Flashback Friday – Final Fantasy I

“….You might think that there is something to it…But in fact it is just an ordinary well.”

Before 1987 and their NES release of the RPG Final Fantasy, Square Enix (known at the time as Squaresoft) was a small gaming company struggling to make ends meet. Their previous games had not sold well and they threw their all into this boat, heartened by the success of the Dragon Quest (i.e. Dragon Warrior). It was a desperation tactic, a ‘limit break’ you might say, before they would close up shop.

This story is well-known; the irony of ‘final’ fantasy with its mainstream success. Each of us has our own memories of the Final Fantasy series and mine started with the original. I can still remember the day my brother placed the controller into my hands with the instructions “Don’t get me killed”. Not only did the party not perish under my command, I progressed quite a lot in the game before he returned!

I can also remember imagining, when I was supposed to be asleep, of the trials faced by the Warriors of Light. This was prompted by my D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) table-top gaming, inspiring me to recreate the characters with more depth during the gameplay. The knight character got most of my attention and that intensified when Dissidia: Final Fantasy came out with its own rendition of the character.

Thus began my obsession with the first Final Fantasy, and the Warrior of Light…

Among my favorite things in the game is the cute humor, muted though it is: the well comment, the excitement of the party when you try to throw away the rat’s tail, and the Dragon Quest joke (“Here lies Erdrick”). I’d also always loved the class change. Though strictly optional it is extremely useful, and just downright cool. Aside from a wardrobe change—oh my, does the black mage look so grown up!—the characters all get access to new equipment or spells, or both (except the poor black belt, no idea why).

Of course, as many can recall, the NES games were often notoriously difficult and this game was no exception. Certain spells could not be cast during combat (when they are needed the most!) and my party’s attacks were sometimes ‘ineffective’ (i.e. if the enemy they targeted had already died, their attack would not carry over to another) and who could ever forget the dungeons? The Marsh Cave, the Ice Cavern…I found the challenge disproportionate as the earliest parts of the game could be almost game-breakingly tough while the rest was just difficult.

The difficulty also came from the numerous bugs plaguing the game. Some could make me laugh (“The Invisible Woman”) and I prospered from others (“The Peninsula of Power”) but most of them gave me trouble. Many of the elemental properties of the various weapons did not work (e.g. the sun sword didn’t deal additional damage to the undead, etc.). Worse, they gave me a false sense of security since it convinced me I possessed a power I didn’t actually have.

Many of the future Final Fantasy games reference items from their first predecessor. Excalibur and Masamune make their initial appearances here, along with Flare (NUKE in the NES FFI) and Holy (FADE). Airships and crystals also feature prominently in many Final Fantasy games. Additionally, a few magical tracks famous in the series got their start in Final Fantasy I, namely among them the “Prelude”, “the battle theme”, and “the Final Fantasy theme”, etc.

Metaphorical to the inexplicable time-loop in the original, all the games in the series share an undeniable ancestry with Final Fantasy I. There’s something magical about seeing where it all began. I was there then, and I plan to be there when it all ends. And maybe they will call it Final Fantasy: For Real This Time. I, for one, hope the fantasy will never be final (I recognize the inherent lack of originality in that statement and don’t care!).