Final Fantasy is easily Square Enix’s most popular franchise, with 15 mainline games and number 16 currently in development. Every series has its beginning though, and we’re going to talk about Final Fantasy’s with the remake of the original game that’s now available on Steam. Get ready for a big history lesson in this review, because we are talking about what might be one of the most important RPGs ever made. More after the jump.
GENRE: Classic JRPG (REALLY classic…)
The original Final Fantasy is the brainchild of Square alumnus Hironobu Sakaguchi. Sakaguchi had actually wanted to make an RPG for a long time, but Square did not expect such a product would sell well on consoles due to the lack of it being a significant genre on them. While the NES/Famicom had been largely successful as a game console, no one had done something akin to an RPG on it and had it sell well.
…And then Enix (Back when Square and Enix were separate brands) released Dragon Quest and everything changed. Dragon Quest was a hit in Japan, and did reasonably well in the states as well thanks to Nintendo of America, which went all out on advertising for the game and even offered it to those who subscribed to Nintendo Power Magazine. With the massive success Dragon Quest saw, Square greenlit Sakaguchi’s RPG project, which he cited Ultima and Wizardry, two popular western computer RPGs, as influences for his own project.
Originally, the game’s working title was Fighting Fantasy, but this turned out to already be a trademarked game book series, so a different word starting with “F” was chosen, as Sakaguchi desired the game’s title to be one that could easily be abbreviated to “FF.” The word Final was chosen for various reasons: At the time Square was in dire straights and facing potential bankruptcy, and Sakaguchi himself had considered leaving the company if this project wasn’t a success.
Thankfully, his team’s work showed such promise a second team joined on in development, and the result was a massive hit. Final Fantasy shipped 520,000 copies in Japan at launch in 1987, and Nintendo’s localization in 1990 gave it a significant success in the US as well. Europe unfortunately would not get to see Final Fantasy for a much longer time, but that’s another story for another time.
Final Fantasy has seen several ports and remakes since its original NES release, such as the Origins release on the Playstation, Dawn of Souls on the GBA, and the 20th Anniversary Edition for PSP (My personal favorite). Interestingly, despite Final Fantasy starting to show a significant presence on the PC, the original game had never been made available for the platform until the Pixel Remaster series was announced in 2021: A series of remakes for Final Fantasy 1-6 featuring new artwork and new soundtracks, but aiming to play like their original releases without any extra content from releases after the original ones for these games.
Final Fantasy 1-3 were the first to release in this Pixel Remaster series, and were mostly met with positive reviews as we finally had a way to play the original versions of these games, well…A remake of them at any rate. Okay, history lesson’s over folks, let’s get to the game.
Final Fantasy’s story begins on a dire note. The elements that sustain the game’s world are out of control: The wind fades, fires rage uncontrollably, the seas grow stagnant, and the earth has begun to rot. A prophecy states that four chosen heroes, Warriors of Light each bearing a Crystal Shard will arrive to save the world from its doom, and sure enough, those four warriors are about to show up! You just have to create them first. In Final Fantasy, you choose who your heroes are, their class and their name. You have the heavy armor wearing Fighter who excels with equally heavy weapons. The agile Thief who lacks toughness but can still deliver significant blows with a variety of bladed weapons.The hard hitting Black Belt who relies on their fists to deliver crushing blows. The White Mage who uses holy magic to heal allies and harm the undead. The Black Mage who commands the arcane powers of Fire, Ice, and Lightning to destroy hordes of enemies and can also power up allies, and the Red Mage who while a jack of all trades in weapons and magic, can master none. Your party can use any combination of these classes, and you can even use the same class more than once if you so desire it. This right here is probably the largest bit of replay factor Final Fantasy has, trying new class combinations and seeing if you can make them work.
After creating your four heroes, your quest begins in earnest. Final Fantasy tasks you with saving the world by finding a way to restore the four elements, and destroy the evil responsible for it all going wrong in the first place. Your journey begins on foot, but eventually will have you sailing the open seas, and even flying through the sky itself on an airship. Admittedly, the progression of Final Fantasy is somewhat linear and lacks anything in the way of side activity beyond one sidequest that might as well be mandatory with how important its reward is. But to be fair, this was Square’s first RPG.
And despite that simplicity, the gameplay loop of FF is just fine as it is, even if it is a bit simple. Reach a new region of the world, fight to earn EXP and Gil so you can level up and buy new equipment and spells for your party, then use your strengthened party to solve the problem in the local area and gain the means to move onto the next one. Why does it work so well? Because different enemies require different approaches. Some may resist your weapons, but are vulnerable to elemental magic like Fire. Others like Undead may be easily dispatched with a White Mage’s Dia line of spells designed specifically for elimination of the Undead. So everyone in a well designed party can contribute in some way, and that’s one of the biggest things that made this game so fun at the time and still fun today: Its simple but effective combat.
