I finally booted up my WiiU and went into the Wii’s Virtual Console to download the original 1990 NES Final Fantasy. You’ve mentioned it on this site several times and honestly I had been wanting to try it for a while. Mostly I was worried it would be too “Nintendo hard” like a lot of old school NES games but I have a love for the more old school turn based JRPGs. I’ve been enjoying the 3DS Square JRPG Bravely Default but it does still fall prey to too many modern issues that have plagued the modern Final Fantasy games namely in it’s too damn wordy. Characters take five minutes to explain something I got in the first minute.
Playing the original FF game, it’s amazing to see how far Square has come from this. I think this goes back to what you said about a game being well programmed. Back when companies had small carts to work with, they had to make it count, this is why I think when FF made the jump to PS1 was also when it started to go downhill. When you start the original Final Fantasy you get a short intro, you set up your party and are thrown into the game world and being told “ok, go save the day.” Also some hardcore gamers say the original is “too hard” or “too vague” in what you’re supposed to do and then defend the updated GBA/IOS port. It’s funny how hardcore gamers get mad when something like the Majora’s Mask 3DS remake “watered down” the game by making saving and time traveling easier but are all about watering down Final Fantasy from it’s NES original form.
Then I saw this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a95IaFbOwk
This guy was able to beat the first boss in under six minutes so it can’t be that hard of a game. What I found is like the often maligned Zelda II which is a tough game that I also loved, is that both aren’t that hard if you’re willing to level grind. It’s also not nearly as cryptic as say the original Zelda where you really just had to wander around until you found a dungeon. All you have to do is go into any town and talk to people and someone will give you an idea of where to go and what to do.
It’s amazing how watered down Final Fantasy has gotten in recent years. Many fans and even reviewers in hindsight look at FFXIII and realize how bad it was removing the fun, open world exploration in favor of walking down halls and watching cut scenes with a battle system that basically plays itself. Though everyone is rallying around XV saying “it’s returning to form! They’re promising a big open world!” Too bad all I’ve seen of the game is the effeminate Japanese boy band driving around in a car. Though what’s interesting about FFXV is that it will be the game that makes or breaks the Japanese console market given how poorly the PS4 has been selling there.
The original Final Fantasy is amazing, and I still play the game. I haven’t been able to lately because the battery died on my NES cartridge (oh, the humanity!). Aside from being able to choose different classes and all the usual things you expect me to say, I think the original Final Fantasy had the best story. Other games might have had better characters, but the story didn’t seem as epic. Final Fantasy’s adventure is just insane.
In the original Nintendo Power Final Fantasy Guide, they broke the game down into chapters which is actually helpful for breaking apart the game. Let’s do the same. Just imagine how the game twists the context on you.
Four Light Warriors beam out of nowhere with darkened orbs outside Cornelia. The great knight of Cornelia, Garland, has gone mad. He captured Princess Sarah and is holding her at the Chaos Temple. You level up, adventure to the temple, kill Garland, and return the princess back to Cornelia. End of game.
The game is taunting you in saying, “Yep, that is the end of the game. You won…. LOL. You have just begun the game!!!” It is a middle finger to prior RPG console games. What did you do in Legend of Zelda which was released prior to 1987? You rescued the princess. You did the same in Super Mario Brothers too.
When the original Final Fantasy came out was when other games also began to break the console mold: 1987 winter was when the original Mega Man was released as was Phantasy Star, Castlevania, and Contra.
Here, the game began when you rescued the princess. It did not end. The king of Cornelius builds a bridge with your victory. You cross it and the credits start. Already, this game was blowing apart the paradigm.
The Light Warriors eventually hit Pravoka which is a town conquered by pirates. After defeating the pirates, the NPCs come out, and you get the pirate ship. Now, we are still at the very beginning of the game, and this is another paradigm blown. How often do you come to conquered towns in RPGs? How often do you get a boat THIS EARLY in the game? It has never been done.
