Friday, June 19, 2020

Game 370: Final Fantasy (1987)

This title screen doesn't occur until a couple of hours into the game.
          
Final Fantasy
Japan
Square (developer); Nintendo (publisher)
Released in 1987 for NES in Japan, 1989 for MSX, 1990 for NES in North America
Remade numerous times for various platforms, including mobile, between 1994 and 2016
Date Started: 11 June 2020
                    
I decided it was time. There are a few things that I want to do in the future that all require me to have had a look at the first game in this apparently never-ending series. I had an original plan to cover the game in a single entry, as I've typically done with console games, but it's clear to me now that to do it justice, the entry would have to be the size of small novel. Keep in mind that I'm fitting this in between my regularly scheduled titles, so I'll cover as much as I can in this initial entry, you can all tell me what I'm doing wrong, and I can pick it up again at a future date.
    
We've seen eight Japanese RPGs prior to 1987 on this blog, representing a fairly wide range of subgenres, including a text/RPG hybrid (The Dragon and Princess, 1982), a Wizardry-inspired first-person dungeon crawler (The Black Onyx, 1984), and a number of console-style action games with limited RPG elements (Dragon Slayer, 1984; Deadly Towers, 1986). While these games don't share much, they do have characteristics common for a genre in its toddler years--lots of unevenness, stumbling, and experimentation along ultimately unproductive paths.
         
The game's status screen. Those four orbs in the upper-left are going to become important somehow.
         
To me, 1987 feels like the first year that Japanese RPGs learned how to walk. (We do have to keep in mind that there are more than 40 untranslated games between 1982 and 1986 that might change my mind.) The Ancient Land of Ys, Sorcerian, and now Final Fantasy feel like whole products in the way that their predecessors do not. That doesn't mean that they're original; Final Fantasy, as we'll see, is mostly a composite of several American RPGs, particularly Wizardry, Ultima, and Phantasie. But when borrowing elements from a previous title, there's a difference between doing it blindly and doing it craftily. In playing most clones, you get the sense that the developer of the clone didn't know any better; that he included an element because he couldn't think of an alternative; that he didn't have enough experience with the scope of previous RPGs to truly understand when something works and why. Final Fantasy is something of the opposite. It strikes me as a product of someone who has really analyzed the best American RPGs and has deliberately created a composite of their strongest characteristics. 
   
In fact, I'm willing to venture that at the time, it might not have been possible to create a better console RPG experience. It exemplifies the simplicity that we have come to expect from a console of the era. It doesn't bog itself down in character creation or in a long backstory, and it requires minimal preparation in terms of reading a manual. It is the very essence of plug-and-play. As I started playing, I initially saw its approach as an object of criticism, but as the hours wore on, I began to understand. The game has a relatively detailed backstory; it just chooses to feed it to the player in small bites. It comes with an 84-page manual, but the first two pages cover everything you need to know to get started (the rest quite literally walk you through the entire first half of the game). Its one-line dialogues seem less like a limitation of the platform and more like an effort not to exhaust the player with too much text. I don't always like the result, but I admire its success in what it wanted to achieve.
           
The only backstory you get.
         
So little has been provided on the backstory so far that I'm not even sure how to summarize it. A single-screen opening text crawl says that the world is in trouble (for some reason), but a prophecy says that four warriors will set things right. Enter your four warriors, "each holding an ORB." That's enough to start you off, but with every town and castle you visit, you learn just a little bit more. Not in the way--I hasten to add--that you learn more about the main plot of, say, The Legacy or Ultima VII. Those games have mysteries that you slowly unravel, but at least it's perfectly clear from the beginning who you are and what your basic mission is. In Final Fantasy, on the other hand, you get the sense that your own characters know more than you do. After all, they each have an ORB. Why? Where did they get them? Why do people keep calling them "Warriors of Light"?
   
Character creation allows you to select four characters from six classes: fighter, thief, black belt, red mage, white mage, and black mage. Aside from the "black belt," these seem mostly inspired by Wizardry, with the white mage taking the role of the priest (mostly defensive and healing magic), the black mage taking the role of the mage (mostly offensive spells), and the red mage taking the role of a bishop (able to cast both). The inclusion of a "black belt" class made me chuckle with remembrance of a time in the 1980s when "black belts" were considered the ne plus ultra of martial artists, and you had several games of that title and movies with black belt protagonists. And then dweeby kids we went to high school with started getting black belts, ruining the entire illusion, and we started worshiping more nebulous figures like ninjas whose designations couldn't be bestowed by the local used car dealer running a "dojo" on the side.
          
Party creation is just names and classes.
        
Each character is assigned starting attributes in strength, agility, intelligence, vitality, and luck, this list coming from Wizardry but lacking "wisdom." From these are calculated a variety of derived statistics: damage done, hit percentage, damage absorbed, and evade percentage.
         
My white mage's statistics towards the end of this session.
          
Once you've selected a party, you're locked in for the game. I selected poorly. I wasn't paying attention to what the manual said about the different mage classes, and I went with a fighter, a thief, a black belt, and a white mage. A couple hours later, I realized that I really wanted two mages, or at least a red mage instead of a white. The thief doesn't seem terribly useful--there really isn't any thieving to be done in the game--and if I could do it over I would have replaced him with a black mage. My selections mean that I miss out on most of the offensive magic in the game. However, each class later gets a "prestige class" upgrade that introduces some more magic options.
          
The opening scene.
        
Gameplay begins outside a castle with an attached town (it looks like six attached towns, in fact, but the town icons all lead to the same locations). Towns have shops that sell weapons, armor, spells, resurrection, and potions and magic items, the selection getting more advanced as the game progresses. Inns are one of the few places where you can legally save the game (like Zelda, the cartridge came with an internal battery), the others being a variety of temporary magical structures (tents, cabins, and houses) that you can purchase from the magic shop. (Inns restore all hit points while these magic items restore only some.) Either way, save points are limited, and you have to pay to save.
   
Buying an initial selection of weapons.

Checking in at the inn.
          
Towns also have about half a dozen wandering NPCs, each of whom deliver a sentence or two when you approach them. From the ones in this town, I learn that someone named Lukahn foretold our arrival, and that he has gone to "join his colleagues at Crescent Lake"; the princess has been kidnapped; and the city of Pravoka lies to the east.
           
I get a hint from an NPC north of two magic shops.
          
At the nearby castle, we learn that Princess Sara has been kidnapped by someone named "Garland," a former knight until something happened. (If the name seems familiar, it's also the name of the duke in Zeliard.) He took the princess to a temple to the northeast. For a while, I'm dumb enough to think that this will be the main plot of the game.
          
The king asks for my help. I suppose we'll find out who "Lukahn" is later.
         
So far, we've encountered a character system similar to Wizardry (classes, attributes, prestige classes, leveling) and a top-down exploration system with towns and NPC dialogue similar to Ultima, but outside we run into combat that couldn't come from anywhere but Phantasie. Enemies face the party on the combat screen (left-to-right here, instead of top-down). You specify an action for each character--attack, cast a spell, use an item, drink a potion, or flee--and the game threads your actions with the attackers' based on an underlying initiative score. As each character acts, his icon leaps forward and has an accompanying animation. This is cute at the beginning but (like Phantasie) soon just adds unnecessary time to the encounter. So does the silly dance that the kids do when they've won a battle.
         
Battle options against a party full of pirates.
         
Unlike Phantasie, there isn't much consideration of enemy rank--any character can attack any enemy. There is a consideration of character rank. The character appearing first gets about 50% of the attacks, the next 25%, then 15%, then 10%. It's thus important to keep the strongest, most well-armored character at the top. This is particularly annoying because certain enemy effects, like stunning and poison, plus fleeing battle, seems to cause the party to spontaneously re-arrange, and you spend a lot of wasted time untangling them.
   
