Top 100 Retro Games: Final Fantasy
Nintendo Entertainment System
I have to be honest with you, I am not even sure where to begin when discussing Final Fantasy. This game has been a massive influence on the past thirty-something years of video games, and, specifically, RPGs. It is also a huge part of my gaming life and was the game that really made me fall in love with RPGs along with some of the fantasy novels I began reading at the time. There is plenty that does not hold up in it.
My origin story with RPGs begins with the new friends I made in middle school. We started in 5th grade and it was apparent that I was fairly out of step with my classmates. I made a friend in resource room class, and he had a couple of other friends who were heavily into fantasy novelists like David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and some fellow named Tolkien. They loved Brooks, especially, and one of his Scions of Shannara novels had just come out, so they were hyped up on that. I got it from the library and began a lifelong relationship with the fantasy genre.
They were also pretty heavily into D&D too. I had heard of Dungeons and Dragons, but not really seen it in person. I had seen reports on TV about how satanic it supposedly was like those Slayer and RUN DMC records I heard at another kid’s house.
The next step here was actually sidestepping into Dragon Warrior. I did not enjoy Dragon Warrior, but loved the idea of a game in a fantasy setting like the Legend of Zelda had been. I felt drawn to fantasy worlds and medieval settings, which absolutely influenced the eventual direction my academic life took many years later.
So along came Final Fantasy. The hype was massive for this game in Nintendo Power and other magazines. Nintendo Power did a crazy contest for it that is still talked about until now. They announced a guide would be coming one month for the game, and when it arrived I sat on my bed and read it cover to cover. It was so cool, and I could not wait to play the game.
One of the aforementioned friends got the game and began playing through it. I would sit in his room and watch him play and try to help out with the guide. I also started bringing my own guide to take notes. We were fully immersed in this game, and it felt really triumphant when he beat it.
I took the notes I had made and then did my own run through the game after I got the game. It was a slow run through, but, eventually, I made it 2000 years back in time and defeated Chaos. I struggled in some parts. It took a few tries to get back from the long walk from the marsh cave without dying. I lost my play through of the Earth Cave the first time because the power went out on my way back!
I wish I still had that guide, but another friend drew a bunch of phallic images all over it, so I threw it out when we moved down to The Shore. I did pick up a clean copy many years later.
So, the plot of Final Fantasy goes something like this…sort of. The Light Warriors appear with the four darkened orbs of the elements: Wind, Water, Fire, and Earth. They are tasked to restore the orbs to save the planet from destruction.
That is the plot you generally get from the game. It does develop some ideas in a not so sophisticated way, but what really dives into the plot is the guide that Nintendo Power put out for the game. Each chapter goes into much more detail about the land’s blight and various characters in the game. It is really cool.
I have often wondered if the popularity of Final Fantasy had to do with that guide. It really fleshed out the story and its content in ways that the game itself only sort of does. Other RPGs of that era like Dragon Warrior, Faxanadu, and Crystalis were well received, but not in the way that Final Fantasy was. Dragon Warrior goes over a lot better if there is more of a story to attach yourself to as a player other than “defeat the Dragon Lord and, if you feel like it, save the princess.” In previous episodes, we have talked about creating your own narratives out of video games, but there are limits to even that!
Final Fantasy’s cover is pretty cool. I love the ax and sword going across each other with the orb above it. The black background is very sharp looking. I greatly prefer the covers of the NES and SNES to the Playstation era covers where your party would awkwardly assemble in a haphazard way that I never felt was a good selling point for the games personally. I still think the best cover in the series in Tactics.
The soundtrack for Final Fantasy is fine. Final Fantasy II and III are real letdowns before the series really gets its bearings with IV soundtrack wise. However, the template for the future of the series is here with the battle theme, town themes, and otherwise setting high standards for a series that generally has always had great soundtracks.
We also should mention the excellent reissue on the Final Fantasy Origins collection. The redone soundtrack is exceptional and really brings out the greatness of these tracks.
Final Fantasy has been reissued numerous times over the years and should be fairly easy to track down. I would suggest the Final Fantasy Origins version as the best version out there.
