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Final Fantasy

Year released: 1989
Company: Nintendo/Square
Genre: RPG

Oftentimes in entertainment, when something new is brought out to the public, there are always two people who can be associated with its popularity: The one who initially made it popular, and the one who refined and perfected it. Enix introduced the United States to the RPG with Dragon Warrior, and it was Square who molded the RPG into its optimum form with Final Fantasy. While it may not be the best sounding, most challenging, or even the most fun to play, it is all-around a great game nonetheless.

Unlike the later FF games, the plot arises from small conflicts and not one major goal (The crystals in FF2, the fall of the empire in FF3). First, you have to save the princess of Coneria. Then, you need to fight a pirate and win his ship. Next, you have to wake an Elf Prince (Link?) from his sleep. These small events usually don't tie in with the underlying aim of lighting four elemental orbs to open the way to the final battle. However, what they do is give you a sense of progress for finishing every task. Especially in RPGs, players really need to feel like they're accomplishing something throughout the course of the game, and FF does that very well.

Experienced players should have little trouble conquering this game. I myself can beat it in less than a week. Once you know where to build up gold and levels, the game becomes more of an exercise in patience than anything else. There are a couple places where you might have to stop and beef yourself up before heading out, but those instances are few and far between. Besides, there's much less damage inflicted to the game's thrill by waiting it out than rushing through the game, only to get plastered near the end. If you don't run away from too many battles, the game shouldn't be that difficult.

The only real irk I have with the game is its turn-based fighting system. Later versions fixed this up with the ATB system, but this convention leads to two problems: First, if there's a lot of enemies, and they all get to go first, you'll have to wait a while for everyone to get their shot. Second, also involving a load of enemies, there are times (especially late game) when most of the enemies like to gang up on one party member. This isn't much of a problem if it's a highly defensive fighter, but often it's the lowly White Mage who takes hit after hit. In the end, the player drops without you having a chance to prevent it. The last time I beat the game, I had a total of 5 casualties, 4 of which could have been avoided if had the opportunity to stop it. While I do recognize the technical shortcomings of the NES regarding a real-time fighting system, they could've at least done something similar to Arcana - control players' actions one person at a time, as their turns come up.

Another rather minor gripe is about the Play Control during battles. when scrolling through which enemy to fight, you can only go up or down, not sideways. Thus, if you wanted to fight something in the middle of the pack, it takes longer than necessary to highlight the desired enemy. Another related problem is with the item list: The game puts all "permanent" items above Heal Potions, Tents, etc., so instead of being able to hold turbo down to heal a party member, you have to keep moving that ding-blasted finger over to the Heal Potions (as you can only use one at a time) again and again. This wastes a lot of time. Out and about, your character moves pretty well. A special mention should be paid to the fact that you can push AI-deprived townspeople out of the way if they block your path. This is something that Dragon Warrior could have really used.

Final Fantasy games are known for having good graphics, so it's little surprise when I say that this game has some of the most beautiful NES-based graphics I've ever seen. The terrain looks very unique and not like it's made of 40x40 pixel stamps. The characters themselves look very clean-looking, and are animated pretty well. While the enemies are often just palette variations of earlier foes, they all look pretty nice. As for the game's music, some of the themes to the game are pretty good. The Battle theme and victory music are both quite well-done (there a reason that fanfare is on all the games!!), and a couple other peices are also pretty memorable. There are two problems, though: First, none of the music makes any use of percussion, so there's little rhythm to any of the music. Second, many of them last pretty long, and unless you make it a point to hear all the music, you'll be interrupted with starting and ending battles too much to enjoy the music.

Again, dealing with enjoyability, there were a couple of reasons why this game is so much fun. First of all, the solitaire game on the ship is a neat idea, and a cool way to take a break from the beast-slaying. Second, the frustration level is actually lower than you might think, except for the gang-up dilemma. And again, since there aren't many places where you have to stop and build up your experience, you get a definite sense of progress in the game. The objective of the Orbs definitely helps this cause. The ending could really use some work, though. You spend hours to beat this sucker, only to have the game preach at you to be a good little boy/girl. If I want to hear about how I shouldn't let evil take me over, I'll go to church, thank you very much.

In summary, Final Fantasy is a great game. It seriously could have had a much higher score, but alas, this is a game whose rating was brought down by too many minor quibbles. Still, its broader successes are what make this game such a magnificent find.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 14
Challenge: (Easy)
Aesthetic Score: 21
Overall Score: 83%

You are now listening to the Fight Music to Final Fantasy.