Review by KillAllPopStars
"It Fell Short of Its Mark but Still Stands as One of the Greatest Games of All Time."
I am one of those gamers who actually remembers when this game was first released. It was an epic, immersive experience on a scope that had never even been dreamed of before. Nostalgia set aside though, Final Fantasy proves to be a flawed attempt at creating a highly involved world and a cinematic experience. Under close scrutiny, Final Fantasy seems to be more like a series of experiments, some more successful than others, than a single cohesive project. Yet, despite Final Fantasy's inherent flaws, it was revolutionary. This title almost singlehandedly brought the RPG genre into its own, changing the face of gaming culture for generations. The following is an in-depth break-down of why this game is so important and what made it so great...
The plot of Final Fantasy is simple. Basically, four warriors mysteriously appear in a strange world holding four orbs. The world is decaying and the only way to save it is to find and defeat the four elemental fiends and light up the orbs. However, despite its simplicity, the plot is far more original and creative than other RPG and adventure games of the period, which basically either had a simple save the ditzy damsel or fight the big baddie to save the world from a nondescript fate plot line. The general plot of Final Fantasy is not much more complicated, but it is driven by a series of smaller sub-plots, which keep the game interesting and strengthens the general premise quite a bit. The many tasks and quests involved in completing the sub-plots forces exploration and, in that, the true brilliance of the game is discovered. The larger plot really doesn't evolve beyond the initial set up until the end of the game, but once the primary evil is discovered, the plot picks up again. In short, the overall plot is weak but still much more solid than any of the game's contemporaries.
Here is where Final Fantasy really shines. The map layouts are very intricate, and they get larger and more complicated as the game progresses. The dungeons are all different, with a unique atmosphere and motif for each one. Even the towns all have their own particular look and theme. This sort of attention to detail was rare on the NES and is, above all else, what has given this series the huge staying power and mass appeal that it has. The world map is a bit redundant and based more on map-like icons, but it is incredibly large and comprehensive. This is also the first RPG to feature vehicles, which are absolutely necessary to cover the entire map. Another great feature of the design is the fact that this is the first game I can think of that didn't progress from point A, to B, to C. You really have to find your own path through the game, which makes playing it so much more involving than it otherwise would have been. There are even a few completely optional areas in the game that you have to search for to find, which makes exploration that much more important. Even the character design is great. While not as varied as I think it could have been, the variety of different NPC (non-player characters) sprites far exceed that of other RPGs of the day, and the main character sprites however, seemed much more generic. Still, the game design, as a whole, is brilliant and nearly flawless.
This is actually the weakest aspect of Final Fantasy. In most respects, it is your typical old-school RPG. You operate off of a command based battle system. You level up your characters by battling. Battles occur at random as you travel the world and its many, many dungeons. The commands are attack, run, item, drink, and magic. Drink uses potions and various other healing items. Attack and run are pretty self explanatory, but the item option is something unique to this game in its time. It allows you to use certain weapons, armor, etc. that your character is holding in an alternate manner. For instance, a certain weapon used via the item command might put an enemy to sleep, or a certain piece of armor may heal your party. That is one of the more successful innovations of this game. Another, which has become almost a standard requirement in RPG games, is the multi-unit party and character class systems. You play with a party of four characters, all of whose class you choose in the beginning of the game. There are six class options: Fighter (strong but dumb), Thief (fast but weak), Ninja (fights with their hands, fast and strong but relatively defenseless), and three types of mages. That's where the magic command comes into play, White mages can use white magic, black mages can use black magic, and red mages can use both, but their magic is weak and they can also be used for combat. Instead of having Magic Points, as in other RPGs and subsequent Final Fantasy titles, you get eight levels of magic, and when your magic skills are fully leveled up, you can only use magic from each level eight times, which is actually less limiting than the MP system, but is detrimentally flawed by the fact that there is no way to rebuild your spell count short of traveling to a town and staying in an inn or using a very expensive cabin or tent. The Battle system has one huge problem that really overshadows most of its good qualities. Namely: targeting. Anyone wh has ever even seen a video game RPG knows that you pick an action then choose an enemy or ally to perform the action on. Well in Final Fantasy, battle actions are non-transferable. For example, if you attack an enemy with two party members and the first one kills it, then the second attack, instead of carrying over to another enemy, is wasted. Since no enemy stats are shown, this ends up happening quite frequently. The same rule applies to spells and items used on your own party members. While some would argue that this leaves room for more strategic gameplay, I just see it as a major annoyance, and one that could have been easily taken care of.