Since the game puts you in a giant lake, you can only really go to Elf-Land. In the Elf Castle is the Sleeping Prince (different from the Sleeping Princess trope) who needs an item from Astos, in the Dark Castle, to wake. You talk to Astos in the Dark Castle who says he wants his crown from the Marsh Cave to return the Dark Castle to glory. So off go the Light Warriors to get this item. When Astos is given the crown, he turns into the Dark Elf and savagely attacks the heroes. Once you get the medicine to revive the Sleeping Prince, you get the Mystic Key which unlocks all the secret vaults. One of the items is TNT.
You take the TNT to the dwarves tunneling, and they blow a hole in the land that allows your ship to go out into the ocean.
This chapter itself is a great little adventure. Keep in mind that waking the sleeping princess, Zelda 2, came out the same year Final Fantasy did.
Light Warriors arrive at Melmond which is a dying town because the earth has rot. You travel to the bottom of the Earth Cavern, kill the vampire, and get the Star Ruby which is given to the Sage who gives you the Rod. The Rod will open up the stone plate where the vampire was. Yes, you have to go down the Earth Cavern, back up again, and go back down it again. This chapter is full of undead as well which do not react well to physical attacks.
This chapter majorly sucks. It is the biggest difficulty spike in the game. There is so much stoning and disease, it sucks so much. The story sucks compared to the other chapters. There is nothing new here, and nothing interesting here in this chapter.
After removing the rod, the Light Warriors go deeper and find the Earth Fiend. They kill the Earth Fiend. Upon returning to Melmond, they find one of the four darkened orbs has brightened. The Light Warriors seek the Sages of Crescent Lake to find out what has happened.
At Crescent Lake, the Sages give a canoe so the heroes can go through the rivers of the mountains. The Sages also dump a ton of lore. The four crystals represents an elemental boss. When one is killed, an orb brightens. What happens when all the orbs are lit? Now, the game has a frame in that you slay all the Elemental Bosses. What is interesting is that this is revealed only after you kill the first one (and the journey to kill the Lich really, really, sucks). Games don’t do this especially back then.
The Fiend of Fire is in the volcano. The Light Warriors paddle their canoe there (!), enter the volcano, and kill the Fire Fiend. Now what? Where are the other two fiends?
The Fiend of Water and the Fiend of Air are in the northern continents. But there are no ship ports there so the Light Warriors cannot travel there. They need an alternate way.
After hearing about the Levistone (a stone that causes objects to float), the Light Warriors go to the Ice Cave and find it. Then they go to the desert in the area. Using the Levistone, the Light Warriors summon an airship out from the desert and fly away.
!!!@#!@#!$@%#@ WTF!? This is just too cool. An advanced fallen civilization of the north has one of its vessels hidden in the desert sands. I know flying ships are common in Eastern mythologies especially the Indian epics, but this is the first time I had really encountered them. My mind was blown.
Ultimately, this chapter is rather pedestrian. It gives out the frame of the game. You go kill the other elemental fiends. While the elements is a theme that gets tired, it was still very fresh at this time. It wasn’t mind blowing or anything. No, that would be reserved for the airship. In the strategy guide, they have a picture of the airship coming out of the sands and the ninja character looking shocked. That is how I felt.
This was certainly a context bender.
The Cardia Islands house the Dragons. But you do not fight the dragons. The dragons are people, and even have a king. The king puts a trial for you to retrieve the rat tail. If you do it, it will undergo a class change. Mages will become wizards, fighters will become knights.
This chapter is very interesting because it is a trial to prove yourself. In some ways, it is similar to The Quest of the Avatar (Ultima IV). It is a refreshing break from the ‘kill the elementals’ frame.
There are two towns in Chapter Six. There is Gaia, somewhat hidden, whose fairy-of-the-lake has had its fairy stolen. The other town, Onrac, is the dying ember of a once greater city that was part of a mighty civilization. The sea temple nearby sank a long time ago and took the mermaids (!) with it. A guy in Onrac says he saw a shiny object fall from the sky to the Great Waterfall. So many strange things!
