[personal profile] project2501
[Note: This review is part of my series on the Final Fantasy games. To read them all, click here.]

I have embarked on a project that I've been saying I will do for years: playing all the games in the Final Fantasy series, all the way through, in order. I at least want to play the first six (well, five, since I think one of those was never released in the US), since I got into the series with FFVII.

Granted, this is not the kind of life goal that ranks up there with, say, writing a novel, or getting out of debt. But that's okay. I'm allowed to set goals that aren't all grown-up and serious, too.

I finished Final Fantasy last night, playing the PS re-release (FF and FFII on a single disc). Time to defeat the final boss: about 36h. Time to 100% completion: ~45h. That extra time was almost entirely spent in hunting down a couple of rare monsters.

The story behind the name is interesting. I don't know whether this is apocryphal, but I have heard that Squaresoft had already made a bunch of games that flopped, and they were running out of money. They made this game thinking it was the last they would ever make. And, well, we all know what happened instead. So I think my expectations going into the game were a bit high. But even though it was somewhat disappointing, it was neat to see how many of the familiar elements of the FF games were already present.

Story and characters: Definitely a disappointment. I knew I couldn't really expect the level of storytelling and character development that makes the later games so brilliant, but this was really bad. The player heroes -- the four "Warriors of Light" -- don't even have names, much less any sort of backstory. (I named them Cloud (fighter), Yuffie (thief), Aeris (white mage), and Lulu (black mage). Which led to a somewhat amusing question.) The game begins with the four heroes showing up at the castle, carrying the four crystals, in accordance with prophecy. (No, really.) A couple of lines as to where we came from or where we got those shiny crystals from would have been nice! Plot throughout the game was disconnected and abrupt, sometimes hilariously so. It basically came down to finding the one person in the town to talk to who would give you the item you needed to progress. I walked up to one person, who said, "Thanks for killing [last boss], unfortunately when you did so you released [next boss] from its slumber. You must go destroy it for the good of the world. Here, take this canoe." This guy didn't even introduce himself first! The biggest chunk of plot in the game came at the very end, after I destroyed Garland/Chaos (the final boss). And it made no sense. (Something about a misunderstanding causing Garland to fall into a time loop, where we killed him in the present, but the four fiends of chaos sent him back into the past, where he sent the four fiends of chaos into the future so they could send him into the past... and then some Kingdom Hearts-esque stuff about how when we went back to the future, no one would remember what we'd done, except that the memory would live on in everyone's hearts.)

Gameplay: The game was mostly a typical RPG (kill monsters to gain experience; use experience to level up; explore multi-level dungeons; each town has better weapons and armor to sell you; etc.). One neat thing was that the four main bosses could be tackled in any order. Similar to later FF games, there was a sort of early bit where you had to do things in a given order, and then you got the airship and were free to go anywhere you wanted. There were one or two proto-sidequests, but they were pretty simple and you kind of wound up doing them in the course of normal gameplay. (Upgrading everyone's classes involved this thing called the Citadel of Trials, which was very hyped up, and sounded like it was going to take like eight hours, and then it turned out to be ONE ROOM. With a maze in it. But still, way too easy to rate the name.)

There were some odd balance issues, and some things that were just annoying. The only healing item available was the Potion, and it sucked. Giving back 11-20 HP is just not very useful when the characters have 500 and monsters are hitting them for 150. Especially since you can only carry 99 of them. There were no items to restore life or MP. Well, there were items for use outside that would restore HP and MP both: Sleeping Bag, Tent, Cottage. But since most of your time is spent in dungeons, not very useful. Status effects were irritating since they seemed to happen all too frequently, and the items required to cure them were kind of pricey. Eventually a couple of Ribbons show up, but they only provide partial protection. There were a few enemies with Death or Poison attacks that made my life miserable for awhile.

The difficulty level was too challenging for awhile (basically due to the status thing) and the randomness of the random encounters (which, apparently, had some small chance of being ridiculously high level monsters for the area). But after doing the Citadel of Trials and getting everyone their new classes, it suddenly became almost too easy.

Classes: It was cool (and possibly unprecedented for the time?) that you could choose the classes for your characters at the beginning of the game. The choices were Fighter (Knight), Thief (Ninja), White Mage (White Wizard), Red Mage (Red Wizard), Black Mage (Black Wizard), and Monk (?). The parentheticals are the classes they change to when you complete the Citadel of Trials. (Not sure what Monk becomes since I didn't play through the game with one.) The sad thing is that, as it turns out, the mages were very underpowered. At the end of the game, with Knight and Black Wizard both at max level (which is, by the way, 50), the knight was hitting for about 1000 damage. The Black Wizard's most powerful spell, Flare (which was located in a semi-hidden area) would only do 200-300 damage. White Wizard's healing magic was similarly underpowered, though she (yes, "she" -- the only female hero) does get Life2 and Cure4, both of which restore full HP, and are thus ridiculously more powerful than the prior cure/life spells. She also gets Holy, and a couple of decent attack spells against the undead.

The Thief/Ninja was fairly pointless. As a Ninja, he got the use of some spells that the Knight didn't, but basically he was just a weak Fighter/Knight. If I had it to do over, I would have used two Fighters instead of a Fighter and a Thief. (Actually if I had it to do over, I might have used all Fighters, or maybe three Fighters and one mage. But whatever.)

Spell system: There were some interesting complexities in the spell system. Spells were available to purchase in village shops, just like weapons and armor, and were divided into eight levels. For each level, there were four available spells, but each mage could only learn three spells per level, so you had to choose which three were most useful. You could go back and "discard" a spell later in order to replace it with a different one, so those choices weren't set in stone. Each spell cost only 1 MP to cast; however, instead of having one pool of MP, the mages' MP was divided up into multiple levels. So you'd have, e.g., 4 MP for level 1 spells, 3 for level 2, 2 for level 3, and 1 for level 1. As the mages leveled up, their MP for each level increased. It led to a cool dynamic of strategizing, except that, really, you got so few MP for each level of spell (and they were so ineffectual) that the mages were really underutilized.

Final Fantasy world: Airship. Opening and victory music. White mage and black mage's outfits. Most of the monsters were fairly generic (Tyrannosaurus? Really?) but one or two FF icons popped up, like Ochu. Gil (actually I just read that it was originally Gold, and was renamed to Gil for the PS re-release).

Things that were notably missing: Chocobos. Cid. Summons. Phoenix Down.

Suspicious. (It really wasn't though.)

Best NPC. (She was an ex-mermaid.)

So there you have it. I am a giant dork.

Also, who did I loan my copy of FF IX to? Its absence from my shelf is a mystery.
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