GameHounds Replay: Final Fantasy

In: GameHounds Replay by Leah "WhiteGodiva" Haydu

25 Apr 2011

When I started my series of replays, I questioned whether I should write them up as “reviews.” After all, nostalgia plays a pretty hefty part in how I see these titles, and the concept of picking them apart from a completely unbiased viewpoint is probably impossible.

That’s sort of the point, though. My comrades and I are taking a look at whether older games can have value beyond personal meaning. Should anyone, at this point, bother playing these games for the first time?

What I’m trying to say is that I’ll do my best. You should probably expect some bias, though.

Final Fantasy is available to play on pretty much everything, including your toaster, so my options for a replay were many and varied. I chose the PSP port, which, aside from the juiced-up graphics and the optional added dungeons, is reasonably faithful to the original 1987 NES original.

The updated visuals are wonderful at first glance, but as I played through the game, I think they actually became more of a distraction than anything else because they highlight a very strange disconnect between the actual content of the game and how it looks.

The gameplay hasn’t changed; you’re still running around either a world map or a dungeon or getting into random battles in which you swing your sword or cast your spell from one side of the screen, only to see it somehow traverse the gap between you and your enemies to land on the other side, where they are. And never the twain shall meet.

Since, you’re no longer going through your motions with with detailed, re-tooled characters instead of blocky, eight-bit sprites (and yes, I did think of 8-Bit Theater for my entire 12-hour experience), my brain was sort of tricked into thinking that the battles were somehow less complicated than they really ought to be. I’m still not sure whether that was a bad thing or not, but it was certainly dissonant.

Although simplicity is no longer the watchword for this and other recent ports of Final Fantasy when it comes to graphics, it remains so in other aspects — most notably the story and the characters. Clichés come from somewhere, and the classic “JRPG story” has its roots right here: Four heroes with mystically appointed powers (due, here, to the crystals) and burning desires to right the wrongs of the world set out on an epic quest to scour the earth of bad guys and ultimately save the world from destruction at the hands of an evil villain.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The characters, similarly, are completely blank slates. Completely. Although there are definitely party combinations that are more challenging than others, you have the option of assigning any role you like to each of your party members. A role is upgraded once, at a critical story point, but it essentially carries through the entire game. You also assign names to your party — I rolled with John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Perhaps the most telling feature of your party’s anonymity, though, is that they have no dialogue whatsoever. Silent protagonists aren’t all that uncommon, but four silent protagonists seems a little unlikely. This really just draws attention to the fact that you could literally drop any character at all into the lead slot here and it would make absolutely no difference to the way the story plays out. Games like 3D Dot Game Heroes have played with this particular trope, but among the character-driven RPGs of today, this stands out in Final Fantasy I, and not in a good way.

Overall, it’s difficult to take this game apart and ascertain what about its various parts makes it the title that propelled a series into fame (or, for some, infamy). This is supposed to be a genre-definer, right?

Well, sort of.

Although Final Fantasy, and RPGs in general, have evolved massively over the last 20-plus years, you have to have a starting point for that to happen; you have to have something to evolve from. I wouldn’t put Final Fantasy I into anyone’s hands as his or her first RPG, and I’m not even sure that it’s objectively a “good” game. It is, however, worth playing, if only to see how far we’ve come.

Replay score: 5/10

Final Fantasy I

Developer/Publisher: Square
Originally released for the NES; reviewed for PSP; also available for many, many other other platforms
Released December 18, 1987
Total sales to date: 1.99 million copies

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3 Responses to GameHounds Replay: Final Fantasy

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matt

April 26th, 2011 at 8:45 am

Nice review. I played this as a kid and loved it. I remember years ago trying to replay it on a GameBoy remake and it just didn’t do it for me. There’s very few games from that time that I would ever want to play through again.

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scuigi

April 26th, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I like this review. It reminds me of when I played Halo 1 a couple of years ago, it felt much more significant as a starting point for the Halo franchise and as a milestone in Microsoft console shooters than it was a good or memorable game by itself.

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Pianobeendrinkn

April 30th, 2011 at 5:55 am

You know, the thing about this game is that it was really, where it all began in its day. Its an amazing game for its time, but its definitely not an easy game to go back to if it wasn’t your first JRPG (as it was for me.) On another note, I have a friend that beat the game using a party of 4 white mages–I can’t even imagine putting myself through that.

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