The magic system is a hybrid. Final Fantasy uses spells with names and effects similar to Phantasie, with numbers indicating relative power, though all shortened to four characters for space reasons. So instead of "Healing 2" and "Fireflash 3," we get HEL2 and FIR3. There are four spells per level and spellcasters can only learn three of them, which must create real agony for the red mage, who is mixing white and black magic. Anyway, instead of Phantasie's magic points system, Final Fantasy uses the "slots" system of Wizardry, in which each character gets a certain number of spell allocations per level, all of them restored when you rest.
       
I find the combat system fun and relatively tactical when exploring dungeons (where you can't save or rest) and facing boss-level enemies. You have to carefully ration your spell slots, strategically use fleeing to preserve your resources, cast the right spells for the foes you're facing, and find the right balance between concentrating your attacks and spreading them out, so that you kill the most powerful foes as quickly as possible, but don't waste extra attacks on creatures killed by an earlier character.
       
The white mage doesn't get many damage spells, but she does get one that only works against undead.
          
In general, however, combat becomes exhausting quickly. Both outdoors and in dungeons, you get yanked into combat (it's always a surprise; you don't see enemies on the screen) every 5 to 10 seconds of travel time. As long as you keep an eye on health levels, most of the outdoor combats are of negligible danger, so all they do is sap time. NESTopia comes with an "alternate speed" mode that you can activate by holding down the TAB key, but it only goes to a maximum of 240%, not the "warp" of other emulators. So I spend a lot of time just holding TAB and mashing my way through combat.
 
The game is pretty relentless in its generation of "random" encounters, too. If it decides that in 8 seconds, you're going to face 3 ogres, and they're going to get a surprise attack, there's no fiddling that you can do to save yourself, not even using emulator save states. You can't pause and wait until they pass like you can in Dragon Warrior because their appearance is based on movement rather than time. Duck into a town and the clock happily pauses until you leave again and then resumes. And the list of numbers generated for combat must be different than those generated for other purposes, because you can't avoid the encounter by, say, casting a spell to force it to use the next set of numbers for a different purpose. You're going to face those 3 ogres, and that's that--unless you want to save and shut down the machine. There isn't a lot of reason to avoid any one specific encounter anyway, but I thought it was amusing how futile it is to even try.
             
Multi-level dungeons, where you cannot rest or save for long periods, are hard to survive without grinding.
         
You don't want to avoid encounters anyway because you need the experience. This is an extremely grindy game. I'm aware that some party combinations--four fighters?--might lessen the amount of grind early in the game, but overall it's clearly designed with grinding in mind. The manual even tells you to go grind (or, in its words, "power-up by battling") in strategic locations. You not only need grinding for leveling but also for gold, as each new town offers more expensive weapons, armor, and spells. Easily half the time I've spent on this game so far has been spent grinding.
          
The manual makes it clear that grinding is expected.
         
Leveling up happens immediately after the battle in which you cross the threshold, and like Wizardry, you get boosts in a random selection of attributes. The frequency of leveling has thus far been satisfying enough.
         
My thief levels up at the end of combat.
         
That leaves the game's plot, which has been distressingly linear for this session, at least. What looks like a relatively open world map artificially channels the player through the use of terrain. At the beginning, the player can't leave a small strip of land between the castle and the temple being occupied by Garland. Finishing the first mission is a simple matter of entering the temple and finding Garland in the first room. He attacks alone and dies quickly; the random monsters roaming throughout the temple are harder than him.
       
Battling the first "boss" enemy.
        
The princess is freed and returns to the castle, and one of the nice things about the game is that NPC dialogue in the castle and nearby town changes to reflect her rescue. The king and queen now offer thanks, and other NPCs who had lines about the princess have substitutes instead. Even in its later editions, Ultima didn't often make such concessions to the changing game world, and it's one of the several small signs that more care and craft went into Final Fantasy than the typical RPG of the 1980s.
 
In gratitude for her rescue, the princess gives the party a lute. The king has a bridge built from the land you've been able to explore to the main continent, extending the party's range. He also tells the party to "make the ORBS shine again," which is another clue as to the developing plot. As the party crosses the bridge, the title screen finally appears, suggesting that the game so far has been a prologue. A few text windows add here that the ORBS used to shine with light 2,000 years ago.
            
Everyone in the area has different dialogue once you've rescued the princess.
            
The party next encounters a witch named Matoya living in a cave to the north. She demands the return of her crystal. If you talk to one of her magically animated brooms, you get a secret key combination that brings up a map of the world with the party's location and the locations of places to visit clearly annotated.
           
The game world. You start north of the inner sea on the southern continent.
        
Moving on, the city of Pravoka has been invaded by pirates. If the party wins a single battle against the pirates, the pirate captain (Bikke) capitulates and gives the party his ship. This opens up the game world a little. The problem is that the ship can only embark and disembark at docks, and the dock to which it is attached is on the continent's inner sea. There are only a few places to land from here. A variety of sea monsters attack the ship, but frankly I wonder why we bother to stop and fight some of them. You can imagine that that the "sahags" are clambering aboard the ship and engaging us in melee combat, but why are we fighting sharks?
          
This game likes to include Dungeons and Dragons enemies but with skipped letters. I suppose "sahags" are sahuagins, but they could also be seahags.
         
West along the sea, the party comes to Elfland, another structure with a castle and town. The castle was sacked a few years ago by someone named Astos, who put their prince in a magical slumber. Only some herb from Matoya will awaken him. While searching for Matoya's crystal, I come across a castle where the king says that Astos betrayed him. He asks me to get his crown from the Cave of Marsh.
        
We find our ship waiting in Pravoka's port.
          
The Cave is easily the hardest part of the game so far. A three-level dungeon, it is full of tough random encounters, including plenty of enemies that can poison the party, for which we need to keep a large stock of curing potions. I had to grind, try, grind, and try again for several hours before I was able to survive the journey to the third level, the boss combat against several wizards (who are guarding the crown), and the journey back.  
          
A difficult combat that I had trouble winning with all my characters alive.
       
Returning the crown to the mysterious king, we find that he has tricked us and that he's Astos. His triumph is short-lived, and soon the party has left the castle, Matoya's crystal in our hands, Astos's body on the floor. Thus begins a lot of backtracking. We have to circle back through Elfland to the ship, take the ship to Pravoka, then walk to Matoya's cave. Matoya takes the crystal and gratefully gives us the herb for the prince.
             
The prince needs an herb. It has a different connotation if you say it that way.
           
We thus reverse our travel and go all the way back to Elfland. The prince is awakened, and he gives the party the mystic key.
           
I feel like we could have saved ourselves a lot of time by taking it from him while he was sleeping.
          
I was wondering when I'd finally get this. Throughout the game so far--at both castles, the temple, and the Cave of Marsh--there have been multiple locked doors that require this mystic key. Now that I have it, I have to backtrack through just about every location I've visited so far. It's mostly worth it, as some of the items I find are powerful weapons and armor, but it's still a lot of time.
            
The runesword is a decent weapon.
          
All the way back at the original castle, the key opens a door to a treasure chest that contains TNT, which turns out to be prized by the king of the dwarves, who is building a channel between the inner sea and outer. Once we deliver the TNT to him, he finishes the channel and now the ship can sail just about anywhere, finally opening up the world. I suspect I'll still continue to find plot linearity, but we'll see. 
           
Now we can get around.
          
I'm used to console games making things easy for the player and not requiring the type of mapping and note-taking that a computer RPG often requires. This game is a little different; if you don't take some notes, you'll swiftly lose track of who wants what object and why. The manual tries to instill a note-taking ethos in the player by suggesting bullet points at the end of each city. That's fine for me, in 2020, at the computer, but I don't know how I would have felt about it in 1990 on the couch. To the extent that console RPGs have any appeal to me, it's that I can play them somewhat mindlessly from a semi-recumbent (or, let's face it, sometimes fully recumbent) position. If I reach for an end table, it's going to be at most for a potato chip or bottle of soda. 
        
