• The World was Veiled in Darkness...

    The Long Road to Final Fantasy

    Sometime after the release of FFVII, I asked my father to buy me a PlayStation for Christmas, and then I used my birthday money to buy a copy of FFVII. I waited longingly to play through the newest iteration of one of my favorite game series. I read the manual for months until Christmas would arrive and I could finally play the game that everyone swelled with blissful joy just thinking about it. During that time frame, I hit up a used game store looking for some lost treasure to occupy my time with until my beloved PS1 was in my grasp, and I was fortunate to come at the same time a mother arrived to sell off her son's Nintendo and all of his games. In one fell swoop I bought Dragon Warrior, Castlevania, and most importantly, Final Fantasy.

    I never had a chance to play FFI before then as it was rare by the time I got into the series and my friend who introduced me to the series had misplaced his copy. Now I had a chance to experience the game that started it all. Sadly the game's internal battery for save files was on it's last leg and my save file was erased about the time Christmas came. I only managed to barely fight my way to Elfland by that point. FFVII occupied my time for the rest of the holiday season, my disappointment with it was unfortunate but by then I was hitting my friends up for PS1 games to try out, and was introduced to FFTactics and Xenogears. My lost time with the original Final Fantasy was a forgotten memory by then. I never thought of it again until FF Origins was released and I gained a chance to play the game on my aging PS1. I found the game to be quite a blast despite it's simplicity and that got me thinking to trying out my NES cartridge again, but alas the thing is dead. Several summers ago, Operation Rainfall did a campaign where people interested in the unreleased Wii JRPGs would purchase the original Final Fantasy on a specific day on the Wii Virtual Console. It was a win-win situation for me as it finally gave me a chance to experience the original title in all its 8-bit glory. What occurred afterwards was a blissful summer of JRPG goodness which helped me to come to terms with my general apathy with the genre as late and got me thinking how close the original game came to being just another forgotten gem on the NES.

    A game creator's Final chance.
    There is no point in rehashing the story how the original Final Fantasy was made, its story is a legend in the game community and there is little about the scenario that has not been told better by others. Instead, I wish to explain how lucky FF1 was an actual success, because a few factors could have easily turned it into a one-note surprise for the NES and the end of Sakaguchi's career. Final Fantasy was released in the holiday season of 1987 in Japan, in the same month, Sega released their JRPG series to counter the NES Dragon Quest known as Phantasy Star. Frankly, Phantasy Star is a graphically superior game with more ground breaking design than FFI which was basically a mish-mash of Dragon Quest and Wizandry mechanics and graphics. Phantasy Star had several of the staples JRPGs would be defined by, with a more fleshed out story than Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, and it even had cutscenes to show emotions to it's fleshed out cast of characters. Hell it was one of the first RPGs to have the main character be a heroine. The only thing that FFI has that competes with it, was its world structure, that showed a place with rich history and locations. From destroyed homtowns, fantastic kingdoms, a sunken city, and an abandoned castle in the sky; FFI's world and adventure takes the player on a memorable quest that I feel is safely on par with Alis Landale's adventures through the Algol System.

    FFI is remembered, not simply because it went on to spawn a successful franchise, but because it was just the better game. While Phantasy Star certainly had an actual cast and better graphics that told the story, the game is fairly linear and the party is limited. The game is generally played out the same way. What FFI introduced over it and even Dragon Quest II was its replay value. The class system made tackling the game with each new playthrough as a very different experience, you were not limited to the three token characters the designers gave you who were limited by the spells they were pre-programmed with. No, you could choose your party, what abilities they learned, and could even sequence break the game thanks to poor instructions on where to go next. It was a game the player could get more value out of than the more straightforward and linear competition, and in an era where most gamers maybe got one game for their birthday or holidays, it was a godsend to have something that could pass the time between those events. Only games like Wizandry and Ultima could compete and they were better served on home computers than a simple game console. So FFI outlasted the relevant competitors by having a stronger, more player focused core gameplay as well as being released between the JRPG ice ages that is the eventual Dragon Quest release. Speaking of...

