Has it already been 20 years? Well, technically, it's been about 26 years as of writing this review, but this was released on Final Fantasy 1's 20th birthday, so... let's just go with that. When you think about it, the JRPG formula has advanced quite a bit over these past twenty-something years, what with them being more story driven and whatnot. Sure, they still have the odd bit of grinding here and there, but they try to alleviate it by designing the game so that either little to no grinding is necessary (Final Fantasy X's linear design comes to mind here), quests mask grinding (Xenoblade Chronicles and Dragon's Dogma come to mind) or you actually get punished for grinding (The Last Remnant's battle rank system comes to mind). But 80s JRPGs... man, you pretty much had to grind in order to stand a chance against bosses and probably even enemies if they wanted to be particularly cruel, all in the name of extending the game's length as NES game stories were best served short and sweet. Hour long cutscenes and heavy loads of exposition – can't do that on an arcade-y system because that's not what people will tolerate, and to be fair, it at least never goes overboard in this version.
You play as the four heroes of light. At first, you're tasked with saving the princess Sarah from a rogue knight known as Garland. The king would send his own troops to rescue Sarah, but Garland just so happens to be an unrealistically strong knight. Now, either we're superhumanely strong, or Garland is a tad overrated because he is easily defeated. After the rescue, the king tells the four heroes that they are to light up their gems of light by defeating the four fiends to restore the gems' power. For a while, that's basically all it amounts to – each dialogue scene adds bits and pieces to the world of... whatever this world is – but once you get towards the end, things start to get interesting. Nothing fantastic or anything as, even though the dialogue is extended, it's still about as simple as all get out mainly because that's just how the NES was. There isn't much to immerse you into the story except for maybe the plot twist towards the end, and even then, it's only in that “aww shit” kind of way. Besides that, the story is a largely uninvolved one that exists to justify the adventure and that's really about it. Can't exactly say that it'll keep you playing just to see what comes up next and there aren't really any characters to have any fun with. 1980's, everyone; 1980's...
About 15 hours.
But before you begin the story, you get to make your characters! Sounds exciting, doesn't it? I mean, in JRPGs, you hardly get to make your own characters. But it goes about as far as picking a class and naming them. The classes range from the powerful warrior, to the speedy thief, to the pacifist monk, to the supporting white mage, to the powerful black mage, and then to the versatile red mage. That's a decent variety of classes, but given how bare boned the gameplay is, there really isn't a whole lot. Given that you don't acquire techniques by levelling up, the warrior, thief and monk classes are very similar to one another. Mainly what it is, is that the warrior is very high maintenance in terms of equipment but it's worth it to see them slaughter everything, while the thief can only equip lighter stuff and only gets good later on in the game and makes running away easier. Meanwhile, the monk can punch everything and, while its fists aren't as strong as the warrior's strongest swords, it can do a decent amount of damage while taking a fair few hits without the need for armor because of its high HP. The mages are more interesting – the red mage is versatile almost to a fault as its stats are very mediocre across the board and doesn't learn higher end magic spells, nor does it equip the best equipment in the game, but maybe you'll find use in its versatility. The black and white mage can only learn their specific spells, but they can learn all of their specific spells and either hit hard or heal a lot. None of them are inherently bad; however, you will want a combination that can cover all of the bases or you will end up destroying yourself unless you're willing to grind for a looooong time.
Now, if I was reviewing the original NES version, I'd segueway into “and grinding is what you'll be doing for a while”, but in this version, grinding has been scaled down significantly. Now instead of spending over an hour to grind for levels and gil, you'll mainly fight the enemies on the way from Point A to Point B (Point B being where the next town or boss is), only grinding when you're getting your ass kicked because you gain more gold, everything is cheaper to buy and the warriors of light don't require quite a lot of experience points to level up and boost their power levels. It's funny when people criticize that decision because grinding is boring – halting the progress of a game because you can't level up and buy stuff fast enough feels more like work than fun, and lord knows why you'd want to play a game for the sake of doing busywork and not for fun. Maybe you could criticize it for being almost too simple because the physical attackers only really have a physical attack, use items and run away, but I'd argue that its simplicity makes it easy to pick up, play through and keep playing.
