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“Final Fantasy” (Yeah, That First Game!) Design Choices

So I finished up Chrono Trigger about a week ago. I have written at length about it already, and am wavering on whether or not I want to write any kind of “final thoughts” on the game. I do not have much more to add to the conversation, really — nothing particularly blew me away in the final five hours or so. I did start up a New Game+ and beat it again the instant I showed up at the End of Time. For the record, I received “Ending 5” on that go-’round, which is the one with the Nu critters sleeping over top the credits. How enthralling…!

But this is not about Chrono Trigger, so now for something completely different.

I use the phrase “fall off the wagon” when I talk about Pokémon. While I am far from a super-fan (I do not EV train, and I do not follow every single last bit of news and community events), I do get pretty heavily “into” the games when I play them every few years. Back in October 2008 I wrote about my experience with the games — right now I have ~180 hours logged in FireRed and ~120 hours logged in Pearl (and maybe a negligible ~10 hours sunk into Emerald before I got bored). Other than downloading event critters at GameStop and such, I have not actually “played” any of the games in something like a year and a half, though.

Here is where the drinking analogy comes in: I pre-ordered SoulSilver.

That will be a topic for another post in the future, but it was important information to set up the rest of this post. How it relates to right now is the fact that I have a couple weeks before I pick up the game. I was looking for a shorter RPG to take up my lunch breaks in the meantime.

I decided to go with the very first Final Fantasy. I picked up the Dawn of Souls version on GameBoy Advance a few years ago, but I have never actually played the game before. I played maybe 10 minutes or so on the NES as a kid, but all I remembered was running into the castle and starting an adventure. I know the general story thanks to the GameTrailers retrospective series, but I still wanted to have a game play experience with it all on my own. It just felt like something I should probably do one day.

For those who are curious (because you know you are), my team is as follows: Mike (warrior), Julian (monk), Meri (white mage), Deluxe (black mage).

I am not here to talk about ancient design decisions from Square’s first game in a long-running franchise. To some degree, that would not be fair coming from someone like me. It certainly warrants discussion, but it is not something I am interested in doing and probably would not be able to talk about with the most authority in the world. I know some things are changed, such as the way magic is handled, but I do not know all of the little intricacies. I felt like I could talk about Chrono Trigger in a different light, which is why I gave it so much attention.

Instead, I would like to bring up one of the most ridiculous and misleading design choices in this particular re-release. It is something that should never have been done the way it was, but I will save my own thoughts on the matter for a little bit later.

Let me explain.

I had just made my way through the Cavern of Earth and defeated Lich. I knew what areas of the map I had access to at the moment (by foot and with my pirate ship), and was not sure where I would be heading next. After touching the crystal prize, the game broke away to show a prior location. Oh, OK! I remember the Earthgift Shrine! That was that cave right by Corneria at the beginning of the game. There was a weird demon-looking thing blocking a path. He just faded away. Gotcha! I will head there next!

I headed on in. I grabbed some of the treasure along the way. The next area was a desert. Oh, no! I never like desert areas in Final Fantasy games! After wandering around for a while and catching on to the looping going on, I found my way to the center oasis and the staircase to the next area. I fought and guided my way through yet another area with the additional treasure chests and monsters.

Everything seemed totally fine. The monsters were a somewhat-appropriate level for my characters to fight against, and since I knew I was over-leveled, my triumphs against them did not make me question a single thing about my journey.

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

I was apparently wandering around a re-release-exclusive bonus dungeon, the end of which housed four bosses making cameos from Final Fantasy III. It had absolutely nothing to do with the general progression of the regular game. This cave area does not even exist on the original NES/Famicom-version game map:

Why on Earth would they break away to show me this area so early in the game if it was a bonus dungeon that had nothing to do with the current story progress (especially if I was no match for the bosses)?

I can only chock it up to the fact that the programmers and intended audience (those who had already played the game before, perhaps many times over) were so drastically familiar with the source material that they overlooked such a major presentation flaw. The last time the game cut away to show me a new area opening up was when the bridge to the north was built — there was absolutely no reason to show this bonus cave area at this particular time. It was misleading and time-wasting.

