Final Fantasy Legend - Retroview
All Antiques are NOT Created Equal
By: Paul Koehler
| Battle System
| Replay Value
| Time to Complete
Ancient, and it shows.
Some titles age well, others just age. The latter is
the true with the original game of the SaGa series, called Final Fantasy
Legend (FFL) in North America. Released just two months after the original
Final Fantasy, this game is venerable in its own right, and in many ways
can be considered the first true Game Boy RPG. FFL is also a somber reminder
that Squaresoft, like everyone else, makes mistakes from time to time.
Casting an overall shadow over FFL is the game interface, which is a
pain from the very beginning. Player names are limited to 4 characters,
and most of the monsters carry abbreviated names in one form or another.
Inventory space is very limited, and although this gives the game a strict
level of difficulty, it is more of an annoyance than a benefit. To make
matters worse, most items can be used for a fixed number of combat rounds.
Want to keep the XCLBR sword? Make sure not to use it more than fifty
times, or it will crumble.
Getting to the end of the game with a balanced party
is an entirely different matter. The lead character selects three party
members, and each class of character has their own strengths and pitfalls.
Many retro gamers applaud FFL for this challenge, and I would agree, except
for the way that FFL characters grow. Experience levels? What are those?
Character growth at times is seemingly random. Mutants (FFL's magic-user
class) suffer from this system, as it is possible for a mutant to come
out of a battle using a Flare spell and coming into the next fight with
the Ice spell in its place. There are some ways to control these changes,
but they only work with a degree of certainty.
Most of the time these changes are found in the battles
themselves, and a console RPG battle system can not get any more venerable
than this, with the exception of Dragon Warrior. The menus are straightforward,
largely because there isn't much information to display. For the game,
however, it suits its purpose. With the limited way that FFL deals with
character growth, an inexperienced player needs to be careful when venturing
into new areas, as some battles can overwhelm a party that isn't prepared.
For those parties that can trudge through the game,
they are introduced to a new concept that is a staple of the SaGa series:
character customizability. It's unfortunate that the entire concept was
botched in this game, but the system does work with monsters. They eat
other monsters' meat to morph classes (i.e. Lizard to Fly), or grow to
the next level in their class. Monsters can be a big asset to a party
at the end of the game, but are a great risk overall. This adds an incredible
level of difficulty, and for its time, FFL was the first to implement
such a system.
Being the first major RPG for the Game Boy, FFL looks like an antique.
There aren't many games on the Game Boy that look worse than it. It's
not difficult to point out the individual pixels throughout the entire
game. Sure, this title was released in 1989, but even Tetris boasted better
graphics! To make matters even worse for the North American crowd, Squaresoft's
translation department pulled one of their worst localization efforts
with FFL. Considering the era (think Zerowing!), this isn't surprising,
but grammatical errors and the like are very obvious, as is the plot.
Take the story of the Tower of Babel, mix in a few
Final Fantasy elements (like the Excalibur sword), and you have the story
of FFL. If there was a unique side to the plot, it was lost in the translation
process. For its day, FFL was the test-bed RPG for the Game Boy, so the
plot took a backseat with the rest of the game.
If FFL has two saving graces they would have to be the music and replay
value. Before I take flames for applauding FFL's music, I base my decision
on only one track: the Creator theme (a rare feat for Game Boy music).
That song alone is the only reason I rate the music the way I do…don't
bother with it the rest of the game. Save your batteries. Finally, as
with the original Final Fantasy, it can be played several times with varying
degrees of difficulty. How? Select a different party of characters at
the beginning. Just as a gamer may brag about beating Chaos in FF1 with
4 White Wizards, FFL provides the same mind-numbing challenge, except
the game is a chore to play.
The Game Boy was never intended as a true front for the RPG genre to
begin with, and it seems to show in FFL. Interestingly enough, the SaGa
series has continued through three consoles, but after the Game Boy titles
it disappeared from North America until the release of SaGa Frontier for
the Playstation. While it ranks as one of the oldest console RPG's in
existence, other classics like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy prove
that all antiques are NOT created equal.