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Thursday, February 9, 2017

10 Reasons the First Final Fantasy is (Still) Awesome

I've been going through the first Final Fantasy game yet again. It is a simple, yet fun RPG that I love coming back to and with this year marking the 30th anniversary of the game and the Final Fantasy series as a whole, I thought I'd do a string of year long posts on Square Enix's flagship series. If for some reason, you have yet to play the game that kick off this juggernaut franchise or think it isn't worth your time, I've got 10 reasons why the first Final Fantasy is still good stuff after all these years.

01. The Battle Screen

In Dragon Warrior (the first JRPG) and in western RPGs, random battles were a frequent occurrence and every time you were thrust into one, you'd see some background imagery, command menus and of course the enemy. Final Fantasy was no different but managed to change things up considerably by displaying your party members in each battle scene. Common place now but in 1987/1990, this was a huge deal. Your party not only appeared on screen, but they would step forward to attack enemies with weapons and magic. The animation would also differ depending on the weapon or magic spell used. When low on HP or struck with a status aliment, your characters would slump down to visually display that they weren't feeling too hot. Also, the monster design for the original Final Fantasy was and still is impressive. Yoshitaka Amano, the art designer for many of the earlier Final Fantasy titles, drew up some killer designs and even in game, they look they were were ripped straight out of his sketch books.

02. Garland

Garland is the first boss you face and he really isn't tough at all, especially if you gain a few levels before going to the Chaos Shrine to fight him. He does have one of the best lines of dialogue any Final Fantasy character has ever spouted, on par with a famous line from Final Fantasy IV. For some odd reason, the above line was removed from the PS remake of the game but the GBA and PSP versions have thankfully restored it. Great villain line aside, you'll probably forget all about Garland once you slay him. He may fall like a brick, but Garland's role in Final Fantasy is much bigger than you realize...

03. You Can Choose Your Own Party

One of the reasons Final Fantasy is still such a good game is that you get to choose a party of four from the very start, selecting from six job classes.

The Fighter/Warrior is an all around great addition to any party, able to equip just about every piece of armor and weaponry as well as dishing out great damage and being able to take a hit.

Black Belts/Monks, can't equip heavy gear and don't dish at much damage from the start, but don't even bother giving them a weapon because soon enough, they will be handing out one shot blows to even the scariest of enemies like candy. Since stuff tends to get pricey in this game, Monks are also good for saving money. They may not be as customizable as other classes but you're a walking tank, who really cares?

The Thief is good for running away from fights but isn't as strong as the Warrior or Monk, nor can he much of the good weapons or armor. An upgrade is in order before he really becomes a force to be reckoned with.

If you want to keep your crew alive, having a White Mage is a must since they excel at all sorts of healing and protective magic. White Mages can also use the Exit/Teleport spell and given how ridiculous the first Final Fantasy game's random encounter rate is, a hasty exit is always a good thing.

Black Mages deal in strong offensive elemental magic as well as being able to use Fast/Haste to turn your Warriors and Monks into even greater killing machines. Since the second and third variation of every offensive spell they can use affects every enemy on screen, Black Mages are great for often slaughtering a whole flock of fools stupid enough to oppose your team.

The Red Mages is the character that is a jack of all trades but sadly, is a master of none. He can dish out some decent damage but don't expect him to be anywhere near as strong as the Warrior or Monk class. The higher level black and white magic spells are also out of his reach. Still, you could do a lot worse than the Red Mage.

You're probably thinking that you have to choose one member of each class, but nope! Final Fantasy places no limit to how many of the same character class you can have in your party. Want a squad of all Fighters? Go for it Feeling like making the game a serious uphill battle? Try an all White Mage run. Yes, people have actually done this. The ability to form you own party from the very start of the journey makes the experience different for everyone who plays.

04. The Title Screen

You know how it goes when you turn on a game. Usually you get some plot, the developer/publisher logo and then bam, title. In Final Fantasy you get the 411 on the Earth being screwed over and then, the option to start a new game or continue where you left off? In the original NES release there is no title screen to speak of when you boot up the game. I didn't play the first Final Fantasy until 1996 and I still thought this was strange. I mean, yeah, Square was on the verge of hanging it up in the video game business but were they in so much trouble that they could not afford to put the game's title within the game upon starting up? Nah, it turns out Square just went about bringing the player to the title screen differently and considering there was a distinct possibility that Final Fantasy would be their last game, I really like how they did this.

After outfitting your party with equipment to make sure they don't die on you, going through your first dungeon, fighting your first boss and then saving Princess Sarah, you get to explore other parts of world by crossing a bridge and when you set foot on said bridge...

