The Final Fantasy series has captured the hearts and imaginations of gamers the world over. A franchise which grew into a dominate power in the RPG video game market, only to flounder in recent years. Many quote specific titles or characters as their favorite in the series. What many forget though, is what started it all and how shaky that start really was. Today I want to revisit a classic RPG – Final Fantasy 1.
Final Fantasy was created by Hironobu Sakaguchi and first published in Japan by Square in 1987. It was originally released only for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the 8-bit giant of the day which many retro gamers still name as their favorite system.
The story of Final Fantasy begins with a team of seven staff members which Square referred to as the “A-Team”. The team’s main planner, Hironobu Sakaguchi, came up with the name Final Fantasy because had the game not sold well, he would have quit the gaming industry and returned to college. It truly was Sakaguchi’s final fantasy. Threatened with financial shortfalls, an ever-shrinking budget, and company bankruptcy, the team pulled through and were able to design a concept which pushed the boundaries on RPG console gaming.
Sakaguchi’s concept for Final Fantasy involved a world map to explore (sadly absent from newer releases) along with an engaging story. The game’s characters and title logo were designed by freelance writer Kenji Terada, based on the story Sakaguchi provided. An Iranian-American freelance programmer who happened to be living in Japan at the time, was hired as the game’s programmer.
Another company (Enix ironically!) had released a game called Dragon Warrior in the United States which had done quite well. Nintendo felt confident that Square would carry through where before they had failed (a previous Square release had flopped horribly). Thus, the game Final Fantasy was translated and released to an unsuspecting North American audience.
I still remember the day I wandered into the local video store and found “Final Fantasy” sitting on the shelf at the rental counter. I picked up the black box and soaked up the cool fantasy cover art and then flipped it over to look at the gameplay images and read the game description. I was a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan (still am) and the fact that a fantasy RPG was finally available on the NES made me very excited. So excited I couldn’t wait, so I spent my life savings (take in mind I was around 9 years old) and outright bought the game to take home.
The first thing upon popping the game into my NES that I realized ,was that I had the ability to choose my own class and name. That alone set this game above the rest for me. Dungeons and Dragons had always given us the ability to create the characters we wanted to play as we saw fit. Finally someone out there had realized the benefit of allowing the gamer to control their own destiny. Something to be emulated by games such as the Elder Scrolls, while squandered and tossed to the wayside in future Final Fantasy releases.
The next thing that really set this game apart from the rest, was the expansive world map. The fact that you are allowed to travel throughout the world map and engage enemies you have no hope of defeating, gives the player a sense of exploration and peril. I could stay in one area and level up for hours, then continue into more dangerous areas to continue leveling. Finally, after hours of leveling, I walk in and take on the boss- effortlessly tearing him to shreds. My prerogative.
If you haven’t played Final Fantasy 1 before, I highly suggest it. If you don’t have a NES, get an emulator and figure out how to work it. Come on people! If this article didn’t give you enough reason to play or replay FF1 just check out these killer reasons:
- My 9 year old son plays it religiously despite the fact that I never mentioned it being so influential on my life!
- The world map! Freedom to go where you want, when you want!
- Character development. You choose which 4 character classes to take on the game with and their names. You can go into the fray with 2 warriors, a black mage, and a white mage, OR 4 red mages! Any combination is OK because the creators of this game had faith in you to do what you saw fit! Have fun creating your own RPG experience!
- The cool music. Yes, it maybe 8-bit but the music really is good stuff. If you haven’t heard of the Black Mages make sure and check them out (Final Fantasy cover band comprised of the song writers from the series). They even cover FF1 battle music!
- Nostalgia. If you played this game before or are a fan of the older games you’ll want to explore the world and revisit some of the motifs which live on to this day. Airships, spells, monsters, and more!
- It’s more fun than Final Fantasy XIII or XIII-2. Recently I have replayed a lot of the older Final Fantasy games and was blown away at how much fun they are. The newer Final Fantasy games have felt so railroaded and graphically intense yet lacking in story. I played about ¾ of the way through Final Fantasy XIII and finally gave it away. Why was I forcing myself through this terrible game with annoying characters that I have no control over? Cut scenes, bleh.
- You want a challenge. This game isn’t child’s play like most of the garbage you kids buy nowadays. You can’t just save wherever you want, and the battles aren’t geared toward your level. Take it on! Enjoy the challenge of good strategy in battle and come out a champion, a hero of light!
There you have it, if you’ve gotten this far you’ve read too much and played far too little. So get your butt off to the couch and replay the classic that will forever live on as the Final Fantasy that made so many more possible.
By Jonathan Nerdtrek
Read more articles by Jonathan Nerdtrek at his blog NERDTREK.com.