I haven't spoken much about the graphics. I like the monster graphics. As for the protagonists, they are what they are. As usual, they look like children. The manual is clearly written for children. There's something childish about all RPGs, perhaps all video games, but I wish that Japanese RPGs didn't have to emphasize it so much. You have to imagine that it limited their markets. Kids may not mind role-playing kids but probably also don't mind role-playing adults. Adults, meanwhile, probably don't want to role-play kids. I hear a lot from readers who had Nintendos in the 1980s when they were kids and still look upon the games fondly. I don't think I've heard from a single person who was an adult in the 1980s and started on the Nintendo. This is not true, of course, about personal computers.
               
The manual not only walks you through the first part of the game step-by-step, but it also provides a summary of the walkthrough.

             


But beyond the graphics, there's an intriguing complexity to this one, and it helps me understand why the series became so popular. There's still a lot to say about the influence of the game and the people who made it, so we'll have a second entry after I've won The Legacy and Ultima VII.

        
Time so far: 7 hours
        

226 comments:

  1. When I saw that you had decided to cover this game, I was honestly afraid. You thrashed Dragon Warrior, a game that I have happy memories of, and I wasn't sure how you would take this one. It is certainly a LOT better than Dragon Warrior in many respects, but how much of my opinion was rose-colored?

    In any event, I am relieved that you enjoyed it as much as you did. The game isn't completely linear and there is at least one major optional quest that you already alluded to, but it is all very grind-y. I do recall however the feeling of freedom when you unlock different vehicles over the course of the game and the final one (which I will not spoil) is one of my favorite sequences.

    As you will (may?) discover, Final Fantasy is the series that tries very hard to innovate each time and Dragon Warrior is the series that tries to refine each time. FF2 (not released in the US) made some poor choices and I think is a weaker sequel, but after that they get better if a bit "cinematic" rather than let you role play. Dragon Warrior/Quest will incorporate a lot of Final Fantasy's play style in its next few games.

    I am excited to see how this game unfolds for you. I hope your readers do not spoil you too much!

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    1. Ah, about the Thief. In FF1 that class was just essentially an agile warrior. I believe that when he's in your party, some RNG goes better such as running away from battles. Later FF games will give the Thief a "steal" skill where you can get powerful weapons and armor off of certain beasties and bosses, but that was not in this original.

      If you decide to start over, I agree that a black or red mage in the party would be useful. Like in D&D, magic users get powerful by the end of the game. You will never have enough spell slots that you can bulldoze through, but I'm not sure that you have many mass-damage attacks in this game absent a black/red mage.

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    2. stepped pyramidsJune 19, 2020 at 1:41 AM

      The Thief was done dirty by bugs in two ways. First, there's a complicated glitch in how running away is implemented that makes the Thief's high Luck less useful. Second, the Thief's weaker weapon selection was supposed to be counterbalanced by a higher critical hit rate, but the way critical hit rates are implemented is broken. The Nunchaku and Rapier, for instance, are supposed to have twice the crit rate of the Fighter's Broadsword, but they both instead have a lower crit rate (the Nunchaku having the lowest in the game!).

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    3. It sounds like he's too far to start over, but it is too bad that he's missing a black/red mage. From my memories of the game managing those attack spells were a big part of the experience. It's not quite as bad, because the combat system more simple, but it's like playing through a Gold Box game without Fireball. It sounds like it will probabaly make the game even longer/grindier than it needed to be.

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    4. You're okay with your current party. The important thing is you've got a white mage and a warrior - you'd be in for a world of hurt without a white mage, and the warrior is hands-down the best tank class.

      The thief sucks now, but he'll become better later on. Not great, but good enough. Black belts are decent glass cannons. Black magic is fun but not really necessary in FF1, especially in the NES version where spellpower is so limited.

      In the event you ever feel like replaying, I'd advise you that the red mage is much better than you might think. Wizardry bishops suck; I never use them except as sideliners for identifying expensive stuff. But red mages can cast most of the black magic you might care about, their low-level white magic is useful to the end of the game, and their melee output isn't half bad either. You might want a black mage still for access to the full array of black magic, but be warned that once the spellpower runs out they are totally useless.

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    5. Did I really "thrash" Dragon Warrior? I think I just pointed out that you spend the vast majority of the game grinding, which is hardly debatable.

      I appreciate the party advice, but I'm not going to lose 7 hours by starting over. We'll just pretend my party hates black magic and would never travel with someone capable of casting it.

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    6. You did "thrash" the first Dragon Quest game, but in a way most commenters and critics agree with. There isn't much there, and even by the standards of a year later (1987 instead of 1986) the game is little more than a glorified tech demo. Square exploits that quite well in this game - the entire plot of DQ1 is taken care of in FF1 before you even get the title screen, which is one of the most blatant "take that" situations I have ever seen.

      There was another insult toward Enix in this game, but that got added in translation. In the elf town, there's a tombstone that reads "Here Lies Link" - in the original Japanese release, and all later rereleases. This, of course, is a reference to the Legend Of Zelda series, the first game of which was released in Japan in 1986 to huge success.

      In the US NES release, this tombstone reads "Here Lies Erdrick". Erdrick, of course, is the legendary hero who's legacy you are following in the first Dragon Quest game.

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    7. "You thrashed Dragon Warrior, a game that I have happy memories of"

      You hurt someone's feelings by giving an honest opinion instead of considering how those words would do harm to others. A quite common reaction these days.

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    8. Ha! I hope Chet knows me well enough by now that he didn't take it that way. I loved his review of "Dragon Warrior": it was accurate and brutal and beautiful. I love Chet's perspective on these games that I enjoyed as a kid.

      My trepidation for Final Fantasy (and Ultima 7 and so many others that I have fond memories of) is that I *want* him to like them, because I liked them. I want to have that opinion validated, in a way. And yet, it is Chet's honesty and perspective (a *very* unique perspective, given how many games he's played now) that makes even a negative review a joy to read.

      So apologies if I used a stronger word than I had intended, but keep thrashing away as games deserve it. We're here for the good and the bad.

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  2. Where you see the character sprites as childish, I see them as expressive. Japanese developers understood how to make character icons that look expressive and lively in ways western developers never did. When you're constrained in such a small number of pixels with such a limited color palette, the characters are super-deformed or chibi out of necessity. The characters have facial expressions. They look determined in battle. They take a knee and look worried when they're low on health. They splay out on the ground when they're defeated. They look triumphant in victory. You don't need an icon or a label to let you know your character's in trouble, you can tell they are by looking at the character sprite. When you look at contemporary computer RPGs, the character sprites were purely iconographic. They're like digital equivalents of paper chit in a tabletop game. Even the higher-resolution portraits outside of combat were usually completely static.

    Final Fantasy has its shortcomings (I can't stand playing the first one for how grindy it is) but to me the art is a thousand times more expressive and charming than any RPG coming out of North America or Europe at the time. The characters are more than static icons with a collection of stats, you can actually imagine them having personalities. I had an NES as a kid but I never had any RPGs for it, and I didn't get to play them until years later. When I went back and played the old FF games as a late teen and early adult, they never felt childish to me, I saw the art as a necessary compromise to make characters expressive in an extremely limited visual medium. As the series progresses and the characters are written with individual personalities and given more flourishes in the animation, it really turns into an under-appreciated art form. That they were able to make players feel emotions with almost microscopically subtle pixel changes in a 16x16 character sprite is kind of a miracle.

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    1. stepped pyramidsJune 19, 2020 at 1:56 AM

      Yeah, chibi/SD art isn't necessarily meant to depict literal children, and Japanese aesthetics are generally more accepting of "childish" or cute iconography in products meant for adults than in America. If you look at Amano's concept art for the game (linked below) the characters are definitely intended to be adults (young adults, true, but old enough to be warriors). The audience they were going for in Japan was teenagers and adults.

