Final Fantasy

Back in the 1980s, Square was a fledgling company that produced titles for the NES such as Rad Racer and King’s Knight. Without a niche, the corporation faced the fate of closure, with producer Hironobu Sakaguchi helping develop a role-playing game he called Final Fantasy in anticipation that it would be the company’s final title. The title’s success proved otherwise, and while the original version of the game hasn’t aged very well, with sluggish battles in particular bogging it down, it would receive a few remakes, the first being for the Japan-exclusive Bandai WonderSwan Color. Fortunately, Square, which would around the time become Square-Enix, ported the first and second Final Fantasies to the Sony PlayStation as part of Final Fantasy Origins, and afterward ported them again to the Gameboy Advance as part of the compilation Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls. The Dawn of Souls version of the first game proves to be the definitive version.

Upon starting a new game, the player customizes a party of up to four characters of six different classes: Warrior, Thief, Monk, Red Mage, White Mage, and Black Mage. Characters cannot change their base class throughout the game, so the player must choose their characters’ classes carefully, with this reviewer recommending a party consisting of a Warrior, Monk, White Mage, and Black Mage. Each class has its strengths and weaknesses, for instance, with the Warrior being good with weapons and armor, the monk doing decent damage even without weapons, the White Mage able to use healing magic, and the Black Mage able to use offensive magic. At some point through the game, the player will be able to upgrade all their character’s classes, with this upgrade being necessary in order for White, Black, and Red Mages to purchase more powerful spells.

Enemies are randomly-encountered on the overworld and in dungeons, with the encounter rate being a little high at times, and specific tiles in some dungeons yielding fixed, inescapable encounters with certain sets of foes; normal encounters are escapable, and while the option to do so doesn’t always work, the player has up to four chances to do so since each character has this option. Combat itself is fully turn-based, following the traditional structure of allowing players to input commands for each of their characters, including normally attacking, using magic, using and item, or escaping, and letting them and the enemy beat each other up in a round when not escaping.

While turn order supposedly depends upon agility, it’s still random at times, leading to occasional situations where the player tries to heal a character with low HP, only for the enemy to beat the player to the healing, thus wasting the healing spell or item. The encounter rate is also a bit high, although the pace of battles is generally decent, with most fights winnable in one turn thanks to magic. One change that purists are sure to decry is that the GameBoy Advance version replaces prior incarnations’ use of MP levels where spells of different levels have limited uses with a more traditional pool of MP, although this works better in this reviewer’s opinion, and the battle system, despite its flaws, shines overall.

The controls are also decent, with easy menu navigation and shopping, not to mention an ever-convenient save-anywhere feature, although there are some occasions where the game will leave players clueless as to how to advance, and the spell allowing players to exit dungeons instantly doesn’t become available until later in the game. Furthermore, there is no magic or item allowing players to warp to visited locations on the overworld. Despite these shortcomings, interaction is generally decent.

The story is still the original Final Fantasy’ weakest link, although the backstory viewed upon starting a new game is a little more poignant with the world’s elements in decline, but backstory for the player’s characters is pretty much nonexistent; the localization, however, is largely flawless. Moreover, Final Fantasy is one of those games that makes up for a lack of story with solid gameplay, so the narrative shortcomings are largely forgivable.

Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack, while it doesn’t sound as good as it did on the PlayStation version, nonetheless makes decent use of the GameBoy Advance’s comparatively-limited aural quality, with decent sound effects as well.

The visuals also look nice and colorful, with the graphical quality lying somewhere between the fifth and sixth installments of the franchise, although character sprites don’t show much emotion, and enemies in battle are inanimate.

Finally, the first game is fairly short, taking a little less than fifteen hours to complete, with the player able to start a new game with monster data from the previous playthrough retained. There are also four extra dungeons that augment replayability, not to mention the endless combinations of classes provided when commencing a new game. Ultimately, the GameBoy Advance version of the swan song that wasn’t is generally solid, with nice gameplay, control, music, and graphics. The story is still generally lacking as was the case with pretty much all 8-bit role-playing games, but fortunately, the gameplay more than makes up for it, and players that don’t mind the gameplay differences over prior versions are sure to enjoy this trip down memory lane.

The Good:
+Solid turn-based combat and control.
+Great music and graphics.
+Nice replay value with extra dungeons.

The Bad:
-High encounter rate at times.
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.
-Story is somewhat weak.

The Bottom Line:
The definitive version of the game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 10/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: Less than 15 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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