March 15th, 2009
Final Fantasy is cruel punishment delivered cold, in the innocent guise of obligation to bait guilt among Final Fantasy VII players.
For everyone whose played several of the numbered installments, a game like Final Fantasy Origins is an attractive proposition, a tempting entree to persuade you into giving the earlier titles a go. Two Final Fantasy games in the one package, updated graphics, reworked gameplay and some spiffy intro FMVs – it is a fair package, especially considering the relatively cheap price the compilation still fetches.
Origins is designed to make you think this way, as is Dawn of Souls on the GBA and the latest two PSP “remakes”. They are bait for bottom feeder Final Fantasy fans that want to harden up, in the business sense; an easy way to make a few dollars. In the past few years Square-Enix have pulled this trick numerous times on consumers – they’ve turned it into a well oiled machine and am now repeating the procedure for the Dragon Quest series.
As a PAL gamer, this whole phenomena is different again, the first numbered Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest titles to hit our shores were Final Fantasy VII and Dragon Quest VIII respectively. Only in recent times, as you can see. We are perhaps the biggest consumers that Square-Enix are pitching to here.
Whatever your background in this monopoly, the motive is the same; guilt the players who skimmed these titles the first time around or persuade newbies to join the fold. It’s ironic then that the first game, on the first of several later to be released compilations of Final Fantasy plays as sourly as the itents of the publisher. Imagine if all games were like this; straight reflections of their publishing giants. Would be quite telling, wouldn’t it?
If Final Fantasy #1 is the game in question, and Final Fantasy Origins is your method of entry, then I’d recommend you avoid at all costs. The Origins port of Final Fantasy is overtly archaic, maliciously so, and from what I’ve heard, a stark contrast to the walk in the park cinch of the later GameBoy Advance and PSP ports.
On beginning a new file, the game prompts you to characterize your 4 vanilla avatars with the regular RPG suits: warrior, monk, thief, black and white etc. You also need to select names for these characters too – there are no defaults. The lack of pre-built characters alludes to the blank template story that shortly follows. And that’s pretty much what you have, the actual definition of a cardboard cut out: four light warriors come, retrieve four crystals, lock away bad guy, The End. The story, which is often meant to be the hook in these types of games is all but non-existent. It makes you hanker for motivation. The presentation, while redone to 16bit pizazz, similarly lack soul.
The free choice party selection prys on your savvy enthusiasm for selecting a balanced party. You know that a fruit salad of black mage, white mage, warrior and monk for instance is probably the ideal party set-up. Unfortunately the class balancing is completely out of wack, as it contritely balances itself through unrelated mechanics such as limitations on spell casting and lack of healing items.
Mages are weak, pathetic creatures shackled to a tight magic system where casting magic feels very much privilage. Their defence and regular attacks are weak, if anything at all. Warriors on the other hand can take off hundreds of HP in contrast to the mage’s piddly 1-20. Their defence is the same – these guys rarely take a hit (no seriously, often 1hp) despite unloading massive damage. The downside is that they are limited to simple attacking, but even with that in consideration, these guys are far superior to any other class available. Monks and thieves are both just weaker variations of the warrior type with no real intrinsic talents to speak off.
As you can see by the examples, the class system is ultimately broken, with warriors reigning supreme by a wide margin. In order to balance out the strength of the warriors, all non-mage healing in the game is reliant solely on potions. That is regular potions that cure only about 25hp. They are the only portable healing agents in the game – there are no high potions, phoenix downs, only the straight 25 hp potion – without them you are reliant on Inns and mages. This contrived way of forcing the player to include a white mage in their party falls flat on its face once the vulnerable female (yes, white mages are automatically type casted as female) loses all HP. And this often happens as their weak defences ensures that they die more often than they deserve. They are far too fragile for their own good and yet a necessary obligation for your party. Mages are like the supporting cast to the warriors.
It makes no sense that the only way to revive a fallen ally is through the white/red mage life spell or in towns and inns. Once the white mage in your party is dead, pushing on through the game’s dungeons is all the more risky, but having them in your party yields little use. So they just feel like necessary dead weight.
Anything except warriors feels like a detriment to the whole party, thanks to the issues with balancing. This class system slows down the ability at which you can progress through the game. It drops the game down to 5km an hour. Once the weaker classes are picked off, your in-game progress suddenly becomes vulnerable, so you’ll retreat back to the nearest town to revive and start over. It’s pointless mileage back and forth, over and over, and extends the play time dramatically. The whole game is like this; one slow plod to the end.
This is made even worse by the fact that can’t save in the dungeons, instead saving is limited to inns or on the world map with given item. By then it’s often too late, and you’ll die before you have a chance to escape, further panning out the experience. Each segment of the game therefore greatly outstays it’s welcome.
On top of all this, equipment is very unevenly distributed. Every town in the game provides new weapons and armor for warriors and (ocassionally) similar classes, yet mages only ever receive two or three equipment upgrades throughout the whole game. No wonder they are so underpowered.
The classes are credence to the battle system, the veins of an RPG and they are broken from the outset. The lack of narrative to persuade you to the game’s conclusion is completely absent. Most NPCs speak pure filler, the rest are there to point you in the direction of the next location, but even these people make no sense. I quickly learnt to befriend a FAQ before the exploration became questionably trite.
That’s the bulk of it. A game built on ultimately broken foundations. It’s a tough slog, and a rough entry into the series. It’s no doubt workable, but only if you’re willing to invest, it’ll be doubly as hard for every less warrior included in your party. Two, I’d say is fairly balanced, teamed with a black and white mage. The context of this game (as the original Final Fantasy) is the guilt trip, the game itself is the punishment and together they combine for a rather gruelling package. Fortunately Final Fantasy II alleviates all of these issue and – at least so far – is 10x the product for it.