      (Note: may contain spoilers!) https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Final_Fantasy_concept_art

      As for the US, I always got the impression that they were trying to attract a somewhat older audience for this unusually complex Nintendo game. There was a huge in-depth walkthrough in Nintendo Power that had art in kind of a Conan-esque swords-and-sorcery mode. The manual is written at a very basic level because the vast majority of their audience had never played or possibly even heard of an RPG.

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    2. The FF1 manual is incredible. I also didn't see it until I could download it in PDF form years and years later, and I was stunned at how thorough and well-laid out it is. It's carefully designed to teach someone who has no familiarity with the concept how to play an RPG, as opposed to PC RPG manuals at the time, which were kind of a combination of lore dump and reference manual. Look at the manuals for the gold box games, you can barely tell that they're even for computer games and not just D&D sourcebooks. The Ultima manuals are frustrating diagetic lore books full of cryptic clues and it's difficult to tell what's actually relevant to the game. There are outliers, the manuals for the Starflight games are quite good, but I feel like the prevailing attitude was "making players have to puzzle out the mechanics is half the fun", and the Final Fantasy manual is a refreshing counterpoint

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    3. I really don't like chibi artstyles, find it offputting. Ultima's simple iconographic stickmen are more appealing to me even if they're less expressive.

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    4. I appreciate your perspectives, and thank you for providing some detailed analysis for those readers who agree. I simply don't see what you see in the various "expressions," and I of course agree with JarlFrank. I'd rather have "blanks" on whom I could ascribe any personality than expressive personalities that strike me as childish or silly.

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    5. I've never played a FF game, but I wanted to say how the manual excerps really struck me as something really outstanding.
      The pages are colourful, helpful, fancy but organised, they emphasise that you should be having FUN while playing.

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    6. I haven't played the original NES game, only the GBA remake, and at least for that version I agree that the sprites are expressive. I don't agree though that because of the limited number of pixels, the designers were forced to use a certain ("childish" ) style. Just look at the original Lemmings game: incredible small sprites but even more incredible expressions. You can see their hair (er... fur) move as they walk, you can see their fear when you tell them to explode... To me the "childish" look is a design choice like any other, not a consequence of hardware limitations. I'm not a fan of the style, but I do like the FF games. Nice to see that Chet seems to like it too.

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    7. If you wanna go for expressive faces with a low resolution and color palette, Chet already played a game that kinda achieves that with having characters represented as busts: Moebius The Orb of Celestial Harmony. A modern game that uses busts as an artistic style is Battle Brothers.

      Wanting bigger heads doesn't necessitate chibi style.

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    8. Interestingly enough, the character sprites for the upgraded classes are significantly less cartoonish/chibi-style. This to me indicates that that the characters are literally young teenagers who have grown up into adults once they get their prestige class.

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    9. I suppose they could have gone with head/shoulders approach of Battle Brothers.

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    10. stepped pyramidsJune 20, 2020 at 4:47 PM

      A head-and-shoulders portrait can't walk forward and swing a sword or cast a spell at the enemy. Also, looking at Moebius, I find it difficult to see how you would communicate the different jobs visually with the limited number of pixels available in a NES sprite. You'd end up with four barely differentiated faces. Battle Brothers has many more pixels to work with (and personally I find its drab board-game aesthetic deeply unappealing).

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    11. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. The Battle Brothers style is vastly more appealing to me than Japanese chibi style, and it doesn't have any animations other than the pieces of the board moving. Attacks are conveyed with a weapon swing sound, whoosh for a miss and splat for a hit, as well as little decals like blood splatters. That's enough to convey the action, and it's way faster than a detailed animation. In a game with a lot of battles, minimalist animations are better because they're quicker. A cool animation may look interesting the first couple of times, but by the hundredth battle you wish you could skip them.

      I don't get the issue with lack of differentiation, the FF sprites are also mainly differentiated by their headgear, aren't they? Give the fighter a helmet, the thief a cloak, the wizard a hat and white beard, make the cleric female... easy.

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    12. Displaying the characters merely as head-and-shoulders would be unsuitable for Final Fantasy. Could you imagine the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI if the characters were merely shown as busts? Heck, could you imagine a real opera where you see the actors only from the shoulders up? This isn't a tabletop war game.

      Character sprites like in the Ultima series also wouldn't work for this purpose, as they have no facial expressions.

      However, it's true that it is possible to create character sprites at 16x16 pixels (the size of the the characters on FF1's map screen) and 16x24 pixels (the size of the characters in the battle screen) with visible faces, yet with bodies more like those of adults. Here's a webpage of all the FF1 character sprites of the standard classes (chibi) and the upgraded classes (non-chibi), with both the map and the battle sprites: http://www.videogamesprites.net/FinalFantasy1/Party/

      The chibi characters seem more unique and charming to me, but the non-chibi versions also have faces that are large enough for the same facial expressions as the chibi characters.

      However, later 2D FFs use only chibi representations, even though they have more pixels to work with, up to and including Final Fantasy VI. This indicates to me that the chibi characters in FF1 were more popular than the upgraded class sprites.

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  3. Of Final Fantasy games on the NES, Final Fantasy III is the best one. It isn't any less linear, and of course it's still too cute/anime/"childish" for your liking, but the RPG mechanics are vastly overhauled and made more distinct from the American influences you listed. Unfortunately, it didn't come out in America until it was remade for the Nintendo DS in 2006.

    Final Fantasy II is infamously bad, despite having a classless system similar to the Elder Scrolls where each weapon class and individual spell is governed by a skill which can be raised by practice. Despite being light-years ahead of its time, it resulted in a very poorly balanced and unsatisfying game. It also has an Ultima-like keyword system, as best as can be done on a system that doesn't allow typing.

    Final Fantasy's mechanics often deviate from what is stated or what seems obvious, largely as a result of bugs. You were right not to pick a thief, as they are pretty useless. Among other things, thieves are supposed to have a higher critical hit rate and make fleeing from combat easier, neither of which are true in the NES release. This may not be the case for the original Famicom version, but I couldn't find any information either way.

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    1. stepped pyramidsJune 19, 2020 at 2:10 AM

      The protagonists in III are actually children, even. I agree that it's probably better than the first game, but the story is pretty nonsensical and the final dungeon is excessively long with no way to save. You can definitely feel their ambitions straining against the hardware. IV and V to a degree feel like follow-up attempts to achieve those ambitions on better hardware -- IV in terms of storyline and drama, and V in terms of mechanics (the job system).

      After many years I've concluded that the biggest problem with Final Fantasy II isn't its weird character growth system, which can be gamed in interesting ways. The game is just poorly designed and written overall. The dungeons are awful and repetitive and waste your time. It has a decent amount of obnoxious backtracking. The plot is boring, sparse, and depressing. Most of the world has already been conquered or destroyed by the time you start, and the world becomes even smaller and less interesting over time. By the time you get the airship, there is literally only one thing to do with it.

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    2. FFII's biggest sin is the trap rooms. They decided to make dungeons have a bunch of extra doors that lead to a small room, with you spawned in the middle which is a dead end, and the encounter rate is cranked up to max.

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  4. stepped pyramidsJune 19, 2020 at 1:27 AM

    I'm happy to see this. As a fan of this game (and the series overall) I agree with pretty much all of your analysis, both positive and negative. The game is too grind-heavy and encounters too frequent, both of which remained issues with JRPGs for many years. There's also a number of bugs in the implementation of the game's battle system, although a lot of them aren't super obvious unless you're looking for them (I never noticed them as a kid).

    The slot-based magic system works well and I wish they'd kept it in the remakes. Later versions of the game fix most of the bugs, which tends to make the game easier (most of the bugs are not in the player's favor), and then the introduction of a magic point system removes another tactical layer.