I have played through this game a number of times on a couple of different systems. For this replay, I played the game via the Final Fantasy Origins collection on the Playstation. Final Fantasy II is also collected on there. You can pick it up cheap on the PS3’s store and on the Vita. I think it is an excellent port of the game that fixes some problems with the original, but also introduces a few more at the same time, one of which was a bit of a problem for me in this play through. As I said, the Origins version has a phenomenal version of the soundtrack.
This version also adds some useful features like the ability to buy numerous items at once. This was SUCH a problem in the original. Nintendo Power would ask you to buy 99 potions for a dungeon, and it would take forever to buy them. Generally, the inventory system is more in line with the SNES games, which is good.
It also turns on auto-targeting. So, in other words, in the original if you targeted a shark with your Fighter and your Black Mage killed them first your Fighter would swing, miss, and waste a turn. This was a real impediment to enjoyment and a big barrier to people getting into these games.
So replaying this game for the first time in about 10 years was a fascinating experience. I feel like I understand today a lot better how role playing games work in a technical sense, doing this podcast has certainly helped with that, and I see, 30 years later, the good and bad with a more trained eye. There is a lot this game does well, and a lot it does not.
When I was first taking notes for this episode, I was going to do our usual bit with the whole I HAVE A QUESTION HERE thing about the lack of bridge connecting Corneria to the rest of the world, and it’s still a bit odd, right, but it also makes sense as a device to temper your game playing skill. I realized that as I was leveling up to face Garland. It reminded me a lot of the Great Plateau in Breath of the Wild and its requirements to get out into the main game world.
What you need to fight Garland is to do some grinding. Nintendo Power always said level three, but you should hang around and get to four or five to make leveling in Elfland a little easier, and get to know the early enemies in the game like Goblins and, occasionally, wild horses. You can head straight to Garland at that point and the battle should be pretty straightforward, although when Origins first came out in the old days I died the first time because he just wiped out my group. It was weird. I have had Astos do that a couple times too.
So then you get the lute from Princess Sarah, who is in no way shape or form evil….and it just sits in your inventory until the very end of the game. And then off you go across the bridge and into the main part of the game. It is a neat tutorial section, but I had just never thought of it that way until this play through.
I mentioned earlier waiting until level four or five to fight Garland, and one of the reasons for that is that so much of the grinding in this game is front loaded, so the more you can get done earlier the better off you will be.
This time around I went with that idiot Fighter, Black Belt, the lovely White Mage, who I had always assumed was a woman and the Playstation version makes apparent is, and level four Hadoken giving Black Mage for my party. In the past, I have bounced around between a few styles: Two Fighters, White Mage, and Black Mage. Sometimes I will swap out a white mage for a red mage, but this time I decided I did not need his D&D skills.
Black Belt becomes such a killing machine once you reach level 10. You get there fairly easily while grinding around the pirate fight and then down in Elfland waiting to be able to purchase level three and four spells. That seems like a good buffer put into the game to force leveling to prepare for more difficult fights in the marsh cave and then across the ocean near Melmond and the Earth Cave. You definitely need those higher level spells in there.
It is good that your Black Belt is great because Black Mage, despite his Hadoken abilities, is fairly nerfed in this game as he levels. Black Belt and then the Ninja absolutely makes up for it. The Black Wizard becomes fairly useless by the end of the game. Once I got him a good weapon, finally, I stuck to psychical attacks instead and using him for potion based buffing.
Despite the easing off the pedal the Origins version does for sure, the beginning parts of this game, as I said earlier probably until about level 10 or so, can be pretty grueling. There are a number of places where you can get overwhelmed by enemies. A screen full of zombies near Elf Land will put you to sleep and decimate your party.
It’s essential to keep everyone alive, so they keep leveling. Although, knowing what I know now about the issues with Black Wizard, I might consider using Red Mage next time instead.
The lack of ability to save on the map does frustrate. There were a few times back in the old days when I would finish a dungeon in this game and then have my party die on the way back to a town.
Curatives are not that good either until Cure 3. They barely heal any member of the party, which then requires constant use of them. Fighter and Black Belt are powered up enough that White Mage could focus on this, but it is frustrating having to spend so much time and money on curatives that are not that useful. Even cottages don’t heal all the way!