Final Fantasy Origins
Like many other people, I started my RPG fixation with Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. The sheer size of these games blew me away at the time, but now my tastes have matured and I find myself enjoying truly epic RPGs. Games like Morrowind and Final Fantasy X do a great job of catering to my newfound needs, though Iíll never forget the early ones that got me hooked. Squaresoft hoped to capitalize on the nostalgia of people like me and created Final Fantasy Origins, which contains the original Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II (which never made it stateside), a wealth of graphical improvements and even some extra goodies. The RPG genre has evolved incredibly since 1987, so are the games even playable by todayís standards?
Final Fantasy starts off with some scrolling text and the legendary ìcrystalî theme playing in the background. Oh man, the rush of nostalgia was almost unbearable at this point. You are then able to name and choose the classes of four different characters. Some of the classes will be familiar to people who have played the other games. The black mage, monk, thief and a couple others are all here. Each class makes playing the game a whole new experience, though if you donít choose wisely youíll make the game nearly impossible.
After customizing the four characters, you randomly appear on the world map in front of a castle. You quickly learn that this group of four has been prophesized to save the world! Some of you may remember that Final Fantasy didnít have much of a plot, and that is especially evident while playing it in the 21st century. Your main characters never mutter a word. In fact, not one character throughout the whole game has more than a few paragraphs of text, and that includes the main villain.
Of course, complaining because one of the oldest RPGs has an incredibly basic plot is like complaining about silent films for not having sound. The main causes of these ìfaultsî were technical limitations. You have to overlook the weak story for the gameplay, but sadly this hasnít aged well. The turn-based battles are enjoyable enough, but the ridiculously high random encounter rate is frustrating. Itís not uncommon to get in a battle three seconds after the other one. This makes the dungeons a chore rather than an exciting adventure.
Even if the random encounters were toned down, Final Fantasy would still be a challenging game. The items are more expensive than gas in New York state and leveling up takes forever. Thank heavens that Square decided to include an easy mode. This makes the game more accessible and less frustrating, though the random battles are still a major nuisance.
Final Fantasy isnít really a bad game, but the next installment featured numerous improvements that made it much more enjoyable. The best improvement in Final Fantasy II is the plot. Four teens narrowly escape the clutches of an evil empire that has destroyed their homeland. Rescued by rebels, the teens then decide to engage of a series of quests that will hopefully topple the wicked empire once and for all.
So itís not the most complex of stories, but at least this time around your characters actually talk. There are even some plot twists, though a couple of them are laughably predictable. Even so, the story is mostly involving and refreshingly basic.
The gameplay takes a radically different approach from the last game with the unique leveling up system. Instead of gaining traditional experience points, you have to use skills to improve them. For example, to increase your sword skills you must attack often with your sword. To beef up your hitpoints you have to take lots of damage, and so on.
However, the system is flawed because youíll spend a lot of time attacking your own party member to increase stats since enemies do a poor job of increasing stats. However, itís the first look at the bold innovation that will continue through each installment of the Final Fantasy series.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Final Fantasy II is how the series was slowly becoming more like its modern sequels. While the first game featured an airship and the character classes that would become a staple of the series, the second has a character named Cid, the mighty Behemoth, Chocobos and a few other familiar elements. Itís amazing seeing how far the series took these aspects and developed them in later games.
Both of the games in Final Fantasy Origins have received a massive overhaul in the visuals department. The previously 8-bit games now look on par with earlier SNES offerings thanks to the appealing new backgrounds and character designs. The drastic improvement was bettered with the inclusion of stunning computer generated intros for each game. While the graphics obviously canít compete with modern titles, the developers obviously took great lengths to make sure this wasnít a shoddy port of two ancient games.
The merits of the plot, gameplay, and the graphics can be argued, but the one thing that has undoubtedly stood the test of time was the fantastic music by Nobuo Uematsu. Each tune is incredibly catchy, whether itís the tense battle music or the unforgettable theme of Matoyaís Cave. To make things even better, the music has actually been improved so there arenít any of those olí fashioned beeps and boops. I only wish there was some sort of music test that would allow me to listen to all these great tunes whenever I wanted to. I guess downloading, umm, I mean buying the soundtrack will have to do.
In addition to the improvements with the visuals and sound, thereís an all-new bestiary, a comprehensive art gallery, and an item gallery that shows you how many items youíre missing in each location. Combine that with the 15-20 hours it takes to complete each game, and low price, and you got yourself a solid deal with Final Fantasy Origins. While time hasnít been the kindest to the games featured in Final Fantasy Origins, the nostalgia may be worth it to many people. Gamers who grew up on polygons and deep storylines wonít get much enjoyment out of the package, but a rental should suit them fine so they can experience some old-school RPGs that helped popularize the genre.