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Final Fantasy (PSP) artwork

Final Fantasy (PSP) review

"In the original Final Fantasy, frequent encounters meant that players had to carefully execute each dungeon assault. Preparations sometimes required an hour or so of play time, just because each labyrinthine complex posed such a risk. On the PSP, the frequency of those battles has been toned down by something like 50%. Youíll still find moments where your avatar leaves one battle behind and takes only two or three steps before finding another, but such instances are infrequent."

In a few short years, Final Fantasy took Square from the brink of bankruptcy to a position near the top of its field. Twenty years later, the company is celebrating that fact with a significantly upgraded re-release of the game that paved the way for titles like Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts. The remake, a modified port of a port of a port (with me so far?), reveals three intriguing facts. The first is that people will still pay a premium price for a trip down memory lane. The second is that RPGs have come a long way since the 80s. Finally, the third and most important revelation is that the elements necessary to construct a satisfying entry in the now-crowded genre havenít changed much at all.

Following an opening cinematic that youíll probably watch only once, Final Fantasy on the PSP begins the same way it always has: you form a party of four characters chosen from a few classes that now feel completely generic but at the time represented exciting variety. These consist of the magic type and the warrior type, with some that mix the attributes thrown in for good measure. This gave the original game some replay value while allowing players to customize their own experience, and that hasnít changed. Newcomers will still want to choose the fighter, the thief, the white mage and the black mage. Returning veterans will have more fun with options like the red mage (a scrappier fighter who is incapable of mastering the truly high-level spells) and the monk (a late-game is a powerhouse even without weapons equipped). You can even try a ridiculous option like a party comprised completely of white mages.

On the PSP, youíre actually encouraged to experiment more than you might have on the NES. Like the Final Fantasy upgrade included in Final Fantasy Origins on the PlayStation, this version is tweaked so that newcomers wonít be overwhelmed. The changes, though irksome at first, ultimately make the game more accessible.

One of the most significant concessions to less experienced adventurers is the magic system. On the NES, Final Fantasy featured a short-lived system that sorted the spells you could cast by category. Spells had different levels, and you could only unleash a few attacks from any one level before running into a brick wall. It was a fascinating system that demanded careful planning. You had to be miserly with your most powerful attacks. A giant and a wraith might represent risk to your party, for example, but most players would hesitate to unleash Armageddon for fear that the next random encounter would produce three or four giants at once!

In the original Final Fantasy, frequent encounters meant that players had to carefully execute each dungeon assault. Preparations sometimes required an hour or so of play time, just because each labyrinthine complex posed such a risk. On the PSP, the frequency of those battles has been toned down by something like 50%. Youíll still find moments where your avatar leaves one battle behind and takes only two or three steps before finding another, but such instances are infrequent. In fact, there are times early in the game where you can sail your ship completely across the inland sea without battling a single monster. Some areas seem to have monsters removed entirely until certain events take place.

The save system is another change. It now lets you save wherever you like. If you know a boss battle is coming, you can record your progress right before it. Thatís a plus, since dungeons often are a fair distance (and a few monster encounters) from the nearest town. Bring along some tents or cottages and you can venture into each new labyrinth refreshed. You also can record multiple adventures, something the NES cartridge never permitted.

The game rebels against its roots in other pleasing ways, as well. Gone are the days when 8-bit hardware made dungeon romps feel like a walk across a spreadsheet. Environments ooze atmosphere. When youíre talking to dwarves in a cavern about blasting through a channel, dust particles drift through the environment. When youíre passing through a cave on your way to battle Lich, fetid air gathers around you. Even more vibrant scenes benefit from the new visual polish; pillars cast shadows and flowers bloom, while on the world map youíll see new details that give the world more personality. The fresh coat of paint also extends to the monsters you encounter, which resemble their original forms but with the expected boost to color depth and detail. The PSP is perhaps uniquely qualified to highlight such things to their fullest benefit. Youíll find that its wide screen is constantly filled with crisp, gorgeous imagery.

Sound hasnít changed as much as the graphics have, but thatís fine. Final Fantasy always boasted one of the most endearing scores in video game history. Now you can enjoy it more fully. The compositions remain simple, but theyíre no longer tinny or muffled. Instead, they sound rich and serve as an aural reward each time you prompt a new song to play.

Unfortunately, the changes throughout the game wonít mean much to those who are encountering the game for the first time and rightfully take such adjustments for granted. Much of the enjoyment I had with this newest version of Final Fantasy came from seeing my favorite moments from the original game given a fresh touch. I liked battling the dark elf again. I relished the trip into the ice cavern for the stone that leads to the airship (even though I always dreaded it on the NES), and I actually found myself excited about the prospect of venturing into a dungeon for a ratís tail. Prodigal fans will know precisely what I mean, but I canít help but think that without a filter comprised of nostalgia, this remake wonít appeal to the current generation of RPG fans on the level that it did to me.

Thatís partly because, unlike its successors, Final Fantasy skimped on plot. Thereís something about a prophecy, crystals, a time loop and some fiends that are ruining the planet, but none of that ever serves as more than a transparent excuse to send you to one dungeon after another. If you want an astonishing story or a love interest, youíll have to imagine them. Exploration, monsters and the thrill that comes from victory over adversity are your reasons to play, a fact that means the game will always show its age.

In spite of all that (and in some ways because of it), Final Fantasy is a welcome addition to the PSP library. Even before you factor in extra dungeons and their steep jump in difficulty--annoying diversions perhaps best left untouched--the game provides a lengthy quest and is one of the finest role-playing experiences available. Square-Enix probably could have gathered this game and its sequel on a single UMD. Both fit on one Game Boy Advance cartridge. Whatís done is done, though, and Final Fantasy on the PSP is every bit as satisfying as it ever was on the NES. Itís a testament to a great gameís ability to stand the test of time.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 28, 2007)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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