The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy I, part 2

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

Remakes of the first Final Fantasy have an odd dichotomy going.  In the early parts, it’s easier to be curmudgeonly about the more “faithful” remakes while wishing for a game that isn’t brutally crushing you at every turn solely by fiat.  As the game goes on, though, the more modernized versions start inspiring more ranting about how things were back in your day.

But that’s a little further along in today’s entry.  As you probably remember, we left things off right around the time when the game finally remembers what the stated goal was at the beginning of the game.  You know, when you’ve finally finished derping around enough that you could go deal with the Earth Fiend.  Which is annoying, but in a way I almost wish the game had continued along that vein, sending you on elaborate, sprawling sidequests just to make a little forward motion.  It really creates the sense of two distinct games, where you spend a whole lot of time getting to fight the Fiends at all and then you just sort of kill them in quick succession.

There are only a few places where you can break from the game’s very linear sequence, and taking care of the Earth Fiend first is not one of those places.  It’s more obnoxious than all that, really – you have to descend, kill a vampire, open a passage, talk to an NPC who literally does nothing else, then go back down and actually kill Lich.  It’s kind of pointless, and it feels like padding the length of the game without even giving you an extra dungeon to go through by forcing you throw the same dungeon twice.

Lich himself was a cakewalk, due to my aforementioned use of the Peninsula allowing me to just Haste my Monk and drop him in two enormous punch-fests.  This, of course, is keeping in the spirit of the game, where your goal is always “drop it as fast as possible.”  The remake ensures that you don’t have to commit quite so violently to that goal, but it’s still a concern, and it starts cropping up again in the next couple of dungeons.  In the original, you really had to maximize your resources, since every turn without killing something means another turn where your party members can die – and if you’re down to one barely living character, you might kill Lich without surviving the hike back to a town.

After Lich, you can go get a canoe to travel up rivers.  You can only get this after you beat Lich, and this is arguably the game’s most arbitrary wall, with NPCs simply refusing to give you that canoe unless you’ve performed your designated task first.  Because reasons.

However, herein lies the first chance to really break the game’s sequencing.  What you’re supposed to do is sail over, fight Marilith in a volcano, then go work on picking up your airship.  But you can head up, do the airship dungeon, and then head for your class changes before fighting Marilith.  In theory, you can skip Marilith until she’s the last Fiend remaining – killing her unlocks nothing, and there’s no plot-crucial item in the volcano, so you could presumably totally ignore her until you’re down to no other Fiends remaining.

I didn’t go that crazy, but I did decide to hit the Ice Cave first.  And once there, I started to find how different this remake really is.

My characters walked in with levels in the late twenties, which in the classic game is enough to start steamrolling this cave.  Here, however, monsters still lasted through a round of attacks or two.  I was taking damage, I was getting hit for substantial numbers, and the whole thing was rebalanced in such a way that I needed those Ethers I’d been stockpiling.  Not many, but a lot more than I would have needed in the original game.  Where they didn’t exist.

It’s the sort of thing that can make you slit your eyes in frustration, because you know how this game was balanced and you’ve spent a great deal of time making sure that you are going in when it is distinctly unbalanced in your favor!  But now that leveling is easier, monsters last longer and do more damage.  The higher your level, the more you start losing that race, pitching you back into a game of carefully measuring your resources in a fight of attrition.

Well, measuring your resources a bit more carefully, at least.  It’s still nothing like the original game and its relentless grinding of your endurance, it’s just a bit closer.

Despite this, the Ice Cave wasn’t hard, just long.  Clearing it netted me the Levistone, which unlocked the airship, which then allowed me to flit up to the Citadel of Trials and grab the very important rat tail.  These “trials” consist of some teleporting chambers and another slog through several enemies, followed by a boss that isn’t really.  I took some perverse pleasure in the fact that my characters were now well past the level you would traditionally be facing the final boss at.

I should note that it’s not that you need the airship to get to the Citadel, it’s just that you need the airship to talk to Bahamut, without whom your prize at the end of the Citadel is a pat on the back and some items.  Technically you can do the Citadel before the Ice Cave.  But that’d be just plain silly, ladies and gentlemen.

Haha, a thief, haha.

Official promotional shots: the refuge of everyone without adequate equipment to properly capture screenshots themselves.

At this point, I elected to head back to Mount Gulg and kill the second fiend.  This is much easier with class changes, especially if you wisely eschew the largely useless Black Mage/Wizard.  Yes, Flare is nice, but even in the remake it’s an expensive spell that you can’t use constantly.  By contrast, a Hasted Master will be hitting for insanely high damage every single round, and Hasting your Red Wizard will allow for decent damage output after you’ve cast your necessary buffs.  Plus, backup healing is available.  Red Wizards wind up getting the most useful spells from Black Wizards, if not the most powerful spells, and the net result is that your party works better as a whole.

Marilith went down to a couple rounds of vicious punching, if that weren’t already obvious.

Despite only being halfway through the list of Fiends, the game speeds up pretty quickly from here on out, with only four more dungeons before the ending, which can easily be banged out in a single play session.  That also means that I can start exploring the new parts of the remake, though, which is where it gets really strange.  While I don’t feel a need to claw through all of the optional content in the game, it seems silly to have a remake that brings in four new optional dungeons and then ignore them, doesn’t it?  Of course it does.  But next time, it’s a lot of water and then a big old sky for me.

About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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