Throwback Thursday – Final Fantasy

This year celebrates the 30th anniversary of the release of one of gaming’s biggest franchises, Final Fantasy. Debuting on Japan’s Nintendo Famicom in 1987, legend has it that the game was a last ditch effort to save its fledgling developer, Square. The game wouldn’t make its way stateside until 1990 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which is when I first got to experience it.

I remember clearly that the cartridge cost $70 and I cobbled together half of that and split the cost with a classmate, so we could share the game. And we did share it over the summer of 1990. I must admit, this setup was not the best way to play a game. After wrapping up the volcano and lighting the second orb, he took the game back and I didn’t see it again until he had wrapped it up. At which point, I just started a new game.

Wonky first experience aside, I have fond memories of the game on NES and returned to regularly over the years. I’ve played it on nearly everything it has released, except for maybe the Wonderswan. With the release of the NES Classic last year though, I thought what better time and way to celebrate its anniversary than to go back to the original as it was first played by me? You know, minus the weird trading between dungeons.

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Few games are as burned into my memory like the opening of Final Fantasy is. Visiting the tiny kingdom of Coneria and learning of the kidnapped princess at the hands of Garland. Leveling up against Imps, GrImps, Wolves, and the occasional MadPony until my party was strong enough to venture north to the temple and rescue Princess Sara. Once rescued, the real adventure begins and the world opens up dramatically. Today, so many years and playthroughs later, that opening is still fully engaging for me.

Going back to it on the NES though, does bring with it some design shock. For one, combat encounters were developed on a very particular set of turn based rules. Each turn you select actions for your party to perform including the ability to attack physically or cast magic. Physical attacks and some spells require you to select a target. This is honestly pretty standard practice. But where returning to Final Fantasy on the NES brings in that design shock, is that if you select a character to perform an action and the receiving target has disappeared your character will still perform the action on the empty space, in effect wasting their move.

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This can lead to some “cheap” deaths or “unfair” encounters that can strain your patience, especially when saving is relegated to inns in towns, or usable habitats on the open world. Nothing taxes me more than losing a significant chunk of progress because the game handles saving as a reward instead of a safety net.

If you can get past that one odd design quirk, that probably had more to do with the memory limitations of the NES at the time than anything else, Final Fantasy offers up a pretty great early era, open-world RPG. It doesn’t offer up an overly deep story, but what it does have is enough to string you along. It has a solid bestiary and some fantastical boss fights against massive behemoths that can leave you white knuckled and tense. Even today, the enemy designs look great, especially the more intricate bosses like Tiamat and Kracken.

It also lays the groundwork for so much of what comes in later entries to the series. Musical themes, weaponry, and little world building items from this game sprinkle every other Final Fantasy game. For me, even with its lack of story, outdated battle system, and lack of modern functionality, it might be my favorite in the series. Thirty years old and it still stands tall as one of the best.

Originally published at Critically Sane on 18 May 2017.

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11 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday – Final Fantasy

  1. I was a Dragon Warrior kid myself and didn’t get into Final Fantasy until FFII (4) came out on the SNES, stateside. I did go back and try the original FF out, but yeah, for me it was a bit too punishing and grindy. My buddy challenged himself to beat it in 2nd year High School and he was pretty frazzled by end, but he did it. He survived with lots of Totino’s pizzas and NIN songs. $70 bucks! I sometimes forget that we’ve been paying such high prices for games for such a long time.

    1. I remember paying close to $100 for a SNES or Genesis game at the local Toys ‘R Us. The pricing on those first few gens of games was all over the place. I liked Dragon Warrior, I never owned it as a kid but my next door neighbor had it and I would go over there and play it. I downloaded the iOS remake for my phone, I hope to get to it eventually.

      1. That’s a pretty penny. I also probably put at least $100 in quarters into fighting games at the arcade. I can only guess at really how much I wasted, although I was pretty good at them which kept me alive when I could play against other people.

        If you get to Dragon Warrior I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. It’s a classic and has forever seared a deep and irrational aesthetic love for slimes into my soul. haha.

  2. I started my Final Fantasy journey with VI and didn’t go back and play the original until a few years ago. It was great to see the source of my life’s obsession (VII), but the original FF certainly kept with the mien of games of that time in terms of difficulty! I eventually gave up and watched a let’s play, and even playing the port on the DS was too much. So. Much. Grinding.

  3. So I’m working on completing FF1 and reviewing right now and I wish I had at least some degree of nostalgia to fall back on. My earliest Final Fantasy memories were with IV, and I only vaguely remember toying around with the first game in my youth. Coming back to play it now after all these years, I fully expected it to be a tough as nails grindfest but I’m kind of taken aback by it. I know I run a Final Fantasy NES themed blog. That means I won’t back down from beating this bad boy but man is it grueling sometimes. I’ll spend an entire evening just grinding experience. Part of it is probably party setup (Fighter, Thief, White Mage, Red Mage) but I’m finding that it has a lot of cheap shots and unbalanced stuffs in it. It’s as to be expected, again, but I’ll overcome it if it kills me! Reading your review gave me some hope. It can be done.

    P.S. – Any tips?

    1. It is a lot of grinding. More than I would probably accept from any other game. I did however max out my levels and finish it all under 40 hours. So there is that.

      I’m not sure how far in you are but I found the hall of giants in the Earth cave to be a great help in grinding levels and money early on. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to get a dungeon map online (I actually still have my Nintendo Power strategy guide) so you don’t end up needlessly wandering around, which can result in cheap deaths. They happen anyway but cutting it down can make for a less frustrating experience.

      I’ll be interested to hear your take on it since you don’t have the same nostalgia I do for it. I’m assuming we won’t be friends again after that. 🙂

      1. Hahaha I’ll do my best to ensure we preserve our steadfast and robust relationship. I definitely used the hall of giants for grinding and looked up some helpful guides, I actually just beat Lich a few days ago. I dislike guides so now I’m back to wandering for the next orb. I’m assuming it’s accessible with the ship, since I’ve explored all accessible land on foot. My favorite title is FFVI so I wasn’t expecting FF1 to dethrone that.

      2. The second orbs dungeon is kind of accessible by boat. It will get you where you need to go to get what you need to get where you need to go. And now that I’ve written that sentence I realize that it sounds incredibly silly.

  4. I find myself playing FF1 just for Matoya’s Cave music. The grind really was intense and first time I beat it I didn’t have a White Mage so resurrecting was a massive pain.

    1. I really love the music of the first game and so much of it is so iconic and has filtered through to the rest of the series.

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