Removing My Rose-Colored Glasses: Final Fantasy 1(NES)

by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

Rose-Colored Glasses - FF1 NES - The Whole Story

This is pretty much the whole story.

There are all RPGs that we love and are willing to praise despite actual faults/issues with said game. But this piece is an experiment to be more critical and propose, if this game were released, as is, in a more modern setting, would it hold up? This was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be, because a lot of these games, despite any major faults were still quite enjoyable for me. For example, I still go back and play today’s title, Final Fantasy 1, though I have more fun on the remakes than the original. The original Final Fantasy was a great D&D analog on a console. It had a variety of systems that had not been done on a console, and the NES was young still. It was one of the first major RPGs for the Nintendo Entertainment System and came out of the gate swinging, letting you create your own party of heroes, name them, and go save the world. But that’s just it. All you really know is that you have to save the world. There are only a few major plot points to really be aware of.  It’s also the most grindy game I think I’ve played since Disgaea. Buying Spells, Weapons and Armor just gets exponentially more frustrating, the longer the game goes on.

Rose-Colored Glasses - FF1 NES - Lich

Which element is Lich? He can cast Ice Spells, but we have Kraken too …

Step 1: Go fight Garland. You’ll do that about level 2 or 3, ideally. Then the next step: Stop the Four Fiends of the Elements. Then maybe you’ll learn about Chaos. There’s a ton of stuff in between there, but the localization is incredibly poor, and while it’s important to talk to everyone in this game, a lot of the stuff you hear is absolutely worthless and unimportant. So the story is sadly almost non-existent. But you can really kind of fill in the blanks if you want which is an interesting way to approach it.  The biggest point of contention for me in Final Fantasy 1 is just how much of an absolute slog it is. You walk more miles than The Fellowship of the Ring.  Sure you get a ship and an airship at pretty decent points, but you have no Warp spell, no way to get places easier. For the Lich battle, you have to walk back to the dungeon, all the way through it from beginning to end twice. You kill Vampire, leave, go to another cave, come back, and then you can do battle with Lich.

Rose-Colored Glasses - FF1 NES - Shop

Almost every consumable in the game in one spot.

The leveling is slow, the Magic Level system was fine for the day, but only having a maximum of 9 casts of a spell without going to an Inn or Cabin? Tents don’t restore spell levels, so they’re a waste of gold if you need to level out in the world away from a town. You have six items you can buy in the whole game. Tonic, Pure Potion, Soft Potion, Tent, Cabin, House. Only the House restores MP at all. Looking at it from modern eyes, only being able to revive with the Life/Life 2 spell, or at a Church for increasing costs is absurd. Not to mention the Life 1 spell is not 100% guaranteed. And if you can’t afford it, or don’t have enough uses per day, without an Inn, you’re out of luck until the late game. Not to mention if you can’t figure out where/how to Class Upgrade with King Bahamut, you will not be able to use the late game magic (past a certain level, it’s only Wizard Spells). As a whole, the Spells Per Level thing offers a challenge, but it makes Mages almost useless until you get the Items that can activate spells on their own, but then … why have a mage, when an item can replace them? You’re almost better off just using melee characters, except that the Monk/Master does not feel like it works as intended. They always felt so weak until late game for me. Not to mention the “Black Belt Armor Bug”.

“The bug is that every time BB/GM levels, his armor score is reset to what it would be if he were naked (if he’s not using a weapon, which he shouldn’t be except at super low levels anyways). Opening the armor screen will set it to its proper value (of whatever it is he has equipped assuming he’s not naked, in which case there’s no change). You can swap weapons all you like; the only part weapons come into this is whenever BB gains a level, and BB should be barehanded most of the game anyways.”

Rose-Colored Glasses - FF1 NES - Superboss

These heroes don’t know it yet, but they’re about to get dunked.

There are a pile of bugs you can abuse in the game to make it super easy, if you go browsing the Internet. Lots of ways to do single-character runs without a whole lot of trouble. I think the other final major criticism is the nature of instant-death spells. You have XXX, Rub, Bane, Qake. Not to mention Mindflayer enemies can auto-kill you with Basic Attacks, or the EarthQuake enemy ability that inflicts Death on the whole party. Or the random hidden Superboss that can hit you with Nuke. Three enemies in FF1 on the NES can cast Nuke: Evilman, Chaos, and Lich. Yes, the first major boss, the first of the Four Fiends can cast Nuke. The hidden superboss Warmech has Atomize, which can also easily decimate the party, and I believe it can also cast Nuke. Hell, you can accidentally trigger Warmech on the way to Tiamat, and Warmech is harder than Chaos I’d argue. He randomly spawns on the walkway to Tiamat, and that’s horrifying. There is a host of instant-kill spells, and for example, at least five enemies in the game can use Rub, including Astos the Dark Elf, and Kary/Maralith. Oh, Lich can also cast XXXX.  So the first major boss can cast at least two level 6+ instant kill spells and he has a 75% chance to cast a spell I believe, each turn. His official list has 8 spells, but I’ve also read he can also do other more nefarious spells.

Is it worth playing? Yes (sort of)

Rose-Colored Glasses - FF1 NES - Instant Kill

Mm. Instant, unexpected death.

Final Fantasy 1 was revolutionary in a dozen ways. It was challenging, fun, but insanely frustrating. If you don’t know to do certain things, like bring 50+ Antidotes/Pure potions to Marsh Cave, you’ll probably wipe and die. You need to know how many enemies can instant-kill you, or afflict you with some manner of one-hit kill, whether it’s single target or AOE, and it comes in both flavors. It’s infuriating to be six floors deep in a dungeon and not have any spell slots left to revive, or to teleport out and trudge to town, a defeated, battered mess. Final Fantasy 1 is absolutely worth playing, but only if you play the remakes. The original is so frustrating and time-consuming, that it’s no longer fun for me. The GBA version in my estimation, or PSP version, are the best ports/remakes of Final Fantasy 1. It has a lot to offer in the way of exploration and difficulty, even on subsequent playthroughs, and replay value in the different party builds. But, without the rose-colored glasses, there are simply too many things in this particular iteration of the game that is honestly, not something I can see a modern gamer sitting through or suffering. Maybe Dark Souls players. But your average video game player who wanted to try an RPG, and started with FF1? They might not ever play another.

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