Review: Final Fantasy (NES)

The game that kicked off the most popular RPG series in existence.

Role-playing games began their climb to popularity during the early 80's on the many personal computers of the time period. These turn-based titles brought a more strategic element to gaming for those looking to use their minds more than their reflexes. Square obviously saw the importance and lure of the genre when they decided to create an RPG series of their own on Nintendo's fledgling Famicom system in Japan. The game became an immediate hit with Japanese gamers. While the game didn't immediately catch on with gamers outside of Japan, later releases in the series did and transformed the series into the most popular RPG franchise in video game history.

Final Fantasy is about as basic an RPG gameplay experience as you're likely to encounter. The command lists are short by today's standards, as is the turn-based combat system itself. You wander around on a world map from place to place, each offering up unique quests for you to take part in. These include everything from locating certain objects to battling powerful enemies in order to rescue characters that are in danger. There is a rather linear flow to the game's storyline, but you'll find this necessary in keeping with the flow of events the game lays out for you.

As you travel around the many areas of the game you'll be tossed into random enemy encounters in which you'll have to do battle. Battle commands are selected through menus that allow you to attack using a weapon, use magical spells, or even make use of certain items you've collected throughout your adventure. As you defeat enemies, your characters will gain experience points that will allow them to level up, thus becoming more powerful. You'll also earn money that can be used to purchase better weapons, armor, and specialty items, something you'll find quite necessary for your survival throughout the game.

While the control itself is fairly good, even by today's standards, the pacing of the game is what tends to hold the game back. Not only do your characters move around fairly slowly, but even the menu selections during combat can be a lesson in futility given their sluggish execution. Perhaps gamers have become spoiled by today's standards of run buttons and rapidly skipping through combat selections one right after another, but whatever the reason, it will likely be a little tedious for those who are not prepared for the way this game is set up from a gameplay standpoint. This is further highlighted during the long grinding sessions you'll likely have to endure in order to keep your characters adequately leveled up throughout various points in the game. While it's not what you would call detrimental to the overall playing experience, it's something to consider for those who prefer a more streamlined RPG experience.

Visually, Final Fantasy is about what you'd expect from an 8-bit offering. There's very little animation in the game, with even the battles showing very little of what's actually taking place during combat. Even the water itself doesn't feature any movement at all. That's not to say that the game doesn't have its moments, as many of the enemies show a good amount of detail in their design, but much of the landscapes you'll be traversing look fairly generic, even by 1987 standards. Of course, given that the game was created fairly early on in the 8-bit era, it's a bit understandable that the game doesn't have some of the visual flash many later NES releases displayed.

Chances are if you've ever played any Final Fantasy title in the series' 22-year history, you're going to recognize some of the musical tracks in this original release. And what makes them particularly interesting is the way Square was able to bring so much melody into the game using the NES console's limited sound capabilities. If you're a fan of 8-bit musical scores, you're likely to find a lot to like with this release, as it's one of the best ever crafted. It might not be the fully orchestrated musical scores we have with today's console RPGs, but it's every bit as catchy and charming in its own unique way.

Conclusion

Before full-motion video and voiced dialog began to dominate RPGs, Square's first Final Fantasy introduced the world to the console RPG and kickstarted a series that's still going strong some two decades later. Sure the game is showing its age and does feel a bit sluggish by today's more efficient RPG standards, but you still can't deny the importance and impact the game has had on the RPG genre and console gaming in general. If you enjoyed this NES original back in the day you'll likely enjoy taking it out for a spin, if only for the sake of reliving your memories of the game, but if you've become used to the brisk pacing of the more modern RPGs you'll likely find this release somewhat tedious.