Game Overkill

Game Overkill – Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy was one of the first NES games I played. I can still remember first turning it on and being disappointed almost immediately. I was 9 years old and wouldn’t start studying English for another two years, so all that text that was meant to tell me important things was practically unintelligible. Luckily, I lived in Canada, and for some awesome reason, almost everything on the box and in the box was in English AND French.

This is likely the only time I will ever talk about the things that came with a game, but seriously, if you’ve never seen it, you need to check out what I’m talking about. Final Fantasy for the NES might’ve had the most amazing set of maps and info ever included as part of the standard edition of a game.

ff1-worldFinal Fantasy - EnemiesFinal Fantasy - Dungeon MapsFinal Fantasy - Weapons and ArmorOnly now that I’m nearly 25 years older do I begin to comprehend how incredible that stuff was. I’ve yet to see anything like it in any other game. So, with all of that in hand, all of it being bilingual (my copies are torn to shreds and I wasn’t able to find images of the Canadian version online), and with a little translation help from my parents from time to time, I was able to play the game without too many problems.

I don’t clearly remember how I got my hands on the game, whether I bought it or my aunt gave it to me after she finished it; however, like many of the first games I played on the NES, my aunt was definitely the reason why I played it in the first place. As I kid, she had a big influence on my early gaming. She was just under 20 years older than I am, and she lived in the city with another of my aunts. Whenever we’d go into the city for my hockey or soccer, we’d stop there before or after. She’s the reason my childhood was filled with Zelda II, Faxanadu, Soul Blazer, Duran Duran, New Order, and Culture Club. Final Fantasy was no exception.

I’m not the only one with fond childhood memories of Final Fantasy, @LumpztheClown, one of the many people who had the game on their list, shared some of his memories of the game with me:

My first experience with Final Fantasy was when I was still a little clown!  My Mom used to pick me up from school and sometimes would be sweet enough to rent a game for my brother and I.  Bear in mind, she didn’t know SHIT about video games, and as a result, based her selections off of the games’ cover art.  Granted, the cover art for Final Fantasy on NES is not its most inspiring feature, but she thought we’d like it since it looked like it would be about valiant knights and fire-breathing dragons.  My brother quickly lost interest in it (he was only 4!), but I was immediately drawn in by the level-up system as well as item searching and random encounters!

The classic RPG elements like random encounters, leveling up, and looking around for or buying items are definitely part of what hooked me as well. This wasn’t just the first Final Fantasy game I played; it was the first RPG I had ever played. This was also the case for quite a few of the people who put the game on their lists, and for an introduction to the genre, the game was perfect. You could choose your four party members and combine the 6 available classes in whatever way you chose. There were lots of weapons and armor to pick from. Finally, there also quite a few items and lots of different spells, which even the fighters could eventually learn.

Thankfully, the game was complex without being complicated. It was easy to jump into, even as a kid, and learn quickly all while being awed at the size of it all. You started in one town, visited a castle, bought some weapons, armor, spells, and items, leveled up a bit, defeated the first boss, left for another town, and almost immediately got your hands on a boat. It all flowed very naturally and quickly. I can’t think of many RPGs that allow you the ability to explore such a large part of the game, especially using a vehicle, so early.

On top of the ease of setting up your party and decking them out in the mightiest of gear, the battle system was particularly well done for its time, something that @rizzardcore mentioned specifically when I asked him why he listed the game. Final Fantasy was the 2nd RPG he had played, with Dragon Warrior being the first, after having read about it and even receiving a strategy guide for it in Nintendo Power.

When I finally got to play the first Final Fantasy many years later, I was very impressed with how well the battle system held up in comparison to the original Dragon Warrior. The battle system in any FF game is what makes these games so great.  The battle is solid, fun, and rewarding, and that’s extremely important for an RPG.  The best music, story, and graphics can’t save an RPG with a broken or just plain bad battle system.

He brings up a good point.  This is a great game, and the music in particular is amazing; however, though I joked on Twitter that I would’ve finished this game no matter how bad it might’ve been simply for its music; to be honest, there were many games with great music I barely played because they just weren’t fun. Luckily, Final Fantasy’s battle system though not perfect, was simple enough and very rewarding. It made you want to keep playing. Yes, it was annoying that when you made two characters attack one enemy in a group of many enemies, if the first character killed the enemy, the next character swing a sword or cast a spell at nothing instead of just attacking any of the remaining enemies. Yet, this is hindsight looking at a very early console RPG. Let’s not forget that Dragon Warrior, which was a revolutionary console RPG in its own right, had no animations during the battles and required you to step onto stairs, and then select “Stairs” from the menu in order to go up or down them. What I’m saying is that only a few years earlier, people were playing text-based RPGs and loving it, so we should excuse the minor details that would be fixed in subsequent RPGs in order to really marvel at what a game like Final Fantasy was able to achieve.

Final Fantasy - Battle

I don’t remember how old I was when I finally beat the game, but I am positive it took me over a year. There is so much trial and error, even with all of the info included with the game, that for a young kid playing before the Age of the Internet, the first play through can’t help but take a very long time. Related to this and the fact that English is my second language, I can thank Final Fantasy in particular, along with a few other RGPs to a lesser extent, for allowing me to answer some fairly obscure questions only a few years later. I still remember being in elementary and  junior high and having our teachers ask if anyone knew what certain words in our history textbook or assigned readings in language classes meant. I was always the only kid in my class who knew what chimera, Tiamat, Lich, pegasus, wyvern, gargoyle, asp, cerberus, manticor, medusa, etc. were. Why did I know these things? Because I asking my parents stuff like “What’s a wyvern?” I also started using a dictionary. As a result, video games had a direct impact on expanding my vocabulary, and Final Fantasy was one of the most important sources of this. See mom? Video games are educational!

WyvernI could go on and on about the things I love about this game, but I think I’ll give @BigJonathan91‘s thoughts on the game the honour of putting a cap on all of this before concluding. He summed it up nicely in his comments:

The Final Fantasy series holds a special place in my heart. It remains my favorite series and though the original game is far from the best, it manages to set the tone perfectly for the whole series. To stretch an NES cartridge wide enough for saves, customization, customization update, somewhat coherent story, a great soundtrack and still have room for a secret sliding puzzle? That alone justifies a playthrough.

In any case, I’ve loved this game for a long time. I can remember coming home from school and foregoing the cartoons in favour of playing it. I’ve beaten it a handful of times and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it again for Game Overkill. I was acutally surprised by just how much fun I had playing it. If you’ve enever played it, a bunch of retro gamers put it on their personal list of games they believe everyone needs to play at least once, and I heartily agree with them. Ultimately, out of 2030 games listed in total, their votes placed Final Fantasy in 71st place.

The next game will be Gradius. I’ve already in started playing it and hope to have the review for it up by the end of the month. After that, I’ll be playing God of War. Remember, if you want to play along with me, tag your tweets with #GameOverkill.

So, what do you think of where Final Fantasy placed? Should it have been higher? Lower? Do you have any fond memories of playing it? Terrible memories? Would you have included it on your own list of games everyone should play at least once? Why? Why not? Please share. :)