    Since Chet doesn't generally listen to or comment much on in-game music, I'll mention that this game is pretty notable in that regard. The composer, Nobuo Uematsu, chose a classical sound and did a good job of squeezing an orchestral sound out of the very primitive NES sound hardware. His work was better served by later systems, of course, but a number of themes from this game have become series staples, including the Prelude/Crystal Theme, the Prologue, and the Victory Fanfare (which is well-known enough that I've known people who never played an FF game who recognized it). Much of the later development in JRPG music is either imitating Uematsu's work or consciously innovating away from it.

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    1. What's always struck me about the soundtrack is how effective it is in conveying a sense of a world on the brink of ruin. The slow tempo and the "string" waveform used as the lead in most of the music, combined with the gray palette used for most of the structures—especially the castles—really sets a somber tone from the game that makes the goal feel really important to the player. It feels very different in tone from Dragon Quest, which has always had pretty upbeat music and bright colors that make it feel comparatively cutesy.

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    2. We can't expect Chet to keep in-game music turned on if the constant repetition of the tracks annoys him, as we're guests on his free (and excellent) blog, but especially in the case of the Final Fantasy series, there could be a lot of interesting insights said about the music.

      The soundtracks of FF VI and VII are incredible masterpieces and play an essential role in creating the atmosphere and emotional impact of these games. FF VI's music is influenced from a very wide range of different musical genres. FF VII without the melancholy music wouldn't be the same.

      There's probably a whole book that could be written about FF's music alone, and Chet seems to be actually quite knowledgeable in several music genres.

      It would be fun to read a bit more thorough analysis of the music in cases like Final Fantasy.

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  5. Since you're using a Black Belt (more commonly called a "Monk" in later entries and rereleases), there's an obtuse mechanic that you're going to want to be aware of, though you may have already figured it out.

    Rdhvczrag bireevqrf gur punenpgre'f onfr fgng, engure guna nqqvat gb vg. Sbe zbfg pynffrf (zber bsgra xabja nf "wbof" va guvf frevrf), guvf vf abg n ceboyrz, ohg jung znxrf gur Oynpx Oryg fcrpvny vf gung ur unf vaureragyl uvture fgngf va nggnpx naq qrsrafr, fb zbfg sbezf bs jrncbaf naq nezbe znxr uvz JRNXRE.

    Not having Black Magic is worse than it otherwise would be due to an equipment bug, although you can complete the game without it:

    Gurer ner znal jrncbaf va guvf tnzr gung ner fhccbfrq gb vasyvpg rkgen qnzntr ba pregnva glcrf bs perngherf - gur ehar fjbeq arne gur raq bs gur hcqngr vf bar bs gurz, juvpu fubhyq qb obahf qnzntr gb fcryy-pnfgvat rarzvrf. Gur oht vf gung guvf qbrf abg jbex, naq bayl gur nggnpx cbjre bs gur jrncba vf hfrq sbe qnzntr.

    Fcryyf unir n fvzvyne zrpunavp, jurer qvssrerag ryrzragf qb zber qnzntr gb pregnva xvaqf bs perngherf - guvf vf jul gurer vf sver, vpr, naq yvtugavat zntvp. Gur vzcbegnag guvat vf gung GURFR JBEX.


    One of the reasons this game is as grindy as it is comes from this bug - it makes the game harder than intended, and requires players to compensate for it with raw levels.


    A few other thoughts:

    As mentioned, the sprite design is chibi in order to get an actual face out of the tiny sprites. This game doesn't do so much with it as later titles, but later ones (especially in the SNES era) get an amazing amount of expression by chaining canned animations.

    The original concept art (which does not appear in the manual for the US release) that I can find in Japanese box art and the one manual (for the MSX version) looks super bizarre looking because Yoshitaka Amano has some strange aesthetics, shows the characters as clearly (assuming that you're familiar enough with the anime style to read it) being adults.

    Much of what you're describing as "childish" in the manual is (as far as I can tell) seems to be the very simple language and hand-holding - which appears to have been done as much for "There are almost no RPGs on the US console market, and I assume that computers are as rare in American homes as in Japanese, so nobody's going to understand any of this with a lot of help" reasons (notably, the expansive walkthrough does not appear in the only Japanese manual I can find) as it was for the way Nintendo Of America's censorship policies basically killed off teen and adult interest in consoles in the US.

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    1. Oh, that's interesting about the monk; I'd been thinking that only applied to the upgraded job. Not that much more obtuse than the rest of the game, since gur tnzr qbrf rkcrpg lbh gb xrrc purpxvat lbhe fgnghf fperra gb frr gur rssrpg bs arj jrncbaf ba lbhe fgngf, fb na bofreinag cynlre jbhyq cebonoyl unir abgvprq gung zbfg rdhvczrag jnf unezvat gur zbax'f fgngf cerggl dhvpxyl. Bar bs gur yrff ersvarq nfcrpgf bs guvf tnzr'f vagresnpr, nqzvggrqyl.

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    2. It's too bad that Nintendo of America perpetuated such a cycle, then. If you don't design games for adults, adults won't play, which means you don't design games for adults.

      "As mentioned, the sprite design is chibi in order to get an actual face out of the tiny sprites. This game doesn't do so much with it as later titles, but later ones (especially in the SNES era) get an amazing amount of expression by chaining canned animations." I'm still not convinced that it's impossible to show expressive features on mature faces. I've seen other games do it.

      "Much of what you're describing as "childish" in the manual is (as far as I can tell) seems to be the very simple language and hand-holding." Is there any way that 'simple language and hand-holding' could be construed as something other than "childish"?

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    3. I just Googled the original concept art, and I agree that these are clearly adult protagonists. Not only adult, but interesting, with armors and weapons a bit different from western conceptions of those items in the fantasy genre. I would have preferred this aesthetic in the final game.

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    4. "Is there any way that 'simple language and hand-holding' could be construed as something other than "childish"?"

      As other commenters have pointed out, the manual is just explaining what an RPG is to a player base that, for the most part, has not had very many RPGs to pick from. Even as a modern player who has played and beaten plenty of RPGs for both console and computer, I still hate the old D&D manual style of explaining the entire tabletop game in two or three pages, then giving a list of keyboard commands.

      If the game had tried to include the detail you see in the concept art, it would have either been an unreadable mess like Wizardry's CGA "art," or reduced to inscrutable stick figures like Ultimas 1 through 5. Sure, the NES could have detailed characters with semi-realistic proportions, but they tended to be ugly as sin like Metal Gear Solid.

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    5. Oof. I meant Metal Gear, not Metal Gear Solid. Two different games on different platforms, years apart. I feel silly for mixing those up.

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    6. You won't catch me arguing that western RPGs had great manuals. I just think there must have been an in-between. I think the algebra textbook on my desk is a bit obtuse, too, but that doesn't mean I want to replace it with a coloring book titled "My Very First Equation!

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    7. I think he ‘learn by doing’ vs the “learn by reading’ approaches are a source of a lot of the early differences between console and computer RPGs. And I think the console RPGs got it closer to ‘right’.

      I was really glad when in-game tutorials became the norm - though that’s not to say that all of them are done well. Introduce me to things in a sensible order, but then can you stop looking over my shoulder thanks, I’m good.

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    8. Fully agreed. Tutorials are the best thing about modern RPGs. I rarely find myself missing physical manuals except when they were done particularly artfully, as with most Ultima games.

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    9. Nintendo of America didn't have a very high opinion of, well, Americans for several years during the NES era. This comes off pretty strongly in how much guidance is given in the manual for even moderately complex games and there are several stories of games that were not released in the West because they were "too hard" or "too complicated". Nintendo likely thought that trying to sell an RPG in America without handholding was a fool's errand. Eventually they reassessed the market and realized they were making some dumb sweeping generalizations, but FF is from that period.

