In the recent past, I decided that I was going to do some ‘series’ and write about my experiences. The first of these I devised was to finally make the commitment to read the ‘Wheel of Time’ series, which is unfortunately on hiatus after I couldn’t take it anymore. Later, I decided that one thing that I would almost certainly definitely have fun part of the time with… was playing every single title under the Final Fantasy brand that I could get my hands on. Like most gamers who enjoy RPGs, I was a consumer of the NA translations of these fine games when I was growing up. Unlike many people in my generation, I still enjoy even the most recent offerings in the series. So, something to write about, and a source of enjoyment for me? Sounds very win-win.
Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. I’m going to look at all (most? I’m bad with structure, we’ll see how long this lasts) of the following things from these games:
– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one.
– Is the game any good?
– Is the answer to the first question, “It doesn’t hold up”? Why?
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve and devolve and side-volve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?
– No MMORPGs. Sorry FF14 fans, I don’t ‘do’ MMORPGs anymore. Plus, the plan here hopefully doesn’t involve spending a bunch of money acquiring games.
I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research.
That preamble having been dealt with, let us begin our odyssey at the very beginning. And with one of the core series games that I had never played before.
Version: Gameboy Advance, “Final Fantasy I & II, Dawn of Souls”
So, I already know, guys. I got jobbed. I knew it as soon as I fired up the GBA version of FF1 and found out that I had MP instead of spells per day. I made a terrible mistake! Unfortunately, while I do know a guy with an NES console in excellent working order, he does not have a working FF1 cartridge. Oh, and he probably doesn’t want me spending a week in his basement emitting 8-bit bloops and bleeps at him. I could have resorted to emulation (indeed, I may have to, for some of the more obscure titles on my list) but being totally ignorant of the gameplay changes going in, I already made a fatal mis-step.
Here’s the deal, for those who don’t know: In the original Final Fantasy release on the NES, your party was always poor and under-equipped, if you killed a monster and someone else was also targeting that monster, their turn was wasted with an ineffective hit, and your wizards gained spells per day, the system inspired by noted fantasy author Jack Vance, and also the inspiration for the system of magic used up through the 3.5 edition of “Dungeons & Dragons”. In “Dawn of Souls”, ineffective hits are gone, your casters now have the traditional Final Fantasy MP pool (and unbelievably cheap Ethers to boot), and the monster encounters are both more frequent and more lucrative. In short, the game is much easier on the GBA than in its original form.
And it is pretty easy, on the GBA. Even the content in the bonus dungeons included with the game did not pose much of a challenge for me in the game’s later stages, and while the final boss, Chaos, had a formidable quantity of HP…it really just delayed the inevitable. My party never seemed to run out of resources, and once I had reached a certain point, I achieved critical mass. I had too much gold, too many powerful items, and my entire party could cast useful spells to set up for boss encounters. Most of the regular mook encounters were just auto-battles by the end, which, really, can be seen one of two ways. I normally prefer the regular enemies to at least present the illusion of a challenge. It’s nice to have some enemy types who demand the use of a powerful spell to avoid some dangerous attack, and so forth. However, given the extremely high encounter rate present in Dawn of Souls, I didn’t mind the auto-battling too much.
The one aspect of the original game’s gameplay that very much remains intact in the Dawn of Souls remake is the fact that nobody tells you where to go next or what you have to do, aside from the basic instruction of ‘save the four crystals’. When I first conceived of this series, I had planned to have a ‘no frantically Googling answers’ policy. It has already eroded, as I’m honestly stunned that anyone had the patience to figure out how to beat this game when it first came out. I suppose that isn’t true: I remember spending a ton of time on equally murky NES and SNES games when I was a kid. We eventually managed to puzzle out countless secrets in ‘The Legend of Zelda’. Alas, it seems that my patience (or focus…?) just isn’t what it used to be. Several times, I sought basic instructions on what to do next, and I don’t even feel all that bad about it. It’s such an incredibly stark difference when compared to games even slightly later in the series, where the connective tissue of a story draws you from point to point, perhaps with a little wandering. Even a game like the classic “Chrono Trigger”, where several times the only way to proceed is to go to a time period and see if things have changed, you have a relatively small set of places to wander through before you’ll find your answer. Not so in FF1: once you’ve acquired even the simplest vehicle, a canoe, there’s a huge amount of space to explore, and if you pick the wrong direction, you’ll be in mortal danger.
I’m honestly not sure, on the other side, whether I really enjoyed the game or not. Certainly, it was diverting; it managed to hold my attention for twenty hours or so, despite possessing no story to speak of, and only a couple of characters worth mentioning (your entire party in FF1, for those coming very late to the party, consists of silent protagonists). It seems that I can’t really judge whether the game has held up properly because of the way in which it was remade for the GBA, which is a bummer. My first article, already smashing my expectations into dust! As a result, I’ve re-added FF1 to the master list, and next time, I’ll find some manner of replicating the experience of the original game. Humankind will be improved by my research.