Review by neonreaper
"I've got four tickets to paradise!"
Like every other review for this game, let me first say that this is really a SaGa game, the first one at that, and was probably re-branded as Final Fantasy to sell a few more copies in the US. Not a bad strategy, as I'm sure that to this day, people still curiously investigate the game due to its title alone. That said, this is indeed a Square RPG from over 20 years ago, and while it doesn't necessarily follow Final Fantasy trappings from those times, it does feel somewhat familiar if you've played Square RPG titles.
The premise of the game is that there's a giant tower that leads to paradise, and many people have tried to climb it, none have succeeded, and your party is going to make it to the top. Typically RPGs have some sort of "good vs bad" conflict, even if characters themselves are often developed as shades of gray. There is no specific bad guy you're setting out to defeat, and no greater good to accomplish. Along the way, you set things right and help people out and defeat monsters, but your quest is not to solve any of these problems and clean up areas surrounding the tower. It's a pretty interesting premise, and in 1990 no one would have complained if they said some evil being sat atop the tower and you were the heroes set forth by destiny to cleanse the tower. Not only do we have a premise of "climb the tower to achieve personal paradise", the twist at the end is certainly a surprise and a terrific turn of events. While your characters might just be generic and thus don't connect you to the plot, it is a game that might make you think at least a little bit once you complete it.
The characters you bring to the party are one of three types: humans, mutants, and monsters. You pick your party layout to start: humans requiring equipment and items to increase their stats, mutants gaining abilities and stats randomly through battle, and monsters morphing into other monsters when they eat the meat of defeated monsters. Humans can equip a lot of items, and they need to. They are expensive to maintain, especially considering that weapons in Final Fantasy Legend have a limited number of uses. Mutants gain stats and abilities randomly, it's really not hard to keep on top of them, but they do gain and lose abilities and you can't really control that. It's an interesting mechanic, to think of a character mutating through the game, and it breaks away from the mold of typical character customization. Monsters have set attacks based on their type, and while they have limited uses of their attacks, they regain them when sleeping at an inn or so. You can also eat the meat of fallen enemies to transform the monster into a new type. Yes, this did inspire the guy who created Pokemon. There is a chart for what types of monster you will turn into, so if you feel there is a monster you prefer using, you can look up what monsters you need to eat in order to get the type of monster that you want.
The only real problem with the character types is that humans are such a hassle to maintain. You probably need to grind for money to maintain more than one in the party, but grinding for gold also depletes your weapons. Mutants are unstable, which I think is fun, but it can be frustrating to lose good powers. It wouldn't be a big deal if humans didn't require so much gold... I think it's better to switch strategies along the way than it is to just use the same powerful spells over and over.
Battles look similar to Dragon Warrior, and play out roughly as you would expect old school RPG battles to play out.
You can save wherever you want to, though there is some danger here. If you save in the final boss's room and you can't beat him, you are screwed. The final boss uses the same routines, and you can exhaust your possible actions and lose every single permutation of battle. You can't go back and grind or get a different monster to change the attack routine. And your natural inclination is to save when entering a new room. It's pretty bad when you fight through a handheld RPG, an old school one like this that requires a little patience, yeah yeah, and get the final boss and have no options except to start over.
The tower has 4 major doors along the way, each one requiring a special orb to unlock, and comes with a surrounding 'world' that you will have to explore to get the orb. The first one is fairly straightforward, seeming to be standard RPG fare. Other worlds have a much different overall feel to them compared to each other, depending on personal taste you might really enjoy them, or not. Lacking a proper main character in your party, you don't fully connect to the story through your party, and the worlds themselves don't necessarily do that job either. It's mostly player vs game in this regard, with no character vs npc setup of any consequence. That's just how things were done back then, but FFL breaks enough early tradition that you're almost begging to see them take another step in characters. Hard to fault a game from 1990 for being a game from 1990, but the story of the tower doesn't have quite enough prominence throughout the game and characters, and that's something you would expect from 1990.
Some floors on the tower are simple, some are the aforementioned worlds, and some are smaller scale worlds, bigger than normal floors but not really the same scope as the four main worlds. It keeps things interesting I guess, though some floor layouts are something like a grid of orbs, one of which is the boss fight you need to move on, the other orbs are random fights. I'm not sure if there are hints to figure out what you need to do, I forget, but not really good design either way. I was always fond of the talking sword, Revenge, though they never really went into detail about Revenge. You basically rescue a talking sword from prison and use it until it breaks (or you beat the game, you get the sword fairly late).
The game has a very interesting focal point and goal, but does not do a great job creating a compelling and cohesive story for achieving said goal. You climb the tower, but why? What reason do you do so? It's interesting to put your own motivations behind a generic character, but there's really no room for that in the game. In the end, it feels like you control a band of mercenary adventurers, but your ability to complete the quest that no one else has been able to? It makes you want to believe you were more than a band of adventurers. That said, it's an interesting idea to get to the top of a tower to paradise, and interesting to consider what you expected to be at the top.
A decent handheld RPG for the time, Final Fantasy Legend has a terrific premise, unique (at the time) ideas about combat and character customization, but falls short with some of the overall world designs. Combat isn't anything terrific and having to replenish your weapons/monster attacks is just tedium. I enjoyed the game at the time, but it's probably hard to really get into it after 20 years of advancement in the genre.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/03/11
Game Release: The Final Fantasy Legend (US, 09/30/90)
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