Sunday 16 December 2012

Final Fantasy - NES - 1990

Cruising the Aldi Sea.

From 1987 we are temporarily jumping ahead in time to 1990 for my next game….

Before embarking on my blog I had never played a Final Fantasy game.  Hell, I’d never even played a JRPG.  Final Fantasy on the NES was released in Japan in 1987 with the English language version not appearing until 1990.  Due to my desire to try the Japan-only Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III I am reviewing the first game early to keep them in chronological order.  It is the first in a long series spanning not only the JRPG backbone, but includes other genres such as MMORPGs and even a rhythm action game.

As a JRPG virgin, what did I expect?  I expected lots of random encounters and a linear story-led quest.  Because of this I half expected not to like the game.  In reality I think it’s great.

Basically you control four Light Warriors as they attempt to restore light to the orbs they carry. To accomplish this they need to defeat four elemental fiends who are ravaging the land.

Your initial task is to select up to four characters from a choice of six classes. The available classes are Fighter, Thief, Black Belt, Red Mage, White Mage and Black Mage. The Fighter is your standard warrior type and can use all types of weaponry and armour.  The manual says ‘the thief is good to have when you need to avoid an attack from the enemy’ which makes him superfluous in my book (moreso as I didn't find any traps to disarm, locks to pick or anything to steal).  The Black Belt can fight effectively without weapons.  The Red Mage is described as a fairly good fighter who can cast some Black and White magic spells.  The White Mage can cast only White (mainly defensive and healing) spells and the Black Mage can only cast Black (mainly offensive) spells.  Both the Black and White Mages are weak fighters.  You can give your characters any name you like as long as they contain no more that four letters.  Your characters are given stats but I didn't take note of whether these are preset or randomly generated.  These stats  increase during the game as you gain levels.  The manual suggests rookie players should select a Fighter, a Black Belt, a White Mage and a Black mage.  That’ll be me then.

Your party is dropped on the map just south of the castle and town of Croneria.  Despite being without arms and armour I decided to take a quick look around and it wasn't long before I came across my first random encounter.  The combat screen displays your party on the right and enemy creatures arranged on the left.  The combat is turn based and menu driven with you and the creatures fighting until one side is destroyed or flees.  Combat options are Fight, cast Magic spells, Drink a potion, use an Item and Run away.  Once you select an action for each of your characters, the combat cycles through all the participants until they have all taken their turn. Some enemies have special attacks such as paralyse or poison.  Some can turn you to stone.  With the party arranged in a line, combat is not very tactical as any character can attack any enemy and vice versa and there are no ranged weapons.  Additionally if you have a character attack an enemy creature and it dies, any subsequent attacks already aimed at that particular creature are wasted.  When enemies are killed you collect an amount of gold and experience points dependent on the creature type and how many there were.

You can't have an RPG without skeletons.

After a couple of skirmishes I headed into town to heal and tool up.  With a couple of exceptions each town has the same shops.  There is a weapon and armour shop to buy combat gear.  An inn allows you to save your game and restore magic and hit points.  The Clinic allows you to reincarnate a dead character for a small fee.  There is a white and black magic shop with each store in the town selling a particular spell level.  For example, the two magic shops in Croneria sell first level spells, while Elf Town has four magic stores selling third and fourth level spells.  Finally there is a supplies store where you can purchase various potions and various shelters.  The shelters are tents, cabins or houses which are used to restore health and save the game when you are not near a town.

I'm sure I can squeeze a few cabins and a couple more houses into my backpack.

As I mentioned, magic spells are bought in shops with the higher level spells getting progressively more expensive.  Each level has four spells while a mage is only able to memorise three of these so you need to choose wisely.  You are able to cast a set number of spells for each spell level.  The number of spells you can cast is increased as your character gains experience.

Here is my summary and thoughts of the game (for a full walkthrough check out Zenic Reverie's  RPG Consoler blog here (still WIP at the time of writing) or the irreverent Shen Nung and his Inconsolable blog here). 

