I wasn’t always in love with the the Final Fantasy franchise. Having owned Nintendo consoles for most of my young life, I had no exposure to the series until I had stumbled across emulators in my high school years. Even though the graphics were dated, I was immediately enamored by the colorful, fantastical worlds the games presented, and sucked into the games’ fast-paced, tactical battles against wicked monsters and grandiose villains.
Having acquired a PlayStation Portable some time after its heyday, I was in the position to enjoy the majority of the console’s titles due to the lower prices. Browsing a local pawn shop, a particular gem caught my eye: the 20th Anniversary Edition of the very first Final Fantasy title, which featured completely remastered graphics. Eager to catch up on my gaming history, I dived into the series’ first entry.
For anyone who has ever played an old RPG, starting a new game in Final Fantasy is standard fare: players get to select four characters from an assortment of classes and assign them each a name. After christening my warrior, thief, white mage and black mage with various obscenities, I was presented with a brief CGI cutscene before being thrust into the game’s massive overworld map. A single avatar walking across fields and forests like a cartoony giant represented my party’s travels amidst FF’s landscapes.
The first thing I noticed about the game was it’s audio presentation. What I’ve always loved about this series is it’s top notch presentation, and the anniversary edition of FF is no different. Enchanting piano plays majestically at the start screen, and upbeat orchestral songs accompany travel through the wilderness and the game’s various battles. Especially lovely are the soft guitars that play in the game’s towns and cities, and the dungeons and caves feature fun, ominous tunes as well, immersing the player into a delightful fantasy world.
The graphics are simple — naturally, as this is after all the remaster of a game from the 8-bit era — but are nonetheless very pleasing to the eye, colorful and crisp in their execution. The most visually appealing aspect of the title is it’s battles, populated by detailed and gruesome looking monsters pulled from various folklore and mythologies. The battles’ backdrops are great too, featuring beautifully painted fields, forests, swamps, mountains and numerous other locales. The game’s spells and special abilities all light up the screen with great spectacle, making combat interesting to watch.
After some twenty or so odd hours of playing, the gameplay starts to show its age. The sense of adventure from finding new locales and encountering new enemies wears down as the formula becomes predictable to the player. The combat isn’t quite complex enough to remain interesting for the length of the game’s entirety, and learning new spells and acquiring new gear doesn’t do much to shake up the approaching monotony. The formula of finding a new town, proceeding to the the dungeon, wandering around through endless random battles and eventually finding and defeating the boss isn’t enough to keep the player entertained forever.
The game began to become a chore, and my experience transitioned away from enjoying my way through the title, to pushing myself to simply finish it. It seemed to me like there wasn’t quite enough “game” to spread over the 40-hour-or-so length of this title, and the one feature that could have saved the game from this would have been some semblance of an engaging plot, but alas, there’s hardly even enough of a questline to guide you along from one dungeon to the next.
After beating the final boss and watching the credits roll, it’s easy to see how the series — and RPGs in general — have grown over time. While it was certainly an amazing game back in the day, the lack of an engaging story and interesting gameplay over the course of the game’s breadth leaves something to be greatly desired. If you’re interested in these sorts of old school games and want to experience a bit of retro gaming history, the 20th Anniversary Edition might interest you, because it’s easy to get into and entertaining, with great presentation and music. If you’re searching for the next great RPG to sink your teeth into, however, this one may not have the staying power to keep you engaged for it’s entire length. Despite it’s flaws, I did enjoy my time with Final Fantasy, and I think serious retro gamers should give it a chance.