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Final Fantasy (NES) artwork

Final Fantasy (NES) review

"There was a time when most of my friends were discovering girls and I was completely ignoring them. I had bigger things to worry about, like how to best destroy Kary and restore the fire crystal. While most of my friends were talking about boobs and making out, I was talking about swords and critical strikes. Final Fantasy was one of those gateways to the realm of extended virginity, but it was a blast. "

There was a time when most of my friends were discovering girls and I was completely ignoring them. I had bigger things to worry about, like how to best destroy Kary and restore the fire crystal. While most of my friends were talking about boobs and making out, I was talking about swords and critical strikes. Final Fantasy was one of those gateways to the realm of extended virginity, but it was a blast.

Here you had a whole world to explore and many discoveries to make. It wasn't like Dragon Warrior where you bump around in the dark for hours on end, hoping the next slew of enemies won't rip you shreds, or that the area you're currently heading to is actually useful. People didn't speak in arbitrary rumors that may or may not be of use. NPCs pointed you in the right direction, practically drawing lines from one destination to the next for you on your map.

Just one trip from a town to a dungeon was a pilgrimage in itself. The only save point was the inn, so dying was always a huge setback. You couldn't just reload at a save point in the cave, you had to crawl all the way back there and hope you didn't die again. It made survival that much more important, teaching you to ration your spells and items out carefully. Grinding for money and experience became key and boosted your play time, and also ensured that you wouldn't see the sun for a few days even at the behest of your mother.

You didn't make this pilgrimage alone, but with your cast of four created characters. Your team wasn't captained by a gender-bending emo kid with an awesome sword or a busty femme fatale who knew martial arts, but by characters of your choosing, given whatever immature and/or phallic names you desire. Your captain could be a fighter named Dick, or maybe a monk named Wang. What you choose could effect the challenge. Going through with a more balanced group, fighters and mages, isn't nearly as tough as going through with, say, four white mages. You had to use your noggin if you wanted to get farther than the second dungeon. It meant you had to really get to know your party, do their nails, sleep in the same tent with them, fix them suppers and read them bedtime stories. Not only did this lead to solid strategizing, but played into the tricky battle system.

You had to know just how powerful your characters were and how weak your enemy was, because this game did not automatically switch targets when one died. If you assigned two people to attack a wolf and the first person scored the kill, the second person would still run that dead wolf through with gusto. Mashing the A button to get through a battle wasn't preferable. Square wanted you engaged through the whole thing.

Final Fantasy certainly was a trip. It was a great way to spend late summer nights when you had nothing else to do.

But that was the early 90s. Two decades have passed, and now the magic has faded. It wasn't just the fact that I outgrew my pre-teen years and finally took an interest in girls, but something far more sinister.

Perhaps you didn't know this: the suffix -algia is one generally used in the medical world to mean “pain.” Going back and replaying the NES version of Final Fantasy taught me what the painful part of “nostalgia” meant: that sometimes looking back with new eyes spoils what used to be a great thing. Somehow, Final Fantasy didn't age well.

That battle system I so adored now feels tedious and illogical. If Dick kills an ogre, why would Wang still rush in to try to score a shot on it? Any warrior with at least three brain cells would leave the bloody, twitching ogre alone and focus on the one not on the ground profusely hemorrhaging. You aren't tearing through battles and decimating your foes, but you're slowly boring your enemies to death. If you bump into a slew of weak enemies, you can't just mash A and watch the bodies hit the floor. You have to guide all four of your characters to attack a specific target. After about an hour of doing this, it becomes maddening. You feel like you should just slice through some battles, but the game will not let you. Only difficult battles hold any sense of engagement anymore.

Where I was glued to the TV before, excited to explore a new dungeon, I now can't keep my eyelids open. Just watching my character slowly inch his way from town to the next dungeon without falling asleep is a challenge. Going through dungeons is even worse, as the game jacks up the encounter rate and forces you to fight an insane number of slow battles. The worst is getting an hour in your trip from town and dying, having to start all the way back at town again.

Maybe I've been spoiled by later Final Fantasy games, but I honestly would rather play them.

Square so loved the game that saved their asses that they decided to remake it. Perhaps that also spoiled my perception.

