Final Fantasy Review: The flawed fantasy that started it all

Final Fantasy Review: The flawed fantasy that started it all

The original Final Fantasy is absolutely iconic and has laid the groundwork for one of the most famous and critically acclaimed franchises of all-time—revered for so many things only made possible by this eccentric entry. I personally find the PSP version of this game to be vastly superior to any other version of this game, and therefore, that is the version I will be talking about today. I will be scoring this game in its ten most important categories and diving into this game's fun and flaws in today's article... a Final Fantasy Review: the flawed fantasy that started it all.

Battle System - 7

Final Fantasy's battle system is the most traditional a turn-based battle system can get. While overly basic, there is still some strategy to be had through stat-buffing spells (like Temper, Haste, and Invisira), through using equipment to cast spells, and through placing your characters in a specific formation to manipulate their chance of being hit by the enemy—a simple concept that 1) should be seen more often and 2) adds an extra layer of strategy. With accomplishments like that, I would give this a solid 8 or 9—a solid amount of strategy, simple, yet engaging combat is really all I need for an RPG! But, of course, there had to be some glaring flaws in this battle system. First of all, the battles are very slow-paced and tedious, as the encounter rate is through the roof and there is no auto-battle feature to be seen. Second of all, this game has tons of difficulty spikes and drops, making it feel incredibly grindy at some points and way too easy at some points. Third of all, the battle music is so repetitive. These flaws combined would take this battle system down to a five or six on the scale, but there is one thing I haven't mentioned yet—this game has awesome bosses. There are tons of awesome optional superbosses to tackle in dungeons like the Lifespring Grotto and the Labryinth of Time, and these bosses actually require a deep understanding of the game and its battle system! Highlights include the formidable Chronodia with its ability-sealing powers and incredibly high stats, Omega & Shinryu with their huge damage outputs, the ever-iconic Four Fiends that are all incredibly unique fights, and of course, the final boss fight against Chaos, which to this day is one of my favorite final bosses in the entire series. Overall, while the slow-paced mediocrity of this basic turn-based battle system can become monotonous at times, the boss fights and simple strategicness save the system from a low score. A solid 7 out of 10 for the original Final Fantasy's battle system.

Story - 3

FF1 Opening Screen : r/FinalFantasy

Getting four McGuffins isn't exactly up to snuff compared to future RPG standards, but that doesn't mean this story doesn't have its moments. Building the bridge, killing the pirates and taking their boat, saving Elfheim, blowing up part of a continent, finding an airship submerged in a desert, and the endgame Garland plot twist? This story isn't as bad as it seems on the surface! The fact this game isn't required to be linear and it pulls it off? That's awesome. Last time I played this game, I got the Earth Crystal, then the Wind Crystal, then the Water Crystal, then the Fire Crystal! While not nearly as much of an open world RPG as games like Final Fantasy XV, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, or even the original The Legend of Zelda game, this is still so cool for such an old game! Overall, this story has its moments, but there's one thing that really holds this story so far back from greatness its almost frightening. And that depressing factor is...

Characters - 2

...the complete lack of characters for the story to latch onto. I mean, I like Garland enough to not give this category a 0, but your main characters have absolutely no personality or characterization. Luckily, this would be remedied in future job-focused entries like Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy X-2, but the lack of characters really holds the original Final Fantasy back from being a must-play game. One reason RPGs are such a special entertainment medium is because you get to go on a fantastical journey with a colorful cast of characters that you get to go through the experience with. You get to visit different enviornments and areas with said characters, and experience their emotions, their twists and their turns. But in terms of characters, Final Fantasy is so archaic, with only a singular standout character in the form of the main antagonist, Chaos.

Music - 8

By no means the best of Nobuo Uematsu's works, he still completely knocked it out of the park from the first entry in this iconic series. With phenomenal songs like the Prelude, which sets the mood for the game (and quite frankly, the entire series); the Main Theme, which perfectly encapsulates the journey of four nameless heroes preparing to save the world from Chaos; the Chaos Shrine, a masterpiece of a song that truly sets the tone for the dungeon (and has an awesome remix in the form of the Sunken Shrine theme); the Flying Fortress theme, a spunky and eerie bop; the Mt. Gulg theme, a wonderful song that gets stuck in my head for days after hearing it; and the plethora of amazing boss themes! So what docks points off of this game's soundtrack? There are some incredibly annoying earworms in this game—namely the Battle Theme, the Ship Theme, and the Airship Theme. These songs are needlessly repetitive in nature, and are the most prevalent songs in the game. Hearing these songs so much truly took me out of the experience of the game that I seriously had to pause the music at times because my ears couldn't take it anymore. Is this Nobuo Uematsu's fault? Not in the slightest—the songs are very good, it was just that the developers just gave this game way too high of an encounter rate. Overall, I love myself some Final Fantasy music, but hearing a mid song for half of the game's runtime really soured the soundtrack for me.

Art & Graphics - 8.5

The original Final Fantasy shouldn't be modernized - Polygon

The pixel artwork in both the Pixel Remaster version and the PSP version are absolutely amazing. I'd still prefer the PSP graphics any day, but the former version is still incredible as well. The older versions, while not nearly as good, still have an undeniable charm to them. While these graphics aren't nearly as inspired or artistic as graphics like those found in Octopath Traveler II or Paper Mario, these graphics are still beautiful to this day.