      The intent of the developers in terms of guidance level and the maturity of that guidance is probably best understood by reading the Japanese manual, which unfortunately neither you nor I have the language skills to tackle.

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    10. Regarding to handholding manuals for Western Nintendo releases, I remember the "Secret of Mana"
      Game on the SNES had the official walkthrough/game book in the box

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    11. @Jazerus Pretty much all examples of games being held back from the American market for being "too hard" are myths. In general the opposite is the case - a huge number of games were made more difficult when sent over here to make them impossible to beat during a rental period so you would have to buy them (renting was and is effectively illegal in Japan). Games that didn't get a US release were withheld either because of running afoul of NoA's draconian censorship policies (games like Sweet Home would never have been able to pass muster), or else because the publishers did not think that sales would be high enough to cover the cost of translation (as with Final Fantasy II/III/V and Dragon Quest V-VII).

      The hand-holding was added to the US manuals by the publishers, not NoA itself, and was done so entirely because the market for RPGs was so very thin on US consoles (and the developers assumed that home computers were effectively nonexistant, so very few Americans would be familiar with the computer versions).

      Compared to the simplicity of a Mario-type platformer or a Double Dragon-style beat-em-up, an RPG like Final Fantasy was a huge step up, and the publishers had a perfectly reasonable fear that the sheer strangeness would turn gamers off.

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    12. The US version of FF4 (next US release after FF1, where it was called FF2) was notoriously dumbed down respect to the Japanese version.

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  6. I mostly agree with Matt Bluelander's comments above, but I also would like to push back against your assertions without any evidence:

    Kids may not mind role-playing kids but probably also don't mind role-playing adults. Adults, meanwhile, probably don't want to role-play kids.

    Why? One of my favorite RPGs is Costume Quest where you are a bunch of kids doing RPG stuff on Halloween, but when you enter battle, you become a real-life version of your costume. It's ridiculous and fun. I'm 48 years old, but I don't seem to share your disdain of imagining that I'm younger than I am.

    That said, I would certainly agree that the preponderance of 16-18 year old saviors of the world (particularly in Japanese games) is, shall we say, statistically unlikely.

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    1. stepped pyramidsJune 19, 2020 at 2:22 AM

      I've mentioned this here before, but teen saviors of the world are pretty well established in Western literature. Lots of classic fairy tale heroes are teenagers, often setting out on their quest the moment they reach adulthood. King Arthur generally starts his battles as a teenager in the various versions. And of course there's real world examples like Joan of Arc.

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    2. Not to mention Hobbits, which while not technically children, are presented as more innocent and childlike in nature. In fact, one might say the entire canon of modern western fantasy literature and RPGs started with The Hobbit, a book with a childlike hero written for children. (Which is great. I love The Hobbit. It holds up better than Lord of the Rings.)

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    3. Indeed. Not all fantasy heroes are wise sages, grizzled cutthroats or knights in shining armor.

      Regardless of opinions on Harry Potter, it has huge appeal across all ages despite literally being set in a school full of teenagers. And regardless of whether or not hobbits should count as "children" for this debate, it's hard to imagine the bungling, pipe-smoking, food-loving Merry and Pippin as particularly heroic figures that would be worthy of role-playing.

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    4. I don't feel like your ability to cite a single game that you like with child protagonists refutes my point. But I agree that my point was made without evidence. We'd have to survey a population of people to know for sure.

      Let me say this, though: plenty of adults have Nintendos now, and play these old NES games, because they were exposed to them as children. But in the 1980s, do you imagine there were many adults who bought NESes for themselves? Are there any people in their 70s or 80s now who ever played a Nintendo game? If so, I certainly never hear from them.

      I recognize a distinction between child protagonists and teen protagonists, and I don't think it's fair to conflate them. The analogue is not Harry Potter but Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. But my issue is less about role-playing children than role-playing adults (as they clearly are here) who are DEPICTED as children.

      If you grew up with this aesthetic, I can't make you understand how off-putting it is to someone who didn't. I suppose the closest I can come is if you were watching a film or playing a game about adult heroes who were depicted graphically as adults, but for some reason they spoke "baby-talk." Like, at the beginning of the game, the noble knight arrives at the castle and approaches the regal king, and then the king opens his mouth and bawls, "The evil thortherer thays he's gonna thiege my cathle! Waaa! Waaa!" and the knight said, "Gaa gaa goo goo! I will help!" You'd be looking at the screen going, WTF is this?!? And if you told your reaction to a bunch of friends and they acted like it was perfectly normal and tried to justify it with various pseudo-historical and cultural explanations, you'd look at them like WTF is wrong with you!?

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    5. To wonder if other currently active discussion threads might be relevant here. ;-)

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    6. There were quite a few adults playing console games in the 80s. They were the early adopters, who even imported the systems from Japan years before they hit other countries. They had the money to do so.

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    7. Yeah, I knew plenty of people over 18 who bought the NES for their own use, from college students to a woman in her 40s or 50s.

      At the time I heard maybe one person criticize the NES as "kiddie", and that was in the context of thinking the Atari 2600 and arcade games were better and that games that let you continue after dying or had endings were childish.

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    8. (Note, I was previously Unknown)

      Chester,

      You make good points in your reply, and I was probably a bit too snarky in my initial comment. I'm certainly not saying that you should like a particular art style, I was just a bit put off by your asserting your taste as somehow universal, especially since I don't think we're all that far apart in age.

      As it happens, I didn't grow up with this aesthetic. My first console was an Atari 2600, true, but then I switched to computers full time until after I got out of college (TI 99/4A, C=64, Amiga, PC). I got an original Playstation (skipping the NES/SNES heyday), and have mostly kept up with the consoles since then, but I still consider myself primarily a PC gamer (of course, RPGs are my favorite genre on both console and PC).

      When I did go back and play older JRPGs, I was pushing 30, so it's not like the art style was something I grew up with (I also almost entirely missed anime). I just sort of thought "well, that's kinda weird" and then didn't think much more about it. It's certainly not my favorite art style, but I don't find it off-putting in any way.

      You're absolutely right that there is a distinction between a game like Costume Quest where the characters are literally children and games where adults are chibi-fied (and that children are definitely distinct from teens as heroes).

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    9. In talking about Japanese representations of children versus Western ones, it's worth noting that the West has a long cultural history of being *awful at writing adult stories for children*.

      The movie "Rebel Without a Cause" is historically important not just for introducing the world to James Dean and Natalie Wood, but because it's a movie for teenagers that doesn't talk down to them, arguably the first such movie ever made. Prior to that, the medium had "kids' movies" and "adult movies", and when teenagers were addressed they were either infantilised as "older children" or treated as full-grown men and women.

      That's true of literature too. With a very few exceptions (and most of them famous and successful precisely because they got this right), until relatively recently Western literature dealt with children and adults, and nothing in between.

      It was one of the reasons horror took off as a genre in film in the 70s - because Hollywood discovered they could sell low-budget films about sex and violence directly to teenagers. It's the reason for the 2000s-era YA boom that incorporated Twilight, the Hunger Games, Divergent etc.

      So you could view the wealth of Japanese protagonists not as evidence of a Japanese fixation on that particular age range, but rather as them being more comfortable with a natural and expansive market that the West has been awkward with over a long period.

      (Which isn't to say that Japan doesn't have an issue with fetishising childhood, though...)

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    10. Fun fact: the concept of "teenagers" doesn't exist in other cultures. There is no idea of some kind of middle ground between adult and child. This is because their languages lack the -teen suffix for the numbers 13-19. Usually they have some kind of initiation ceremony and then you're an adult, can own cows, are capable of entering into contracts and getting married, etc.

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    11. I hope you mean that it doesn't exist in SOME cultures. Because if you think it only does in US and Japanese culture, well, you'd be completely misguided.

