Thursday, 31 January 2013

Final Fantasy (NES) - Replay

Super Adventures in Gaming Replay 2013 - Game 2

Final Fantasy NES Title Screen
This is a pretty terrible choice of game for me to replay really, considering that I didn't play it myself the first time around and the original guest post by Ocean is actually fine. Plus the game isn't exactly photogenic enough to be worth showing off a second time. Not that the art's bad, it's just that it's an 8-bit NES game and even at their best they don't tend to be eye candy.

This didn't even reach the West until 1990, well into the 16-bit era, so it must have looked pretty basic to Westerners even at the time. In fact the game didn't get a European release until 2003 as part of the Final Fantasy Origins compilation on the PlayStation. The first FF game released over here was actually Final Fantasy VII, which hit shops a full decade after the franchise began in Japan.

Uh, what was I even talking about again? Whatever, here's a quick absurdly long look at the original Final Fantasy on the NES.

Final Fantasy NES character select screen
The opening text explains that the world's gone a bit shit lately and the people can do nothing but wait and hope for four prophesied warriors to arrive and solve all their problems for them. Fortunately for them they are in luck, as it just so happens I have a character creation screen here with four slots on it.

I've been given no stat points to assign or alignments to decide, but there are six classes I can choose from: Fighter, Thief, Black Belt, and three flavours of Mage. Besides the names there's zero hint here to what each of them is good at, so I decided to bring out a Fighter, a Black Belt, a Black Mage, and another Fighter (just in case), on the theory that the best defence is being able to obliterate all on screen enemies through the application of overwhelming force before they get a chance to really hurt me.

Final Fantasy NES game start world map
Wow, okay then. There's no intro cutscene or instructions, the game's put me in a field outside of a walled city and it's entirely up to me what I do about that. For once in a JRPG no one's forcing me to go visit the village Elder or speak to the King!

Well my instincts say 'fuck the city, I'm going exploring!' But I suppose I should check what's in my bag first.

Final Fantasy NES menu screen
Oh damn, it seems my team of great warriors forgot to carry any weapons during their journey from afar. The Black Mage doesn't even have any magic, which makes me wonder how he gets to call himself a Mage. Did he just buy the spiky hat and robe on the assumption that he could figure the rest out as he went?

Anyway I can't go out exploring like this, I'll need to get some shopping done first.

These message boxes sure take their time to open up, but at least they've got plenty of storage space for text. It's always nice when I don't have to skip through tiny boxes full of dialogue every time I chat with an NPC.

Huh, Coneria, isn't that the starting planet in Star Fox? Oh wait that's Corneria, never mind.

Unlike later Final Fantasy games, the shop doors lead straight to a shop screen, with no interiors. Suits me, I just want to load up on weaponry.

Annoyingly I can only buy one item at a time (so I can't just get Rapier x2 for my Fighter twins) and they have to be assigned to each character's inventory separately. Plus it doesn't give any info about who can equip each weapon, what kind of stats they have, or whether it's any better than what I already have.

I gotta do all this the hard way, getting the best sword I can afford then giving it to everyone in turn to see if they can even hold it.

Alright, I grabbed some weapons and armour for my team then spent the last of the cash on a fire spell for my Black Mage wannabe. Now I'm ready to walk the lands in search of fame, coin and adventure.

Though I only made it about this far before the world went psychedelic and I was dragged off into a random encounter.

The battle system seems pretty typical for the Final Fantasy series. I get as long as I like to give each of my guys a single command, then once that's done both sides carry out their assigned moves and beat the shit out of each other. If either side has anyone left we keep taking turns until they don't.

The way magic works seems to be a little more D&D than FF, with my Black Mage only getting a few shots from each spell level to fire off before he has to go home and recharge. Fire is a first level spell so I get to use it twice. Not twice in a battle, twice during the entire trip. This makes it even more annoying when he incinerates an empty space because he's too dumb to automatically target the next live enemy.

MSX2
Sure are a lot of imps in the woods today.

The Final Fantasy series is so strongly associated with Nintendo and Sony consoles that I was surprised to find out that the first game was ported across to Microsoft's MSX2 computer well before it was released on the NES in the West. This version has more colours and better music than the Famicom original, but otherwise it seems to be the same thing. Though I don't understand a word of Japanese so for all I know they could have rewritten the entire story to be about a gang of four thugs invading the peaceful Imp Kingdom.

