Ups and Downs of the 8-Bit RPG: Final Fantasy

There is no better 8-bit RPG that I know of than Final Fantasy.

Back in that era, my mommy was nice enough to hook me up with Nintendo Power subscriptions for a bunch of years. God I loved my little gold pin. Anyhow, back then, Nintendo Power went through a phase where they were doing a 4-magazine set of special editions. I would assume the Final Fantasy edition was released in year two of the magazine’s existence because I believe it was issue number 17 (or somewhere around there) that featured this wonderfully fantastic game.

Something always was alluring about the fantasy genre for me, but even more so with Final Fantasy. Everything about it seemed to capture my imagination. Every character seemed so different and exciting. The spells came in white AND black with a list that seemed endless. Every dungeon looked intimidating; each based on a different theme and filled with a unique variety of monsters. The fighting system was the most interesting I had ever seen and it appeared far superior to contemporaries like Dragon Warrior or the uber-famous Magic of Scheherazade. Basically, I needed this game ASAP, and although I was immediately sold on the franchise, sadly it took two years before it came to a store near me.

For whatever reason, this game was not marketed well in New York’s Catskill Mountain region and never reached the shelves of the local video rental stores. For years I searched the shelves of at least three different stores, hoping it would truly be the final search for my Final Fantasy. Luckily, some good things do, once in a while, stumble upon the county — my county of Sullivan.

Final Fantasy fight

Reality vs. Fantasy

Once I had a chance to play the game it did not disappoint. Keeping in mind that I had already been trained on the horrendously slow leveling pace of Dragon Warrior, the equally slow pace of Final Fantasy was almost expected. My first major complaint with the game was quickly and most rudely realized after I tried to continue my game. “WTF is this party of Red Mage, White Mage, White Mage, Thief?!” My little brother had managed to get to the game earlier that same morning and had not only played his awesome party, but had also gone to the inn! After that first stay at the inn, my beloved party and all of those hours were never more, only to be replaced by Red Mage, White Mage, White Mage, Thief. This difficult cycle continued as I lost four more parties before anybody seemed to get the idea that the only way we could beat the game was to play the one party that was saved. You see, unlike any other game that allowed you to save, Final Fantasy‘s fatal flaw was that it only allowed for one freaking save slot! Boo!

My next complaint is minor compared to the first. It involves the fighting system and the stupid, ineffective crap that happens when you swing at a dead enemy (i.e. You actually DO swing at a dead enemy instead of one that’s still a threat!) I know this was fixed in later versions, but damn, I just wish it was never a mistake. It really takes away the luxury of mindless level-grinding by forcing me to have to pay a little bit of attention. In the later games I just hold down “A” while I watch sports. (in robot voice) IF ENEMY DEAD THEN SWING AT ALIVE!

My third and final complaint is just that there are a few instances where you just get slammed with strong-ass enemies or strong-ass spells. Sometimes the game is just so fickle. You’ll be going along fine and then all of a sudden two of your guys are dead to Rub. Boom! Game over. Start the remix.

After you get over those three issues the game becomes quite fun. The game does have a slow pace, but over the long period of time from beginning to end, you get to enjoy a continuous evolution in the development of your characters. The variety of characters allows for a nice range of skills, and unlike Ultima: Exodus, the characters develop along individually unique paths.


The Goods

Final Fantasy was fun for the RPG lover in you. There were several combinations of parties you could create. So often when I was starting a party I would sit there, staring at the screen thinking of the endless possibilities. Most people chose at least one fighter since this was the only character that could really take a hit in the beginning. All of the other characters were optional.

The spells were interesting. They certainly were more varied than anything I had worked with before. Some spells, however, seemed very useless and took up space more than anything else. I was not a big fan of how limited each magician was in terms of casting their spells. At most you could only cast a certain spell 9 times before you had to heal. This meant that usually you were saving your spells for a special encounter instead of just being able to blast magic at everything you saw. Usually, this meant that your white and black mages were forced to hack away at their enemies with utter ineptitude. If your black mage did happen to hit an enemy, it was usually only good for 1 HP. This would be fine if all you fought were 4-hit-point Imps, but rather quickly the monsters possess as much as over 100 hit points.

The weapon and armor variation was excellent and the fact that the weapons were specialized by class made it even more appealing. There were even weapons that were made to kill certain classes of enemies. Although this seems to add an intuitive aspect to the fighting, usually one would just equip whatever weapon was the strongest and not worry about matching up a special weapon with its specific class. The fights were just too unpredictable to plan ahead.

Halfway through the game your party members are able to transform into their “adult” form. This expands the abilities of every character. It’s really at this point that the game becomes a lot more fun. The Fighter and Thief become the Knight and the Ninja, who are both able to cast spells. Many more weapons, pieces of armor, and spells become usable once this transformation takes place. Some of the later items even allowed you to cast certain spells when you used them in the item menu. With this, you now had unlimited access to those spells. I especially enjoyed using the confusion staff and zeus gauntlet over and over.

The monster variety was also large. Some monsters had specific weaknesses and they all had a variety of attacks, spells, and abilities. Again, this kept the game fresh as you moved from area to area.

This was arguably the best RPG that was produced for the NES.

Old Skool Arbitrary Ratings!

Story: C (It’s a start to something interesting, but as a kid it was more confusing.)

Fighting system: B (At last, exploiting monster weaknesses, but… IF ENEMY DEAD THEN SWING AT ALIVE!)

Magic variety: A (Compared to any other game of its genre it had the widest variety.)

Character choices: A (Six classes PLUS chracter evolution.)

Attribute system: C+ (Other than STR, DEX, AGI, the stats don’t seem to affect anything.)

Potential impact for future games: A (This Fantasy was obviously not Final.)

Marketing and availability: C+ (A whole Nintendo Power dedicated to the game, but I went years without finding the cartridge anywhere.)


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Author: George Brandes View all posts by

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