    Final Fantasy's other moment of luck was that Dragon Quest III came out later than it by two months. Dragon Quest III was developed for a year, which was unheard of at the time, and it shows as the game is the highest grossing turn based RPG on the NES in Japan, ranking 9th overall. Final Fantasy? Not even in the top 50. In fact only FFIII has the honor of breaking into the top 50 highest grossing NES games and it's ranked 34. The original Dragon Quest III is often compared to being the "FFVII of Dragon Quest"by modern gaming journalist, being the entry most fans remember fondly and the title the development team often tries to surpass with each new installment. DQIII is the title that started the urban legend about the Japanese government passing a law to have future DQ titles released on Sunday, so they wouldn't interfere with school or work. Had DQIII been released earlier, or FFI released later, its popularity would have most likely been crushed Final Fantasy chances of standing out. This is especially true since many of the gameplay elements FFI used to seperate itself from its console competition were implemented in DQIII and frankly better done. Even then, FFI wasn't just a game that succeeded by dumb luck and bringing a streamlined PC RPG experience to console, the way it handles its narrative is also unique and may even be the key to its success.

    Four Warriors appeared, with them a crystal of light...
    Final Fantasy stood out by having a much less conventional story than its competitors. Dragon Quest always involves slaying some evil Demonlord, The Legend of Zelda involves stopping Ganon from getting the Triforce, and even Phantasy Star is ultimately an evil empire tale with a 11th hour supernatural evil appearing as a plot twist. What is so interesting about Final Fantasy is how several of its smaller quests basically has the Light Warriors fulfilling objectives other games make their whole game about. Before FFI's plot begins proper, the party has to rescue a princess from an evil knight, defend a town from pirates, and save a kingdom of elves from an evil sorcerer. Only after all this does the player learn that the Light Warriors have to save their dying world by reviving their crystals.

    The heroes of FFI are given a monumental task, they're not trying to stop demon lords, dragon, even pig men, or a corrupt government, their goal is essentially to revive a dying world. It's given a tangible means of completion, but the game's opening prologue sets up a world that is in a far greater crisis than anything DQ or PS had thrown at you. The player builds their heroes up by competing the tasks that other heroes spend entire games to accomplish, and instead they have to keep going on. The sheer audacity to make the game's big plot twist be that the Light Warriors caused the whole decay of the world to begin with, by winning a forgettable early boss fight, was a huge player punch.

    This is also the other element that I feel really sets FFI apart is that despite its simple and somewhat silly plot, the game has an underlying message that is lacking from other games at the time, about how careless actions can sometimes create bigger problems. The stable time loop twist makes the heroes inadvertently accomplices to evil and the story takes on a different meaning from being a tale of simple destiny and more of a conspired plot that makes the player question their actions. The twist, while being a bit illogical, created a deeper meaning to the whole game with a simple twist and this to me is the magic of the FF experience, to make something so straightforward take on different meanings.

    This is not the final Fantasy...
    FFI is a game that I feel still shows the strengths of the genre as a gaming experience. Today it's often regarded as a classic relic due to shifting tastes over the years making the genre spend more time on characters and story over challenging gameplay. I do feel the game has a lot to still teach new game designers. The concept of resource management has gone out of style for the genre but series like Etrain Odyssey and some indie RPGs recognize how this simple mechanic can make a game more challenging and rewarding. Even the bugs I feel make the game a better experience, as the remakes have shown the game could have lost its difficult edge had it not had such faulty programming.

    Funny enough, FFI is hardly as brutal as the Famicom version of FFIII, which will keep you on your toes from beginning to end, but I would argue the game's difficulty curve is better than most RPGs. The game works more like early Dragon Quest games with the early parts being difficult due to the large amount of grinding required to progress, but frankly the game is pretty easy by end game. "But Wolf" you say,"many FF games are pretty easy by endgame as well, why is FFI different?" well that is simple, because FFI teaches you to be better.