After entirely wasting all my magic, I ran back to Coneria to spend my cash on a bed for the night to recharge my health and spells, and found it also doubled as a save point. Which is handy because they seem to have forgotten to put any actual save points into the game. It doesn't even let me save on the world map.

You know it occurs to me that I still have no idea what I'm meant to be doing. The townsfolk seem to think the King wants to have a chat with me, so I maybe I should go over to his castle and say hi. Seeing as I'm in the area.


SOME EXPOSITION LATER.


It seems that the nefarious Garland has kidnapped Princess Sara and is holding her here in this ruined temple in the north! I had to speak to three NPCs to piece all that info together. I'm sure I would have stumbled upon them by myself though eventually seeing as this is the only possible place I can go.

Fortunately killing off all those imps along the way has sharpened my skills, literally giving me the experience I need to take my fighting ability to a higher level. I was already kicking their ass with 20 strength, wait 'til they see what I'm gonna do to them with 21!

Oh shit that's a lot of wolves. Uh, maybe I should make a strategic retreat and go punch some more imps for a bit. I mean I'm sure the Princess will probably be fine for a while, and it wouldn't do anyone any good if by the time I make it to Garland all I can do is bleed on him.

Aww, I bravely persevered and fought through all those wolves, but it turns out I can't collect my reward because the door's locked! I'll need to keep an eye out for this mystic KEY.

I gotta say, the graphics are looking a bit... Game Boy inside this temple. Not really the most impressive visuals I've seen from a NES game. Still it's better than Dragon Warrior's top down look at least.

You impertinent fools. I, Garland, will knock you all down!!
Oh shit, I've found Garland (he's behind that message box). I really hope I've levelled up enough for this, as it's been a while since I saved and I don't much want to be knocked down. This isn't like some JRPGs where getting killed just respawns your team at the last town with half the gold, if this guy wins its game over.

Oh, actually Garland has turned out to be a total pushover. I think I actually had more trouble fighting those wolves. Even my Black Mage has been kicking his ass now he finally has an excuse to break out the dark magic. My Mage is basically like a three shot rocket launcher: entirely useless most of the time, but handy when I need to finish a serious fight.

WonderSwan Color
Not that you could really call Garland a serious fight. I started a new game on the WonderSwan port, and just walked straight up to the temple and killed the guy at level 1. No grinding required.

This version of the game was released as a launch title for the WonderSwan Color handheld in late 2000, 13 years after the original release, and Square seems to have prettied it up a bit in the meantime. The core game appears to be more or less the same, but they've reworked the shops and inventory to be much slicker and it looks and sounds far better. And like the MSX version it was only ever released in Japan so again I have no idea what anything in it says.

And thus Garland was defeated, and fair Princess Sara was rescued safe and sound. Or at least she will be when these bloody bats move out of the way. I've been having this problem in town too, with NPCs walking in front of doors, blocking paths and hovering around the exits. They do like to wander.

Speaking to Sara teleports us all back to the castle and that's the first quest over with.

Chatting to Princess Sara again in the castle earned me a LUTE, which almost certainly has minimal offensive or defensive potential. Sorry Princess but you seem to have misunderstood the kind of 'loot' I was after here.

WonderSwan Color
Chatting to the King on the other hand got me a shiny new bridge! Now I'm no longer trapped in this little corner of the world, and this new transport link will surely bring in trade and revitalise the region. Assuming there's even anyone else left out there to trade with besides the imps.

This cutscene animation was added for the WonderSwan release and there's nothing like it in the original NES game. Which suits me as it goes on a little too long. Okay I get it, you've built a bridge and it's very impressive, let's move on already!
PlayStation
Crossing the bridge took me to... the title screen. Well not this title screen, this is actually from the PlayStation port, I just felt like using it to save me from showing the NES screen twice. Plus I wanted to slot it in somewhere because it looks awesome.

Yep, all that princess rescuing business was just the prologue, like a mini RPG before the main event. It's almost like the game's saying 'right, now we've got the standard cliché damsel in distress storyline out of the way, we're free to do something more interesting!'