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    12. @Harland, idk with the language thing, even if in German speaking language teenager is used nowadays but the old word for the same age group is "Jugendlicher". Btw age of consent/majority is here in Austria 14, internet is usually more interested in the sexual meaning of this, but it also means here you can legally enter contracts with 14.

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    13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Japanese idolize children and childhood. Of course they're gonna have a different idea of what RPG characters are going to be. Westerners want to grow up and be the hero. Japanese want to recapture the magic of being a kid.

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    1. PetrusOctavianusJune 19, 2020 at 3:50 AM

      Makes me wonder if Ray Bradbury is Big in Japan.

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    2. I don't know enough to know whether you're right or wrong, but I don't see this reflected in, say, Japanese cinema--at least, not live-action cinema. I often think about how differently I'd feel about Japanese RPGs if they adopted the aesthetic of Kurosawa films.

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    3. It's interesting how this childish chibi style was a consistent staple of JRPGs throughout the 90s, even though 80s anime wasn't particularly cutesy (plenty of 80s and 90s anime was relatively realistically drawn, and occasionally adult in nature with plenty of sex and violence). When graphics became more detailed, character portraits tended to look more like the common realistic anime style of the time, but for some reason character sprites on the map stayed chibi.

      There are some games on the Japanese PC 98 with absolutely gorgeous graphics.

      At least the first person Wizardry style games, like Shin Megami Tensei, don't have this style.

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    4. stepped pyramidsJune 20, 2020 at 5:03 PM

      Super-deformed style is a natural way for Japanese artists to depict small figures, because it has fewer details. It's as natural in that cultural context as Ultima's stick figures were in its own.

      The best evidence that it wasn't meant to convey a childish/youthful aesthetic in the Final Fantasy series is that the first 3D game, FF VII, uses a kind of 3D super-deformed style for the characters in the field/in-engine cutscenes (where polygons had to to be carefully budgeted) but a more realistic style in combat and prerendered cutscenes. Furthermore, FF VIII eliminates the super-deformed look entirely, despite the fact that its characters are younger than those in the previous game. (And I would argue that it was a premature decision; it was very difficult to render a legible face on a realistically-proportioned body on the PlayStation, and the failure to do so in FF VIII is the source of a popular meme about the game.)

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    5. Just checked out some screenshots, and FF 8 looks way more appealing to me than the earlier titles. I like the looks of early 3D and don't mind the lack of expression on the faces. Games aren't movies after all.

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  8. Chet,

    I notice you didn't complain about the console controls this time. Did you get around to trying JoyToKey?

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    1. Since FF1 has no real-time gameplay elements, I imagine playing with a keyboard isn't quite so irksome.

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    2. Also, the UI is considerably less annoying than Dragon Warrior. No more having to select different options from a menu to talk, open doors, search, etc. RPGs finally figured out the contextual action button! ��

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    3. I suppose my feelings about the controls are reflected in the slight disdain I evince for "simplicity." But mostly I agree with Matt. While several previous console RPGs have attempted to cram the complexity of a keyboard into four controller buttons, FF feels like it was designed from the outset with a limited controller in mind, and thus makes better use of it.

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  9. And no blog about Final Fantasy would be complete without mentioning 8-Bit Theatre, a really old webcomic that accurately depicts (and certainly in no way distorts, butchers, and parodies), the very plot of this game: http://www.nuklearpower.com/2001/07/25/episode-060-the-mystery-of-the-ladder-revealed/

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    1. Came here to mention this, it's hard to not see those sprites and immediately think of their 8-Bit Theatre personalities

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    2. Now I'm going to spend the rest of Chet's playthough imagining that his black belt keeps getting lost in linear corridors while screaming "I"M NOT GAY!"

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  10. Woohoo! At last, a Japanese role-playing game that you are enjoying!

    Of course, if we say "a turn-based and party-based role-playing game that you are enjoying", it is far less astonishing.

    I knew that Final Fantasy had enough elements that you could enjoy! I also knew that the best way to keep you away from something is to tell you "You should definitely try that!"

    I wonder if the original Japanese manual was a "spoiler-fest" like the American version. I saw too many game manuals that almost played the game instead of you.

    So, it is really Final Phantasie instead of Final Fantasy?

    !! BUG ALERT !! (not a spoiler, I hope)

    There are four spells that are completely bugged: LOCK, TMPR, SABR, and XFER. They do nothing when cast. Only one is white magic, anyway.

    There are some really minor bugs, too, but you will hardly notice them. You might complain that "something could have been done better", and someone could reply that "yes, it was supposed to, but it is bugged".

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    1. Here's what I assume to be an accurate transcription of the original manual. (I couldn't find a true scan; there's one on archive.org for the MSX version, but it seems somewhat different from this one; there's no spell listing in the MSX manual, at least.) It does not contain a walkthrough.

      In addition to the manual itself, Nintendo Power put out a special issue containing nothing but a complete walkthrough of this game. I'm pretty sure a huge swath of American gamers experienced the game by following that guide.

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    2. I'm pretty sure I ended up using that walkthrough when I was a kid.

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    3. "So, it is really Final Phantasie instead of Final Fantasy?" I floated the theory once that there was a direct relationship between the titles, but as we'll discuss next time, it seems not to be the case.

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    4. I couldn't find the original Japanese NES manual for Final Fantasy 1, but I found a "revised edition" as part of a package that contains both Final Fantasy I and II on archive.org:

      https://archive.org/details/FinalFantasy12ManualJPFCNES/page/n3/mode/2up

      It has an Amano artwork on the cover, but doesn't have any more illustrations inside. It doesn't seem to have a walkthrough like the American manual.

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  11. Quick, somebody get this man a rat's tail!

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  12. I think there's probably something to be said for trying to make a game as complicated as possible given the limitations of the medium. Sprites have to be big and cartoonist because it's meant to be seen on a television of any possible size and distance, for example, and with just directional input and a few buttons there's not much you can do mechanically either. I think it's interesting to see how people tried to replicate a very computer (or tabletop) oriented experience on something so limited. Consoles sometimes got ports of computer rpgs and they serve very well as examples of how completely awful it is to control them with a gamepad. Like, I struggle to imagine anyone actually playing through and beating Ultima 6 on the Super Nintendo. This is probably on the higher end of what was actually possible on a Nintendo, even though it is demonstrably much more simple and limited than what I'd call an enjoyable roleplaying experience.

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  13. (We do have to keep in mind that there are more than 40 untranslated games between 1982 and 1986 that might change my mind.)

    Darn it—way to throw down the gauntlet there!

    I have started replaying this myself (in Japanese) because of your Patreon post. Good excuse to re-experience it in a relatively fresh way.

    The marsh cave is when you would really start appreciating an important tactical aspect of the FF series, if you had access to black magic. Spoilered just in case you still want to experiment for yourself (and alluded to in another comment above), but znal rarzvrf unir ryrzragny nssvavgvrf juvpu pna or rkcybvgrq ol gur pbeerfcbaqvat nggnpx zntvp. Zbfg abgnoyl, gur "JVMNEQ"f (cvfpbqnrzbaf) thneqvat gur pebja ner ndhngvp zbafgref (orpnhfr gurl'er unys-svfu, boivbhfyl), naq fb gurl'er cnegvphyneyl ihyarenoyr gb yvtugavat. N fvatyr pnfg bs YVG2 unf n cerggl tbbq punapr bs jvcvat bhg gur jubyr tebhc. Xabjvat gb hfr SVER ba fyvzrf naq VPR ba vafrpgf pna uryc lbh trg guebhtu gur enaqbz onggyrf va gur fjnzc pnir zber rnfvyl nf jryy.

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  14. >(We do have to keep in mind that there are more than 40 untranslated games between 1982 and 1986 that might change my mind.)

