Oh yes, a port of THE original Final Fantasy, the game that put cash into Square’s pockets. The original NES version was released way before I was born, and the remakes thereafter either happened before I was born, or they happened before I started playing RPGs seriously (I had a GBA in elementary school, I lent it to a girl who moved to China the next day, and was never seen again. That happened before I got anything other than the default game it cam with. Maybe this is why I don’t like people touching my systems today and keep a keen eye on them when close friends play for a few minutes). Therefore, this is my first time playing FF1 EVER. I’m reviewing only the PSP version, since I never touched any of the ones before.
Final Fantasy 1 tells the tale of the 4 Warriors of Light (the 4-man party you control) who are out to restore the 4 crystals that control the 4 forces of the world. The plot is considered non-existant compared to RPGs these days, but apparently it was pretty deep for its time since most adventure games that sold well stop at “save the princess.” Your party can consist of 4 out of the 6 classes (fighter, thief, black belt, red mage, white mage, and black mage), although nothing’s stopping you from trying to play the game with 4 white mages. Your party gets a class change later in the game, although this is entirely optional. It makes high-level magic accessible, and makes your characters look cooler.
Since FF1 is one of the first console RPGs, gameplay is the barebones of the genre. It is turn-based combat where you give your party members their commands all at once and then sit back and watch them play out. I ran a party consisting of a fighter, red mage, white mage and black mage, and every random battle was “mash attack and then sit back and watch something else while waiting for the animations to finish” or if there are 4+ enemies, “black mage use all target spell, wait for attack animations to finish.” The random battles aren’t challenging in the least, and the random encounter rate is extremely high. I don’t particularly feel like complaining about random encounters and what-not, since this is a 20+ year old game and encounters don’t kill the game for me (I haven’t been spoiled by on-screen enemies yet). What I do want to complain about, is that the boss battles aren’t very challenging either. I was using a pretty standard party, and I had absolutely no idea that the fighter would be SO DAMN BROKEN. That thing one-shots every generic monster and no boss other than Tiamat and the bosses in the final dungeon survived for more than 3 turns with my buffed up fighter. In boss fights, I stuck Temper on my red mage and haste on my black mage, cast them both on the fighter in the first turn, and the game plays itself. There are no physical skills (only the attack command), but I don’t want to imagine how broken the fighter will get with those. Magic needs to be purchased with money, and there are a total of 8 magic levels. Each level of magic becomes accessible as you level up.
The combat isn’t exactly engaging, but the dungeons are pretty damn nice. In return for letting you save anywhere you want, the dungeons have absolutely no heal spots and you aren’t allowed to use your tents (something like portable inns you can use on the world map) inside. They’re big and maze-like, and there is no such thing as a map (unless you go on GameFAQs). For some that may be a turn-off, but I like exploring huge dungeons and finding treasure chests. A shame that the combat wasn’t more fun. The most awesome part about FF1 is definitely the final dungeon. Blows the final dungeons of most RPGs I’ve played right out of the water, even though this game is 20 years old. The final dungeon is what the first dungeon in the game looked like 2000 years ago, and it is huge. You have to fight stroner versions of the previous 4 bosses as you make you way down to the bottom, and if you beat them all and exit the dungeon, you have to fight them again. It is programmed that as soon as you step on a certain tile, the fight triggers. I beat the boss, took a step back, and them stepped forward again. The same boss fight triggered. The final boss himself isn’t hard, seeing as how it has only 20k HP and my buffed up warrior did around 2k damage per turn. I heard the NES version of FF1 was really hard, but the PSP version is definitely too easy.
When you put FF1 side-by-side with modern RPGs, you can see that its story is nearly non-existant and what is there is what you’d call cliche. I’m willing to bet that many of those RPG cliches originated from FF1, and you can’t really blame something for having overused plots if it’s made before they became overused. Of course, if you’re playing this game for the first time, drop all your expectations for a story and just have fun exploring. I forgot the story while playing, and the wall of text that comes up after you beat the final boss will tell you much more about the plot than anything ingame.
Your 4 warriors of light are mute. Most citizens speak one-liners (and sometimes two different NPCs have the same one-liner), but some say two lines (“Save us!” and “We’re saved thanks to you!”). No one has any character development to speak of, so drop any expectations for characters before playing. There is no character development or emotions, but in return, you don’t get any annoying party members either. If you’re looking for an RPG with a good plot and character development, go as far away from Final Fantasy as possible (and may I introduce you to my beloved trilogy that needs more love, the Sora no Kiseki series). If you want some old school RPG with lots of freedom in exploration, then go for it.
The enhanced graphics for PSP are nice, using 2D sprites that don’t look pixellated but still retain the old-school 2D feel. Battle backgrounds are detailed CGs with variety, although the monsters are constant palette swaps. Town design is pretty decent, actually. I expected the towns to all look the same, but I was pleasantly surprised by how distinct they were. They’re certainly not the 4-screens-huge-Grancel sort of detail, but the towns look different from eachother and are pretty good for a 20+ year old game where Squeenix clearly just did a graphics update and added an extra dungeon to milk the franchise.
Not amazing, but not bad either. There’s the classic victory jingle that we all love, and certain tunes that we all know. The music is rather repetitive though, and while I don’t mind listening to it while playing the game, it’s not something I’d download the soundtrack for just to have it on my iPod. I like the boss battle themes and the victory jingle.
It’s not unplayable, but it doesn’t age very well. Most likely not what most modern RPG players are looking for due to the lack of compelling story and characters, and the maze-like dungeons, vague instructions and the fact that it does not hold your hand may turn you off. It’s a short game at around 15 hours if you don’t do any of the extra dungeons (which are tedious as hell and will add hours to your game time), so it’s worth a run to see how the franchise started off. I gets slow and frustrating at times due to the high encounter rate, but if you run through the dungeons while watching a show or something then you won’t get infuriated as easily.