So several months back I wrote about my newfound quest to earn me some gamer street cred, which I undertook after I noticed that the games I play are mostly of the rated E for Everyone “bright colors and frighteningly high-pitched voices” variety. Step one, according to some, was to get dirty with the Final Fantasy series, since, up until this point, I hadn’t played any real FF games. One of the titles I was told is a must-play is the original, which features neither bright colors, nor frighteningly high-pitched voices, nor, as it turns out, any fun.
The high point of this game, for me, was how simple the battles are. Attack. Magic. Items. Flee. That’s about all you have to worry about, except for one command called “Equip” that I never had to use because of a brilliant tactic I called “putting my armor on before going into battle.” Which makes sense, as this has gotta be one of the first videogames to feature standard turn-based RPG battles.
Beyond that, I also appreciated how I didn’t have to level up like crazy to beat any of the bosses—except for the last boss, but that was more a battle of endurance, and whether I could afford enough magic potions to last the entire battle, than it was testing any sort of skill. Of course, the reason I never had to level was this: Very early in the game, I was completely lost, wandering around the world and fighting random encounters for so long that I’d achieved TWICE the number of levels that I’d ever need for anything in the game.
The main problem with Final Fantasy I, thus, is that it never gives you any indication of what you’re supposed to do next; nobody tells you to find this item; nobody tells you to spelunk this cave; nobody tells you to defeat this miniboss. The games assumes that you’ll just happen to come across whatever you need to do next by random chance, and this can take days. I had to play through almost the entire game with my eyes glued to an FAQ; I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in the game otherwise.
You might say the developers were trying to make the game more difficult by refusing to tell you what to do; but it’s not difficult to just talk to every single person and examine every single item in the game. It’s just boring.
But at least there was a killer story, right? It’s FINAL FANTASY. Dem’s good stories. Five minutes after I’d beaten Final Fantasy I, I’d already forgotten what that killer story was. I know it had something to do with me randomly generating four generic heroes out of a possible eight classes, who were then told to be the four chosen ones because they each carry around a little gem that is no longer lit up, but should be. By lighting up each of the gems…uhh…stuff happens, and to achieve that you have to defeat one boss per gem.
And then you get to the last boss, who I believe may be the very first instance of a needlessly irritating RPG boss. You know the type—the ones who can put your entire party to sleep in one turn, or the ones that have six different forms, or the ones who happen to be invulnerable to every single attack that you’ve leveled up. This one in particular can heal itself back to full life after you’ve been battling it for 20 minutes and finally have it near death. Somebody, somewhere, thought that would be fun. That’s pretty amazing.
And after that soulless battle you get one of the most rambling, incoherent endings this side of ToeJam & Earl III. And then you get a crazily neutered new game plus mode that, while a surprising addition to such an old game, doesn’t let you bring your stats, or your items, or your money to a new game; but it does let you keep your bestiary, which is the record of all the creatures you’ve killed. To show you how super cool amazing I thought this was, I didn’t even know the game had a bestiary.
But there is one thing Final Fantasy I does right: You can save anywhere! Hallelujah—somebody’s listening. It’s a real shame Square didn’t change anything else in the game to make it at all entertaining, but you know friggin’ fanboys would be up in arms if somebody tried to fix this clearly broken game.
I don’t know what I was expecting of Final Fantasy I—perhaps that the game that spawned one of the most revered videogame franchises of all time might actually be, you know, playable. The game is ancient, sure, and you’ve gotta give it some leeway for that; but it still just isn’t a good game. (And the fact is that, since I played the GBA version, I’m rating it against other GBA games, so keep that in mind before you post nasty comments about my mother.) There weren’t any other RPGs out at the time so the developers had no clue what they were doing and if what they were doing was actually any fun. The only redeeming value of Final Fantasy I is in the games that came after it; if this game wasn’t called “Final Fantasy,” there’s zero chance anybody would be playing it now.