Review by fduboo

"Dragon Warrior began the console RPG phenomenon; Final Fantasy perfected it."

Final Fantasy, the first in the long line of memorable Square RPGs, is a classic in its own right. It is one of the earliest console role playing games, but it breaks much new ground and introduces numerous new elements to the genre that still form the backbone of any well-done game today.

The game begins with a blue screen, and white letters appear line by line to deliver the player the back story. The basic gist of the plot is that the world, balanced by the elemental powers of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air (represented by Orbs) is in peril. Four evil spirits have upset the balance of power that has kept the world at peace, and as a result monsters have overrun the land and the outside environs are no longers safe places to be. However, you assume the role of four ''Light Warriors,'' adventurers who are fated to meet this evil head on and possibly triumph in restoring the world to its former state of balance. Choosing four heroes from a pool of six different classes (in any combination you choose), you begin your journey...

The visuals in Final Fantasy are well drawn for their time period. Considering that this game was exponentially longer than Dragon Warrior, and contained much more variety in terms of sprites and environments than most platformers, it is a wonder that Square was able to fit such a cleanly drawn fantasy world in a Nintendo cartridge at all. The towns and maps that comprise the adventuring component of FF are not terribly detailed, but neat; forests are green with black lines to delineate trees, and people that inhabit the many countries are dressed in clothes of contrasting colors and styles. While some people may wear white robes, others wear emerald green jackets and brown trousers. Enemies that you must fight throughout the game are impressively drawn and detailed (the Giants and Creeps are standouts in my opinion- very evil-looking). Although the game pales in comparison to Super Mario Brothers 3 and other games released in the same year on the NES, Final Fantasy is by no means hard on the eyes.

The music in the game is decent. The game starts with a cascading-type MIDI piano that sounds very portentious and optimistic. Already you get the feeling that you are to embark on an unforgettable adventure. The world map music is shrill and rather annoying; however, the tunes that accompany you while sailing on the seas are upbeat, sunny and fresh. Although the NES has practically no orchestrational capabilities, the soundtrack of FF is vaied and above average for the system.

Final Fantasy's control is where the innovation begins. Rather than tackle even the most simple commands through an intermediary menu a la Dragon Warrior, Square simplifies nearly everything. When you wish to talk to a person, simply move your character icon (represented by the lead hero in your party) up to them and press the A button. That's it. This may not sound like a groundbreaking innovation today, but it is nice compared to the tedious menu surfing of Dragon Warrior. In order to take care of item and magic management, FF makes use of a well-designed subscreen, a separate menu from the actual game that allows you to manage your heroes' affairs as you see fit. All other aspects of the game control solidly, and it is nice to see that Square made a successful bid in tweaking the norms of the genre (defined by Dragon Warrior) in order to better them.

The game plays basically like Dragon Warrior; you must constantly fight enemies for experience, through which you gain levels and strength. Then, you conquer dungeons and travel afar in order to unravel the multi-tiered plot throughout the game. However, there are a few key differences that make Final Fantasy a top-notch game. First, you buy rather than gradually learn your magic spells. This is a neat feature, and it allows you to get the magic you need when you need it (provided you have enough Gold). These spells may only be used by certain Warriors; others are simply stronger in hand-to-hand combat. This whole layering effect of having different character classes possess unique and useful powers ups the strategic and replay value of the game.

Another innovation of Final Fantasy is the inclusion of numerous Boss monsters. Prior to this game, most Adventure/RPG games had only one major ''bad guy'' to fight. Final Fantasy, however, bombards you with countless super-powerful beings bent on seeing to it that your heroes fail. This makes the long quest more involving and exciting, and you will be playing through the game as quickly as possible sometimes just to see whom you need to defeat next.

Still another important part of the game is fighting. Your characters may be placed in any order (1-4), and which position they inhabit determines the degree of damage they will take from an enemy. This adds more strategy to a game which is already loaded with it. Also, the game progresses in turn-based combat, and if a hero attacks an enemy which has already fallen, his attack will be rendered ineffective for that turn. This makes the player ever more careful of the choices he or she may make while battling for hard-earned experience.

The plot is a basic ''save the world from evil'' storyline, and the character dvelopment suffers heavily from the fact that your heroes can be any one of six classes (but all with the same personality). However, the game includes great twists like betrayals, wars, and a titan who likes to munch on gemstones. It is mostly memorable and is enough to sustain a demanding player.

The replay value of Final Fantasy is helped by the numerous character classes from which you may form your party. However, it is difficult to make odd combinations work (try beating the game with four White Wizards for a real treat!) and the desire to complete the game countless times just simply isn't there. However, the first time through should be a great experience.

Overall, Final Fantasy is an RPG with many lasting innovations (like the character class system and the addition of countless Boss characters in a plot) and decent technical elements. It is not perfect by any means (and it owes much to Dragon Warrior), but it is a well done game that is sure to satisfy.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/25/00, Updated 05/25/00

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