You get the game's title screen and what a title screen it is. Saving the princess was just the warm up. Now the game really begins. Even in 1996, I still thought Final Fantasy's title drop was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen in a video game. If this really was to be the last game Square ever made, they were going out in style. Lucky for us, Final Fantasy was far from the company's final game. Re-releases give you a title screen each time you fire up the game, but the bridge scene with the title drop is still in tact.

05. Matoya's Cave

You visit kingdoms, towns, dungeons, floating castles and all other manner of fascinating locals but one of the most memorable places you reach early in your adventure is Matoya's Cave. Don't be frightened by the skulls as they only exist for decorative purposes. The cave is free of random encounters and not only home to Matoya, the friendly witch, but her sweeping brooms that speak backwards. Matoya's Crystal Eye has been pilfered and retriving it s the first in a long line of fetch quests that you'll need to do. Since she can't see a thing without her Crystal Eye, you can loot her cave and she'll be none the wiser. Unless those cool backwards talking brooms snitch on you, that is.

06. The Airship

Even in the original Final Fantasy, the world is a big place and hoofing it can grow quite tiresome. You get some other means to travel such as a canoe and ship for sailing but the best of mode of transportation Final Fantasy offers is the airship, which grants you access to the entire overworld. Getting the airship, even in the first Final Fantasy, feels freaking great and I love flying around in this thing. Airships are very common in RPGs today and you can thank Final Fantasy for inducting them into the genre.

07. Bahamut

Think the king of dragons was always a summon? Think again. In the original Final Fantasy, Bahamut is chilling in the Dragon Caves with his clan, awaiting the Rat's Tail as proof of courage. Going to the Citadel of Trials to retrieve this strange item and bringing it back to Bahamut grants your party class upgrades, giving them access to some of the best spells in the game as well as altering their appearances.

08. Warmech

Omega, Shinryu, Ruby Weapon, Emerald Weapon. Long before any of those guys were destroying the sanity of players, Final Fantasy had Warmech, a 1/64 chance random encounter on the narrow pathway to face the final fiend, Tiamat. Some translations give Warmech the title of Death Machine, which is pretty apt. See the above screen? That is usually the state mages find themselves in after Warmech uses Nuke, an attack that hits the entire party of insane amounts of damage. Warmech is far from being unbeatable but really, this guy is not someone or something you want to trifle with since he's more powerful than the Four Fiends and can give the final boss a run for his money.

09. The Music

I almost made a huge error in putting this list up without mentioning Final Fantasy's amazing soundtrack. The game has a soundtrack befitting for adventure with lots of peppy, upbeat music, focused battle and boss themes and dread inducing dungeon music. You may be used to the iconic Opening theme being played with real instruments, but even in chiptune form, it is really freaking moving. I can never get enough of the NES version's Victory theme and Matoya's Cave is so happy it hurts! Both the NES and PS soundtracks are great listening.

Opening (NES) (PS)
Battle Scene (NES)
Main Theme (NES) (PS)
Chaos Shrine (NES) (PS)
Victory (NES)
Matoya's Cave (NES) (PS)
Dungeon (NES) (PS)
Inside a Boss Battle (PS)
Boss Battle A (PS)
Sunken Shrine (NES) (PS)
Ending (NES) (PS)

10. The Final Dungeon

When I defeated Tiamat, I thought the game would be over. No more elemental instability, right? I mean, these guys were the ones behind the world's decay, no? Turns out someone else was is charge.

The Chaos Shrine or Temple of Fiends as it is refereed to in the NES version is the game's very first dungeon. It also serves as the last dungeon because it is where the true mastermind of the world's decay lies, In the present, the Chaos Shrine is a brief, single floor dungeon but in the past, it is a large, sprawling, multi floor complex. It also has some fixed encounter titles in the form of the Four Fiends. But didn't you kill them before? What are they doing in the past?  Once all four of them are defeated, you meet their leader... Garland?! How?! Due to a confusing time loop of the Four Fiends sending Garland to the past where he gets stronger over and over again, he's allowed to live forever. He transforms into the being known as Chaos and the final battle ensues.

I love how Final Fantasy brings everything full circle with the last dungeon. The first boss you fought, Garland, is the final boss as Chaos. The time loop may be really freaking convoluted and not make sense, but I have to give the game props for the twist. When you defeat Chaos and end the time loop, this makes it so none of the events even took place. Garland never became evil and the world never ended up in such dire straits. The only one with the knowledge of what occurred is you.

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