• Final Fantasy I-IV: A retrospective

    Recently I was challenged by Eyes on Final Fantasy member Freya to beat the first four Final Fantasy games while I was away from the site due to outstanding circumstances. In that time (which was supposed to be only a few weeks, but turned into a month) I took that challenge, playing the Dawn of Souls version of the first two games, the DS version of Final Fantasy III, and Final Fantasy IV Advance.

    Iíve played Final Fantasy games since the first one was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 1980s, so these games werenít all too unfamiliar, regardless of the version. I had chosen those versions, honestly, for the most part because theyíd be easier than the NES versions for the first three and FFIV Advance was just easier for me to access.

    It wasnít too long ago I undertook a Solo Red Mage/Red Wizard challenge on the Dawn of Souls version of Final Fantasy. Long story short, it was incredibly easy. The deaths that did happen were pretty unavoidable and mostly happened during the early midsection of the game, which is balance-wise the most challenging portion of the game. So when I took on Freyaís challenge, with a full team of Light Warriors, it wasnít a complicated task.

    What came to mind a lot while playing was how the pendulum of balance went from one direction in the NES version, which Iíve played hundreds of times, to the totally opposite direction in this version.

    The NES version of Final Fantasy is notorious for its bugs, most of which affect weapon/armor abilities as well as character hit rate and evasion. The Sun Sword, which is supposed to be more affective against the undead, does no extra damage. Red Mages and Thieves constantly miss on their attacks. The DoS version, on the other hand, fixes most of these bugs (but unfortunately not the Critical Hit Rate Bug). It also adds a plentitude of items to heal every status ailment, as well as allows you to save anywhere you like, as opposed to just Inns as was the case on NES.

    Where they missed though, was not empowering the fiends. Now that you can save anywhere, including right in front of the spot where youíd fight Piscodemons in the Marsh Cave (no more unnecessary trips through that place), it has become a synch to just save right before any ďdifficultĒ battle. Even then, the battles are no longer as difficult, since you can carry phoenix, high potions and ethers. In the NES version, ethers and high potions were nowhere to be found, phoenix downs (then known as LIFE) could only be used outside of battle. If Astosí death spell hit your Fighter in battle, you couldnít revive him until afterwards. In fact, in that point of the game, you had to trudge all the way back to Elfheim and pay the priest at the Sanctuary to revive him.

    That being said, there are four bonus dungeons to play that open after defeating each of the four fiends, so it is worthwhile to try this version out. Just be sure to do it before you fight the final boss, or you wonít get a chance afterwards and have to play all over again.

    Final Fantasy II comes off much better in this remake. Mind you, I have little experience with the NES version, as the first I played was part of the Playstation remake. However, this version differs little from that, even improving upon it.

    Final Fantasy II is most known for its peculiar leveling system, which deviates greatly from the first and many later games in the series. Here you gain aptitude in abilities based on how you use them. For instance, you attack with a sword (or better dual-wield two) and your rating for swords goes up a bit. When it goes up enough, you gain a level in swords. This works the same for magic and other weapons and shields as well.

    For things like HP and defense, you gain experience by being attacked. Some try to cheat the system by attacking other party members early on to jack up their HP. This technique can be trying on the nerves. What probably works best is to just play the game normally and your stats will rise on their own. Evasion and Agility get a boost by wearing lighter armors (curaisses) which helps dodging attacks.

    Other than the funny leveling system, this game is famous for having a much deeper story and greater characters than the first. Your characters actually have personalities, from the leader Firion, to the lady Maria and the gentle giant Guy. Yeah, that isnít exactly Cloud, Tifa and Barrett, but itís pretty good compared to Thief, Bl. Belt and Red Mage.

    The story is pretty awesome as well. Well before Final Fantasy XII, itís a heavily politicized story that finds guests joining your threesome throughout the game. That being said, if youíre not careful before time, itís also one of those games where the guest can leave with your good equipment (damn you to hell, Gordon!). That piss-poor tradition continues in the SNES and PSX Final Fantasy games in particular.

    Also of note, this was the game that first introduced the world (i.e. Japan) to Chocobos (which for the rest of us didnít come until Final Fantasy IV (FFII U.S.) or Final Fantasy VII (depending where youíre from).

