Review by RavenousGuy
"Not a final fantasy, and not really a legend either"
Despite what the title might have led you to believe, this game actually isn't a part of Squaresoft's most successful and recognized franchise. Instead, it's the first game in the SaGa series, Square's secondary franchise that has spawned numerous games for the Game Boy, SNES and Playstation. The entire series might be interpreted as Square's take on the sub-genre of computer-style RPG, which is very combat-oriented and put a lot of emphasis on the character customization.
With the intriguing class-oriented mechanic as its key feature, FFL was often considered as the first true Game Boy RPG and one of the finest games in the platform. However, it can't be denied that the game had become archaic, perhaps even unplayable, by today's standard.
At the beginning of the game, you'll be given the freedom of assembling up to four party members, from the selection of male/female Human, male/female Mutant, and four sub-types of Monster. Afterward, you will have to slug it out through the various worlds connected by a gigantic tower. Your characters have a limited amount of hearts, which determines how many times they can be knocked out until they're no longer usable, although you can buy extra hearts or recruit a new party member in the guild. The three classes differ greatly, and the eventual party arrangement will determine how your game plays out.
Human is the most reliable and well-rounded class, who has the advantage of having eight slots in their equipment/item inventory. They need to be artificially strengthened though, so you must invest constantly in stat-increasing potions to keep them in shape. Mutant (think of spell-casters, not the likes of Cyclops or Wolverine) only has four inventory slots, but they can cast spells and become stronger through battles. Their spells acquisition and (to a lesser extent) stat improvements are random, though. Monster is probably the most difficult, yet also the most fascinating, class to use. You can't equip anything on them, but they have the ability to transform into different type of Monster by eating the meat of the enemy Monster you have just vanquished.
Those who are more used to the console-style RPG, such as Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy, would have some adjustment to do. Although the turn-based battle system is practically identical with the aforementioned games, everything else concerning the character development and customization is nothing similar. There's no level indicator, some variables are either random or invisible, and even the equipments and item usage work in different way. There are no in-game explanation whatsoever regarding the confusing and unorthodox mechanic, so having an instruction manual/a FAQ with you is a must. That being said, it will be quite enjoyable and a refreshing change from the usual system, once you've got the gist of it.
With such a diverse and interesting class system, coupled with a great variety of weapons to use, it seems that FFL had the killer formula. Unfortunately, the rest of the gameplay is simply awful. First, the things/plot triggers that you're supposed to look for are often hidden very well, while in-game hints are way too scarce and vague. Some of the set-ups are plain frustrating as well; consider, for one, that you're in a room with exactly a hundred jewels. You have to examine them one by one until you find the genuine jewel and fight a boss, while every false guess will result in a random battle. Whoo-hoo.
The minimalist and spotty interface will also derail your enjoyment by some amount. Imagine how bothersome it is as you're not informed about the Mutant's stat changes (so you must check the menu screen consistently to see how they fare), about the attributes of any equipments (so you have to make a guess while shopping), and about what each spells/weapons can do (so you can only discover by a lot of trials-and-errors); not to mention that there are randomness factor and faulty statistic display in some cases. Thanks God that at least, you can save anywhere and anytime; without this feature, FFL would probably be unbearable.
There is a great tower that somehow connected many kinds of world, and it is rumored that a paradise lies on top of it. So, a group of adventures decided to brave the tower, fighting fiends and visiting worlds, in order to confirm the rumor. It's the whole story, which is simple and lacked any character depth or development. Your characters will speak scripted lines that aren't character-specific at all, so it doesn't matter at all who's saying what. Not that you will care about that, though, as awful localization rendered nearly all the dialogues in FFL to be very simplistic, wooden, and dry.
Nevertheless, there is still a bright spot in the storyline. The revelation at the end of the game is quite surprising and intriguing, especially regarding the true identity and intention of the final enemy.
Graphic & Sound
Even by Game Boy's standard, FFL's graphic looks lackluster. Every area in the game is comprised of simplistic and drab tiles design, and often you'll see nothing but an ocean of identical tiles. It's easy to be confused and disoriented because of the graphic, although the world is never vast enough for you to be lost. Sprites and enemy's art design are adequate, but there is a glaring lack of variety between them.
The music fared better, although not by much. A particular tune, which plays during the final battle, stands out among the rest; while the other tunes are either pleasant enough to hear or downright passable.
Interestingly enough, it feels way better to play the game on replays. Once you've gotten used with the initially confusing mechanic and cleared the game, experimenting with different party set-up would provide some fun. Even a slightly different combination can results in a brand new playing experience, especially if you factor in the rich and diverse variety of weapons. The difficulty is also dependant on how you assemble your party; it would be relatively easy if you use mostly Human or Mutant, while you can also crank up the challenge by reducing the number of party members or to use mostly Monster (although it will be downright impossible to use nothing but Monster...)
The Good Points:
(+) Unique class system
(+) Lots of weapons and spells
(+) The great revelation, music, and challenge in the final boss battle
The Bad Points:
(-) Awful gameplay set-ups
(-) Dull and lackluster graphic
(-) Very unhelpful interface
FFL was considered great at the time it came out, and it also inspired game developer Satoshi Tajiri; whose after playing the game, realized that the Game Boy can store and transfer a huge amount of customizable data (Tajiri would later create the phenomenal Pokemon games based on that idea) However, the numerous inherent flaws it possessed means that the game doesn't hold up well against present standard. It's one of the worst games in the SaGa series, although still pardonable due to technical limitations (the luxury of judgment that can't be shared by the oft-maligned Unlimited SaGa on Playstation 2)
For a Game Boy owner who wants a relatively time-consuming RPG, and doesn't mind the oftentimes maddening gameplay issues, Final Fantasy Legend is a fair answer.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 11/30/09
Game Release: The Final Fantasy Legend (US, 09/30/90)
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