Developer: Square Co., Ltd. | Year: 2003 | List Price: $9.99 | Buy from Amazon
Two days. That’s how long it took me to beat this game. There was no school yesterday, so I started Final Fantasy Origins for the first time on my PS Vita. 32 real-world (and 15 game-world) hours later, I beat Final Fantasy I. That’s the fastest I’ve ever beaten any JRPG, let alone Final Fantasy game — for comparison’s sake, I spent almost 2 months on Final Fantasy VI! But how does it actually compare to other Final Fantasy games? Read on to find out! Note: This is the Final Fantasy Origins version of Final Fantasy, which bundled it with Final Fantasy II for the PSone. I haven’t played II yet, but if/when I do, I’ll do a separate review for that game.
Final Fantasy was originally released in 1987 for Nintendo’s Famicom. Legend has it that Square was in a bit of a financial pickle at the time, and Final Fantasy would be a last-ditch effort to stay in the black, hence its name. Luckly for Square, it sold like gangbusters, and a new franchise was born. Playing it this weekend, I can certainly see why. The gameplay, though it certainly feels dated, is still engaging and addictive, and it’s remarkable just how much it has in common with its successors.
Difficulty was a concern of mine jumping into Final Fantasy for the first time; this game is notorious for how ruthless it is. Fortunately, the PSone version adds an Easy difficulty, which doubles experience and gives the game an overall pace that’s closer to later Final Fantasy games. It may actually make the game too easy towards the end, because the encounter rate is extremely high and if you fight every enemy, you’ll be really high-leveled for the last few bosses. Though the game still felt tense, I never actually had my party wiped out. The game was still fun, and I did follow a walkthrough, so I would still recommend Easy mode unless you’re already familiar with JRPGs and/or enjoy exorbitant amounts of grinding.
But Origins’ conveniences don’t stop there. You can also run by holding down the [Cancel] button. If the enemy targeted by one of your characters happens to die, the character will automatically target another enemy. Finally, there’s a handy Memo system, which I never had to use, since I never died, but which lets you quicksave in a dungeon. If you’re old/hardcore, you can always turn these features off, of course, and if you configure your settings right, you can basically play the game as it was on the NES.
The visuals did get an upgrade on this port, though, and I think they were done pretty well. Graphically, the sprites look like they belong on the SNES, but there’s a unique hand-drawn aesthetic. Even the colouring looks like it was done with pencil crayons. It totally sells the idea of the game being a storybook fantasy. The music has been upgraded, and there are a fair share of standout tracks. Composer Nobuo Uematsu is usually described as only hitting his stride with Final Fantasy IV, but I would actually put this game’s soundtrack on par with IV’s. I guess it wasn’t as impressive on the NES, but remastered for the PSone, the music really does pack a punch.
Gameplay here is fully turn-based, unlike later entries in the series. Every turn, you can command each of your four fighters to attack, use magic, use items, or flee. Damage is dealt based on stats, and you earn experience. Classic JRPG fare. But magic is handled quite differently from more modern JRPGs. Your characters don’t have MP that they spend on spells. Instead, each character has a finite number of spell charges for a certain tier. For example, my Red Mage could use 30 Tier 1 spells and 26 Tier 2 spells before I had to rest up at an inn. This means that you can use weaker spells at will in a dungeon without having to worry about running out of MP before a boss.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned story up until now. That’s because it’s almost absent. In a nutshell, the world’s crystals have been thrown out of balance, and it’s up to the Heroes of Light to restore order. There is dialogue from NPCs but there isn’t an awful lot of characterisation of anyone, your characters included. In fact, not everyone’s party will be the same. Before you even begin, you choose four fighters out of six different classes and give them their own names. You’d think a Final Fantasy game without a story wouldn’t be very good at all — that’s certainly what I thought — but this installment is great in a different way. I thought it was almost like a sandbox JRPG. I felt like I could customise every aspect of my party, and without a story to distract me, I actually found enjoyment from managing equipment and magic. It actually reminded me a bit of the older Pokemon games, where the main focus is getting stronger so you can fight stronger enemies. I had to use my imagination for the first time in a while, and I found that refreshing.
To sum up, Final Fantasy is a great JRPG, and it’s easy to see why it became so popular. However, a later entry in the series might be a better entry point. The first game does end up feeling archaic at times, and it has an extremely frustrating final dungeon, due to the lack of healing items and save points. Also, it’s easy to lose your way, and I’d recommend just following a guide unless you enjoy wandering around aimlessly. But if you know what you’re getting into, there’s absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy Final Fantasy for the PSone.
Design: 6/10 The narrative is bare-bones, but everything else still feels pretty fleshed out for such an old game. The world is expansive and easy to get lost in. Because characters are what you make them, you’ll have to create your own story as you go along.
Visuals: 8/10 Graphics are obviously improved compared to the NES version. Though this is a PSone port, the visuals are roughly on par with the SNES-era of JRPGs. They’re a little blurry here and there, but everything’s actually drawn with a unique drawing-book art style, which I really like.
Sound: 8/10 People don’t often celebrate this game’s music, but the remastered audio really highlight the excellent melodies of the NES originals. You’ll also notice themes that have become staples of the franchise, such as the Victory Fanfare, the Prelude, and the Main Theme.
Gameplay: 8/10 The gameplay is the central focus here, and it holds up really well. Battles are fully turn-based, and you’ll have to use plenty of strategy to come out on top. I like how magic is handled, especially the ability to customise spells at will.
Value: 7/10 For $10 on the PSN, you get this game as well as its sequel, Final Fantasy II. This is a pretty great deal, though it’s hard to see why you’d buy this over a later Final Fantasy game such as IV, VI, or VII, all of which are also $10. The game took me 15 hours to beat, but there is replay value, since you can’t see all the different character classes in one playthrough. I didn’t use the Black Mage or White Mage this time around, and I’m interested to experiement with them on a subsequent playthrough.
Total: 37/50 (C-)
List Price: $9.99 | Buy from Amazon
I guess I’m continuing my quest to beat all the North American Final Fantasy games available on Vita (1-10, excluding 2,3, and 5) so I can rank them. I only have VIII and IX left, but I’m finding it really hard to motivate myself to keep playing VIII. I just don’t enjoy the battle system. We’ll see how that goes.
Until next time, check out more of our video game-related content here, as well as an always-up-to-date ranked list of my favourite games of all time!