  • Unlike a lot of CRPGs, Final Fantasy does not let you explore everywhere straight away.  For the first quest you can only travel in one direction as you are blocked in by mountains and the sea.  After this you can again only explore a bit more land before you get a ship.  After this you can navigate a landlocked sea until further quests opens this up.  Although you are spoon-fed the plot, the pacing is set just about right.  It is not until you get an airship that the whole world opens up.
  • Random encounters are not nearly as annoying as I thought they would be.  They are set at just the right difficulty and frequency. I only wished it could be like the Ultima series and you could see monsters coming.  Also, the enemy creatures increase in level depending on location.  As you explore new locations the stronger the enemy get.  Earlier locations will always contain the same weak enemies no matter what level you have reached.
  • There is no NPC interaction to speak of.  Talking to an NPC triggers a stock response which may or may not change if a related quest is completed.
  • The amount of money you get is set about perfectly.  You can get about every necessary item you need without much grinding, and there is always something (such as higher level spells) to spend your gold on or to save for.  It is only late in the game that gold becomes irrelevant.
  • Buying from shops is a pain in the arse.  You can only purchase one item at a time so buying, for example, fifty potions with at least three button presses for each one is needlessly time consuming.
  • Gaining experience/levelling is very well implemented and didn't have to go out of my way to grind.  For a few quests I had to make a several attempts, getting closer each time, without feeling the need to go hunting for random encounters.  Additionally, one of the early dungeons has a lot of set encounters on adjacent tiles so you can use these to gain experience points if needed. When I completed the game all my characters were on level 37.
  • In comparison to a lot of random encounters the boss fights were relatively easy, rarely lasting more than a couple of rounds.
  • One thing I really loathe is unmappable levels.  One of these appeared in the Sky Castle where you can travel on indefinitely as the level just keeps wrapping around.  This strikes me as lazy programming and it was more through luck than judgement that I made it to the next floor on my second attempt (my first thought was that the game wouldn't let me continue because I didn't have the adamant sword).
  • Considering the limitations of the NES the graphics are nigh on perfect.  Apart from some odd palette choices (green wolves?) I can’t see how they could have been improved.
  • The music and effects are okay.  There are only a handful of different tunes used on the various screens and locations yet I didn't feel the need to mute the sound which must say something.

Final Fantasy is a peach of an early RPG.  The graphics are excellent and sound is good considering the host platform.  It is also nice having the play area taking up the whole screen rather than viewing it through a window (à la Ultima/Bard's Tale etc).  The plot unfolds at a decent pace - you are forced along a linear path in the first half of the game but once you obtain the airship the whole world opens up.  There is also a nice twist at the end.  The  difficulty is set just about right - there were times when I had to limp into the nearest town with two dead characters and I only had a couple of full party deaths.  If the other games in the franchise are as enjoyable as this I am in for a treat.

You are given a Rat's Tail(!) on completing the Citadel of Trials.  Taking it to Bahamut the dragon rewards you with a class change.

Entering the dungeon to defeat the final elemental fiend.  It is only accessible by a submarine.
There is a nice twist near the end of the game.  You have to travel back 2000 years in time to defeat the final boss and complete the game.

Final boss fight and rather long-winded ending....


  1. Thank you so much for your blog. This is a true time machine, helping me reliving a past where...
    Well. Let me just thank you.

    :D Honest.

  2. I've got Origins on my list for 2003. Final Fantasy on the NES was a standout game in 1987 so it will be interesting to see how the PS1 version fairs 16 years later.

  3. So much good to be had here. I've somewhat recently gotten a reminder of this game's epicness (and some of my long-forgotten frustrations too) - but through my son who picked this up for the Wii VC awhile back. It's interesting - he liked it, sunk a fair amount of time in it, but the dungeons kept doing him in. I think perhaps the biggest thing we take for granted in our RPG's now are frequent save/checkpoints/restarts against enemies. Back then? Not really an option.

    1. The challenge of the dungeons (or even getting to them) was one of the things I enjoyed most about this game. The only 'modern' RPG I have played is Dragon Age Origins and Awakening on the PS3. I really enjoyed them but it almost felt like you were expected to win. I think nowadays beating a game is the norm whereas back in the day you had to really work at it.

      Then again, games are now so expensive you feel like you need to get your moneys worth.