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Final Fantasy (NES) artwork

Final Fantasy (NES) review

"The toughest part of the final dungeon for me was the opening floors, simply because I frequently ran into encounters with multiple gas dragons and their brutal breath attack. They were great to gain levels against, but when I wanted to conserve healing spells because I was making a run for the final boss, they could wreck my day."

Once upon a time, a game designer was close to rock bottom. Hironobu Sakaguchi came to a decision -- either the new game he was working on would be a success or his career in the industry would end. The do-or-DIE nature of this decision was reflected in its title: Final Fantasy. A title which now is somewhat humorous, as that game is now on its 14th installment, which doesn't count spin-off titles, the horde of modern remakes of classic titles, a handful of turn-based strategy games or those Game Boy Mana and SaGa cartridges which were renamed in America to feature Final Fantasy in their titles. This isn't a fairy tale, but this dude's a good candidate for the "living happily ever after" conclusion.

It was many years after this game's release that I discovered there was initial doubt that Final Fantasy would be a huge hit. Growing up with Nintendo Power providing a healthy chunk of my reading material for games, I saw a hugely-promoted title. With their magazine, Nintendo was essentially beating readers over the head, yelling that this game kicked all kinds of ass and only a dullard could pass on purchasing it. Being that I'm quite susceptible to this sort of tactic, it wasn't long until I was tearing through the packaging oblivious to the line of drool sliding down my chin. It provided entertainment for a good number of hours, as I beat the game multiple times before finally losing interest. While (par for the course for many NES-era RPGs) it hasn't aged particularly well and could best be described as the humble beginnings of a wildly popular series, it still has plenty of merit for anyone who can get past the opening hours.

Let's begin with that part of the game. You create a party of four generic characters from a handful of classes (fighter, thief, black belt and three flavors of mage) and quickly discover that a rogue kidnapped the local princess and took her to the nearby dungeon o' evil. Things will now come to a halt as you'll be expected to gain a few levels before taking on this dungeon, so expect to spend a good bit of time running around the local castle-town to fight imps and other weaklings. After becoming a bit more powerful, it won't take much effort to wipe the floor with Garland (that princess-swiping rogue) and make your way to the next town to beat down some pirates and gain control of a ship. it didn't take long for things to pick up, did it?

But then you reach the next continent and things slow to tortoise-like speeds. It's the Marsh Cave. I seem to recall Nintendo Power advising players to purchase 99 poison-curing potions for this place. While that's a bit of an exaggeration, clearing this dungeon does take a good deal of time and effort. It's a pretty vast place that's loaded with all sorts of annoying enemies that can inflict status ailments. Some monsters also are quite resistant to regular weapons, making timely use of magic a necessity. This can add an extra problem to the mix -- Final Fantasy was heavily influenced by Dungeons and Dragons. In some ways, this is a positive, as you get the legendary bestiary of D&D (even if many names are altered, as the poor fetish-fuel demon normally called Marilith can sadly attest to). As far as magic goes, it can be a negative, though, as your cleric (white mage) and magic-user (black mage) spells are divided into eight levels and you can only cast spells of a particular level a finite number of times. So, you'll only have a handful of opportunities to cast any particular spell, leading to you running out on a regular basis and retreating to fight another day.

This means that you'll be making many runs at the Marsh Cave before finally taking the key item you were searching for from a group of Mind Flayers…I mean "wizards". You'll be sick of this location and wondering if it will take a Herculean effort to crawl inch by inch through this game. Fortunately, the pace picks up and you'll be able to make good time as you take out the Four Fiends one by one. The more powerful your party gets, the more times your melee fighters will attack per round and the more spells your mages will be able to cast. Midway through the game, you'll have the opportunity to have your characters advance to a more powerful version of their class, giving you another advantage. Eventually, you'll be running through mobs of enemies, shrugging off their feeble attempts at reprisal and only the most powerful will offer any resistance.

Many of the tougher foes will be in strategic locations. Final Fantasy doesn't have monsters in treasure chests that you have to beat to collect their treasure, as several other games in the series do. Instead, when you step next to that chest. you'll auto-trigger a battle with a dragon or beholder (uh…Eye) or some other powerful foe or three. Enterprising players can grind a bit in these areas, as every time you step on that square, the encounter will be there. Or if they're more of a thrill-seeker, they'll run up and down a particular corridor in Tiamat's sky castle in the hopes of triggering a battle with secret boss WarMech. While not as tough as its Omega/Ultimate/etc. Weapon successors, it does provide more challenge than most foes in the game, including Tiamat.

However, with the exception of the final boss (mainly due to it having a spell to restore all its health), most of the game's challenge after you've gained a bit of power comes from large groups of enemies and not battles with a single one. Collections of undead can paralyze your whole party before you've figured out what's what. Other foes can turn characters to stone or simply inflict enough total damage in a round to cause you trouble. The toughest part of the final dungeon for me was the opening floors, simply because I frequently ran into encounters with multiple gas dragons and their brutal breath attack. They were great to gain levels against, but when I wanted to conserve healing spells because I was making a run for the final boss, they could wreck my day.

After multiple decades of Final Fantasy games, the first one isn't the most memorable or fun of the bunch, but it does hold a soft spot in my heart. While it can be a bit clunky and painful near the beginning, once you've gotten a few levels and can hold your own in dungeons for a little while, it can be a pretty decent old-school experience that can at least hold its own with other eight-bit RPGs.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 12, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 12, 2011:

Great review, Rob! I was hoping not to be the only one contributing this week.

There is one place where you have "you characters" instead of "your characters".

Again, great work. You really captured the excitement of playing this back in the day.
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threetimes posted August 13, 2011:

I've never played this game, and I doubt I ever will as I guess the game fares better with the benefit of nostalgia. The review seemed a bit short on some details though, such as the music, and story, and I thought parts of the second paragraph seemed a bit redundant and could be trimmed a bit. Great introduction, giving the context of the game, and I appreciated the clear descriptions of the gameplay so I know exactly what to expect IF I ever change my mind!
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overdrive posted August 15, 2011:


Part of the lack of music description is because this is a pure nostaglia review that I was doing off memory. Which means any music description would be "the stuff I kinda remember was pretty cool, I think". So I decided to go away from that.

As for the story, there's really not much of one. You go around the world and do stuff. Eventually you find a group of sages in their own little village. They tell you about the four elemental fiends. But there's really no plot other than an excuse to tie the dungeons together. And, once again, that wound up being something that really didn't stick out in my mind enough to really bring up. It's one of those old-school RPGs that is more about exploration and dungeon crawling than plot. Really, of the American-released 8-bit RPGs, I don't know if any other than Dragon Warrior IV had a plot that was more than a flimsy excuse for you to explore the world and kill every monster you see.

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