25 Years of NES Part 22: Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy has a title which is of course ironic now considering the more than dozen sequels and spin-offs in the Final Fantasy series today, but at the time of its release, according to video game legend, Final Fantasy was SquareSoft’s last gasp as an early game studio, so the title was apt. It is a little hard to look at this primitive game now and see the progressive title it was at the time. However, compared to its NES competitors Final Fantasy had some innovative features.
Taking a page or more from D&D, Final Fantasy lets the player choose his party from a small stable of available jobs. These jobs are FF most brilliant feature. By tying different combinations of jobs, the player can replay this game numerous times and get a vastly different experience. Those jobs are:
- Fighter: the meat shield. One of the most important classes. He can use all the good armor and weapons, but he gets no magic, at least not to start. Because the way game has the enemies attack (50% of the hits go to the party leader, 25% to the number 2 guy and 12% each for the last two spots) having a Fighter or two at the top of your party can let you go for a long time with the pair of meat shields eating the majority of the hits.
- BlBelt: like the fighter, the BlBelt is an effective damage dealer. Unlike the Fighter, the BlBelt does not get all that great armor or all those great weapons. Fortunately, he does not need them. He is more than a match for the Fighters damage output, and after the first few levels he will not need and sort of weapon. A very low maintenance character. To offset his great damage output, he looses the ability to take that many hits. He’s not exactly fragile, but he is no match for the fighter.
- BlMage: Pure magical damage. This little guy is death on a larger scale than the Fighter or the BlBelt, hampered only by the number of charges he has for his spells. Most of the battles are beaten by blasts of Lit2, the BLMage is the best choice for clearing mobs until you acquire some items that cast Lit2 when used.
- WhMage: the healer and undead killer, the WhMage has its uses, but it is not necessary. Yes, the WhMage is unnecessary. S/He is not useless, but the goal for most battles should be to get out as fast as possible, and the WhMage has few good damaging options, as well as being fragile. Some money can be saved with the WhMage’s healing magic, but likely not enough to offset the loss of damage. Still, adding one, but not more, is not a terrible choice.
- RdMage: Jack of all trades, master of none. In the first half of the game, the RdMage is great. He deals and absorbs all most as much damage as a Fighter as well as almost matching the casting ability of the BlMage and WhMage. As the game goes on his abilities become less and less impressive; the RdMage does not get access to higher level spells, armor or weapons. He is much better early than late, but is still a good addition.
- Thief: He combines the damage and armor limitations of the RdMage with the spell casting ability of the Fighter. The Thief is just not very good. He does get the most significant change in class to Ninja. The Ninja gets some good spell casting and better equipment. The Thief has many disadvantages but no advantages.
There is a class change about halfway through the game, but most of the classes just become slightly stronger versions of the original class. More spells, more equipment, few substantive changes. Except, of course, the Ninja who makes the Thief useful.
The game’s quest is simple, but significantly more involved than Dragon Warrior’s. After you pick your four Warriors of Light, then you must defeat the four elemental fiends who are killing the world to relight the Crystals. By the end, the story morphs into one about a time loop and an infinitely repeating quest. Luckily, the translation is quite good by NES standards, though it is sometimes still hard to figure out exactly what is going on.
Unless you already know the game inside and out, Final Fantasy is also very hard. The most annoying thing is wasted attacks. If you have a character attack an enemy that is already dead, then instead of moving to the next target, like nearly every game sense, it tells you that your attack was “ineffective.” I cannot help but imagine the warriors blindly wailing on imp corpses. Then there are the long dungeons, with tons of both random encounters and triggers that cause battles with every step, plus chests that are designed to be empty. Half the game seems designed to frustrate the player.
Outside of its primitiveness, there are real flaws to Final Fantasy. It was evidently a hastily programmed game, because there are numerous bugs and glitches. Some are interesting and have become a part of the game’s lore, like the Peninsula of Power, a spot on the map that allows a player early in the game to fight some of the strongest enemies. If the player is unaware then this could be a disastrous encounter, though the peninsula is far enough out of the way that most players would not encounter it naturally. A prepared player can use this mythical Peninsula for some dangerous but effective leveling. The truth about this peninsula is that the area box for those enemies was made just a little too large and accidentally caught the piece of land sticking up there. Others are more detrimental. For one the Intelligence stat is broken. It does nothing, so the mages big stat means nothing, so a Black Mage casting Lit2 gets the same result as a Fighter using an item to cast it. Also, many of the spells are useless, or are bugged so they do not work correctly. Many of them are slightly different instant death spells that are ineffective against most late game enemies.
None of these flaws really makes the game unplayable, and many of them are fixed in later versions, but it does make Final Fantasy a significantly flawed game. For people with no nostalgia for FF on the NES or for NES RPGs I would recommend the GBA or PSP versions of the game. If you did play this game back in its day, then I recommend giving it a replay in its original form; its well worth the repeat experience.