Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Top Games of All Time #4: Final Fantasy (NES)

In the late ‘80s, a small Japanese video game company named Square found itself rocketing towards bankruptcy. After a string of lukewarm releases like 3-D WorldRunner , King’s Knight and Rad Racer (known in the Land of the Rising Sun as Highway Star), things were looking grim. Square Director Hironobu Sakaguchi felt he didn’t have a good action game left in him, so he tore a page out of Dragon Quest’s book and decided that Square’s final project would be fantasy role playing game. If the gambit didn’t pan out, Sakaguchi was reportedly poised to quit making video games and head back to university.

FF1 North American box.
Thankfully for the gaming world, university would not see the likes of Sakaguchi any time soon: Released a week before Christmas 1987, Final Fantasy for the Famicom was the critical hit Square needed to stay afloat. More than 23 years later, the little company that almost drowned in the waves of the Nintendo console market has merged with Enix – the creators of the Dragon Quest series – and is a dominating force in the gaming world, with much of the credit going to Sakaguchi’s not-so-final fantasy game.

Released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990 in North America, almost three years after it appeared in Japan (and the same year Square unleashed Final Fantasy III on eager Japanese gamers), Final Fantasy made a moderate impact on a small-but-devoted, RPG-starved American audience. The only thing American console gamers had seen that was anything like FF1 up to that point was the original Dragon Quest game, dubbed Dragon Warrior in the US and released just the year before. Unlike Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy gave the player control of not one, but four warriors of varying ability. What’s more, the player could chose his or her team from six character types, allowing for 126 possible combinations. This is not counting the unofficial trio, duo and solo possibilities for gamers looking for more of a challenge, or the option to forgo the class change option halfway through the game and press on with the young, inexperienced versions of your characters.

For those wondering, that leads to 418 possible combinations.
Herein lies the reason you’re currently reading about the original Final Fantasy and not 1994’s SNES classic Final Fantasy III/VI. After 16 years, my desire to take on Final Fantasy IV again is not nearly as high as my wish to take new and exciting FF1 parties into battle against the four elemental fiends. I’ve finished Final Fantasy in its various incarnations, from the NES original to the PS1, GBA and PSP remakes and even on my cell phone, more than 10 times. And still I want to dig deeper, to ignore the world outside and pour myself into this decades-old video masterpiece.

Your party determines everything in FF1, from how long you have to grind (if at all) and how much money you’ll need to how long you can stay out in the wild before having to trudge back to town with your tail between your legs. Four fighters are expensive killbots who, with limited healing options and armor slots, have a tougher time taking down the evil Chaos than you might think. You could go with a party that will have a lot of trouble throughout the adventure, like four white or black mages; or a party who’s lives get progressively more difficult as the game progresses, like two red mages and two black mages; or even a group that overcomes initial adversities to blossom into a well-oiled war machine, like a black belt, a thief and two white mages (I highly recommend this party to those looking for a “ugly duckling” style coming of age experience).

With patience, know-how and a bit of old fashioned luck, any four-member combination (with class change) can finish the game, barring an unwelcome meeting with WarMECH on Tiamat’s bridge or a well-timed CUR4 by Chaos; just be sure to grab the Mas(a)mune sword, bury your hardest hitter at the bottom of the lineup, RUSE/INV2/White Shirt like crazy and pray, pray, pray.

Many of the incarnations of FF1 available in North America.

Things are much easier on the PSP and Gameboy Advance (Dawn of Souls) version of the game; ridiculously easy, in fact. The extras in these “upgraded” iterations feel tacked on and mismatched at best and completely game-breaking at worst. If you’re looking for the true FF1 experience and you’re not a little sissy baby who can’t handle a bit of adversity and leveling, the original NES cart or the PlayStation 1’s Final Fantasy Origins disc are the way to go. Also, Namco’s recent cell phone port of FF1 retains about 90 percent of the challenge of the original, so if you can stand squashed graphics and crippled sound, grab that mobile device and start saving the world.

Classic. Epic. Flock of Birds.

Speaking of the true Final Fantasy experience, players knew they were in for something special when the main credits began rolling only after they conquered the game’s first real challenge. Not many games bothered with cinematic elements in the mid to late 1980s, so when a screen popped up telling the player that the game has now truly begun as he or she crossed the first bridge into the unfamiliar, it really felt like you were about to embark on an epic adventure the likes of which had been hitherto unknown to the world of console gaming. The four Warriors of Light climb a hill as the sun sets in the background, looking back on the castle from whence they came and trudging ahead to the challenges that await them. Just like feeling one gets the first time they plug in The Legend of Zelda, the player suddenly felt like anything is possible. A vast new world was theirs to explore, a feeling that’s hard to shake even two decades later.

Please don't make fun of my cell model.
My current party, on the cell phone version of the game, is a red mage, a black belt, a white mage and a black mage. Yeah, the going is a little tough, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That is, unless I felt like it at the character select screen.

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What are YOUR top games of all time? Leave me a comment with your top three games, in order, and have your opinions heard in a future post here on Wordsmith VG!
Tomorrow: We'll Duke it out with one of gaming's baddest anti-heroes!


  1. Spiderz aka Rick MOctober 20, 2010 at 9:18 PM

    Great Article!
    Here are my top 3 games:

    1. Dark Cloud 2 (PS2)
    2. The Lost Mind of Doctor Brain (PC)
    3. Crazy Machines (PC)

    Notable Mentions: Minecraft (PC) & Super Smash Brothers Series (N64,GameCube, and Wii)

  2. @Spiderz I don't think I've played any of those games! But then again, I haven't had many good PCs around. I should pick up a copy of Dark Cloud 2 sometime. ^_^ Is Dark Cloud worth playing?

    My second game of all time has to be The Little Mermaid For the NES.

    It had great graphics, challenging levels, and it scared me to much when I was younger. (I had to get my older sister to do certain parts for me, because I just knew that I would have died!)

    Then, I came across a Game Boy port of this game, sat down, and finished it much, much later in my life (22-ish) than when I started playing it when if first came out.

    The game was still challenging. I still was frightened when I got to certain parts. I paused at times to think about what I had to do next.

    It was a princess game, I know; But this game never had anything to do with dress-up, nor did it have anything to do with being saved by the prince charming.

    You faced everything from hermit crabs to sharks in order to grab power-ups for both your strength and you speed on the way to the Sea Witch.

    Ursula was scary, but not nearly as frightening as the first part of the game where you had to climb a chimney of octopuses that shot projectiles twice at a time.

  3. 1. Fallout 2 (PC, Black Isle)
    2. X-Com UFO Defense (PC, Microprose)
    3. The Longest Journey (PC, Funcom)