Final Fantasy (NES)
Squaresoft's classic, franchise-launching, company-saving, breakout super hit RPG full of scores of monsters to fight, dozens of spells to learn, many dungeons to explore, and plenty of treasure to find.
Content Warning: Fantasy Violence, use of magic
This screen grab just about sums it up. You take control of the Light Warriors, a group of fabled youths who are prophesied to bring peace back to a troubled land. In order to do this, you must defeat the Four Fiends and restore the light that has vanished from your orbs. Throughout your adventure, you traverse ruins, forests, rivers, caves, deserts, dungeons, swamps, oceans, and even the wild blue yonder in your bid to relight the four orbs. Along the way, you meet sages, elves, dwarves, mermaids, an ancient race called the Lefeintish, who live in a far-off, secluded town, and even dragons.
Throughout the game, you slowly unravel the greater plot, which doesn’t come full circle until all four fiends are slain and you speak with a certain group of people…
When starting a new game, you are immediately whisked to the party creation screen. Here, you can select from six character classes to create a party of four characters. For people who crave micromanagement (such as myself), this screen will likely occupy more of your time than the game itself. There are a great many combinations to choose from, and you can have more than one of each class. Each class has strengths and weaknesses associated with it. For example, fighters are exceptionally strong at melee combat, but use no magic, whereas black mages are masters of attack magic, but have very few hit points and wear little in the way of armor.
As soon as your party is complete, you’re placed directly into the world and are free to explore as you please. Now, as you are unarmed and unarmored, doing anything other than going into town would be inadvisable; but the point is, you have that option!
Wise counsel from Lukahn, the Prophet: “Northeast of the port town of Pravoka, there is a peninsula that is home to monsters you are not supposed to encounter until much later in your adventure. The battles there are not for the faint of heart!!”
Party management is simple and straightforward. Your menu screen gives you your party at-a-glance, with the most pertinent information displayed readily. From there, you can navigate easily to submenus for experience points, magic, equipment, or items.
Throughout the game, you will be traveling from place to place, fighting an ever-changing roster of monsters along the way. The rarest monster by far is the T-Rex, which spawns in only one area of the game, and is reported to have a whopping 1% encounter chance. This will likely bring out the Pokémon trainer in some people, who will refuse to turn away from the game until they’ve fought and defeated one. It’s a worthy goal if you’re playing one of the reboot versions, which have bestiaries that keep track of your fights. I myself have never faced one, so if you’re lucky enough to find one, good on you.
Artistically, this game is an example of 8-bit design at its finest. There are dozens of monsters in this game, and while almost every monster has a palette-swap cousin or three, it absolutely does not deteriorate the quality of combat. When fighting, your party will step up to attack, use items, or cast spells. Your character’s animation will change based on the weapon used or the spell cast. The enemies, on the other hand, have no animation. Also, while the environment in which you are fighting is indicated at the top of the screen, the combat itself takes place upon a jet black plain. While no one in their right mind could call that game-breaking, it does detract from the immersion slightly.
While exploring the world of Final Fantasy, you come to appreciate the diversity of the landscapes and the cityscapes. The colors are vibrant, no two towns look exactly alike, and every single one becomes a plot destination at some point. The dungeons are also grand, in their own 8-bit splendor. Exploring dangerous caverns and ancient castles is par for the course, but in Final Fantasy, you explore so much more. Your quest will send you into a sunken temple and a magically levitating fortress. You’ll even plunge headlong into the belly of a volcano in your bid to destroy the Four Fiends (pack 99 heal potions).
Steve’s Tip: While you are free to build your party the way you choose, I highly recommend including a black belt. Many people have criticized the black belt as being a useless character. However, these individuals have never played long enough to let the black belt live up to his full potential. When fighting unarmed, his damage is equal to his character level x2, and his armor is equal to his character level. Plus, his Hit% climbs rapidly. After level 10 or so, you will start to notice that a black belt is much better off fighting with no equipment, which makes financing your party’s gear that much easier. Later in the game, the black belt (or later master) will be so strong, he will out-damage a fighter using the strongest sword in the game–I kid you not.
Composer Nobuo Uematsu is a household name for any die-hard Final Fantasy fan. The iconic “Final Fantasy Theme” is your first experience of this entire game. This theme has reappeared countless times throughout the franchise’s rich and storied history. You close the lid of your Nintendo and hit the power button, and you are instantly transported into this game upon a flying chariot of aural bliss. The game starts off strong musically, and keeps you hooked the entire game. The tunes are perfectly suited to their environments, with only one or two minor changes I would make for song choice. The only complaint a modern gamer could have about the music is that there is not a separate boss theme, or even endboss theme. All combat is fought to the same legendary melody.
In combat, there are special sounds created for spellcasting, attacking, and for when one of your characters is struck by an attack or spell. On your equipment screen, this game does not indicate, overtly, which characters can use a particular piece of equipment. However, if you attempt to equip a character with a piece of armor or a weapon that they cannot use, you will be chastised by a rather terse “chirp” sound.
Fun Fact: The title “Final Fantasy” has a dual meaning. Hironobu Sakaguchi said that if Final Fantasy was a failure, he would have to leave the gaming industry. Additionally, Squaresoft was facing down the possibility of bankruptcy, and believed Final Fantasy would be their final production. However, the game became a revolutionary breakout hit, and started one of the most popular and successful franchises in video game history.
This game is a classic in every sense of the word. If you happen see a copy of it at a flea market (highly unlikely) or on eBay (slightly more likely), I strongly recommend you pick it up and experience one of the foremost contributions of the golden age of gaming. You will not regret it.
+ There are enough party combinations to have you replaying this game for the rest of your life.
+ Despite the opinions of Squaresoft toward the average American gamer back in the 80's, even a casual gamer can pop this title into their system and have a lot of fun.
- At times, you may find yourself needing to grind for several hours in order to earn enough money to buy weapons & armor for your party, or to raise your party's level in order to properly combat a boss.
- If you have 2 characters target the same monster, and the first character defeats it, the second character's attack is wasted!! In modern ports of this game, this error is fixed, but they also give you the option to leave it in, if you're feeling particularly hardcore.