Thankfully, after losing to the first boss I encountered, the game brought me back right outside the cave. Everyone was alive and down to 1 HP, but I was not kicked back to the title screen, and I did not lose all of the experience and items I had gained along the way. That was, perhaps, the only “smart” design decision in this entire game so far.

Let it be known that I still actually have no clue where it is I am going next in the game. The dancing girl in Corneria even told me she has nothing let to say to me right now. Really? You are the single helpful NPC in the game that I thought I could always rely on, and you have nothing else to say to me? Sheesh! Thankfully, I have a bit of help in the form of a blast-from-the-past. Rather than looking up any FAQs, I have an item that I accidentally borrowed from a friend in high school something like ten years ago. I used it to find my way to Lich a little faster, and I suppose I can refer to it one more time. It is absolutely fascinating to look back at the way the characters are depicted (traditional high-fantasty style as opposed to referencing Yoshitaka Amano’s designs) and the verbiage differences between the far-too-few-letter-namings in the NES version as opposed to the re-translated and modern-consistency namings in the GBA re-release.

While I have a huge issue with that one aspect of the game (and one that is only related to the re-release, no less), do not misunderstand — I am having a really fun time exploring this first game. It is crazy that I never got around to playing it.

Will it be one that I complete (III, IV, VII), or one that I ultimately drop (VI, VIII, X)…? I have a good feeling about this one…!

6 Comments

  1. SparkyPantsMcGee

    February 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I had the same problem when I first got Dawn of Souls. Like you it was basically first play through of Final Fantasy I and I had no idea that the cave was a side story. Also, that stratagy guide looks stupid, I adore Amano’s work and this FAILS in comparison. Good luck with the game.

  2. SoulSilver is amazing, I enjoyed it more than Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. Plus, even though I played it only in Japanese so far, I still felt a little bit of nostalgia playing it, because of music and the entire experience in general. Plus, if there’s anything you want from your Pearl you can send it over as soon as you get the Pokédex and deliver the Mystery Egg to Prof. Elm.

  3. I know this was a final fantasy post, but he mentioned he was getting soulsilver so I figured I ask here. Ok here’s the deal. The only pokemon I ever played was the original red and blue( btw still have them). I didn’t know when I brought them that they were the exact same game (I know each one has different pokemon). I guess I got burned out playing the same parts twice. I would get a badge in blue then get the same badge in red right after. (ok back then I wasn’t the best game savy person) Also the the walking was sooooooo slowwwwww until I got the bike. I keep hearing that gold and silver are the best in the series. So I see this came out, and i’m interested in getting it. (and the pokewalker looks so cool. I had the pikachu pet thing). My questions are.

    1. Can you walk faster or run from the get go.?
    2. How is the online? Can you only fight or fight and trade?

    And a sub question
    Why was gold and silver the best in the series?

    I’m sorry for the long post, and posting this on a final fantasy thread. I hope it makes sense to read. Thanks Guys.

  4. @ Jason T.

    1. You get the Running Shoes from the “Guide Gent” a.k.a. Old Guy in Cherrygrove City, unlike previous games you can set it to always running, so you don’t have to press B all the time.

    2. Online, is just the same as Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. So, you can trade and battle.

    SQ: Gold and Silver were considered the greatest due to adding features such as: Shiny Pokémon, Breeding, 2 regions to go to, etc.

    I personally think SoulSilver is great. It took the great parts of the original and added on to it.

    I also finally got it in English today. I’ve had it for 6+ months in Japanese; but, yeah…

  5. Thanks I ordered it from Walmart. I got the limited edition that comes with the Lugia figure and the pokewalker sleve for $40. For the same price might as well get I figure out of it lol.

  6. I had the same problem, sort of. I think I knew where to go next from playing it on the NES, but I didn’t know what the new dungeon was and got murdered in it.
    I get that there are four dungeons to correspond with each of the four fiends, but I guess they didn’t really make it obvious enough that they were for end-game play.

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