The Ninjabot

Retro Review: Final Fantasy 1

Posted on August 10, 2012 at 10:00 am by Stephen Janes

FF1 Box Art

Final Fantasy was released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System

By Stephen Janes (@stephenkjanes)

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the Final Fantasy franchise shouldn’t have happened. It was supposed to be the last game developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, who was scheduled to return to school after his ‘final’ game, which was a ‘fantasy’ adventure.

Twenty-five years later, Final Fantasy has become one of the most successful game franchises of all-time. The original Final Fantasy has since become a classic staple in gaming and has been remade a dozen times over various different consoles. Here, we will be looking at the Final Fantasy title that started it all; the original Final Fantasy for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

For being a game released on the NES console, the controls are responsive to a degree. When entering battles, there is a slight delay between pressing the button and executing the action, although this delay can be altered on the game’s opening menu with the “respond rate“ option. The controls can be frustrating when entering a town and attempting to talk to non-playable characters, as the speech box takes forever to crawl down the screen and reveal the generally useless text.

One thing that struck me as interesting about the original Final Fantasy was how Square (now Squaresoft) literally put you right into the adventure. For example, think of the original Legend of Zelda, where you are placed in the middle of the road with nothing but a cave in front of you. Instead, replace that cave with a castle and no sword-giving-elderly gentleman to assist you. Instead, you are giving a small allowance of four hundred gold pieces and a weapon shop to stock up on supplies.

FF1 Screenshot

Final Fantasy literally starts you like this, with no direction or indication of what you are doing. Also, you have no armor, so you’re technically naked.

Buying supplies is another issue. Generally in video games when you purchase a new item, it goes to your inventory where any party member can equip it from your inventory menu. Here, you are asked after purchasing an item which of your four characters will hold the item. Then, you have to go to your characters inventory screen and there equip the item you just purchased. I only discovered this annoying feature because I was defeated by a small group of imps, the goombas of the Final Fantasy universe, because all of my attacks were doing one-hit point of damage.

The battle system implemented served as the basis for nearly every Final Fantasy game we’ve ever played. You have your party on one side, with the enemy (or enemies) on the other side and you take turns attacking until one side is victorious (or you run away). The magic system is a little bizarre and I’m very thankful it was reworked; instead of having magic points or mana, you are given a set number of times you can use each level spell. This makes it very clear how many times you can use a spell, but becomes an issue when I have three level-one attack spells but can only use two before I have to rest at an Inn and restore my party.

One feature that always stuck with me over the years was the ability to name your party whatever you wanted in addition to allowing the user to pick what party members they wanted to use. You are given the choice of a fighter, a black belt, a thief, a red mage, a white mage or a black mage. You can select any combination of four characters for your party, but it’s generally a better idea to balance out each class. Also, each class can be upgrade to a more powerful form later in the game, with each “evolved” form gaining new abilities and an increase in statistics.

FF Classes

On the left are the available classes to choose from, while the right represents their upgraded or evolved form.

After spending a good ten hours on this game, there are a few problems that I encountered which hindered my experience. For starters, there are a number of magic spells which are bugged and do not perform they way they are supposed to. One black magic spell called ‘Dark is supposed to inflict a blind status on any enemy. In my experience, it has never worked. In addition, the spell ‘Lok2’ is supposed to decrease the enemies ability to evade your party’s attack, but instead it actually increases their evade ability. This is just a small sample size as I remember reading several other spells and items that don’t work as advertised.

Another problem is the lack of direction this game has. As mentioned earlier, when you start you are literally placed in the middle of a map next to a town with no idea or concept of direction. The game doesn’t make it any easier, however, as you play. Some NPC’s do mention, “a castle in the north-west” as a hint, but there are many hints that lead to a dead-end, such as this one. I went to the castle in the northwest; there wasn’t anything there except a King saying his crown was stolen. Spoiler alert, he’s a bad guy and sets you up.

Overall, Final Fantasy is a difficult game to play today. I personally had a hard time motivating myself to continue to play this game for such extended durations, but I did find enjoyment out of it. As mentioned earlier, there are several remakes that enhance the Final Fantasy experience and make the original creation fairly obsolete. However, if this game had never come out, there would be no remakes, let alone a Final Fantasy franchise to build upon. I would recommend playing one of the various remakes of the original Final Fantasy, but if you have a nostalgic itch that needs to be scratched, I don’t think playing this will disappoint you.

Retro Review Rating: 3/5

In short: it’s still a fun game, but lack of direction, various bugs and overwhelming length make it difficult to complete. The remakes on iOS, Android and the PSP feature a much more polished and enjoyable experience.

FF Title

    • Mr. The Plague

      Yeah I never could get into this game. III, VII, VIII, X, XIII were fun for me though. US releases that is.

    • Rudy del Rio

      Keep the retro reviews coming. Brings me back. I agree with Plague, 3 forward was where it was at.

    • The first Final Fantasy game I obsessed over was FFII (or IV in Japan). That game, despite the bad translations that were ported here, had a fantastic story and I loved the revolving party that you had.

      Plus, it had spoony bards.

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