Customization System - 6.5

I'm not going to lie, this is about the most basic job system ever known to man and woman. While this job system can't be put higher than a 7 for that fact, there's just still an undeniable charm about this class system. Since this game is very short, it is fun to play multiple playthroughs, trying insane runs like four White Mages or four Black Mages (or less if you wanna be feisty). In fact, because of how this system works, I would highly recommend two playthroughs—it is truly essential for getting the full experience. I personally like recommending to people Warrior, White Mage, Black Mage, and Red Mage for the first playthrough, and Thief, Monk, White Mage, and Red Mage for the second playthrough... these just feel like wholly distinct parties in my eyes. However, this replayability factor is also a huge downside—not being able to experience all of the game's content in a single playthrough was a highly questionable design choice, and one that was thankfully fixed in later entries of the series. Overall, I love the simplicity and replayability offered in this customization system, but I also hate the simplicity and necessity of replaying this game to get the whole experience. Quite honestly, this customization system can be described in one word: paradoxical.

Dungeons - 7

Final Fantasy: All Dungeons RANKED!

On one hand, the Final Fantasy has provided us with amazing bonus dungeons, the iconic Mirage Tower and Flying Fortress dungeons, and the awesome Chaos Shrine, a dungeon we get to visit in two different time periods. On the other hand, there are atrocuious dungeons like the hellish Marsh Cave and the excruciatingly painful Earth Cavern; the convoluted Sunken Shrine and the stupidly designed Ice Cavern. For each phenomenal dungeon, there is a terrible one—as well as a lot of mediocre and forgettable ones sandwiched in the middle. The most unique dungeon of the bunch was the Labryinth of Time, ranked second on our ranking of the best dungeons in the original Final Fantasy. There were tons of unique floors here, and the amazing Chronodia boss fight at the end that varied in power based on how well you performed in the dungeon! The Whisperwind Cove and Lifespring Grotto dungeons are also long and elaborate dungeons that also have tons of unique floors and inspired re-fights of bosses in later Final Fantasy games! The Chaos Shrine has five boss fights, including the phenomenal boss fight against Chaos, which is to this day a top three Final Fantasy final boss in my eyes! The best dungeons in this game are some of the best in the series—but the worst are some of the most flawed and agitating dungeons in any RPG. Overall, I desperately wish I could give this category a higher score because this game has some great dungeons, but I couldn't do that. I'd be objectively stupid if I did that.

Sidequests - 7

How Bahamut Has Changed From Final Fantasy 1 to FF15

The sidequests in this game are surprisingly great, especially compared to, say, Final Fantasy III, which many say is just an upgrade to this game. You get to do awesome things like upgrade your jobs via giving Bahamut a mundane Rat Tail (still one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen in an RPG), forge the legendary Excalibur out of Adamantite, unlock secret doors with the Mystic Key, visit the secret city of Lufenia and locate its secret magic shops, and, well, visit the aforementioned optional dungeons. I couldn't give this category a superb score because some games do high-quality sidequests like this but to a much grander degree, but these sidequests are still awesome for what they are! Upgrading the job classes does a lot of the otherwise basic job system, the secret city is a huge surprise and (as I said before) the optional dungeons are some of my favorite bosses in the series. There aren't too many sidequests in this game, but they are fun, simple, and best of all? They aren't just lifeless fetch quests, a trend seen so often in modern RPGs. These quests had soul, and you can tell that the developers put a lot of effort into making these quests as awesome as possible.

Quality of Life - 7.5

There aren't any bad glitches in the more modern releases of Final Fantasy, so why is this score so low? First of all, the encounter rate is astronomically high and unnecessarily doubles the run time of this game. Second of all, you have to play this game multiple times if you want to try all of the jobs, which is incredibly annoying. Third of all, you have to go through many dungeons multiple times—the Sunken Shrine twice, the Cavern of Earth twice, the Lifespring Grotto twice, the Hellfire Chasm twice, and worst of all, the Earthgift shrine four times. Luckily I am not talking about the NES version here, or else this category would have an absolutely fantastic score of 0. Overall, I love this game, but geez, it can be annoying sometimes. The quality of life issues here aren't all that bad in the grand scheme of things, but this game could've definitely used some refining before being republished for the PSP and other releases of the game.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 8
Overall Score: 64%
Letter Rating: B

The original Final Fantasy is a very solid game that, while archaic, still holds up to this day. It has a plethora of cons, but not without its joyous pros. I wouldn't have played through this game five or six games if that were not the case! While I do highly recommend this game for RPG veterans, this is definitely not a baby's first RPG or a game I would tell someone to play to introduce them to the series—no, this is a gem that should be uncovered by only the most seasoned of RPG fans. This game basically popularized RPGs as a medium, and that amounts to this game being a special and profound (if sometimes flawed) experience as a whole.

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Final Fantasy (NES)
Final Fantasy (PS1)
Final Fantasy (GBA)
Final Fantasy (PSP)
Final Fantasy (Pixel Remaster)

Primary Version: Final Fantasy (PSP)