    In my last playthrough of the NES version I did use the Run option a lot, learned when it was best to use a potion over a cure spell, try using every piece of equipment anyway I could to see if it had some value, and when to cut my losses and leave a dungeon to return to town. FFI molds you into a better player by the end of the journey. It is often said only twitch games like the Action or FPS genre can really do this, but I honestly feel that resource management allows RPGs to fall into this category as well, since you have to learn how to effectively use the tools your given in order to survive with little frustration. It was fun playing through the game again and re-experiencing an old school style game. Of anything, it made it difficult to come back to modern gaming who squander challenge into optional quests for players to gloat over it; instead of placing it through the main game and making you feel like you, the player, actually accomplished something as opposed to having the plot tell you the characters you controlled accomplish something.

    Final Fantasy is not simply "that game that started the cool franchise" it is a historical piece of gaming that shows how challenge can be rewarding and not frustrating, a simple twist can give even the simplest stories depth, and how experimenting can lead to great replay value and fun moments like bitch slapping Chaos with a party of Four Monks. Oh yes, I went there.

    So if you haven't played this gem in awhile, perhaps it's time to dust it off and give the original FF a play, whether it be your first time through this simple adventure, or your billionth.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The World was Veiled in Darkness... started by Wolf Kanno View original post
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Ayen's Avatar
      Ayen -
      I got to play the original NES version of this for a review last month. I can relate to the saving issues since my game wouldn't save and I was unable to get anywhere with it because I'd have to start over as soon as I stopped playing. Had to crank the text speed to max because otherwise the game is as slow as a turtle.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      I only played the GBA and PSP versions of the game, but I still think this really is one of the finest games ever made.

      I like the point you raised about the hidden meaning. This whole article was a great read! Hope to see more from you
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      Thanks everyone for all the compliments and kind words. I'm hoping to continue and do one for each entry in the series but we'll wait and see if that ever comes to pass.
    1. theundeadhero's Avatar
      theundeadhero -
      I don't know what it is about the game that makes me like the NES version so much more than a lot of other games. It wasn't my first RPG, Dragon Warrior takes that. I can't say it's nostalgia 'cause I've played through it again and again over the years, the last being less than a year ago. I can't even say it's the class selection making it highly replayable. I often choose the same four. What I do know is that it has a certain charm that draws me to it. The combat is more than mindless button mashing. You have to think about it a little bit or you're wasting turns being ineffective. I know about what point I need the fighter and red mage to attack an ogre together to kill it, or when I can have a fighter solo it, all the way up to when I can have the red mage solo it, and I enjoy that very much. Reaching each milestone early in the game, whether it's getting your ship or killing the earth fiend, feels like an accomplishment. Later on being strong enough to smash through Gurgu before I finish up the last of the game really feels like I've come a long way. I also enjoy that there's no side quests and optional nonsense to get the strongest gear. Most of the Nintendo era handled that well, but from FFVII onwards it brings me little joy. It being so vast, yet so simplistic, is definitely a part of that charm.
    1. Sephex's Avatar
      Sephex -
      I feel so lucky that I was there when this was the only Final Fantasy around. As I've said elsewhere on this forum, I loved RPGs back then before I knew FF existed thanks to ancient PC games and Dragon Warrior. My cousin and I happened to run into this game by pure chance and a local video game rental store, and my Aunt was nice enough to just buy it for him right there and then (the place in question let you do that if you wanted). It was so magical discovering the game with him. He was in the captain's chair most of the time, but I didn't care. I knew I could con my parents into buy my own copy sooner rather than later (and they did)! I sucked at the game back in the day, but I still enjoyed it very much (that Marsh Cave was brutal on my single digit age self).

      Anyway, this was such an awesome post. Very fun to read, and I even learned a thing or two about aspect surrounding the original release of the game!
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