You know what this blog needs, guys? This blog needs a series of articles about all of my favorite Final Fantasy installments. Why? Because I’m feeling nostalgic and feel like writing about them, of course!
With a project like this, I can start nowhere but the original. And by original I don’t just mean FF I, I mean the real original: 8-bit, on the NES, with a (then) huge world to explore, countless (and I do mean countless) random battles, and shops that only allowed you to buy potions one at a time.
Man oh man, those were the days.
Final Fantasy was either the third NES cart I ever owned (after the SMB/Duck Hunt/World Class Track Meet that came with the console, and The Legend of Zelda, which was a gift from a friend) and it was the first one I ever bought with my own money. I remember reading about the game in Nintendo Power and realizing instantly that it needed to be mine–and needed to be mine, like, yesterday. Problem was, all of the stores I (and by “I” I mean “my mother”) called were sold out. I was devastated.
The next day, though, Toys R Us came through for me. They had one copy left. I nearly jumped out of my skin I was so excited, and immediately dumped out the enormous change collection I kept in a bucket under my bed (change that probably amounted to ten bucks but hey, I was 7, and it sure looked like a lot to me), which I gravely presented to my mother as payment for the game. We drove down to the store that afternoon, and I still remember how awed I was staring at the box on the way home. LOOK! It has a glowing crystal on the front! With a castle in it! And any game could have a sword OR an axe on the cover–MY new game had both!
Needless to say, this was one of the pinnacles of my young life, right up there with receiving both the Mumm-Ra’s Tomb AND Cat’s Lair Thundercats playsets for Christmas one year. (They were the only two presents I got, but really–what else WAS there?)
Of course, for seven year old me the learning curve on a game like Final Fantasy was pretty damn monstrous, especially since it was one of the first games I ever got. Not only were the battle mechanics radically different than anything I had ever seen before, just the idea of buying (and then having to equip!) weapons and armor was pretty difficult to wrap my head around.
Luckily I was one of those nerds that absolutely loved reading video game manuals (even to games I didn’t have), and Final Fantasy‘s was awesome. Not only did it explain, in great detail, all of the classes and game mechanics, it contained a veritable walkthrough of the entire first half of the game! This was not a luxury by any means though, no sir; although the path through the game is pretty well railed and fairly linear, the game world itself is so huge (and dangerous) that at that age I don’t think it would have been possible for me to figure out all of the clues (the very obtuse and badly translated clues) on my own. But that beautiful 66-page manual was there to hold my hand and teach me what I needed to know.
The early part of the game isn’t very difficult, as you may recall; kill Garland, rescue the princess, find your way to Pravoka, dispatch the pirates, and take the ship. Bam. Nothing too dangerous for a minimally leveled party, and nothing too expensive to have to buy. Sure, the Broadsword and Iron Armor were a bit steep, and 400g per spell times six spell slots added up pretty quickly, but it was nothing that a couple days of stomping Ogres, Creeps and Kyzoku couldn’t pay for and besides, you knew you needed the XP anyway. All was well.
And then…then you made the trip to Elfland. You walked into a shop. And you shit your pants.
“4000g for a Silver Sword?! 1500g per spell?! Oh my god there’s another magic shop set and…4000G EACH?!?! Months! It’s going to take MONTHS to afford all this shit!”
Yes ladies and gents, that’s how the section known as “the great Elfland grind” begins. It really does take quite a lot of time to earn all the cash necessary to gear up your guys, and you MUST take the time to do so–the Marsh Cave that lies ahead is one of the nastiest gear and level checks on the NES. Even well leveled, fully geared parties have to rely on some luck to make it in and out in one piece. Now of course we have bugs and exploits like the Peninsula of Power to significantly dull the pain of all the leveling and gold collecting required. But back then, I had no idea–and even if I had wandered that far afield, I would have instantly been tpk’d by monsters of that strength, and it never would have occurred to me that it was possible to farm them for GP and XP at that level.
Because of danger presented by the Marsh Cave, Elfland was probably also your first introduction to the potion buying system. Which was far too time consuming and cumbersome, especially when you needed 99 Heals. (Or Pures, for that matter.) A minimum of four clicks to confirm EACH potion, more if you were buying something other than Heals (that necessitated scrolling the cursor down the potion shop list.) Of course I didn’t know any other way to do things at the time, but it was still a time sucking pain in the ass.
After the horror of the Marsh Cave, there was Astos–not a terribly difficult boss in and of himself, if you were properly geared and leveled, but his Rub spell could put and end to your attempt in a hurry if he hit either your main damage dealer or healer. (Of course, all smart players by this time had learned to ALWAYS pitch a Tent outside a dungeon before going in, so having to restart wasn’t all that painful.)
Next came Melmond, the Earth Cave, the Vampire…and, finally, the first Elemental Fiend, Lich. This was the first time I ever remember having to backtrack in a game (into the Earth Cave once to kill the Vampire and claim the Ruby, then back in with the Rod to assault the final two floors and Lich himself.) I remember being so confused when confronted by the post-Vampire roadblock; I thought I had forgotten something, or done something wrong. But no, as soon as the proper chain of item fetches and deliveries were complete, I was able to continue on in the dungeon.
Lich was a difficult boss, there’s no doubt–his spells HURT, badly, especially if you didn’t know to throw up a quick AFIR at the start of the battle. Still, the big key to defeating him was his appearance: he looked like a skeleton–an undead. And as anyone who had made it this far into the game knows, the undead are vulnerable to two things: Fire, and HARM. With this in mind, I reversed roles for this battle; my two Mages (White and Black) attacked with the highest level spells in their playbook, while my Fighter and Black Belt ran interference, tanking and providing Heal potions as necessary to keep everyone alive. It wasn’t a pretty strategy, but it worked, and the Earth Orb was relit on my very first try. (I still remember how scared I was when I stepped forward and the soundtrack gave that big, deep rumble–I was sure I had done something wrong and was about to die!)
With the first Orb lit, though, there weren’t a lot of clues as to where to go next. I was stumped. Until, that is, I decided to go exploring on the new ocean that was open to me.
To Be Continued….
This is where we’ll end for now. Final Fantasy is a huge game that we’re not even halfway through yet. So stay tuned for the conclusion (and for more Half Life commentary) later this week!