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Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Everyone knows the story of how Final Fantasy was Square’s ‘Final Fantasy’; now, almost twenty years and over ten sequels later, the original has become a historical patriarch of sorts, looked back upon and revered as a landmark title. However the question lags: how much of this astute reverence is earned by the game itself, or is it mostly due to rosy retrospection through the course of time?
In order to give some perspective on the original title, I am reviewing the Final Fantasy Origins remake—those curious to know my scores for the original, subtract one point from every ranking category above except for Overall and Originality. Though Final Fantasy is, contrary to the belief of a small portion of the population, not the sole progenitor of console role-playing it must, along with Dragon Warrior and Phantasy Star, be considered as a forefather. Final Fantasy’s innovations historically are more apparent through story and plot, as it contained a great deal more of this than Dragon Warrior ever did. Future Final Fantasy titles would drastically improve upon and vastly become more influential than this one, but to say that this would not be possible without the existence of this game is an understatement.
The story itself is simple: Evil is spreading, and four mysterious orphans with no names, no past, and ambiguous genders, each carrying a crystal (ORB in the original American release), are labeled as the Light Warriors destined to clear the land of this Evil. Very simple, yet somewhat charming in its 8-bit innocence…and we have come a long, LOOOOONG way! This game features none of the fever-pitch drama or sweeping cut-scenes made famous by its progeny—and character development is nil, nada. Granted, this is Final Fantasy and there are some vaguely interesting plot points, but you will NOT be playing this game out of an obligation to progress the storyline.
Is it the battles then, that keeps you playing? Lord knows you will spend anywhere from two-thirds to three-fourths of the game fighting in them anyways! The enemy encounter rate is atrocious, especially in dungeons (where there are NO save points, and potions run out REALLY fast!), and the PS1 remake does not make things any better with its load times. Though many hated the ‘ineffective’ message (and yes, they are programmed out), this setting and many others can be restored, so that the game can be played in the original way. Though this does make things hard and retains the integrity of the game, I don’t think Final Fantasy’s feelings will be hurt too much by those who prefer some new-age trimming and shaping, in an effort to actually make playing it a more pleasant experience.
Speaking of original settings, Final Fantasy is SO much easier to navigate thanks to the polished interface. Though not perfect—far from perfect—what used to take ten-plus minutes to do in menus now only takes…well, about six. But that’s still an improvement—thank the Lord for shoulder buttons! Besides that, walking speeds have been improved and the graphics have been upgraded to 16-bit quality, so you can actually SEE for the most part what’s going on now, though the graphics for the original weren’t horrible (just the typical NES washed out, lego-block look).
Along with the graphics, another thing one can’t fault the original for due to technological restraints is the sound. The NES was the Box o’ Blips ‘n’ Boops, but Nobuo Uematsu delivered a fine soundtrack for Final Fantasy, setting a standard that would be continued with every subsequent release. Matoya’s Cave, the Main Theme, the soaring series theme and the legendary Prelude all sounded great in the original, and are terrific in remixed form.
In the end, Final Fantasy is a very important game: both as the forerunner of the premier role-playing series and as a historical pioneer. But it is not a masterpiece, and not even a classic in the true sense. It is sad to say, but most of the reverence given this game is due in fact to the passage of time and the glorious sequels it has spawned. That is not to slight it as a game too much now; it was released in 1987, and we have come a long way in what we expect in games from then to now. So for reassurance, Final Fantasy can rest upon its laurels knowing that it succeeded firstly as a game—saving the company whose dream would spark an empire—and in the process achieved a status attained only through hard years and hard work.
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