PlayStation
The PlayStation version of the game actually begins with a brand new CGI intro showing this guy, the unnamed Warrior of Light, facing off against a dragon in his badass purple armour. Which is a little strange to me as none of the classes in the game look like this. Would it have killed them to give him red hair and armour?

PlayStation
Still, the dragon looks cool. Shame all he gets to do is breathe a bit of fire and then the video's over.

Incidentally after the CGI intro's done with, the rest of the cutscenes in the game seem to be taken straight from the WonderSwan game instead. It's possible our spiky purple friend shows up again at the very end for an awesome victory cutscene, but somehow I doubt I'll be getting far enough to see it.

Alright now I'm free to travel the lands, but the trouble with that is that the lands seem to be branching off in different directions and I've no idea which way will take me to a nice safe town with a nice cosy inn. The monsters out here are way tougher than imps, and health potions are expensive so I literally can't afford to take risks.

Uh.... yeah, my instincts are telling me I should probably be elsewhere right now. These guys are bloody huge! The run command isn't a sure thing, but I'm absolutely certain getting hit by one of those spiked clubs is going to really hurt.

Oh crap, my guys aren't escaping and these ogres are knocking 20 hit points off at a time! They're really beating the shit out of poor Vivi. This is so tragic, I might actually have to use a health potion here.


LATER.


...TCELES B HSUP
After surviving the Ogre ordeal I decided to head north and found myself a cave. My team is worn out and low on supplies, but I went inside anyway because I'm dumb, and found a sinister sorcerer's apprentice style magic broom with a fourth wall breaking cryptic message for me.

I figured it out instantly because I'm smart, but it didn't help me much as pushing B and Select doesn't actually do a damn thing. Not here anyway.

Final Fantasy world map
To save myself pressing B+Select on everything in every room for the rest of the game I decided to look up why it wasn't working and what it's meant to do. It turns out it only works outside on the overworld, because it's actually the command to bring up the world map. Which is helpful for sure, but seems like kind of a dumb thing to have as a secret feature.

Plus I kind of wish they'd given me some clue I had to be outside to use it, as I'd have never figured that out myself.

Oh hey this isn't a dungeon; it's actually a witch's house. The skulls are just there to add a bit of atmosphere and character. The mysterious unnamed witch needs a CRYSTAL to fix her blindness, so I suppose I'll have to come back here if I ever find one.

Each of the four Light Warriors is already carrying a crystal, though in the English translation they've been renamed 'orbs', so I don't think they're going to be any help right now.

PlayStation
This time I headed east and reached the port town of Pravoka (renamed to Pravoca in the PlayStation version because, I dunno, people like to rename things?) I'm just happy because I've found another inn at last, so I can save and heal up. Also inns are still the only way I've found to recharge magic.

The PlayStation game actually seems to be more or less a straight port of the WonderSwan remake, Square somehow resisted the urge to waste millions to give it a full FF9 styled makeover. I can barely tell the difference between the two except for the larger screen and taller sprites. Very very slightly taller sprites. It's got better quality music though and was actually released in English for once, which is a feature I definitely appreciate.

Damn, I just triggered a battle by chatting to an NPC? It's lucky I just saved at the inn.

It's probably for the best really, as Bikke the Pirate has taken over this town and is terrorising the citizens and it's probably my duty as a Light Warrior to do something about that at some point. Unfortunately for him Light Warriors can only solve problems in two ways, fetching things and splitting skulls, and no one's asked me for any pirate repellent.

Ye've got cannon balls of steel to be takin' on the great pirate Bikke!
Game Boy Advance
The game was also released on the Game Boy Advance a year or two after the PlayStation version, as part of the Dawn of Souls compilation, and again it looks more or less identical to the WonderSwan remake. Though the dialogue is kinda.... different.

It seems that every time this game gets an English release they have to go and re-translate it all. And this time around the writer has got the pirates making Cap'n Crunch jokes. Fortunately I get to beat the shit out of them all.

Holy shit that's a lot of pirates. So many identical twins, it's a real shame I have to wipe this entire family out here. It's even more of a shame I can't hit them all simultaneously with an area of effect spell. I seriously need to get my Black Mage some multi-target magic so he can upgrade from being 'mostly useless' to 'almost mostly useless'.

