Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Final Fantasy

The First Fantasy of Many

Developer Square originated as the software division of a power company, initially releasing several unsuccessful titles for the Nintendo Famicom. Inspired by fellow videogame corporation Enix’s release of Dragon Quest (called Dragon Warrior in North American until the release of that franchise’s eighth installment), they developed the roleplaying game Final Fantasy, believing it would be their last title. Its success proved otherwise, as Final Fantasy would become a legendary franchise, and the first entry would see remakes and ports, with the iOS version among the latest of these, and proving the definite way of experiencing the influential RPG.

Four elements, earth, fire, water, and wind, dominate the world, each having a symbolic crystal, all of which begin to dim, causing ecological distress worldwide. A quartet Light Warriors are fated to rescue the world from the darkness, first rescuing the princess of the Kingdom of Coneria from the clutches of the rogue knight Garland. Afterward comes the quest to defeat four elemental Fiends, with time travel playing a part in endgame events. The plot was okay for the 8-bit incarnation’s time, but otherwise, the player’s party lacks backstory, as do the villains.

The translation is on par with Square-Enix’s other efforts, with coherent dialogue, a noticeable absence of spelling and grammar errors, and as with retranslations of their past work, they retain iconic lines such as “I, Garland, will knock you all down!” Characters such as dwarves also have their own speech patterns, and aside from occasional compressed ability names and name choices such as Garland (which really doesn’t have a sinister connotation, particularly since the first thing that springs to mind is the actress with the surname), the translation is well more than adequate.

Fortunately, the gameplay serves the original Final Fantasy well, with players immediately needing to set up a party of four playable characters of six different classes. The Warrior specializes in melee combat and can even cast lower levels of (mostly-)defensive white magic spells after the primary promotion quest. The Thief is initially weak but promotable to Ninja, in which case they become more powerful and able to cast (mostly-)offensive lower levels of black magic. The last main melee class is the Monk, which specializes in fighting and in fact ultimately becomes more powerful without weapons, and can’t use magic.

That leaves the magical classes, the first of which is the White Mage, which specializes in defensive healing magic, upper levels accessible after the main promotion quest. The second is the Black Mage, which specializes in offensive magic, and the last is the Red Mage, which has okay attack capability and can only use certain white and black spells. Players obtain new magic spells for each character by purchasing them from special shops, although each character can only have three spells per level. As with the Game Boy advance version, moreover, the system of finite uses of spells for each level is ditched in favor of pooled MP.

Fights themselves are randomly encountered, with the rate of this lamentably being inconsistent, with certain tiles in dungeons, moreover, having fixed encounters, namely those before treasure chests containing decent rewards. Battles are turn-based, with the payer inputting commands for all characters, after which they and the enemy exchange turns, largely dependent upon agility, although turn order can vary wildly, even when battling foes of the same type. Certain strategies can help standard fights pass more quickly, such as incinerating undead enemies with the White Mage’s Dia spells or the Black Mage’s fire magic.

Eliminating all enemies nets all characters who aren’t dead or petrified experience for sporadic level-ups, money, and occasional items. Overall, the battle system is generally quick and enjoyable, with contemporary fixes over the 8-bit version, such as attacks not going to waste against deceased foes, and the save-anywhere feature significantly reducing wasted playtime, although the ability to nullify encounters with weak enemy parties akin to the Dragon Quest titles would have been nice, and things such as multiple enemies attacking at once would have added more speed to battle. Despite the issues, the gameplay definitely helps the first Final Fantasy more than hurts.

The ability to record progress anywhere, along with the absence of points of no return in the game, is one of the strongest suits of the first entry’s control, along with the equip-best function available within the menus, although there are issues such as the lack of maps for dungeons (despite there being one for the overworld, in which case the finger indicator can obscure the player’s view), which can be labyrinthine at times. The ability to warp between visited towns a la the Dragon Quest games would have been welcome as well, and overall, while the game doesn’t interact as well as it could have with players, things could have certainly been worse.

Perhaps the best aspect of the original Final Fantasy is composer Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack, which contains iconic tracks such as the prelude and main theme that would find themselves in future entries of the franchise. The overworld theme is adventurous, as are the sailing and airship themes, and the dungeon tracks are rarely out of place, perhaps the strongest of them being the techno-sounding floating castle music. The various battle tracks are good as well, although more diversity for standard combat music would have been welcome. Regardless, the game is a joy to listen to.

The visuals mostly mimic those of the PlayStation Portable version of the game, with chibi character sprites and colorful environments, the latter for the most part looking good. The sprites themselves don’t show much emotion, and there’s a noticeable absence of CG or anime cutscenes. The monster designs look nice, although there are palette swaps aplenty, and enemies just blink to indicate they’re performing actions. The ability animations look nice, although the player’s characters telekinetically execute standard attacks against their adversaries. In the end, the graphics aren’t a deterrent, but are by no means flawless.

Finally, the inaugural entry of the fabled franchise will run players somewhere from twelve to twenty-four hours for a single playthrough, with the extra dungeons from Dawn of Souls serving as primary sidequests, and the potential setup of the player’s party providing decent replayability, although there are no storyline variations or achievements.

Overall, Final Fantasy on the iOS is a solid port of the classic RPG title, given its quick, strategic battle system, good localization, and especially its excellent soundtrack. It preserves the best aspects of the Dawn of Souls iteration as well, such as the four bonus dungeons and save-anywhere feature, and is preferable to the original NES version of the game, which hasn’t aged well. The latest version of the game does have issues such as its underdeveloped storyline with weak direction at points and recycling of enemy designs, but those hoping to play a piece of RPG history likely won’t be disappointed.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy digitally purchased for the iOS on an iPad Pro with help from an Apple Pencil, starting with a party of a Warrior, Monk, White Mage, and Black Mage.

The Good:
+Quick, strategic battle system.
+Good localization.
+Excellent soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance main storyline.
-Barebones narrative.
-Writes the book on palette-swapped enemies.

The Bottom Line:
The best way to experience the classic RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: iOS
Game Mechanics: 7.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 5.0/10
Localization: 7.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.0/10
Difficulty: Depends on Classes
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

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