|Welcome to our new segment, Final Fantasy Pilgrimage. This is actually something I started a few years ago, but never finished, on a site that no longer exists. Essentially, I had decided to play through every single Final Fantasy game I could get my hands on, in order, in as close to the original version as I could get.
For several reasons, I was unable to finish my quest but now, due to some recent ports and a bit more time in my schedule to game, I think I may be able to get all the way through Final Fantasy XV! So, without further ado, here are my halfway thoughts on Final Fantasy.
You have no idea, buddy.
The first thing anyone would notice about Final Fantasy is IT’S REALLY, REALLY HARD! The next thing you notice is it’s extremely different from every other game in the series and this is owed to a few things. In 1987 when the game was made, JRPG’s existed but didn’t really have any sort of identity. In fact, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, says his biggest influence in the series was Dungeons and Dragons, also noting western CRPG’s like the Ultima series. Not only that but having an epic RPG on a console was almost unheard of for the time, especially from Japan. Because of this, Final Fantasy is undoubtedly the most “western” of the whole series.
Level ups are slow with a maximum level of 50, the plot is, well, plot-driven rather than character-driven like most of the others in the series. In fact, this Final Fantasy doesn’t have any “main characters”. Yeah, most of the characters don’t even have names unless they’re a bad guy. If you find this hard to swallow, check out Dissidia Final Fantasy. The two characters representing Final Fantasy? The Warrior of Light and Garland. Yeah, Garland, the very first boss in all of Final Fantasy gets a name but the main characters don’t. Instead, you get to create a party of four characters of any class you’d like and give them a four character name. I’m sure this resulted in many a 1987 middle-schooler naming their party all sorts of foul things.
Since this is going to be a long journey for me, I decided I’d go easy on myself this first game and picked the so-called “easy mode” party. Three fighters and a Red Mage.
My favorite is the red guy!
Basically, through the majority of the game, you use the Fighter’s ridiculous tankage to decimate everything in your path and for the most part, this has worked quite well. Now, I’m at a crossroads, however. I can pick between three dungeons that all butcher me like none other.
I have the pleasure of going to Mt. Gulug which is a giant volcano that is absolutely NOT inspired by Mt. Doom at all (insert appropriate level of sarcasm here) where I progress along a row of lava tiles that knock me down to one health before a party of mages comes and use four Fir2 spells on me to kill my whole party before I can blink.
I also have the famed Ice Caves available where I can go and find a 9-enemy party of ghosts that paralyze my character with every attack. Once all four of my guys are down, that’s that. Cut to ending where my party has been taken from full health to nothing without me ever getting a chance to run away screaming.
My last choice is the Castle of Trials, a wonderful testing ground that I almost made it through before a few harmless looking cockatrices decided to turn my whole party to stone.
That brings me to the only real issue I have with Final Fantasy. It not only happens but it happens frequently where your party is literally killed without you ever getting a chance to make an action. Random battle events such as critical hits, surprise attacks, even the rare double hit have insanely high percentages of occurring. While this can feel great to get a series of triple critical hits against a monster, it also feels cheap when the monsters attack you first and paralyze you with every hit, effectively ending your dungeon run immediately. The worst part is, grinding will not help you. Sure in the average battle, you can always grind your way to success but if you run into a party of cockatrices, you have to hope that you get lucky and they don’t turn you all to stone in your first try. There are no resistances to status effects that I’m aware of so leveling doesn’t improve your chances.
Combine this with the fact that turn order is entirely randomized and strategy is nearly non-existent. Your characters can be 20 levels higher than the monsters with maxed out agility and still move last in each turn since the algorithm the game uses actually favors the monsters (functional random chance with four people in your party and nine monsters. Do the math).
So yeah, Final Fantasy is tough as hell and requires a fair amount of luck to progress but does that make it a bad game? Hell, no! In fact, there are several things I wish the newer Final Fantasy’s would pick back up. Like many CRPG’s of the time, Final Fantasy is essentially an open-world game. While you’re limited to the first island at the beginning, you quickly defeat Garland and open up a huge world that you can access. Skip ahead to about 30% through the game and you can literally access the entire world. There may be the occasional dungeon you can’t reach yet but you can go to every continent, wander into towns about 10 levels higher than you and that’s fine. The plot is driven by talking to the townspeople. That’s right, this game has almost no cutscenes. In fact, I haven’t yet encountered a dialogue box longer than one box of text, most are no longer than one sentence.
I now realize why fetch quests have been used in games for the last 25 years as Final Fantasy actually manages to do it right. You find yourself wandering from one place to another, following clues to fetch capitalized items to bring back to people and it’s actually fun! Deciphering clues and reaching the next dungeon actually feels like an accomplishment in and of itself. Remember The Legend of Zelda and you’ll have an idea what I mean.
The Invisible Woman makes a cameo!
The original Final Fantasy was a low budget affair where a team of seven people came together to make a game that Square had already written off before it had come out. In fact, the only reason they approved the project was to compete with Enix’s Dragon Quest and as a last ditch effort from a company about to go belly up. No joke, “Final Fantasy” was chosen, allegedly, in part, because it was supposed to be Square’s last game before they went bankrupt. The game was buggy as hell with several things not working correctly. Some spells literally do nothing and some even help your enemies. Weapon abilities don’t actually work right and some monsters appear where they aren’t supposed to, a vicious surprise when you’re walking around the first area at level 3 and run into a pack of tigers from the third continent. But for all it’s flaws, this is Final Fantasy. This is the game that started one of the longest running and most prolific franchises in gaming history and it’s plain to see why. The game world is exciting and fun to explore, the quirks are funny and endearing plus just listen to that music! Nobuo is famous for a reason, guys.
If you decide to give this a try, I recommend one of the many altered ROMs out there that work to fix many of the problems with the original game. There are tons out there, actually more common than finding an unaltered version, and most attempt to only change the programming to what the developers originally intended such as making the spells actually work correctly, having the intelligence stat actually do something, and making the person in the above screenshot visible. I’m working through an unaltered version per my specified rules but it’s really worth it to pick up one with fixes or, especially if you’re a younger gamer, just grab one of the remakes like Dawn of Souls or the Android/iOS versions. They have secret dungeons too!