This is where it all started. 23 years ago, the original Final Fantasy dropped on an unassuming world and helped lay the groundwork for every console RPG to come. Since then, the series has snowballed into one of the biggest franchises in videogame history, with its thirteenth iteration just around the corner. It’s great to see this iconic series hit the iPhone, and what better place to start than the beginning?
You should know that this isn’t a direct port of the original 8-bit NES game. The graphics and music got an overhaul, the translation has been improved, and several areas have been added. But rest assured that no major gameplay elements have changed. This is a classic RPG in a very pure form, meaning that the story might feel a bit skimpy by today’s standards. Still, it’s easy to get swept away by the adventure.
The overarching story is that dark forces are gaining power in the world, and it’s up to your party of heroes to fend them off. To do this, you’ll have to light four orbs scattered across the land. You start the game by creating a party and choosing each member’s class. True to the genre, you can equip your heroes with an assortment of weapons, armor, and spells, and help them them level up by defeating an impressive variety of enemies.
Quick, summon Lovely Tea Party!
One thing to note is that you’ll never feel very attached to your characters because, unlike in later Final Fantasies, they don’t talk or have distinct personalities. Instead, the story progresses by you going from town to town, listening to the villagers, and solving whatever problem they’re facing.
Solving those problems inevitably leads you into thousands of random battles. If you can’t stand turn-based encounters, then this game is not for you, because the world is brimming with enemies. On the plus side, the difficulty has been tweaked from the original so that you level up much quicker, meaning less grinding is required to move forward.
But the port isn’t flawless. For one, the game often won’t register your initial tap on the D-pad, and you’ll have to tap it again to move. Changing direction while walking doesn’t work every time, either. The gameworld is wonderfully large and detailed, so it’s a shame that moving around in it can be aggravating.
I get knocked down, but I get up again.
We’re also surprised by the choice of font. With so many villagers willing to chat it up with you, it’s odd that the developers would choose a font that can be distracting enough to pull you out of the game experience. The issue is that every letter that drops below the baseline (“g”, “p”, “q”, and “y”) is noticeably bigger than the others. Word bubbles end up looking something like this: “HavinG items will helP You conserve Your maGic.” This is a shame, because the updated script really is quite good, and we’d rather focus on the words than the font.
But the good definitely outweighs the bad. Many things that felt unrefined in the original NES version have been smoothed out. No longer will a team member attack thin air if the enemy he was assigned to fight has already been killed. Nor will you have to worry about shambling through towns, because a handy run button has been added. And we’re thrilled to see that the game saves automatically every time you close the app.
The original Final Fantasy on the NES gave us untold hours of entertainment when we were kids, and this port reminds us what made it so great. It introduces a few new issues, but these don’t ruin the experience by a long shot. Playing Final Fantasy today shows us where modern RPGs came from, and reminds us of how enjoyable a simple gameplay experience can be.