Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy is one of the pillars of console role playing games. Made in 1987 by Square, it has spawned an empire of games, movies, cartoons, and sequels based on incredible stories, memorable characters, and engrossing game play. Over time, these games have become a world wide phenomenon. Final Fantasy succeeds where other role playing games have fallen short by continually delivering incredible games driven by well written stories and scenarios. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the game.

Concept art by Yoshitaka Amano
There's a lot of information on the internet about Final Fantasy, and it seems like most of this information has grown into myths and legends over twenty five years. Out of the many interviews about the making of this game, some of the information I've found seems conflicting, making it difficult to know what was really happening at Square in 1986. Square was having financial troubles from a string of unsuccessful games and they either entrusted Hironobu Sakaguchi with saving the company, or left him and his team of seven developers to do whatever they wanted while the money was still there.
Concept art by Yoshitaka Amano
Final Fantasy was said that this would probably be Hironobu Sakaguchi's last game if it did not sell well. Hence the "Final" in the title. It could have been Square's last game as well, because they were facing bankruptcy...

Side Note: His latest game, The Last Story, was also rumored to be his final game, but that was proved to be the fault of a Japanese translation error. 

Sakaguchi wanted to create a game that had a big story and large map to explore. I'm not sure if he was also as influenced by Western Rpg's like Wizardry, like the folks at Enix were during their developement of Dragon Quest. He's quoted by saying he was a better story teller than an action-game designer. I can see how Dragon Quest probably influenced Final Fantasy, but these similarities would quickly go away as the series continued to reinvent itself, while the former would stick to the same game mechanics to this day.

Concept art by Yoshitaka Amano
The team developing the game was small compared to other projects at Square, and Sakaguchi saw that as a lack of trust to create a great game. Other sources say that Square was hoping that this game would save it from financial catastrophe. Both are probably true. There's also mention that Square gambled with the game by making 400,000 copies for initial release to ensure that there would be enough demand for a sequel. But at the same time there were other titles that had sold lots of copies (Rad Racer for example). That makes me speculate that Square had bad licensing agreements with Nintendo. Everything worked out in the end, because the game sold well and a sequel was completed and shipped within a year.

Concept Art

Concept art by Yoshitaka Amano
The incredible concept art for the first six Final Fantasy games was created by Yoshitaka Amano. His art appears effortless in a way, and not only expands the worlds and characters of the Final Fantasy games, but they also change it into a surreal experience. I think I first saw his art in the margins of Nintendo Power for Final Fantasy IV, and I recognized his work for the incredible use of vibrant colors and unique interpretations of each of the games. His work for Final Fantasy VI is just amazing. The box artwork for North American release was reworked to show a typical western fantasy type game- which was commonplace for game advertising in the 80's and 90's. Nintendo published the game in North America. The game itself received it's own strategy guide as issue seventeen of Nintendo Power.

Box Art

Famicom Box
1990 NES Box
MSX computer box art
Here's a live action commercial for the Final Fantasy I•II  re-release from 1994. You'll also notice the newly designed Famicom that was introduced towards the very end of the 8-bit life cycle. Most players had moved on to the Super Famicom, but Square has released and continues to re-release their popular games with updated graphics and sound to the Wonderswan, PlayStation, and now iOS.

Famicom Re-release Box


This was Nobuo Uematsu's sixteenth game soundtrack and would become the game series that has defined him as a game music composer. The Final Fantasy series has made Uematsu a rockstar game composer. Uematsu wanted to score soundtracks for film when he first started working for Square, but after a few years and the success of Final Fantasy, he found a niche that allowed him the creative freedom that he wanted from the beginning. His ambitious use of sound and themes in the 8-bit era carried on to more technologically advanced systems. Many of the sound effects and themes from the first Final Fantasy have found their place in many of the sequels that have been made since 1987. As the series continued past the Super Famicom, his influence with the series may have waned in the last few years. Uematsu continues to wow game players with his soundtrack to The Last Story, and his other projects including the progressive Final Fantasy rock band The Black Mages

Uematsu is not a classically trained musician, but the symphonic renditions of his early 8-bit works bring out the depth of his inspiration. The "Prelude" piece that included the opening theme to most of the Final Fantasy Games was performed live by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra on May 5, 1989. This piece includes the main theme found in every Final Fantasy game, as well as the world theme and various other scores from the original game. Beautiful! 

Side note: The MSX2 version was the first of many remakes that Final Fantasy would receive in its 25 year history, and while it looks and plays very similar to the NES version... I was totally blown away by the added sound effects. The MSX2 computer was capable of up to 9 distinct channels of sound and it really adds sonic texture to an already memorable 8-bit soundtrack.


After finishing Dragon Quest, I promised myself that I wouldn't play another long game for a while, but there was this thought that kept nagging me, you still haven't finished the original Final Fantasy? I probably haven't played it for more than an hour or so. I just never got around to it. I remember reading about it in Nintendo Power when I was in elementary school, and I wanted the game, but I was never able to find it. I finally came around to Final Fantasy IV for the SNES, and I was blown away. My friends and I played that game over and over. I still play that game, even though I've beaten it many times. And then I moved on to other games in the series... and kind of forgot where it all began.

