Swervin’ on dat EXP.
Call me crazy, but I secretly love old school RPGs. You know, the ones where it takes hours of grinding to make any actual progress, the stories are as simple as “save this bish princess and banish evil,” and the graphics are primitive and crude. There’s just an infectious charm about these RPGs that keeps me coming back to them. I don’t know what prompted me to do so, but I recently began replaying the original FINAL FANTASY (by way of the marvelous FINAL FANTASY ORIGINS for the original PlayStation) and I’m struck by just how well the game holds up.
As you’re surely aware, Squaresoft released the original Final Fantasy for the NES in 1990 here in the West. By then, U.S. NES owners had already gotten a chance to play the formative RPG, DRAGON WARRIOR (its sequel, DRAGON WARRIOR II, launched the same year as Final Fantasy), as well as the less than stellar HYDLIDE, and a port of ULTIMA III. The RPG genre was finding its legs and proving to be a successful genre on home consoles, and one could argue that Final Fantasy is the cause of this.
How did this happen? Well, Final Fantasy built upon the foundation laid by Dragon Warrior by expanding the playable party from just one character to four. The battle perspective changed from first person to a third person side view of the action. Characters were given defined classes at the start of the adventure, which was customizable to the player’s wishes.
Not only were the fundamental changes to the core system a huge leap forward for the genre, the scope of Final Fantasy compared to Dragon Warrior was considerably larger, tasking players with exploring much more exotic and varied locales. Indeed, Final Fantasy added more depth to its world in peril that Dragon Warrior only hinted at.
Chances are you already knew this stuff. So, the whole point of this article is to chronicle some of my observations about how well the game has aged (well, to be fair, I *am* playing the “nice” version that fixes a few cruel design elements from the original game).
I’d like to come back to the scope of Final Fantasy in terms of its game world and story. I’m at the period now where I’ve restored 3 of the 4 crystals, with a game clock of around 30+ hours. In that time, I’ve visited volcanoes, caves, sunken shrines, and ancient castle ruins. The amount of variety in a game of this vintage is really stunning to me. Although future installments of the series would go to even more expansive and exotic locales, the fact that the original entry has such a large game world for the time of release is impressive.
Players of the original NES version were treated to a grueling game, in which the law of the land was to level up or die. Old school RPGs did not play around with you. Even normal random encounters can go south incredibly quickly, and one unfortunate “miss” from your fighter could spell certain doom for parties of any level, depending on the encounter. Even low tier enemies can hit you with particularly nasty status ailments, such as paralyzing your party, poison or stone. In later RPGs, and even later entries of the same franchise, many of these ailments were merely nuisances. Getting your only white mage turned to stone while in the middle of a huge dungeon in the original Final Fantasy, though? That is incredibly pressing. Better hope and pray that you’ve stocked a few Gold Needles.
The Origins version of the game does tidy up a few of the more annoying menu and usability issues. For example, if two members of your party target the same enemy and the enemy is killed before your second party member’s turn, they will automatically select another target in the group. The original NES version had the second party member using their turn by attacking the now empty space, which can lead to a simple wasted turn at best and the death of your party at worst. You can also now see what benefits equipment in the various shops scattered around the world have for you. Previously, you’d only guess whether that new sword or shield was actually better or worse than your current gear, which is no way to live.
Another aspect of Final Fantasy that has stood the test of time is the soundtrack, composed by Nobuo Uematsu. His later soundtracks for the series may have been wildly more ambitious and layered, but the soundtrack to the original game stands tall as instantly memorable and perfectly suited to the adventure. The Origins version has a lovingly rearranged score that is a treat to listen to.
As it stands, the original Final Fantasy is still a fantasy worth experiencing, primitive rough edges and all. There is an infinite number of formats you can purchase the game for (mobile phones, GBA, PSN, Wii Virtual Console, etc.), and I’d recommend slugging it out and seeing it to the end. Just be sure to listen to some episodes of Qoopa Klub during those grinding sessions.