The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy I, part 5
You know, I’ve tried really hard to keep this project free of personal quirks. Not in the sense of making this less of a personal experience, but insofar as I recognize that some things I think are cool are just strange on an objective level. Having said that, I still think the ending of Final Fantasy is really neat on a conceptual level.
If you’ve been paying crazy careful attention to the map, you realized that all four Fiends were located at points equidistant from the Temple of Fiends. You don’t even think about how weird it is that the first dungeon in the game is the Temple of Fiends until you’ve been through most of the game. And yet there it is, staring you in the face – the bats surrounding Garland, the black orb right behind him, the nature of its location. It all comes around to the same circle. Garland is the root of everything. Your first boss is your last boss.
Now, I would be remiss in failing to point out that this doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense. Garland isn’t given a reason for kidnapping Princess Sarah, nor do we know why he was sent back in time by the Fiends in the first place, or who built the Temple proper, or any of that. Chaos is supposedly the origin of the problems at the start of the game, yet he apparently only exists in the original temple, and the loop apparently existed to keep him empowered forever, but… well, you get the general idea. It’s a loop with no clearly defined origin point.
Under the circumstances I’m willing to excuse that, partly because this is an NES game at heart and it wasn’t meant to hold up under close scrutiny. The stories have never held deep meanings so much as emotional impacts, and this one in particular is a neat story just the same. It also sets up an idea that the series will return to time and again, the idea that human beings and our own failings are mor likely to be the true threat than anything. Even in the first game, your enemy is ultimately a person who wanted something far larger than he deserved.
Of course, before you can challenge Garland again, you have to slog through the Temple itself, only in its much older and more primordial form. It pits you against all four Fiends again, this time powered up to the appropriate levels. This would be far more intimidating if I weren’t dripping with power from other excursions, thus reducing the entire march through the castle into nothing more than a curbstomp. Especially since the Lightbringer sword can be used to cast Holy over and over, which clears out packs of trash remarkably well. Even in the remake, though, these battles don’t become nearly as slog-like as some of the earlier dungeons; they’re not difficult, but they’re paced nicely, and I found myself less inclined to get annoyed.
Once you get down to Garland proper, he tosses a few threats and then gleefully engages as Chaos, the root of all evil. This version also scales up Chaos in terms of overall strength, but the basic strategy remains the same. He hits the party with several high-damage specials that hit everyone and also physically attacks on occasion, but falls victim to the same cycle of punching and swording as the other bosses. Outside of a physical that dropped my Red Wizard (which was undone with a cast of Full-Life) I managed to tear him apart without ever even running out of MP.
Then it’s all over except for the surprisingly bleak ending. I never got that far as a child, but the end is kind of depressing, since it outright says that the Warriors of Light won’t be remembered for anything they accomplished by closing the time loop. Your ultimate victory is to toil in obscurity, and victory means nobody will remember that there was even a threat to save them from!
Despite that, it does provide a nicely poetic conclusion to the proceedings, and it feels suitably grand. Besides, since it was supposed to be Sakaguchi’s final game, there’s something appropriate in the farewell. As evidenced by the fact I’ve got something like sixteen more games to go through, it wasn’t very final.
What’s fascinating about Final Fantasy is how little of the game is recognizable from later parts of the series. The musical motifs have shown up time and again, as have the six core jobs, but almost everything else isn’t present. Magic works differently in most of the other games. Time travel isn’t even touched upon again until Final Fantasy XIII-2. There are no chocobos, moogles, summons, dudes named Cid (although he’s mentioned as an ancestor, that’s a later addition)… you don’t even have most of the franchise’s iconic weaponry and armor in the core game. Nor are major characters referenced again outside of games that are explicitly cross-universe. Even the Crystals have been more or less forgotten for years, with Final Fantasy IX being the last title that really adhered to that motif. (Although Final Fantasy XV looks to bring it back, for what it’s worth.)
Some things do stick around, though. The game does feature a mixture of medieval fantasy and technology – anyone who complains about those elements in later games has forgotten about the multiple robots in this one. Airships play a big role in every title, and getting your airship is always a major milestone. The Fiends make cameos hither and yon, along with several other iconic enemies that show here first.
Above everything else, though, there’s a certain core ethos that I touched upon before which continues straight on to the modern games. Sure, there are incredibly powerful beings all over the place, but in the end human beings armed with determination remain more powerful than anyone else. The Fiends might have dominion over the elements themselves, but your group of adventurers can overcome them no matter how hopeless it might seem. The feel of the series has changed, but that core conceit, the image of a few warriors banding together and becoming new legends, works its way through all along.
This particular remake is interesting, just because it changes so much from the tried-and-true formula to more closely fit more recent games, creating a strange sort of backward continuity. But its heart is in the right place. After twenty years the game holds up pretty well at its core, and filing off the rough edges makes sense.
So long, Final Fantasy. You were an original of the species.