Final Fantasy I Anniversary Edition Review
Squaresoft 1987, Square Enix 2007
Final Fantasy and the one-track-minded NES game that it is can be brought to the realm of playability with the PSP version, from torture to some semblance of toleration. The original bears little attractiveness with its battlefields of black emptiness and hideous side bars of slow acting commands, but remade with the proper splashes of landscape and softly touched sprites, quicksaves, balance fixes, and mechanical necessities (the ability to speed walk, for example), Final Fantasy can at least be played and even appreciated, though in admittedly minute ways.
Your goal is to conquer four multi level dungeons whose bosses hold the elemental crystals, revealing an expansive world that is intelligently proportioned for play. To get off the first continent you must enter a nearby kingdom and talk to its delirious citizens. These sprites may be horribly placed and will block your path at every chance, but often hold the key to progression. “THE PRINCESS HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED” hints that you should probably venture out to look for her. After navigating across a couple goblin infested landscapes you can complete the quest, causing the king to repair the bridge to the next landmass. A new hub is then accessed with better gear and spells to buy, and again, you must look for the next mode of advancement.
Much like complimenting a kindergartner for coloring within the lines, Final Fantasy’s structure can be called sensible. It’s a fully functional RPG, and for that it can be hung up on the refrigerator. Healers can learn fat, single target rejuvenations and defensive party buffs, mages can ignite a whole field of enemies but at the expensive cost of their spells, and well armored fighters mitigate tons of damage to themselves, and dish it back in turn. Upgrading to the best selections of gear in each town, grinding enough battle encounters to be able to afford them, and going out of the way for powerful loot in dungeons all make room for intrigue, as do secret rewards hidden around the map.
But it is the faintest of pleasure to play Final Fantasy for these aspects, as nothing can truly overcome the insidious grind of its random battle encounter system. Primitive strategies exist, like using Lightning based spells against the water creatures that board your ship as you take to the seas, but basic party upkeep takes precedence over the meager responsibility of combat. Whether you stare at the ceiling and mush the confirm button, or play each skirmish optimally, the difference in efficiency negligible. Advancing is just a sprinkle of healing magic a way, or consuming a ‘Tent’ item to restore lost mana and health reserves. Final Fantasy becomes a vicious reward to patience more than any kind of real interactivity.
The battle theme is nerve mangling and the load times, though brief, are just long enough to hang your head in silence before rows of enemies appear. Commands are entered one party member at a time, executing only after all four are administered. The insanity of that design is numbing. One goblin after another, trading blows with wimpy spiders or club wielding giants (who are fixated on targeting only your most well armored characters), back and forth until you hit the last enemy for 249 damage of his 250 hp. That means starting another volley, ordering all four of your characters to once again ‘Attack’ that 1 hp skeleton so you can move past him. Then take a few steps and encounter some more. Level up and do it again on a different continent and in a different dungeon. Step after step, down forks that lead to dead ends, empty rooms, and hit or miss treasure chests, until meeting a final boss who thinks you don’t deserve to beat his game. That you must first pace back and forth between some hundred more battles until you can finally hit him hard enough.
No, on second thought, this one doesn’t deserve a spot on the fridge.