Playing this game is another test in fortitude, patience, and mental will to overlook early RPG elements like massive grinding, repeat inn visits to save the game, and running out of gold early on. Random encounters everywhere. There's a steep learning curve if you don't pick out a balanced party, and that being said, I still think I may have made the wrong choice at the beginning (I ended up ditching the thief for a red mage later). Final Fantasy lets you build your party of four at the start (like western rpgs of the time), and you can choose the class of each character. Each have their own strengths and weakness, and there are many possible combinations which makes this game very original for it's time. That makes the characters themselves pretty bland. Besides the name you give them, there's isn't much that actually involves the player with the world itself.

With all the praise for this game I have some of the same complaints as Dragon Quest. The game is a grind, much like all rpgs of the time. You grind for cash and experience from random enemy encounters to increase your stats. I often referred to the strategy guide from Nintendo Power to verify what my equipment actually did, and who was able to equip what. Even with some planning it seems like my guys just kept missing. I'm not sure what kind of probability is used, but the game starts off a little difficult for me. Items get absurdly expensive as the game moves on, and it seems like there's a definite gold reward deficit based on the difficulty of the enemies you encounter early on. But by the end of the game I have so much gold I don't know what to do with it. I have been able to find nodes of repeatable encounters with better rewards later on, and the treasure chest rewards are incredibly useful as soon as you acquire a key.

The story moves along though, through a system of linear events. That's the one thing that is striking from the beginning of the game. Compare that to Dragon Quest with only two objectives: Save princess. Kill Dragonlord. Final Fantasy has you running all over the place solving simple problems for people, defeating the elemental evils, finding items, exploring, and collecting orbs to restore the balance.

The game doesn't even really start until after you've killed the first boss and rescued a princess, when you are treated to the theme music and a cut screen introduction. Amazing. I can't think of another NES games that does that.

It took me a long time to beat this game, mostly because of the difficulty, and finding the time to play. I probably could have finished this game sooner, but playing a game that is twenty five years old can be a test in mental fortitude. I was pleased with the difficulty, and never found the game too hard. There were no impossible walls of difficulty found in other games.

With the help of the handy Nintendo Power guide, I chugged through the game, finding that I could one or two shot bosses with the appropriate skills. By the time I reached the end of the game I was seriously under-leveled. I had to grind some tough areas to raise my stats. Here's why: defeating bosses was the easy part, running away from hard regular enemies was the real challenge. The game tests your ability to conserve resources for the boss fights, and unless you are ready for them, you will get owned.

By the time you defeat the four elemental fiends, it is revealed that the first boss you defeated at the start of the game was sent back in time 2000 years to destroy the world. Because he was in the past, he was the reason the Earth was rotting, creating a weird time loop paradox. 

The last dungeon is really tough. There are five bosses on the way to the final boss. The rooms are exspansive and maze like, full of tough enemies that will whittle down your precious spells and resources, most of which you can't run from. After killing  big phantom, and  re-defeating extremely tough versions of the four elemental fiends, you have to the lowest level of the dungeon where Garland explains his plan to kill your characters in the past, ensuring his supreme power after 2000 years. A monumental battle ensues:

After defeating Chaos, I was hit with one of the strangest video game endings I've ever read. The game cuts away and you read this crazy ending:

The time-loop is now broken! The 2000 year long battle is over, peace prevails. Control of the four elements, Earth, the Wind, the Fire, and the Water again belongs to the Earth. Garland's hatred burned for 2000 years. That hatred led to the four powers to this world. Chaos was created from those Four. Evil dominated the world and covered it in darkness. But it is over now, wrong has been set right!! The light warriors are returning... as they travel in time, the world returns to normal. Sara and Jane wait for them... of course Garland does too. But when did it ever happen? Everything went mad in a day, the reason lies in the 2000 year time loop. The four chose to become one force and fight against the four evil forces that set darkness upon the world. When the four return, it will be to their past. All signs of the battle with the Forces will be erased. But the legend will live on. Passed down by the dwarves, the elves, and the dragons... Passed on by peoples unsure where the story came from. The light warriors return from their journey back in time 2000 years. The memories stored deep in their hears will protect the world. Never forget the good and the true... Never turn the Four powers to the dark side.... And truth will always live in the hears of the people. The warrior who broke the 2000 year time loop is truly a light warrior... that warrior was YOU! May the orbs always shine!

So... What the heck does that mean? As I read it for the first time I kept thinking that this was poorly translated... or something was missing from the original Japanese ending. So beating the boss 2000 years in the past... did I win? How long does it take to time travel back to the present? If everyone will still be in the present, yet I retain the memories of defeating Chaos, does that mean.. that this was pointless? I guess I saved the world. And with that... 


As hard as this game was.. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try an 8-bit rpg. It is definitely one of the best games for the NES, but it comes with it's own set of challenges. 

Hours: approximately 30 hours Character deaths: 17 Inn visits: 63 Wipe Outs: 2 Ending Gold: 403000 Bosses killed: 15 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent explanation also i've never played this game before, i think is high time to give it a shoot but im not likely to play this 8-bits version, maybe the psp remake would be fine.