Final Fantasy Origins came out on PlayStation with a remake of the original FF. Among its highlights are an improved battle system and the ability to run, basically fixing two aspects that didn't age well. Effectively, Square put a bullet in Final Fantasy's head.

Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls hit Gameboy Advance. It was an easier remake of the game, being marketed as an “on the go” version with new secrets, special optional boss battles and even slicker motion than before. Getting to Kary Marilith takes next to no time at all, and defeating her requires a minimal effort. And you can save anywhere. For those of you who don't want to spend an hour going through a dungeon and trying to fight heavy eyelids, Dawn of Souls might be your ticket. It wasn't really a replacement for the original, but an interesting and fast-paced take.

Now Square has launched their precious title into the sky and fired a rocket at it, blowing it smithereens. When the PSP version was released, they waited for the pieces to rain down and incinerated them with a magic flamethrower.

Yet they didn't see that one part fall separately from the rest, the biggest part still in tact that somehow remains relevant: the nostalgia factor. It's painful, but for those who appreciate a truly rustic RPG experience--the 8-bit graphics, the insane difficulty, the primitive music--Final Fantasy is still worth your time. If, however, you're like me and you lack the patience anymore to delve into gaming sessions that take several hours to make very little progress, then you're better off picking up one of the three remakes. They do their part to address the flaws and the pieces that didn't age well, rendering the original obsolete.

It doesn't mean, however, that I don't appreciate the game. The legacy it left is definitely amazing, and for that it should still be remembered as a classic, even if it didn't age well.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (March 05, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Final Fantasy review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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honestgamer posted March 05, 2011:

I hope you'll go back through later, with fresh eyes, and pick up some of the areas that could use with smoothing out because this is a dang good review! You did a nice job of addressing the flaws in the game--bringing back for me the humorous memory of my fighter taking a few steps forward and swinging his sword at nothing as powerful enemies that remained that could very likely take him out the next round--and you also did well to point to the remakes that eliminate the very issues that still render the original game a more challenging play. Final Fantasy Origins on the PlayStation is probably the best way to play the game now, since you can select a tougher difficulty level while still keeping some of the most welcome improvements. I never played the GBA version, and I can't remember what settings the PSP version had (I could look, since I still own it, but I'm lazy). Anyway, this was great stuff.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 05, 2011:

Thanks, Jason! I fixed some of the errors in the review, but I'm not sure I got them all.

Dawn of Souls is actually fun. I was pretty amazed at how a game that feels "dumbed down" can still be a lot of fun. I think the hidden boss battles (like fighting the four fiends from FFIV) helped quite a bit.
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fleinn posted March 05, 2011:

Neat review. Really like the thread here. It might work even better if you headed it off with a bit more detached descriptions in the intro. I honestly think the embarrassing details are great - but if you want to tie it to the twist in the review, then maybe opening it with.. I don't know.. a "Once Upon a Time" might work out to set the context in the first paragraph. Since it might only take shape when you explain the nostalgia bit halfway.

This is the money-shot, imo :)
"Going back and replaying the NES version of Final Fantasy taught me what the painful part of “nostalgia” meant: that sometimes looking back with new eyes spoils what used to be a great thing. Somehow, Final Fantasy didn't age well."

..suppose it could be "Sometimes looking back... finally learned the painful part of N. when going back to replay...". To avoid "Final Fantasy taught me". But.. tastes, I guess.

And you missed a really, really good opportunity to use a semicolon! :D lol

Great job, though. Difficult, difficult review to pull off.
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overdrive posted March 05, 2011:

Great review that really sums up my feelings about the game (from "extended virginity" *sob* through not so great anymore).

Question about Dawn of Souls? Does that game also make FF2 easier to get into? I tried playing it once and it was just annoying. Every time I felt like I'd gotten my party in good form, I suddenly found things grinding to a halt because I had to wait through battles until the crap character upgrade SAGAFAIL system churned out HP and other bonuses.

I'd actually consider giving it another shot down the road (as for FF1), but I don't think I can bear to play actual NES/Famicom versions of either ever again.
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joseph_valencia posted March 06, 2011:

FF2 is hard to play in any version, but I've gotten furthest on the GBA one. You periodically get free HP upgrades.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 06, 2011:

I was able to complete the GBA version of II. I can't say how it compares to any other version, but the GBA one is at least palatable.

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