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  • Writer's pictureJosh

Final Fantasy: It Starts

First game, so pumped, let’s do this.

I made a few calls and was able to finally get my hands on an NES copy of the original Final Fantasy.  This, paired with the third-party system that plays NES and SNES games, means I’m good to go, right!

I pop it in… and wait…

And wait…

And oh god it runs so fucking slow.

I wait some more.  What feels like an hour has passed, and I’m still struggling through the text crawl prologue.

My first experience with the original was on the Playstation, from the Final Fantasy Origins collection, and I did not remember the game running this fucking slow.  It’s painful.  Maybe it’s the cartridge?  Maybe it’s the console?  Maybe the Fates hate me?

I reached out to fellow gamer, video game historian, and Final Fantasy super freak Kale Gibson to get a feel for what I was experiencing.  Am I alone here?

“Nah, those early games are practically unplayable.  FF1 was especially frustrating because a big part of it was interacting with villagers, but dialog would populate at a fucking snail’s pace.  Like 5 words per minute.”

His words didn’t come close to expressing how unplayable it was, compared to modern expectations in gaming.  It was so damn slow.  Entering battle took so long I went upstairs, made myself a snack, came back down, and it was still fucking loading in the battle menu.

This wasn’t going to work.  I needed to break a few rules.  By sheer dumb luck, I was put in contact with a video-game archivist, who dabbles in modding on the side.  He had a ROM of FF1 that had a mod that sped up combat, dialog, and loading time, as well as a few quality-of-life upgrades… it was night and fucking day.

Since We’re Already Breaking the Rules

Having played a bit of FF1 in its original form, I have a real hard time not comparing it to Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in North America).  Yes, Dragon Warrior ran a bit slow; going from the world map to a battle screen took longer than you would like, and the loading between world map and town map sometimes stuttered before loading, but it ran like a dream in comparison.  Considering that Dragon Quest came out a year and a half before FF1 the comparison is even more shocking to this writer.

Looking back with a full view of history, it’s hard not to compare DQ and FF1, because Dragon Quest has lasting meme potential.  “Dost thou love me… but thou must!”  Come on, it had a lasting effect on the fan base.

After completing it I had the thought… what if I played this after I had played Dragon Warrior?  What if I played it, thinking it would be a similar type of game, with the same things that I loved about Dragon Warrior.  I probably wouldn’t have played a future FF game.  Well… that’s what I was thinking, what came out was “It’s a fucking miracle a sequel was made.”

Origami Cranes Versus Paper Airplanes

There is a controversial topic in the world of application development: optimization versus the cutting edge.  Depending on who you talk to, you can either do one or the other.  Optimize your software to run absolutely perfectly on hardware available, or you can push the envelope as far as possible, stretching the functionality of the hardware in ways that take it right up to the breaking point without backing down.

Now, a lot of senior developers will tell me that I’m full of shit.  There is no such thing as “optimization;” it either works, or it doesn’t.  If you’re taking full advantage of the hardware, it doesn’t matter if you are pushing it or not.

I tend to disagree, and honestly it feels like it’s a good way of looking at something critically.  It provides a way of recontextualizing things (think iPhone v Android, for example).   When I sat down to think about this game critically, I had to question, was FF1 a paper airplane, or an origami crane?

My opinion?  It’s neither, or more specifically, it's the worst of both worlds. 

FF is the “fuck it, let’s see what we can figure out with this sheet of paper” of the video game world; this is not a good thing. What you end up with is a game that runs like shit because it's not optimized, and is worse than its contemporaries, because it can't take full advantage of the hardware.

Creating a Sloppy Messy Mold for Future FF Games

 It's not all shit though.

The thing that stood out to me about my play through, is how much this felt like a Final Fantasy game.  I know, I know… it is a fucking Final Fantasy game, but it’s the first Final Fantasy game, it shouldn’t feel like one, get me?  The fact that it wasn’t my first FF game, and it still 100% felt like one, is proof that Square stumbled into something that worked, something that would be honed and refined with each new game and would play a key role in much of the future games.

It wasn’t just the weapons and magic, nor was it the items and enemies, it was… a vibe.  This is why FF1 is so important.  It wasn’t creating a paper airplane, nor was it an origami crane, it was creating the initial folds that would allow Square developers to create future masterpieces.  It wasn’t trying to be Dragon Warrior, it wasn’t trying to be a Sierra Adventure game, it was defining what it would mean to be a Final Fantasy Game. 