The four fiends, the final boss and the bonus bosses can be rather tricky as they employ powerful spells, some of which can either blind you, poison you or instantly kill you. While their basically strategy is to hit you harder than a semi truck, you can alleviate this by grinding and/or getting better equipment so that you don't get hit as hard and you can hit harder. But come on, you don't want to make it too easy for yourself; fight at a lower level so you can at least try to challenge yourself! Having said that, this version contains the bosses at their hardest, with them sporting more HP and more damaging attacks, which goes well with the more accelerated grinding process after the original version. At the same time, it still goes with the whole pick up and play style that I've mentioned before – fighting the bosses is easy enough and defeating them may also be easy enough if you keep yourself at a decent level. I can see people getting bored of this though, because there isn't a lot more to it than just attacking, cast support spells to make a boss fight a bit easier and maybe healing when you're low on health. But when taken on its own terms, the battle system works out pretty well.
When battle has made you weary or you just get there through natural progression, you can hit the town to either head to the local inn to heal everyone up, head to the local chapel to revive a dead person, or buy stuff. You can buy the usual stuff like weapons and armor to keep the fighters up to scratch where their base stats can't quite, items to heal up health and magic points, and... magic? Which can either teach you black or white magic depending on which magic store you head into? If I haven't already mentioned this, you don't learn abilties via levelling up, so instead, you buy your spells from a store. Better yet, they're seperated by levels. Now, each shop sells four spells, and you can only equip three spells per level. Easy enough for your black and white mages, but you need to be a bit more clever with what you give your red mage. They're pretty much your typical towns; if this was the original NES version, I'd say that they're more high class and require a lot of money when you're like a street urchin with like no money half the time, but here, you have a lot of money and only really wind up poor if you want to keep your warrior high maintenance by buying the best equipment while buying every spell for your mages in every town.
Six leather belts for us four sounds dandy.
This game looks rather delicious – instead of the pixellated visuals of the older versions, it instead contains sharp, vibrantly colored sprites and environments, all painstakingly redrawn with exsquisite detail that has it resembling a Flash animation. It's all in delicious widescreen for your extended viewing pleasure. I also like the little details, like clouds' shadows looming about. But overall, this version looks pretty damn good. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot more to it because the animations are very simplistic, consisting of some little walking and sword swinging animations. Ah well.
The remixed soundtrack is fantastic. It's amazing how these simple little 8 bit tunes can translate very well to a big orchestrated sound, but given that the original was composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, it makes sense that it'd sound really good. The songs are short and simple, yes, but when given the live orchestra treatment, it manages to sound big and exciting... or peaceful in the case of the town theme. I just love this arrangement – while there aren't heaps of songs like in the later games, each song hits you where it hurts in a good way. The battle song is memorable due to its exciting, catchy rhythm, and the boss themes (which are not present in the original version by the way – not even a final boss tune) up the ante while the overworld tune gives you the feeling that you're out on an epic journey. I also like how the bonus dungeons have remixes of boss tunes from Final Fantasies 4-6.
Having to score Final Fantasy leaves me in a pickle; a lot of Final Fantasy games are easy to play through, but they're usually aided by more grandiose stories with relatable/interesting characters and/or deeper gameplay mechanics like a job system to allow for more custom made parties, the ATB system to make you think more on your feet or enemies that encourage a more tactical approach. Here, the story simply exists with only the plot twist serving as the interesting part, and the battle system and bosses are at their simplest. It was good for 1987's more arcade-y landscape, but in 2007, it's only really worth a nostagia trip and that's it, because a lot of these mechanics have been expanded on to be made more interesting and strategic in other JRPGs, even other Final Fantasy games. So I'll conclude it in this way - it's good in that pick up and play sort of way, but the story is very underwhelming and after a while, all you really want to do is play a later Final Fantasy just to experience a more fleshed out and improved version.
At the end of the day, Final Fantasy receives a 6/10. It mostly works where it needs to, but where it doesn't work is when you consider the competition, and the story just isn't very interesting until the end. At the very least, it's a game that everybody needs to experience at least once purely for historical reasons, but if you want to actually enjoy it, pick this one up, or pick up Dawn Of Souls on the Game Boy Advance - both cut the fat from the fatty steak that is NES original. What drags it down, though, is the story. We've definitely come a long way since 1987, with games that have more involving plots and characters interacting with one another to give off a dynamic that'll captivate audiences everywhere. With that kind of thing lacking, all that's there is the gameplay, which works well enough and it is at least easy enough to pick up and play. If you want more complicated mechanics, then this won't be to your liking and you'll probably only look at it for historical purposes, but if you like simple mechanics, this will be good for you.