Review by Virulent

"A world veiled in darkness...and a helluva challenge!"

RPG fanboys these days are far too spoiled. Kids always expect the fanciest 3D graphics, the most elaborate battle systems with combos and active time baloney. It's all a symphony of mass-casting, button-mashing, mega-Atma-Ultima-combo nonsense if you ask me. Sometimes I wonder what happened to the good old days of getting lost in dungeons crawling with monsters that could wipe your party out in one fell swoop...and we're not talking about scripted boss fights here either. You know, the good old days when you actually had to use your brains and not some 5000 MP spell to take out the forces massing against you? Bah!

As someone who grew up with the NES and Master System, I can safely say that my early days were filled with tinny square-wave musical scores and badly-translated games to save room on the miniscule cartridge ROM. Those were the days of great RPGs that pioneered the genre such as Dragon Warrior, Phantasy Star, and yes, Final Fantasy. The first FF was the product of a little company on the verge of bankrupcy, which is probably how they came up with the name. Once released in Japan in 1987 (the same year that Phantasy Star came out on the SMS), the cart was such an astounding success that a sequel was planned, thus marking the title as a complete and utter misnomer.

The story was nothing special; it's not FF7 material, and it wasn't even up to par with Phantasy Star's plotline. In typical RPG fashion, you and your band of ''Light Warriors'' are bounced from one quest to another in an attempt to ascertain why the world is starting to go awry. Along the way you'll talk to a host of (mostly) nameless NPCs which will give you hints, advice, and inane rambling. In fact, the only characters (including your own) which have any sense of personality are the villains. Quite a shift from the Final Fantasy games of today, right? Perhaps, but one might argue that the less of a strong plot an RPG has, the less you feel like you're on a fishhook being dragged through someone else's machinations. This game honestly feels more like an immersive experience as compared to the more cinematic one. John Carmack of id Software once said ''a plot in a game is like story in a porn; you expect it to be there, but it's not all that important.'' In the case of FF1, he would be right...the weak storytelling doesn't detract from gameplay.

You might then ask, ''What was so remarkable about FF1 then? What gave it a unique spin that other RPGs at the time did not?'' The beauty of this game lies mainly in the immense customization that the selectable multi-party system gives you. From the get-go, you have the ability to pick 4 ''light warriors'' from a pool of 6 classes, each having unique strengths and weaknesses. You also get the ability to name them, and although the names given are never spoken by NPCs this gave players a further sense of personal involvement in the events of the game. The brilliance of allowing the gamer to actually choose what characters he or she were going to be hacking through the wilderness with led to near-infinite replay value. An example of this; after you beat the game with the standard party of a Fighter, a Black Belt, a Black Mage and a White Mage, try going through the game again with 2 Theives, a Red Mage, and a Fighter and I guarantee you that the experience will be vastly different.

Once you pick your characters, chat with the NPCs, buy some weapons and venture out into the world to hack up some monsters, a few idiosyncrasies from today's RPGs will be glaringly apparent soon enough. First off, you can forget about gaining new spells simply by leveling. You have to buy that Cure2 from a store with your hard-earned Gil this time around, and you can only buy 3 spells per ''level'' of magic you can wield. Furthermore, to use those spells, you are given a certain amount of spell points per level, which goes up with subsequent leveling. Once those are used, the only way to replenish those points is to sleep at an Inn (or use a House later in the game). No Mind-Ups in this game, my friends...and no Phoenix Downs either. The only way to revive a fallen ally is to cast Life (which can only be done outside of battle), or go to a Clinic in town. Perhaps you have a team of Fighters and Black Belts, and magic is not your thing. Why think when you can mash that button? Better be careful, because if you target a monster for attack and another one of your party dispatches it before that character's turn, you'll be hitting air. Get petrified in battle and you're down until your teammates win...or die. While these major differences may seem somewhat archaic and frustrating, they lend a serious element of tactics and strategy which is missing from the majority of today's RPGs. In this game, you'll have to prepare for the worst before you go after that elemental Fiend in the deep recesses of the caves...which will include proper party formations, getting good equipment and amount of potion resources, a backup plan...and yes, quite a bit of leveling.

This game is all about taking your soft, malleable starting party and running them through the gauntlet of endless battles against formidably stronger opponents. It's easy going the first hour before you pass Provoka, but after that get ready to beat down a lot of beasts in the great outdoors to tackle the rest of the game. Your characters do however gain stats quickly, and before you know it you'll have the satisfaction of trouncing adversaries that gave you a run for your money the first time you met them. Personally, I love the challenge of building my party up into a crew of ultimate death machines, but many people have been turned off by the languid pace of this game. To each his own, but be wary...this is not a game you will be able to topple in a day or two. You'll need a solid 15-20 hours of playtime if you want to trounce FF1's tougher adversaries, such as the Fiends, or even stand a chance against the legendary WarMech.

As far as aesthetics go, the game is once again good for the standard but nowhere near top of the line. The FF series maybe be currently known for its breathtaking visuals and dazzling musical score, but it certainly didn't start that way. I must admit the monsters are rather well-drawn, but the rest of the graphics are not too pretty. Some of the game's tunes are rather catchy (such as some of the dungeon themes), but the fact that much of the music score is recycled many times over during the course of your quest will find you quite sick of them before you're halfway through. In the end, though, you will be having so much fun searching for that legendary Masamune, or attempting to get your Black Belt to level 20 in order to unleash devastating multi-hit attacks that you'll forget you've muted the NES in favor of your favorite CD looping for the past 4 hours.

So here we are, the final word. Almost 2 decades later, the original Final Fantasy retains a cult following which endlessly creates new challenges, information, and even fan fiction (8-Bit Theatre) based around the cart. This one is indeed a classic. For those who claim to be FF fanboys, and have never played the original adventure, grab this game and prepare for a true role-playing experience. For those who are fans of the endless customizations and strategic bent of the Final Fantasy Tactics spinoffs, you'll definitely appreciate this maiden voyage as well. Although this particular gem may have its flaws, it remains as it was when it was released so many years ago...a diamond in the rough.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/27/04

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