Fortunately the pirates were all totally useless and I cut through them all in a few turns. After sitting and waiting for them to make their nine crappy attacks... then five crappy attacks...

Fuck you Bikke, I got your boat! I can't believe I've already got my own ship after just two towns, and it's so fast.

Oh come on. I can't even take a boat ride without getting attacked by random encounters every 30-40 something squares? And what the fuck is a shark doing on my boat anyway? 

Alright my new mission is to go find a place that sells lightning magic, or whatever spell water based creatures don't like, then I'm coming back to do some fishing. You know, I think this may actually be the first JRPG to ever feature elemental weaknesses.

Here lies Erdrick 837 - 866 R.I. P.
I took my boat across the sea to the town of Elfland (just south of Coneria), where I found the final resting place for the legendary Dragon Quest hero Erdrick. This was actually changed to say 'Link' in the remakes, which I assumed to be something to do with Square not entirely seeing eye to eye with Nintendo at the time (the remake did come out on the WonderSwan instead of the Game Boy). But nope, it seems that it actually says Link here on the tombstone in the original Famicom version, so the re-translation was just putting the old name back.

Poor Link.

While I was in Elftown I took the time to buy some new swords and armour, grab some LIT2 (which I'm hoping is an awesome lightning spell and not some kind of cigarette lighting magic), and then I headed up to the castle to meet the Elf Prince. Unfortunately the Prince couldn't be bothered to get out of bed to speak to me, so I'm going to have to find HERB to snap him out of it.

The NPCs tell me that Matoya can give me the HERB, but no one seems to want to tell me where Matoya actually is.

Oh right, turns out the NPCs back in Coneria tell you where Matoya is, but only if you return to them after rescuing Princess Sara. So now I've got to remember to speak to people a second time after solving their issues.

To be fair this is actually explained in the manual, using this very example in fact, but the thing is basically a walkthrough for half the game so it explains a lot of things it shouldn't have to, and I don't much feel like spoiling things by reading it.

Well Matoya turned out to be that witch I met living in a room full of skulls, so now I'm back to looking for the CRYSTAL and having no idea where to find it. Though I'm pretty sure all my problems can be solved by travelling the land and visiting every flashing dot on the world map.

But first, I need money for better gear, better spells, and health potions. Lots of health potions. So I'm going to have to do some grinding.

PlayStation
Crap. I guess I can add 'antidote' to my shopping list as well.

The PS1 version has changed the combat so that a character automatically aims at the next enemy along if their original target dies during the turn, which is more typical for a Final Fantasy game. It's nice to not accidentally waste turns hitting an empty space, but it also takes a bit of the strategy out of the game as I don't have to plan around the fact that the enemy I'm going all out on might not be around for much longer.

And by 'takes a bit of the strategy out' I mean I can generally win every battle just by holding down a button without even looking at the screen.

Final Fantasy NES item shop screenshot
Now I've got some cash I get to go back and stock up on HEAL potions. I should also grab a couple of TENTs which restore some health to the party and let me save, but only work on the overworld.

Annoyingly these potions still seem to be the only healing items I can buy and they only restore a tiny amount of HP so I need to carry a lot of them. But I can't just choose HEAL from the list and put the counter up to 30, nope I've got to buy them all individually. Like this.

Game Boy Advance
Fortunately the remake fixed this, making shopping much less of a pain in the ass. The GBA version even lets me buy Phoenix Down to revive dead characters and Ether to refill my mana, removing my total reliance on towns.

Game Boy Advance
Oh I forgot to mention that the GBA version has completely reworked the magic system to run off mana, turning my Black Mage into a much more dangerous character. Instead of having a limited supply of spells in each spell level, now I can fire off low level magic in regular fights, drink an ether, and then go all out in boss battles.

Though what I actually do 9 times out of 10 is just hold down the button and win, because I don't know what they've done to this version exactly, but it feels way way easier. Also I'm sure the random encounters are more common, which kind of discourages the use of tactics and, well any thought whatsoever after a while due to the sheer monotony of it.

Can't complain about the GBA game allowing players to save ANYWHERE though. Even in the darkest dingiest depths of the dankest dungeon, no save point, tent or inn required.