In FF, combat is purely turn based, as the active time battle system later games are known for (4-9 specifically) wasn’t a thing yet. Every turn consists of picking the desired actions for your party members, with the turn order of friend and foe being determined by their Agility stat. Higher Agility means a higher chance to act before others, which could be pretty important for something like healing your party: If your healer is slow to act, you might need to pre-emptively prepare a heal versus just casting one when you need it.
Magic is one thing that has mixed feelings in the community for the classic Final Fantasy games, due to the fact Final Fantasy 1 uses what I call “D&D Style Spells.” Rather than spells using an MP pool, spells come in various levels/tiers in the OG FF, and you have a certain number of charges per spell level that determines how many times you can cast spells of that level. Said charges are replenished by resting at an inn or using a Tent/cottage. This meant you really had to weigh when to use magic, as each tier of magic had a limited number of casts, as opposed to just weighing an overall MP cost. I’m not a huge fan of it, but I’ve learned to deal with it. Those who prefer MP will be happy to know the GBA and PSP versions use it however.
And just so you know, you will need to be ready to do a LOT of fighting. This is an oldschool FF, and that means LOTS of random encounters. I mean a LOT of them. You’ll probably end up fighting 20-30 encounters minimum on a trek through a dungeon, so you definitely need to have a party capable of kicking a lot of monster rear.
That’s not to say everything gameplay feature and nuance from the NES version is in this though. This isn’t a 1:1 remake of the NES version, as while it aims to stay faithful, it removes a lot of frustrating things and adds tons of QoL compared to that version, so I figure that’s something to go over.
First off, bugfixes. Some spells and attributes just plain did *not* work in the NES version. The Temper spell in Black Magic. This spell is meant to allow Black Mages to strengthen the physical attacks of their allies, particularly useful in situations where their own attack magic may not be worth using. The problem? In the NES version, it DID. NOT. WORK. Same with Saber, which was a self buff to attack power but could also be cast on oneself via the Giant’s Gloves item. Another kicker, in the NES version, the Magic/Intelligence stat didn’t work at all! This made magic incredibly underpowered in the mid to late game. These two things are fixed in the remaster, and it greatly changes up your mid to late game strategies now that magic is as strong as it was supposed to be.
Next, we have QoL improvements. The biggest one is the removal of the infamous “ineffective” attack. If you ordered everyone to hit the same target in Final Fantasy NES, and that target died in a single attack? The rest of your party would swing at thin air, wasting their turns. The PR version instead has them target the next enemy in line, similar to later FFs, so fighting weaker foes is a lot less annoying because you don’t have to think about each individual target. You can now save anywhere, and don’t have to use an inn or tent to do so, removing the need to spend ingame money just so you can save your progress. And one of my personal favorites: Switching to a modern FF style inventory where items of the same type are stacked up to 99, so you can carry a ton of potions or antidotes instead of only being able to carry a small handful of them at the cost of not being able to carry any other items. It greatly reduces the need to trek back to town just to re-supply on consumables, as you can just have everything you need from the getgo. It also made longer dungeon treks way less frustrating. So, this does admittedly make it easier than the original NES version, but I welcome these changes as frankly the limited inventory and “ineffective” nonsense were major turnoffs for me on the NES version of Final Fantasy. These modern changes honestly just enhance the experience. Another welcome QoL feature, maps! You can now see not only the world map, but the maps of dungeons as you travel through them, letting you look around without walking into a bunch of random encounters, because trust me, those have NOT changed.
Story admittedly isn’t the biggest of focuses in Final Fantasy. In this first title, the story mostlly consists of storylines for each area about what you needed to do there, lacking any kind of significant character interaction or development since your four heroes are custom made and lack any significant backstory or characterization beyond what’s in your head for them. There is some lore and backstory about the world you’ll find in your adventure though if you talk to the right people, but this is more a story about the world and how you’re saving it, than a story about your heroes themselves.
Music is definitely a high point in this Final Fantasy, as the entire soundtrack has been rebuilt from the ground up with an orchestral feel, as well as a nice helping of rockin’ electric guitar where needed. Fast paced battle themes, ambient, haunting dungeon themes, an epic world map theme as you go on your quest, it’s all here and it’s all just as good as it was on the NES, if not better due to the modern musical styles being used.
So whether you’re exploring an ancient castle, or a dark cave, there’s definitely fun to be had in the original Final Fantasy, a game whose simplicity isn’t necessarily a detriment. It still holds up nicely. Do I recommend this to anyone who has gotten into Final Fantasy as a series, but never played the game that started it all? Absolutely.