    Having only a handful experience with this game many moons ago, I found it actually a lot more fun than I recalled. Once you decide what role you want for your character, itís easy to shape them into what you want. The game gives you a ton of flexibility in this department. Firion proved apt at being a sword/axeman who used white magic, Maria a bow wielding black mage (who switched to other weapons as well), and Guy as a fist pounding Monk with basic magic skills.

    Speaking of magic, itís really the only thing that doesnít work well in this game. It takes a LOT of leveling for magic to become powerful and MP doesnít raise at a fast enough rate. Maria barely got over 150 MP by the endgame. It takes a lot of mixing, using magic and weapons, to balance things out. Fortunately, ethers are a bit cheaper in this one than other games in the series.

    The bonus game in this edition, the ďSoul of RebirthĒ, is more of a side game where you guide all the characters who died in the regular game through an extra adventure. Fighting difficult enemies underpowered and underequipped isnít really worth the hassle.

    What is worth the hassle is to play the remake of Final Fantasy III. While far from perfect, this charming little game is something the world audience sorely missed out 20-plus years ago. While I played the DS version, an aesthetically superior version can be found on Steam, and can be seen in this Letís Play by Eyes on Final Fantasyís very own Psychotic. Personally, like Final Fantasy II, I have little experience with the Famicom version, so everything stated is based on the rereleased versions alone.

    The greatest issue haunting this game, much like Final Fantasy, is the balancing. No matter how great your armor is, monsters will be able to smoke your Knights out in a matter of a few hits. I faced a similar experience as Psychotic, where I had a lot of ďHail MaryĒ wins against not only bosses, but against difficult monsters as well.

    Despite the at times insane challenge, the characters are great, the story, while not as fruitful as Final Fantasy IIís political war, brings back the crystal focus. Itís pretty simple, but not shallow in the way the first one was. You basically guide four kids who have to restore the power of light before darkness overtakes the land.

    Much like Final Fantasy V, the crystals award the Light Warriors with their power, by which they are given jobs. While not as fully developed as Final Fantasy V or as savvy as Final Fantasy X-2 in the Job Class department, this introduction of the series staple works quite well. While itís not fully understood how the jobs gain levels (there are no job points) and the fact that you have to play anywhere from 1-10 battles as a job before you can use it at its full potential. Iím not sure what to make of that, whether it affects abilities or not, but seems to deter you from switching jobs at will.

    Final Fantasy III also introduced job specific abilities as well. Thieves can steal and pick locks, Dragoons can Jump, and Ninjas can Throw. Each job is fully fleshed out, much more than the first one.

    As for the bonus content, such as gaining the Onion Knight job class, that was unavailable to me, as the DS version requires constant use of the MoogleNet system which no longer exists, outside of the in-game messages. The Steam version makes the NPCs much more responsive in MoogleNet, and in turn the Ultimate Weapons and Onion Knight are much easier to obtain.

    While Final Fantasy III was on the opposite end of the difficulty spectrum than Final Fantasy, it didnít compare in frustration as to Final Fantasy IV Advance. What shouldíve been the ultimate edition of Final Fantasy IV (which was released as Final Fantasy II in the U.S. on the SNES), its damning control response is what makes the game somewhat of a disappointment.

    Iíve played the SNES, PSX as well as the GBA versions of this game. By far, the GBA version is incredibly disappointing on two fronts. First and foremost, the response to the button presses is piss-poor. Itís amazing how many times you have to press the A button just to simply attack. Mind you, Final Fantasy IV introduced the Action Turn Based system, which allows time to flow and monsters to attack while making your decisions. If the battle speed is raised high (lower numbers on the configuration screen), monsters will rapidly attack your team as youíre trying desperately to make your selections.

    This just adds to Final Fantasy IVís already convoluted way of deciding who acts next in battle. A characterís meter could be filled for two turns and yet they stall before you even get to choose their action. Magic users are also inconsistent in their spell speed, sometimes performing a spell immediately, sometimes stalling while everyone else has two turns.