Alright, I have finally found my first real dungeon in the game! Because I'm so pathetic I'm basically sweeping one floor at a time for items, then running back out and using up a tent to save.

Tactically though the battles seem to be playing out as they always have. I don't exactly have much in my tool box here except for the "fight" command. Only Mages get to have options in battle and all those options run out fast.

Plus the poor guy's almost always the first to fall and there's no phoenix down to resurrect him in this. Instead I need to drag him all the way back to a church clinic. Still, we always remember to carry his cool pointy hat back with him, so he's coping with it.

Game Boy Advance
Alright, so exploring the dungeon got me a CROWN to give to Astos, who gave me the CRYSTAL to give to Matoya (who lives in the yellow square the top middle of the map) who rewarded me with HERB to give to the Elven Prince (who lives in the red block on the bottom left of the map) who gave me the mystic KEY.

Man they're making me do a lot of running around in this, I'm just glad I got that ship. Oh wait, damn, the mystic KEY! I've been looking for that thing since Garland's temple right at the start (yellow square, top left). Now I can finally go around and open all the locked doors and claim the wondrous bounty sealed within.

Awesome, using the mystic KEY in Castle Coneria got me some TNT and a whole lot of gear that's inferior to the stuff I already have equipped. I'm just glad my Black Belt tends to work better unarmed and unarmoured so he has some slots free to carry this crap.

Right, I guess now I have to go travel the land and find out who wants some TNT. Hopefully someone willing to give me something in return.


LATER.


Giving TNT to a bunch of dwarfs turned out to be an excellent idea as they blew a chunk out of the land big enough to sail my boat through and I soon found a fourth town with the second dungeon nearby.

So here I am deep down in the dungeon kicking ass and taking treasure, but I have to stop every few battles to reorganise my team, as every time someone gets poisoned they get shuffled down to the bottom of the formation. Why, I have no bloody idea.

So I journeyed to the bottom of the cave, killed a vampire, stole his ruby, and was just about to make a clean getaway when some bloody Coctrices appear and turned half my party to stone. Not a problem for a prepared party with a good stock of Gold Needles to cure petrification, but I kind of only brought the one with me. I hadn't found a single enemy in the game with a petrify skill 'til now, I didn't know I'd need them!

With my two heavy hitters still active I managed to fight my way back out of the dungeon, dragging the statues of my friends down the corridors the whole way, until I reached daylight and freedom! And then I was immediately attacked by a gang of geists who stunlocked my fighters and chipped away at their health 3 damage at a time until I lost. The end.


Final Fantasy definitely isn't the greatest JRPG ever created, but I can't help but like the game anyway. It's simple and I can't really say there's any real story to it beyond 'Light Warriors, we need you to fetch X to sort out Y', but I found it pretty addictive. I always felt like playing it just a bit longer to get the current dungeon finished off or earn cash for the next sword. Plus despite all the failed expeditions, pointless fetch quests, and dead end paths in dungeon, I never felt like I'd made a wasted trip as I always crawled back to town with some extra XP and little cash to spend on potions and healing, and ended up a little bit more formidable thanks to the lack of enemy level scaling. It doesn't take much work to get to the next set of gear fortunately and levelling up hasn't been a massive grind.

The game was always a little bit vague on what I had to do next though and I often had to talk to every single NPC in town until I reached the one with useful info, but I appreciate how it usually left me to do my thing without constantly dragging me into cutscenes. The closest the game came to exploring someone's back-story was when Arylon the Dancer told me she was called Arylon and was a dancer. I'm not saying cinematic storytelling and character depth are a bad thing, but after losing patience with Final Fantasy VII's heavily story driven Midgar chapter last month, I've learned to appreciate a game that just lets me get on with it.

Gameplay wise though, FF7 kicks this game's ass. Still, I can see myself playing this some more, so it's earned a gold star.


Hi, if you'd like to add your own opinions to the already beyond excessive amount of crap I just wrote, you're welcome to leave a comment.

2 comments:

  1. Good post, I particularly liked the way you spliced in images from the various other versions of the game. I didn't even know that an MSX2 version existed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks man. Glad to know my splicing wasn't in vain.

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