Final Fantasy (NES) Review

By Gabriel Jones 18.12.2017 2

Review for Final Fantasy on NES

An ancient evil from another time has appeared. By taking control of the four elements, they've unleashed catastrophes all over the planet. The world has become wracked with death and decay, and the four orbs that governed the power of the elements have lost their light. In this time of darkness, four heroes with dirty faces can make a difference. The light warriors must brave foul dungeons and their monstrous inhabitants if they want to revive the power of the orbs. Along for the ride are riveting characters such as the lute-giving princess, a sleepy elven king, and the witch with exceptionally poor eyesight. It's time to return to ye olden days of RPGs with Final Fantasy, thirty years after its original release.

Admittedly, this is an odd RPG to come back to after all these years. It could almost be considered a relic from an era that's better left forgotten. If someone is going to while their time away on this game, shouldn't they at least play one of the more recent revisions? The original NES version's many faults and bugs are well documented. The "dark" status effect doesn't work, so Kraken's bright idea to spray everyone with blinding ink turns out to be a free turn for the warriors of light. What about the sword that's supposed to do more damage to fire-themed monsters? Oh yeah, that doesn't work either. Spells like AMUT - which cures silence - and LAMP - which cures blindness - are so useless that they're insulting.

All that said, this is being a little unfair to the developer. At the time of Final Fantasy's release in 1987, console RPGs were a rarity. This was also Square's first attempt at the genre, so it was a pretty massive undertaking. Almost all of the developmental resources we take for granted today simply weren't available. What Hironobu Sakaguchi, Nasir Gebelli, and the rest of the team had accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. This is a party-based RPG with multiple classes, a large world to explore, well over a hundred monsters to battle, and plenty of valuable items to obtain. Though it struggles fairly often, this game doesn't collapse under the weight of its own ambition.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy on NES

For anyone unfamiliar with this entry, it's a little hard to explain. What we have here is a hodgepodge of ideas. Before the game begins, the player creates a party of four heroes. There are six classes to choose from, and the party can be made up of any combination of them. Traditional setups, such as Fighter, Monk, White Mage, and Black Mage, work well enough, but there's nothing stopping someone from experimenting. What's interesting about this RPG is that it can be beaten with literally any setup imaginable. Even a white mage all by her lonesome can defeat the final boss.

Of course, the party decisions are etched into stone once the game begins. Even though every class is viable, some have a much harder time than others. Monks and Thieves are essentially dead weight for a sizable chunk of the quest. These classes become quite good after a promotion, but most players aren't likely to get that far. The first few hours highlight the doldrums of the traditional RPG, forcing even experts to grind in order to survive the gruelling dungeons and hellish bosses.

What make the dungeons so notable are the random encounters. It isn't uncommon to get ambushed by a horde of undead, a flock of cockatrices, or worse. Numerous flavours of ghouls can cause paralysis, stun-locking the entire party until they're completely wiped out. Birds with a Medusa gaze will turn an otherwise healthy group of heroes into statues. Then there are other monsters, such as the sorcerers, whose very touch causes instant death. Don't forget about the mancats. They obliterate unsuspecting heroes with relentless waves of fire. In short, all it takes is a single instance of bad luck, and so much progress is lost. It's impossible to save the game while in a dungeon, leaving players entirely at the mercy of the dreaded RNG.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy on NES

If they aren't outright destroying parties, the foes are draining their resources at an alarming rate. Final Fantasy lifts its spell system almost directly from the classic Wizardry. There are eight spell levels, with up to nine charges available for each of them. Common-use spells such as CURE are quickly exhausted. It can take three to five castings to restore somebody from 20 to 100 HP! Cure potions are available, and it's immensely necessary to stock up. However, since only one can be purchased at a time, that means setting the auto-fire and then going out for lunch.

Interestingly enough, the difficulty of this game peaks midway through, and doesn't really pick up again until the final dungeon. This can be attributed to a number of factors. First off, there is the equipment that can be used like items. The healing staff casts a party-wide cure spell, while the Zeus gauntlet strikes every foe with a bolt of lightning. These rare trinkets never break, making them incredibly useful if not overpowered. The later weapons have a critical hit rate that's positively bonkers. High-level melee classes are guaranteed to kill most anything in a single attack, especially with the help of FAST, a spell that boosts the number of hits they can land. With the right armour and the evasion boosting spell RUSE, parties become impossible to scratch.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy on NES

What keeps the game from becoming too easy is also interesting. Final Fantasy is unique in the sense that its glitches actually benefit the design of the game; for example, protect rings are supposed to protect against instant death. However, they're bugged, and will only guard against a couple of spells. If a monster were to cause an earthquake, there's a chance a light warrior or two might fall through the cracks. Monsters also enjoy an astonishingly high critical hit rate, which ignores defence while doing absurd damage. Then the attack-buffing spell TMPR doesn't work at all, which is probably for the best. Even the final boss only has 2,000 HP, and could easily lose a quarter of that to a single Masamune-wielding Knight. For better or worse, everything works out and maintains a semblance of balance.

In any case, it's these peaks and valleys that keep the game enjoyable. There's always a sense of accomplishment from clearing a hard dungeon. Even after almost thirty years, this reviewer still does a victory lap around the world after finally acquiring the airship. Those times where the party is overpowered to the point of game breaking feel earned. They've been beaten down for so long, but now they're turning the tables and humiliating their adversaries. Some aspects are a little dated, such as the woeful inventory system, but they're manageable.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy on NES

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


Is the original Final Fantasy still worth playing today? Well… It depends. Not everyone will tolerate the first few hours, which are undeniably slow. The light warriors spend a significant amount of time flat broke and unable to wield any decent equipment. The marsh, earth, and ice caves are skull-cracking brick walls whose appeal is lost on anyone that doesn't have masochistic tendencies. Still, there is enjoyment to be found in this adventure, and it's great that there are actual consequences. The remakes went a little too far in making the game easier, causing them to become toothless and boring. Thirty years on, this RPG has aged rather well.






Turn Based RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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Del_Duio (guest) 05.07.2018#2

I love the first NES Final Fantasy, even with all its quirks (which weren't fully known to us if you played it when it was brand new). Along with Dragon Warrior 3 and Ultima Quest of the Avatar it'd be one of my favorite NES RPGs.

It can't be understated enough at how important the party creation section is for this game. That adds a ton of replay value.

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