    The most asinine thing about this version is that while increasing the number of items available to use (Squeenix loves their items) they didnít increase the space in your inventory to carry said items. I know the Fat Chocobo is available to store things, but all in all thatís not a convenient way to hold on to things. There are a ton of items to remedy status effects, use in offense, and even important items (which generally get their own section), and youíre even allowed to carry more than 99 of any given item. Itís really poor decision making on the programmers part to make the item menu so limited.

    That being said, thereís a lot to this game that makes it worth a shot. The fact that this version allows you to use characters that have left the team (except for Tellah and FuSoYa) in the end game is the biggest addition. Being able to switch in Cid for Edge is a delight. To make up for them not having greater gear, an extra dungeon in Mt. Ordeals was added where better weapons and gear for Cid, Palom, Porom, Edward and Yang can be had.

    Also, your team is awarded a bonus dungeon in the Lunar Ruins based on whom you with you defeat Zeromus. If you beat it with the standard team, it unlocks the dungeons for each of those characters. Go back and defeat the game again with any of the other characters, then a bonus dungeon opens for those characters. Unfortunately, they donít let you switch out Cecil, so you have to beat the game at least twice to open the Lunar Ruin Trials for all the characters (only one twin has to beat Zeromus to open the Twinís Trial).

    That alone makes this version worth playing. But if that doesnít fancy you, then you might as well stick with the SNES version. Either way, you canít really lose, as Final Fantasy IV is an epic game and not only carried, but also created many of the great traditions we see in the series today.

    Overall, these remakes hold up pretty well. The most worthwhile to play might be Final Fantasy II, as itís also one most people hadnít yet played. Final Fantasy III is a great second, but you might want to try that on Steam instead. You can really go either way with the original. You might want to play the remake for the bonus dungeons, but the lack of challenge in the main game might make you bored. As for Final Fantasy IV, try the Advance version, but donít feel youíll miss too much sticking with the SNES/Super Famicom version.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Final Fantasy I-IV: A retrospective started by Colonel Angus View original post
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. Spooniest's Avatar
      Spooniest -
      Chocobos appear in FF2...
    1. Spooniest's Avatar
      Spooniest -
      Oh they do don't they!
    1. Colonel Angus's Avatar
      Colonel Angus -
      I said it introduced Japan to Chocobos (that the rest of us didn't get them until FFIV or FFVII).
    1. Freya's Avatar
      Freya -
      I'm so impressed you beat my challenge! I didn't know there was that drastic differences between the versions. I was looking into get the steam versions of some of these games but I'll know to avoid the GBA version of IV.

      GOOD READ!
    1. VeloZer0's Avatar
      VeloZer0 -
      Nice comparative write up.

      One oversight,I notice that you didn't list DS in your list of FF4 versions you have played. That's a shame as it's the best version out of all of them.
    1. Colonel Angus's Avatar
      Colonel Angus -
      that's because I have yet to play it. I need a more suped up Computer to get that one to work.
    1. Elpizo's Avatar
      Elpizo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Freya View Post
      I'm so impressed you beat my challenge! I didn't know there was that drastic differences between the versions. I was looking into get the steam versions of some of these games but I'll know to avoid the GBA version of IV.

      GOOD READ!
      It was really only the US version of IV Advance that was so bugged. Us Europeans had to wait months for the game to be released, because they ironed out most, if not all of the bugs during that time. In fact, I believe they re-released the European version in Japan as a "fixed" version of IV Advance.
    1. Lawr's Avatar
      Lawr -
      IV Advance's biggest sin was how unacceptably slow it was for Kain to initiate his Jump, and how long it took for him to land. He's essentially useless in the US version unless you give him an elemental sword/lance!
    1. Colonel Angus's Avatar
      Colonel Angus -
      yeah, Jump is incredibly slow. The image I used from my boss battle may have been Kain's 5th or 6th turn, & he'd yet to land.
    1. Spooniest's Avatar
      Spooniest -
      Quote Originally Posted by Colonel Angus View Post
      that's because I have yet to play it. I need a more suped up Computer to get that one to work.
      The PC version is near identical to the DS version, and the system requirements are not that high...I think you need a pentium 4 at 2.4 gHz and 2 gb of ram, among other things.
    1. Kalevala's Avatar
      Kalevala -
      Good stuff!
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