Final Fantasy is one of the most popular series of all time, and this is the game that started it. It might seem like an unfair, monotonous JRPG that’s a lesson in patience and torture, but it’s actually a great game. This is an unapologetically old school game; one that forces you to grind like crazy or die miles away from a save point. This is how it was back then, and it was awesome.

(Square, 1987)

Designer: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Hiromichi Tanaka, Akitoshi Kawazu, Koichi Ishii

Programmer: Nasir Gebelli

Artist: Yoshitaka Amano

Composer: Nobuo Uematsu

Final Fantasy, the game that was anything but final:

Final Fantasy is one of the most important video game series ever. Role playing games simply wouldn’t be what they are today were it not for Hironobu Sakaguchi and his team. Sure, there were a few RPGs before this, but they lacked many of the things that Final Fantasy introduced. Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior, in America) came out first, but is significantly simpler.


Final Fantasy let you choose characters. You got vehicles in the form of a canoe and an airship (which would become a staple of the series), your characters “matured” at a point in the game, and enemies had elemental weaknesses. It also introduced the concept of time travel. You often fought entire groups of bad guys, whereas in Dragon Quest it was always you versus one bad guy. This could be seen as a bad thing for Final Fantasy, as fighting nine cockatrices, who cast an petrify spell, is one of the most painfully frustrating situations you can find yourself in.

Enemies in Dragon Quest were designed by Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama, which are adorable, but Final Fantasy’s main artist was Yoshitaka Amano, and the enemies looked fantastic. There was such a huge variety of them, and many actually looked menacing, especially the bosses.

The characters:

While Final Fantasy certainly has characters, they’re about as simple as you can get. There are four chosen warriors, of which you get to choose. By the way, choosing anything but three Fighters and one White Mage is the wrong choice. You might be enticed by the Thief because you heard he becomes a Ninja, but it’s hardly worth it.

The Black Belt is kind of cool because he does better without weapons than with, which helps you to be a frugal adventurer. He doesn’t need anything more than his mitts. The Black Mage can use offensive magic, while the White Mage uses nothing but support magic. The Red mage can use either, but not the strongest versions of them. The Fighter is a big galoot that can take as much damage as he can dish out, and is usually the only one to survive a fight.

That means he’s the only one to get XP, which means he’s often the only one to level up. You see how this is a problem? The Fighter tends to level up way past  everybody else pretty quickly. Somehow though, I was able to beat the game as a teenager with a Fighter, Black Belt, White Mage, and Black Mage, but it wasn’t easy.

The myth of the name

There is a long running myth that the reason it’s known as “Final” Fantasy is because Square was on its last legs as a company. A heroic Hironobu Sakaguchi came forward with one last idea: a role playing game inspired by the likes of Ultima and Wizardry. This was likely to be the last thing Square every released, so they named it Final Fantasy.

In reality, Square really was in dire straights, but they named it as such for a much simpler reason. FF sounds cool in Japanese. There’s an appealing alliteration to it that could have been accomplished with any other word that started with F. In fact, it was originally called Fighting Fantasy, but a series of roleplaying books already had that name.

Square was reluctant to produce a roleplaying game, worried that it would not sell well. However, the success of Dragon Quest made them reconsider their decision. They granted Sakaguchi permission to make the game he’d been wanting to make.

The storyline…or as I call it: the excuse to murder bad guys

There are four orbs in the game, each one governing an element: Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water. The orbs lost their light and plunged the world into darkness. A fiend now protects each orb and keeps them from relighting. As each one dies out, the element they represent decay, causing storms, wildfires, famine, and drought. Prophecy shows that four warriors of Light will emerge and defeat each of the fiends to restore light to the orbs.

The bosses in this game really shine, as each one is well designed. The Lich is the first major boss you encounter, and he looks pretty incredible. Later, you fight Kary, then Kraken, followed by Tiamat. There are plenty of other bosses in the game, and they mostly look great. Not all of the enemies look so fantastic, but it was a great starting point. You can fight small enemies, of which nine will fit on screen, up to four medium sized enemies, or one large enemy, which is usually a boss.

Development

Were it not for Dragon Quest’s success, Final Fantasy would have never happened. It was the rival game’s release that made Square decide to take the plunge and try their hand at the genre. Because of the promise the game showed in Japan, and Dragon Warrior’s successful localization, Nintendo decided to localize it in America themselves.

Hironobu Sakaguchi led a small team, known as the A-team, to start development on Final Fantasy. Nobuo Uematsu composed it, and many of the songs used in this game are mainstays for the series, such as the level up jingle and intro song.

Koichi Ishii and Akitoshi Kawazu, also game designers, soon joined the project. Akitoshi Kawazu was a fan of western RPGs, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Wizardry. He was in charge of the battle system, and incorporated elemental weaknesses into the game, a feature that is pretty much standard now. Kenji Terada wrote the scenario based on a storyline by Sakaguchi, while Yoshitaka Amano was the main artist.

The game was programmed by a guy named Nasir Gebelli, an Iranian-American with a strong reputation for being an “ace” designer. After the video game crash of 1983, Nasir found himself travelling the world and eventually found his way to Japan. It turns out that Hironobu Sakaguchi was a fan of his previous games, and hired him on. After Final Fantasy started to shape up as a promising game, a B-Team was added to help finish the project.

Credit where credit is due

One of the best things about this game that will go almost completely unnoticed is that you don’t see the actual title screen until you’ve defeated the first boss and headed back to the castle. After talking to the king, you cross a new developed bridge and the moment you do you’re treated to a picturesque title screen complete with epic music. “And so, their journey begins…” it says, followed by each of the members names.

At the time, it was common for everybody on a team to have a pseudonym, or a fake name. Even Shigeru Miyamoto isn’t credited in the first Super Mario Bros. game. This was done to keep rival companies from contacting talented people and trying to poach them from their company. As a result, many people did not get the credit they deserve for their hard work. Final Fantasy was one of the first games to completely credit their team. They were proud of their work and wanted to let everybody know who was responsible.

The review

Final Fantasy is a really good game, but is devastatingly old school. You have to grind like crazy to fight any of the bosses. It is unapologetically difficult, which will turn many people off to it. However, for all of its faults and unfair battles, I love this game. It has memorable music, cool looking enemies, and an epic feel to it. The airship is a nice touch, as it makes moving across the three continents convenient. Give this legendary title a chance, and if you can’t hack the unending amounts of grinding necessary to beat the game, don’t beat yourself up.

Final Fantasy has been remade and ported so many times it’s hard to keep track of, but the Game Boy Advance version, titled Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls, is considerably more forgiving. The characters are much more balanced, and it’s much easier. I personally found the GBA version more fun, as it feels less like a chore and more like a game. If you’re an old school gamer and you want a challenge, then dive right on into the NES version and brace yourself.