The variety of character classes offers a great amount of customization. Combine this with the vast variety of different weapons, armor types, and spells available, and you are faced with far more freedom than in any previous video game. However, that's also where the problems come into the equation. All RPGs are stat based, but this one more so than previous video games. The weapons and armor all have their own individual set of stats, and only certain character classes can wield certain weapons and don certain types of armor. However, there is no indicator as to what piece of equipment does what or who can equip it. This means that you might buy a weapon or piece of armor and find that it is a downgrade or that you can't even use it at all. This can get rather costly, and throughout most of the game, money is scarce and hard to earn. Another problem is that you have to buy spells. Other than the basic elemental, the names of the spells don't necessarily tell you what the spells do. So, when you buy a spell, it might or might not turn out to be beneficial. Some indication of stats and function of bought spells and equipment would have raised the score in this section at least a point or two, but, as it stands, not knowing what you are getting is a huge problem. Another annoyance is that there are no revival items and revival spells can only be bought by very high level white mages. So, if you die, through most of the game, you just have to drag along your dead party members until you reach a town.
The save system is the typical old-school stay at the inn method, which is annoying but pretty standard. You can also buy tents, cabins, or houses to save and restore and save in the field, but I hate the idea of having to purchase a field save.
The level system is also a bit unbalanced. It takes way longer to gain the levels you need than it should. Considering the minimal nature of the battle system, and a severe lack of variety in visuals, this gets extremely redundant, even tedious. One good and very innovative feature of Final fantasy is that, aside from just gaining levels, if you visit a certain side-area, your characters actually grow, which not only changes their appearances, but advances them a class, even allowing non-magic-users to use basic magic. Despite this and other good points, the gameplay still seems to fall far short of what the creators had intended it to be, and, for that, I can only give it a seven.
Good graphics have been a hallmark of the Final Fantasy series since the very beginning. The quality of the visuals in Final Fantasy far exceeds that of most other early NES titles. Each dungeon and town has its own look, and the visuals are very well rendered. The character and NPC sprites are all very colorful and diversified. However, while not necessarily bad graphically, the world map is very repetitive, and there is little visual diversity from area to area. The enemy graphics are also very good, but minimal. The same template is used for multiple enemies, only in different colors, but all of the boss templates are highly unique and very menacing. The colors in the scenery often look washed, but this is more a problem with the NES than with the game itself. The battle effects, normally highly overlooked or completely nonexistent in NES RPG titles, are very nice here. However, the battle screen scenery is so minimal that it might as well not have even been there at all. The strictly black ground becomes an annoyance after a while, especially considering the amount of battles you will get into throughout the game. The menu screens are simple white on blue, but well organized and visually crisp and clear. Aside from some excessive minimalism, the graphics here are second to none.
The famed Nabuo Uemetsu composes the music for this game, and he managed to achieve a lot within the limitations of the NES sound system. The music is cinematic and dramatic, making it much more a part of the game and story than in most video games. Despite the wonderful compositions, there is a minimal amount of songs. There is basically a dungeon song, a world map song, a song for towns, a song for castles, a song for battles, and a song for bosses. That's pretty much it. There are four unique songs for each of the fiends' dungeons, but there is still not enough diversity to warrant a higher score.
Despite its flaws, which it has many of, Final Fantasy was still an innovative game that was well ahead of its time. There is a certain amount of repetition that drags this game down a bit, but it still stands as one of the greatest titles that the NES ever produced.
Buy!!! This is a game that should be in every true gamer's collection. This is the title that launched the best selling game series of all time, and its popularity was obtained for good reason. Even if you have played one of the many remakes, there's still nothing like the original.
What more is there to say? This was the second best selling NES title of all time and launched a series that is still at the forefront of gaming even today. This is very deservedly considered one of the greatest games of all time, and I can't say that I disagree.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/29/06, Updated 01/22/08
Game Release: Final Fantasy (US, 05/31/90)
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