The original Final Fantasy title was a major success for the floundering Squaresoft and went from being one man’s swan-song to the head of a major franchise. Does it hold up today however in a marketplace frequented by ever more inventive and technical entries into the genre? Reviewed under the standards of a modern RPG release for mobile, how does it fair?
Final Fantasy has been ported to almost every modern day platform for gaming on earth and some systems never even designed to be gaming platforms. This is a matter of fact. Squaresoft has made quite the reputation for itself in recent years for re-releasing and partially upgrading older titles before releasing them out into the wild at a premium price point. I say this because FF for iOS was a title available early for launch of the iStore but also manages to be one of the most expensive titles of the time. Before iStore I played it through start to finish on my old non-touch mobile phone, using the keypad for buttons and sampling its unique brand of roleplay for myself for the first time since the PSOne re-release several years earlier. At its core no matter the device the game is played on, Final Fantasy remains the same game. PSP to NES, it’s the self-same title.
Graphically this game is a chameleon. When Final Fantasy arrived on the Nintendo Entertainment System it was quite a pretty game to look at, however as times change so do system capabilities and multiple face-lifts to the original father of the series have been done. The Wonderswan reskinned the game once and was the foundation of the Playstation rerelease (Final Fantasy Origins, packed with Final Fantasy II), and a later version also saw further re-skinning for the PSP. Currently making its most recent home on iOS and Android the graphics have lost the chipset cuteness of the original style, but have gained a great deal as well. The world is displayed in full colour and uses some angling of 2D assets to give the impression of depth to the world map. Sprites are still cute and cuddly from their outset and gain a second iteration later in the game that makes them feel more adult and powerful, relying heavily on the ‘chibi’ style of manga art to portray characters. Interestingly the world itself is quite serious with a medieval tone that sits itself apart from the cartoonish visuals and promises great things (not least of them a challenge). Many versions of the game have added in-game cutscenes and even opening CGI cinematics to flesh out the story and this current iteration makes similar use of the technology at hand. The whole world has a very European vibe to it with designs for characters and locations routed in French architectural styles and English castles. Enemies at the outset are also quite prim and serious in a high-fantasy tone. Goblins, wild horses and other nasties belay the madness that would later become a staple of the series. That said many of the more famous Final Fantasy monsters get an early start in this title. Everything animates nicely and the menus manage to feel uncluttered given the amount of detail they contain, although they could do with being a little more touch-friendly in their proportions.
Sound as been brought across whole-sale from the PSP edition of the title from what I can tell, there doesn’t appear to be any differences with the two are places next to each other and this is basically a good thing. Sound effects are crisp and instantly familiar to anyone who has played a later title in the series, with battle sounds especially satisfying. Musically the game has some excellent themes but nothing that hasn’t been bettered in subsequent games. Still such themes as the ‘Prelude’ or ‘Crystal Theme’ are iconic and sound as good now as they ever did in chip-tune original glory.
Story in the original Final Fantasy is light, but it’s a classic setup often copied. Later versions have added additional dialogue moments to flesh some events out a little but at its heart it’s a narrative based around the concept of forwarding the game as a whole. The world is shrouded in darkness, the winds have died and the oceans tides rage. With the earth in decay the people cling to hope because of an ancient prophecy that four Warriors of Light will arrive to save them, each bearing an orb. Then, just as things seem their darkest, four individuals appear in the kingdom of Cornelia in answer to the King’s call for help. An evil knight by the name of Garland has kidnapped his daughter the Princess and they agree to help. It’s a clichéd opening but at the time of release the opening summarised the whole plot of many titles, that it went beyond that simple premise into a story that incorporated time travel and a powerful , ancient evil only served to give it epic status.
An auto-name function is available in character creation that quickly lets you know that this update wants to get you playing as quickly as possible. There’s also an expanded ability to enter letters for names, moving characters past the strictly limited letter-cap the NES original imposed onto players that would prevent names being too long or complex. These are both strong additions that will mean a lot to long-time players and go largely unnoticed by everyone else. The game features a virtual d-pad for movement, which Square has proved can work extremely well on a touch device in the past and pulls off here with crisp control and a responsiveness that actually manages to be better than that seen in the d-pad on FFVI’s more recent release (although overall the touch controls are better in that title). Combat is turn based as is to be expected and unlike later entries does not take on an Active Time Battle element, instead being purely turn for turn. Options are lined up along the bottom of the screen when characters are ready and it’s a case of tapping an attack then a target. Magic (which is brought and assigned to ‘levels’ that gain their own amount of uses as the character levels up with experience) can be selected by menus in battle segmented by type. A run option has been added to towns and dungeons to speed up progression. Approaching an NPC will display a dialogue bubble that can be tapped and then conversations will begin, with additional taps spooling through speech. This isn’t as handy as having a dedicated button or ‘tap anywhere’ feature as other FF titles employ but works well enough. Something that should be mentioned is that the game doesn’t handle multi-tasking or being interrupted by a call very well and is liable to crash. Not a problem on other mediums (handheld and console ports) but certainly a big flaw on the iOS and Android versions. The game itself is largely unchanged in its layout and flow from the NES original, meaning that it is HARD AS NAILS. Those used to the newer games may expect to walk through the intro dungeon but will die quickly unless they grind outside of the first town. Later dungeons take prep, a stock of items brought for the expedition and perhaps some recon before a proper run is attempted. It’s a game about surviving trials and played in that way is hugely satisfying by all accounts.
In summary those looking for a deep and story-driven plot aren’t going to take a lot from this title, but for those who enjoy a challenge or want to see where the Final Fantasy series started from will find it hugely entertaining. The current port is not flawless, but then the Playstation port was plagued with load time and the PSP version is overpriced to this day, so nothing it perfect. I’d recommend playing the NES original if you get the chance but with numbers dwindling I would still give any version of this title a thumbs up as long as your expectations don’t get too high.