Friday, September 5, 2014

Pocketful of Final Fantasy: FF1 Memories

I have the first nine Final Fantasy games on my PSP. Young me at twelve years old would never have believed it, on two levels: first that any video game series could reach NINE games (and truthfully it's a lot more than that, now!); and secondly that so many games could fit on a portable device. At twelve years old the original-recipe Gameboy was just about to arrive, in all its two-tone glory, and even the first Final Fantasy would have taxed the system. The original FF to appear on that Gameboy, The Final Fantasy Legend sounds by all accounts to be an odd duck, but not quite in the same league as the NES Final Fantasy.

The FF1 and FF2 on my PSP
Final Fantasy Origins was released on the original Playstation, and contained enhanced versions of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II. The first game was a massive influence on my childhood, but this collection was the first time that the sequel appeared (legally) in America. I'll talk about FF2 in a  future post, but for now my handheld trek through the series begins with the first game. And oh, what a game it is!

In FF1, you form a party of adventurers, each bearing an Orb, and travel to the kingdom of Corneria/Cornelia, depending on the translation you prefer, old or new. I grew up with Corneria, so that's the one I think of, but the Origins version calls it Cornelia. The names I grew up with resonate to this day, so I always begin my journey at Corneria, travel to the Temple of Fiends (not Chaos), eventually confront Kary (not Marilith), and curse the low encounter rate for Warmech (not Death Machine) on the bridge to Tiamat.

The structure of FF1 always impressed me. Like in its near-contemporary, Dragon Warrior, your quest in the beginning of the game is to rescue a Princess. That gets resolved after half an hour or so, but the game keeps going, and turns into a much more grand adventure to light the Orbs by defeating the four Elemental Fiends that threaten the land. These days we often turn our noses up at fetch quests (I feel like I'm guilty of doing that on this very website, in fact) but there was something satisfying about the early chain of Find and Deliver on which you embark in this game:

Crown -> Northwest Castle -> Eye -> Matoya's Cave -> Herb -> Elf Castle -> Mystic Key -> Castle Corneria -> TNT -> Dwarf Cave

Phew! Never has a kid felt so successful as when I untangled that long series and sailed through the TNT-created gap in the western land to reach Melmond. In fact, I have a lot of memories about the original Final Fantasy:

+ In 1990, I bought my copy for the NES at the Crystal Mall in Waterford, CT. I must have been in sixth grade by then, and it was a school night, so I only had a few minutes to play before bedtime. Wouldn't you know it? The very next day, I woke up with a sudden sickness! No school for me, what a sad day. I guess I'll just stay in bed and recuperate. My mom went off to work, and, well, I guess I'll just *have* to play a little Final Fantasy, and... uh oh. She hid the controllers!

+ I remember going to my friend Ben's house in sixth or seventh grade and playing Final Fantasy on his dad's enormous wall-filling TV, the largest TV I had ever seen. These days maybe it wouldn't seem as giant, but at the time it seemed incredible. I remember that Ben's battery-backup save file was at the Earth Cave, and we fought Giants in the Hall of Giants to level up. Eventually we played through the entire game on subsequent afternoons and weekends, because I remember us fighting Chaos, but for some reason the only other dungeon I clearly remember after the Earth Cave is the Waterfall Cave where you get the Cube from the robot.

+ I also remember walking along the bridge to Tiamat to try and encounter Warmech, which Nintendo Power magazine told me was the rarest enemy in the game. I walked along the bridge for what seemed forever, on several different occasions. Eventually I encountered it, and it killed me with NUKE, and I gave up. I would later kill Warmech in one of the remakes, when his appearance chance had been modified. It didn't feel the same, though.

Next time, I'll wrap up with Final Fantasy and move on to Final Fantasy II, widely-regarded as one of the lesser entries in the series. Let's see if that's true!