeon themes, changed item prices, and a reworking of how the Black Belt's barehanded attack damage is calculated.

In 2000, Final Fantasy was revamped and ported to the 16-bit handheld Wonderswan Color. The WSC version is essentially a carbon copy of the Famicom/NES version with a major aesthetic upgrade. There are also a few changes to the gameplay, and most are actually for the better. An autotargetting opton can be toggled to make it so your characters attack a different enemy if the one they were aiming at has already been terminated, so they're just not taking swings at empty air. There is an unlimited equipment inventory, enabling your party to carry more than only sixteen weapons and sixteen pieces of armor at once. Special weapons and spells that didn't work properly in the NES version are fixed. Soft potions and revivification spells can be used in battle. Many enemies, including just about every boss, receive significant HP boosts. There's also a few new music tunes, primarily a new boss theme.

This version was ported to the PSOne a few years later as a standalone release (Japan only) and with Final Fantasy II as Final Fantasy Origins (which was released in in NA and PAL territories). It's almost exactly the same game, but with further polishes to graphics and sound, an opening FMV, and omake stuff like a bestiary and a concept art gallery. Final Fantasy Origins probably boasts most solid version of Final Fantasy beyond the Famicom/NES original.

In 2004, a modified Final Fantasy Origins was released for the Gameboy Advance as Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls. This particular version of Final Fantasy I is a mess. Most of the cool bonus stuff from Final Fantasy Origins has been removed. The challenge is totally absent. The MP "charges" have been replaced with standard Magic Points, and the magic system loses any semblance of balance as a result. Game data can be saved anywhere, which is convenient, but does little to make such a blitheringly simple game any less so. The game's biggest selling point is the Soul of Chaos bonus dungeons, each containing troves of new items and equipment, as well as a set of four boss fights with memorable villains from Final Fantasy III through VI. Fighting FF1-style battles against Enchidna, Rubicante, and Doom Gaze is pretty cool, but traversing the dungeons themselves are so grinding and monotonous that it's barely worth the effort.

Finally there is Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition, which was recently released for the PSP. FFAE is really just Dawn of Souls Final Fantasy I with an even further graphic upgrade, restored omake and yet another bonus dungeon. Even though its Labyrinth of Time seems a lot more interesting than the Soul of Chaos dunegons, Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition is still a revamp of a revamp of a port of a revamp of a twenty year old NES game and probably not worth running out and buying a PSP for.

IN CONCLUSION!
Come on. It's FINAL FANTASY. I can give it a perfect score without so much as an iota of fanboy guilt. Complain about it all you want, but it started here, dammit. No matter how much better you think Final Fantasy VII is, the fact remains that it wouldn't exist without this game. For that matter, neither would Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy Tactics, Super Mario RPG, Parasite Eve, and all those other Square games that have enhanced your sentient existence throughout the years. And given how influential Final Fantasy was on the genre as a whole, it's also a safe bet that without this game there wouldn't be any Xenosaga, Shadow Hearts, Breath of Fire, Lufia, Suikoden, the "Tales" series, Grandia, Phantasy Star, etc. -- not as we know them now, anyway. I imagine that if Final Fantasy had never emerged to counter the influence of the massively successful Dragon Quest, most JRPG series would have turned much more similar to DQ. And that would have been a shame, because Dragon Quest is lousy and overrated.

So there you have it; Final Fantasy was and is a remarkable game. Every RPG fan owes themselves to play it through at least once, if for no other reason than to see the humble origins of the least humble video game franchise in existence. And seriously, stop moaning about it being too difficult. I beat it when I was in the second grade, you pansies.

MP3s

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (NES)

Final Fantasy (PSP)

Final Fantasy (PSP)

Comparison Screenshots - Map

NES

MSX

Wonderswan

Playstation

Gameboy Advance

Playstation Portable

Comparison Screenshots - Battle

NES

MSX

Wonderswan

Playstation

Gameboy Advance

Playstation Portable

Next: The Terrible Two's