Editorial: Final Fantasy Retrospective, Part One: The NES Era

Aloha, readers! Today, I present the first part of what will presumably be a five-part editorial series on a Lusipurr.com favorite, the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy as a series is almost entirely responsible for the massive JRPG boom of the mid-to-late 1990s, and undoubtedly shaped many a gamer’s interests and loves. Today, I begin where any good retrospective should: the beginning. Join me, readers, as we embark on a journey back through the Final Fantasy franchise’s roots.

But a man can certainly dream.
Sadly, the Final Fantasy series did not actually go on to kill Dragon Quest.

Final Fantasy was originally released in Japan for the Famicom in December of 1987. Nearly three years later, on July 1990, Final Fantasy made its American NES debut. The “Final” in Final Fantasy comes from the fact that it was to be Hironobu Sakaguchi’s last game. To everyone’s great surprise, Final Fantasy took off, putting Squaresoft and Sakaguchi on the map. What separated Final Fantasy from its contemporaries were its deeper battle system and its much longer story. While “save the princess!” was usually the final goal of games in the 1980s, Final Fantasy used saving the princess as a mere prologue to a much greater adventure. Choosing from six possible classes allowed players a great deal of customization compared to what was found in most of the early Dragon Quest titles, and gave to Final Fantasy a replay value which perhaps no other game at the time had.

Final Fantasy‘s success would lead the game to be released on a massive number of systems over the years. It was released alongside Final Fantasy II in a Famicom compilation exclusive to Japan, and as a standalone for both the MSX and Wonderswan Color. Final Fantasy was again released alongside Final Fantasy II for the PlayStation as Final Fantasy I and II: Origins, and then for the Game Boy Advance as Final Fantasy I and II: Dawn of Souls. As recently as 2007, Final Fantasy was again released for the Sony PSP. And iOS release of the PSP remake, a Virtual Console port of the original, and a Japanese-only PSN release of the Origins remake. It is worth noting that every version since Dawn of Souls has been heavily watered-down in terms of difficulty; recent remakes abandon the Dungeons & Dragons spell per day system with the typical JRPG “MP” system, heavily increasing the usefulness of mages. With as many systems as the original Final Fantasy has been released for, it is difficult to find a JRPG fan who has never played the original, the classic, the beginning.

Final Fantasy II was not a game known for its graphic innovation.

Inspired by the success of both Final Fantasy and George Lucas’s Star Wars, SquareSoft soon released Final Fantasy II for the Famicom in late 1988. Though the game was initially planned for a North American release, and beta English language prototype carts exist, Final Fantasy II did not see release in the States until the PlayStation Origins remake in 2003. Final Fantasy II was obviously inspired by Star Wars; the plot is a fantasy version of the “rebellion versus Empire” story that Star Wars had recently popularized.

Final Fantasy II abandoned a traditional leveling system in favor of a system wherein the stats are raised based on how often they are used. For example, attacking could cause a character’s strength to rise, while being beat upon in battle could cause a party member’s max Hit Point number to increase. Final Fantasy II‘s system was unique, but generally poorly received due to the poor balance and random nature of the mechanics. Interestingly, Final Fantasy II was the first game in the series to introduce Chocobos, a future series staple. It also marked the first appearance of an airship owner named Cid. In addition to the original Famicom release and the aforementioned PlayStation compilation, Final Fantasy II was released alongside the original Final Fantasy in a Famicom compilation as well as for the GBA. Versions of Final Fantasy II also saw release for the Wonderswan Color, Japanese mobile phones, the Sony PSP, the Japanese Virtual Console, the Japanese PSN, and Apple iOS devices. American gamers seeking Final Fantasy II are advised to pick up either the PlayStation Origins compilation or the PSP stand-alone.

Yes, I realize that Onion Knight is a stupid name for a class.
Four Onion Knights fearlessly stare down some Goblins.

Rounding off the Final Fantasy Genesis is Final Fantasy III, the final game in the series to see release on the Famicom. Released in Japan in April 1990, Final Fantasy III did not see an American release due to the advent of the Super Nintendo era. Final Fantasy III would be the last of the classic Final Fantasy games to see an American release with the DS remake in late 2006. That same remake also eventually saw release over iOS. Final Fantasy III took the original job system and expanded it, giving players the unprecedented ability to change jobs anywhere outside of combat. Final Fantasy III also introduced another series staple, the adorable flying Moogles. Among the list of Final Fantasy III‘s jobs were the series’ first summoners, adding such series staples as Ifrit, Shiva, and Titan. Sadly, Final Fantasy III‘s DS remake is not a good representation of the game; the difficulty is horribly unbalanced and the game not particularly fun. Still, Final Fantasy III took the concept of a job system in a radical new direction, one that would shape the fate of later Final Fantasy and JRPG job systems for years to come.

The NES era of Final Fantasy was fraught with glitchy titles and a lack of North American localisations. Still, the franchise’s formative years showed the world that the Japanese take on Role-Playing Games could be just as successful as the Western. By the end of the NES lifespan, it was clear that Final Fantasy was here to stay. It would not be until the Super Nintendo, though, that Final Fantasy would truly begin take off and become the titan it is today.


  1. At first I was going to comment about how I read Maria’s name as “Mario”…but then I saw the Onion Knight party.

  2. Anyone looking to play FF1 the Origins release on the PSX (easy to find for ~$10 online and possibly PSN) is the definitive version. It’s got the bugs from the NES version fixed and it doesn’t have the brokenly easy difficulty (which completely undermines the gameplay and resource management. It’s also much prettier).

    FF2 I would only recommend if I don’t like you. So, if you are a person I hate you should immediately play FF2. I’d again go with the Origins version because the FF1 also on the disc is good.

    FF3…I’ve finished the fan translated NES version. It’s the first game to have Summons and some other stuff. The job system’s greatly expanded, but not very flexible. There’s annoying Mini spell sections where you have to make all your guys mages and that sucks. If you’re a huge fan of the series and curious I guess check it out. I wouldn’t really recommend it though.

  3. At least I didn’t have to pick a bunch of background music this time.

  4. I liked how that background music worked, though. I didn’t notice you were playing pieces from the games as they were being discussed, but when I did…

  5. I have not actually played Origins, but looking at it, it seems like the best way to get the original FFI experience, For II, I hear good things about the PSP version, and I personally liked the Dawn of Souls version.

    And FFIII DS is a horrifying abomination that should never have existed.

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