What makes this chapter work so well is that it is showing the REMAINS of the Great Civilization of the North. It doesn’t actually show the civilization, just its ‘mark’ on the world. An archaeologist is studying the ancient writing and thinks the tablet to deciphering it is inside the sunk temple.
A submarine is available to get to the sunken shrine (submarine? Future technology!). However, the Light Warriors must spend a fortune to buy back the fairy from a caravan. The fairy then gives the oxale necessary to survive a submarine trip.
Inside the sunken temple, the Light Warriors talk to the mermaids, find the Rosetta stone to decipher the ancient language, and find the Water Fiend: Kraken. With the Water Fiend killed, three orbs are now lit.
This chapter is nuts. Instead of spotlighting the graveyards of this fallen High Tech Civilization, we actually get to see it. Robots. Lasers. Warping. It has it all.
The Light Warriors investigate the ‘shiny object’ that fell at the Great Waterfall. Carrying a common video game trope at the time (hello Shadowgate), there is a cave behind the waterfall. But at the end of the cave is not a person but a robot. The robot gives the Light Warriors the Warp Cube which is the key to get into the Flying Castle (!). The robot had fallen from the Flying Castle which is home to the Fiend of the Air. Now the Light Warriors know where to go.
The hidden ancient town of Lufenia is discovered. It is said four hundred years ago the Fiend of Air took over the Flying Castle with its robots. The five Lufenian warriors left with an airship, with the Levistone, and went south. They buried the airship and put the stone into the ice cave. But why did they do this? The five sky warriors’s adventure is the opposite direction of the ones the Light Warriors have been going! Why is this? There are no answers yet.
The Light Warriors go through the Mirage Tower in order to reach the Floating Fortress. Doesn’t this sound like World 5 of Super Mario Brothers 3? (Interestingly, Super Mario Brothers 3 also has airships.)
Above is a freaking war mech that attacks you with lasers. There is so much high technology being thrown here. This game transcended its typical fantasy RPG setting after Chapter 4. After that, the game no longer uses traditional fantasy tropes. The more use of high technology makes the game feel more mythic.
With the Fiend of Air slain, all four crystals are now lit.
Evil remains in the world. What to do? The Light Warriors consult the sages at Crescent Lake. The sages explain that the fiends had transformed the Temple of Fiends into a time portal where the evil flowing from it is coming from 2000 years in the past. The Light Warriors must go backward in time.
In the Temple of Chaos though, the five bats are actually the five Sky Warriors transformed. They failed in stopping the evil.
Inside the Temple of Fiends, they find younger versions of the four fiends in their prime. Once they are slain, the Light Warriors face The True Evil.
The True Evil is Garland, the first boss you defeated in Chapter One. Garland summons the fiends in the Future, but the fiends summon Garland in the past creating an Endless Time Loop. From this, Chaos emerges.
Once Chaos is defeated, the Light Warriors return to 2000 years to their present time. All the evils of the world never occurred. The princes and princesses are all on their thrones. Even Garland is there oblivious of what was done. No one knows anything that transpired except the Light Warriors. The Light Warriors tell their tale anyway, and it is only through vocal retelling that their memory survives.
Chapter Eight is the most fantastical and bizarre I have ever seen from a video game. Final Fantasy IV was awesome, but only in a Chapter Seven way. There was nothing as fantastical as an Endless Time Loop. Returning to the original dungeon of the game, and to the first boss, was a stroke of genius.
What makes Chapter 8 so context shaking is that it defies mythology itself. Mythology is about time being disordered by monsters. The heroes slay the monsters to restore time. Time was not seen as a linear line to the ancients. This is why there is no time travel in ancient mythology. Chapter 8 feels distinctly Western by doing this.