A-Fucking +

No Cid and No Chocobos Make Josh a Mad Boy

Ok, I’m not upset that there is no Cid and No Chocobos.  So, what is it about FF1 that I don’t like? 


Did you want some insight into the world and the characters?  Too fucking bad; unless you have a copy of the original instruction booklet that came with the NES cartridge. 

“A big part of those old NES games was the instruction booklet.  It was part of the game,” explained Kale.  “It wasn’t just what keys mapped to what, but it included backstories about the characters, the enemies, the world.  If you didn’t read it, you were missing out on a significant part of the game experience.”

This is a big part of the failing that I see in the game.  You’re a warrior of light… ok?  Who fucking cares?  What is Garland’s motivation beyond wanting to go all dark knight in the Princess's dark place?  Well, he’s a dark knight, so he’s clearly bad. 

Worse than that, you fucking kill Garland in the first moments of the game as a test to prove you’re the fucking warriors of light.  You spend 15 hours never hearing about him again, then he just shows up saying “time travel bitches!  You’re stuck in a time loop… you’re welcome!”

Ultimately, this is what makes this game difficult to really talk about, because there isn't much story to discuss, and there isn't any real character development, and the ending is "welp, you stopped the shit before it happened, so everyone in the kingdoms think you're a fucking jagoff."

Side note, you show up to the castle and the king is like “I dunno, you do have crystals, and fit everything that was prophesied the warriors of light can be… hmmm…. I know!  How about a test!  See, last time someone came in claiming they were the Warriors of Light, we just made them pinky swear that they were telling the truth.  Long story short, the lying fuck kidnapped my daughter.  If you kill him, I’ll totally believe you’re the true Warriors of Light!”

My next gripe is the world.  You have these crystals that are having their energy drained, it’s a bad time for all.  It is a global catastrophe!  But… no one seems to care beyond just the crystal that is associated with the town you are visiting.  The world seems big, and extremely disconnected.  Are the Warriors of Light the only ones travelling around the world?  Has news not spread that shit is hitting the fan everywhere?  Has no one even tried to check out the crystals and find out why they stopped working?!  Fucking hell! Of course not. The only thing people care about in the towns you visit is the next step in the adventure. Fuck every other town and crystal, we are only going to tell you about the immediate danger. It makes the world seem so disconnected, that you might as well be playing different games.

The world, for being so open, is also very linear.  Frustratingly so.  Don't know where to go next? Talk to everyone and listen to their obnoxious cryptic bullshit, then go online and find a walkthrough. Now, you could spend hours exploring, and the trust is, it's set up in a way that it encourages exploration of the world, but really, you’re trying to hit a specific target, that you don’t know where it is.

“In video games, tracking the little nuances, and levels, and what you have versus not consumes a lot of resources.  There were strategies in the old times about overcoming this, monster walls (or invisible walls as I’ve heard it) were very popular in these original open worlds.  Where areas were off limits, solely because you couldn’t defeat the enemies you’d run into.” Kale explained.  “Speaking very broadly, controlling where you could and couldn’t go wasn’t so straight forward.  You couldn’t do something like what GTA did, where areas are blocked off as part of the bigger story, and those limitations are based within the story; that would require too much memory, and you need that shit for other things.  So, what you have with a lot of these earlier NES RPGs, is an open world that isn’t actually open world, but not as a result of bad coding, but because of the limitations of the hardware.” 

Did You Like It Josh?... But Thou Must!

My final thoughts on it, I can appreciate what it did and what it accomplished, but I have a difficult time not acknowledging that they quickly surpassed themselves with other FF games.  I understand that it was the first game, and improving is a sign of quality, and you have to start somewhere, blah, blah, blah.

It isn’t just looking at it with a modern eye, because when comparing to its contemporaries it still somewhat falls flat.  Dragon Quest was able to create a big world with a story that encompassed the entire world, and a lead character with in-game backstory. 

All of that said, it is the best FF game that I’ve reviewed so far, so it has that going for it.


Current Standings:

1.       Final Fantasy I

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Jun 07

I was far too young to play any NES game (my first system was the N64), but from what I have played story want a big part of those games was it?

I don't think it's a bad thing. I don't like games that rely on narrative to make the game engaging. Let me run around and kill things. If you want a story, put it in the bestiary. It's what I like about the Fallout and Souls series. Yeah, there is a story somewhere in there, but no one actually reads it.

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