Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition
A brave warrior, a nimble thief, a holy white mage, and a somewhat dodgy-looking black mage altogether walk into a castle. The rest is history.
It’s hard to believe that the Final Fantasy franchise has come so far in two decades. After all, the original Final Fantasy was meant to be Square’s swansong before filing for bankruptcy. We now know them as Square-Enix (and at one time, Squaresoft), and there are now more Final Fantasy RPGs, spin-offs, remakes and films than you can shake a stick at. It has been 20 years since the miracle that was Final Fantasy cast itself upon the gaming world, and to celebrate, Square-Enix gives us Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition (FFAE) — the nth remake of the classic that started the fire, the fira and the firaga!
Back in the days, videogames had humble beginnings. You won’t bear witness to an incredible duel here, nor will you be entranced by a spectacular water-sporting event. Instead, just like I previously mentioned, four well-dressed sprites will simply walk right up into a similarly good-looking sprite castle. The king’s daughter has been kidnapped by the renegade Knight Garland, and upon identifying your party as the fabled Warriors of Light, your majesty requests that you promptly go and rescue her.
Thus begins your adventure.
There are many places to see and people to meet. After saving the king’s daughter, our protagonists embark on a quest to defeat the four elemental lords, and to restore the light to the four respective crystals that hold the world in balance. There wasn’t much of a story twenty years ago, and nothing has changed to this day. Even the gameplay remains as it was.
“It has been 20 years since the miracle that was Final Fantasy cast itself upon the gaming world”This RPG is still all about random battles. You run through a series of multi-floored dungeons that appear barren and devoid of life when “whoooosh!”… *Glissando* - cue battle theme! Suddenly, anything from a lone ogre to a pack of ghouls assaults your team. To dispatch the uninvited guests, you will have to use a combination of both physical and magical attacks, supplementing with support and recovery magic/items as required. You select what you want to do from a menu that pops up, and then once you have issued all the commands to your foursome, the exchange between your side and theirs takes place. This is the fundamental Final Fantasy battle system that we’ve all come to love (or hate).
After fighting off an endless horde of monsters, you finally reach the big bad and lay the smackdown on him/her/it. It’s then time to return to catch a few lovely UV rays, chat to a couple of local folks, purchase any necessary magic spells or stock up your inventory, before heading off to your next destination: in most cases, another dungeon.
Final Fantasy is a straightforward RPG, and one couldn’t expect anything more from it given its age. However, the times have changed, and with it, our perceptions and expectations. Unfortunately, the original doesn’t quite cut it anymore. And seeing as how FFAE has been beautified on the outside, but is still as hollow on the inside, what we’ve got is an archaic game that no longer has any 8-bit sentimental value.
“This RPG is still all about random battles. You run through a series of multi-floored dungeons that appear barren and devoid of life when “whoooosh!”… *Glissando* - cue battle theme!”Graphically and aurally, FFAE is a BIG step up from the original. The PSP affords this version an impressive widescreen display, along with some super sharp 2D sprite work and a variety of extravagant lights and sparkles. And instead of 8-bit synth, there is now a grandiose orchestral score to accompany us on our travels.
However, we’ve had quite a few SMALL steps taken in the past twenty years. Final Fantasy has been remade more than a few times, gracing consoles from the WonderSwan Color to the GBA, even making an appearance on Japanese mobile phones. Each time, the audiovisual department has received an incremental upgrade, and so if you are familiar with these past remakes, then FFAE is not as telling as it would be for someone who is a completely fresh face; this is a game that will only appease the hardcore devotee, or else someone who’s never touched the original, but is finally willing to give it a go now that the visual side of things has been made more aesthetically pleasing.
“Final Fantasy is a straightforward RPG, and one couldn’t expect anything more from it given its age.”Apart from the exterior overhaul, there are a few additional boss battle pieces (some awesome remixes courtesy of revered composer, Nobuo Uematsu), and some newly added/modified dungeons. But in essence, FFAE is pretty much the exact same game that we’ve been playing since the birth of the original. Perhaps it’s a bit too much on the easy side now, with the ease of levelling catered towards the newer generation of gamers. Maybe it’s too unsophisticated, with the hundreds of RPGs we’ve seen since that fateful day showing comparatively staggering layers of depth. It’s definitely lacking the epic story progression that we’ve now come to expect from all our Final Fantasies. After a guided start, you’re soon left on your own, at times with only a vague idea of where to go next; it’s like a wild goose chase across the expansive, but predominantly empty world. And there are plenty of random-as events, like when you bring a seemingly insignificant rock to the desert and *poof* - out comes an airship. This may have been “radical” in the past, but now it’s just nonsensical.
At heart, the basic principles of Final Fantasy, that lie in the now-famous battle system and customisation of classes, still hold firm. The lack of all the assorted tweaks & tune-ups that the series has seen since 1987 diminishes its appeal somewhat, with the more Final Fantasy games you’ve played likely to correlate with less enjoyment you’ll be able to extract from this one (fanboyism withstanding). But despite the simplicity, the repetitiveness and the excessive milking, whatever it may mean to you, I can safely say that this is the definitive Final Fantasy edition as of 2007.
At least, until the next time Square-Enix decides to celebrate with yet another remake - I’ll give them ten years, max.
Five out of ten
- Widescreen display with the sharpest Final Fantasy sprites you've ever seen
- Save nearly anywhere, anytime
- It's a must-have collector's edition...
- ... that you won't see again until the next inevitable anniversary
- RPG mechanics are very basic by today's standards
- It's a short-lived experience, and the absence of its sequel packaged together is unforgivable