It’s hard to imagine these days what RPGs would be like without the Final Fantasy franchise. The funny thing is that this game was what saved Square Co.– which later became Squaresoft.
Final Fantasy (I’m talking about the original released on NES) is a game that people seem to always forget about when they’re talking about the series. When everybody talks about Final Fantasy, it’s either about the versions that were on the other console systems or Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy VI(or II and III in the US). The first one seems to always get looked over. While IV and VI are fine games and immensely enjoyable, I have to admit that it’s the first game that really made me fall in love with the franchise as a whole.
I will admit that the story is pretty basic, but at the time, storytelling in video games mostly entailed to the most basic of things. This, however, was a much deeper storyline by those standards. The storyline was basically about the four Light Warriors. You could select what class they fell into– it could be a White Mage, a Black Mage, a Red Mage (who I always thought looked like a pimp), Black Belt, Fighter, or a Thief. You also got to name them whatever you wanted so if you wanted to name your Warrior “Fartface” you were more than welcome to. And basically, you went around the vast lands, encountered monsters, and got those orbs all lit up so that the world could be restored to its former glory. It’s a great story of hope and adventure that may be basic, but it helped serve as a huge launching point for future Final Fantasy games.
Now, as I said before, the truth was that this game came out at a time where Square Co. was going bankrupt. At least, that’s one of the stories. Composer Nobuo Uematsu has stated that the game was actually named Final Fantasy because Square Co. seriously thought it was going to be their swan song. Square Co. was undergoing some tough times in the mid-late 1980s and creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, whom was fresh out of college and recently made a full-time employee, came up with this game. The other version of the name is that Sakaguchi was going to go back to school if it didn’t sell well. However, the main theme of both versions seems to be that Square was kind of in dire straits, whether it was due to financial issues or working conditions being less than ideal. Of course, we know now that the game came out in late 1987 in Japan and was a huge hit which spawned an entire franchise.
Pictured: The Light Warriors. Still buff after all these years.
I think the way people seem to view Final Fantasy today is much like the way people view Citizen Kane today. While I’m not comparing the two in terms of quality, I am comparing just the way people seem to perceive them. Looking at the video game today, it’s enjoyable and still playable, but it’s not really that big of a deal. It’s the same thing with Citizen Kane in which it’s a good movie with a pretty nifty twist ending, but it’s not like it’s anything new. However, at the time that both of these came out, they were near revolutionary. With Citizen Kane, Orson Welles took filmmaking to a new level. A lot of those shots that you see in the movie and techniques were things that were never used. Now it’s just so common that nobody thinks much of it. With Final Fantasy, it brought the concept of a JRPG to the USA more into the open. Granted, Dragon Quest may have done it first, but the impact was very small in the US market. Now for Final Fantasy, that was different. These days, when you see an RPG with a storyline, turn-based battling, and a rich soundtrack, it’s pretty much the standard for all RPGs. Final Fantasy (and yes, Dragon Quest too) were the starters of that back in the days of 8-bit goodness.
And, of course, how can I not talk about Final Fantasy without talking about the soundtrack? Compositions of Nobuo Uematsu in Final Fantasy are pretty much iconic. To this day, I’m sure we’ve all hummed one or two of these tunes. We see them reinvented sometimes through orchestras or future games and it’s just as magical and awesome as it was before. The songs may have been 8-bit bloops and bleeps, but the way they all connected together and the way that it played on the game were just perfectly suited for the setting. It gave the player the leitmotif for the adventure from the regal sounds of Cornelia’s castle, the hokey small village sounds of the towns, and the dark mystical feeling with Matoya’s Cave. The songs all fit perfectly with the scene that they’re setting up. And of course, the prologue– how can we forget the prologue music. It may have been more epic sounding in games since, but that first version is personally my favorite. It’s the beginning of an adventure, the start of something new. And the music is just so right in the situation. It makes you want to go and save the world… just after you take in the awesome prologue music for a while.
Yes, this is the same song you’ve heard at least thirteen times since then. But this is the original!
On the Wii, Final Fantasy is available on the Virtual Console for 500 points. If you’ve got a good five bucks to waste, it’s well worth your money to check it out. There are some things that are not that great with the first game– it can be pretty hard and frustrating to battle some enemies, the dialogue is goofy (however, I find it charming and I love to quote Garland’s quote “I, Garland, will knock you all down!”), and sometimes it can feel like you get into an encounter every five seconds which can be very annoying if you’re down to one guy and you’re trying to go as fast as you can to the Town so you can go to the Inn to heal yourself and buy some Revive for your comrades. Other than that, I don’t find much wrong with it, but this is just merely my opinion anyways.
Final Fantasy was a Hail Mary play for Square and Sakaguchi (whichever version of the story you believe) that paid off big time and gamers have never been quite the same.