    I don't think they would. Final Fantasy was always ahead of the curve, at least through FF7. If you looked at what most other studios were doing around the release of each FF, they were making derivatives of 5+ year old RPGs with little innovation, whereas the FF games were reinventing the system from the ground up each time. Sometimes this doesn't work (FF2) but when it does, it's great.

    In the US, in addition to the instruction manual, Nintendo Power sent subscribers a complete strategy guide for the game. I used this to play it.

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  15. Once you've finished the game I'd recommend a look at lc_sulla challenge runs of the game. I found them some pretty interesting reads.

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  16. The only thing I'd add is that you don't have to have a "heroic character" to be able to roleplay. Perhaps in crpgs but not necessarily in rpgs generally. There are a huge number of rgpgs out there beyond the generic heroic fantasy ones. Not every rpg game or campaign is about saving the world from the woozle of evilness :)

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    1. In CRPGs there are plenty of non-heroic ones, too. The recent Disco Elysium has you play an alcoholic cop. Planescape Torment has you play an immortal guy with memory loss who wants to find out who he is. Fallout New Vegas has you play a courier who got screwed over and is out for revenge. None of these are classic heroic characters. And some CRPGs allow you to pursue a villainous path, like playing a Sith in the KotoR games.

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  17. I wish that RPGs kept with this style of gameplay, which is basically they plop you down in the world, give you a vague quest and you have to figure it out all by yourself. By the 90s and 2000s, RPGs mostly became handholding affairs where they spoon feed you exactly what to do and also bog it down with a heavy, dramatic story.

    Though there has been a bit of a renaissance towards this style of gameplay recently with the Dark Souls games. But those are brutally difficult and all have the same tone of a dark, apocalyptic world. It'd be nice to get a new RPG that played similarly to the old school Ultimas, or the early Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest games.

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    1. Well, part of this is a correction to the problem of, "Where do I go, now?" It's a real problem, but I agree there's a bit of an overcorrection here. No one wants to be guilty of that old sin.

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  18. I'm pleasantly surprised to find you decided to play this. I figured that out of all the early console RPGs, the ones that you would most likely enjoy the most are this one, or the first Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System. You have experience with this one, so you know what it brings you, but Phantasy Star has first person dungeons that would have tickled your mapping desires.

    There's lots of advice already posted above me, so I don't have anything else to mention here. I'll say that you'll find that most console RPGs aren't about stepping into the role of the hero as having your heroes pre-defined for you. Even many of the ones that let you name your own characters are just letting you add your name to someone that already has a backstory.

    Anyways, I hope you continue to enjoy the game.

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    1. It was a weird chain. A commenter wrote an excellent guest post about the continuation of Wizardry in Japan. I wanted to publish it, but not without context, so I figured I'd offer it along with a review of the first Japanese Wizardry title that I could play.

      It turns out the first Japanese Wizardry title that I can play is Wizardry: The First Episode - Suffering of the Queen from 1991--for the Game Boy. I've never played a handheld RPG. Not just on my blog--ever. So I figure I'd better play the first handheld RPG first before I jump right to a 1991 Wizardry title. The first handheld RPG turns out to be The Final Fantasy Legend from 1989. I'm not going to play a spinoff of a series before playing the first game in the series.

      So here we are.

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    2. Kind of bizarre that the best known RPG of all time is a handheld RPG.

      I suspect you’ll play it eventually, and I will laugh when it appears on your blog.

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    3. If you're talking about Poké-obscenity-mon, aren't its "RPG" credentials a little debatable? It might have RPG elements, but I got the impression that the core gameplay is repetitive arena-style combat rather than an RPG-style quest. Also, do the little monsters have RPG-style equipment?

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    4. The Pokemon main series is RPG-style, but instead of your player character getting stronger through combat, you capture and train magical animals to do the fighting for you. Those animals have a full RPG lifecycle each with levels, spells, etc. and there is a collection mechanic to get stronger creatures. Whether or not that is an RPG by your definition is likely a question that can be answered another day.

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    5. Funnily enough, Final Fantasy Legend was not originally a Final Fantasy spinoff. In Japan, it was called Makai Toshi SaGa, and spawned its own SaGa franchise with like a dozen games across different sub-franchises. It has nothing to do with Final Fantasy 1, but IIRC was made by the guy who did Final Fantasy 2 and incorporated some concepts from that game, and was for some reason localized in America as Final Fantasy Legend. So, technically, it's not a spinoff and you could've jumped straight to it.

      As for Pokemon - yeah, I'm sorry to inform you they are most definitely RPGs. There is character development (not for the player character but for the monsters, who gain XP, level up and eventually evolve into more powerful forms), combat is fully governed by stats, and there is a variety of consumable items to be used (and, in all but the earliest games, a very limited equipment system in the form of held items). I don't really know what you mean by "repetitive arena fights", but it's not any more repetitive than any console-style RPG really, it's got towns and dungeons and NPCs, only instead of human party vs groups of monsters, the fights are mostly 1vs1 monster battles. You're gonna hate the games since, for once, the protagonists are actually supposed to be children, and it is primarily intended for kids, but their RPG credentials are pretty darn solid.

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    7. Pokémon does have complicated and deep RPG mechanics, but the issue from the perspective of this blog is that they are mainly only relevant in multiplayer. The Doubles format in particular is absolutely awash in possibility. This is the format used in the World Championship, and it was won in 2014 with a strategy revolving around a Pokémon generally regarded as filler.

      On the single player side, you don't need to worry about having a Pokémon with perfect IVs and a proper nature for its move set along with every effort point put into the one stat you want to emphasize. You can just do whatever you want and not worry too much assuming you at least pay some attention to type matchups. A side issue considering that Pokémon Red/Blue would hypothetically be the one being covered is that it has legitimate mechanical problems and oversights that would be fixed in subsequent games.

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    8. @dsparil Yeah, unfortunately you don't need a lot of the mechanics to complete the game - but you don't need a munchkin multiclass build to complete Neverwinter Nights, or minmax in Skyrim, and they're still considered RPGs. Some of it is for the best, frankly - breeding a Pokemon with perfect IVs and nature is a long and tedious process that can take dozens of hours, and then you have to level it up. Not very fun and better left to the hardcorest of the hardcore.

      I don't think there's any need for the Addict to play any of the games, though, as they're still one letter away from being CRPGs, and I don't think they've had much influence on any important CRPGs (I am aware of a couple of Pokemon-ish indies, but that's real far in the future).

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    9. I appreciate that you felt better about your comment, Alex. But let me emphasize anyway that I'm perfectly capable of disliking a game AND fairly analyzing its influence on the RPG genre. I would not deliberately let my personal reactions to a game's elements affect my interpretation of its legacy, if it has one. If I've minimized the enduring importance of any previous games that I've covered, I hope that commenters immediately set me straight.

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    10. @MpuMngwana I'm not saying Pokémon isn't an RPG, but that the full depth isn't anywhere close to evident in single player as it tends to be very breezy if you pay attention to type match ups. There's just a lot more complexity in multiplayer and Doubles especially. I started with Gen. 1 and pretty much got through the bulk game with just my starter and the Pidgey line unless I needed to swap out for a specific situation. Newer games at least give you many more moves and Pokémon. Gen. 1 Pokémon can have two or three times as many moves in later generations.

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    11. I think I played Final fantasy game on the Gameboy, but it had a different name here.
      that game was kinda a crossover of Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy, having tropes and plot points of both worlds?

      I liked it as child, but I'm not sure it holds up

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    12. That's Final Fantasy Adventure which was released in Europe as Mystic Quest. That is the first game in the Seiken Densetsu / Mana series. I do agree that it doesn't hold up well being an early GB game. I do like the GBA remake Sword of Mana although the class system is pretty screwy.

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    13. Yeah that was that.

      Funnily there was also a Mystic Quest for the SNES, which was a Final Fantasy light (which I also likes back then)

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    14. @Marc ST, I think you played "Final Fantasy Adventure", whose original title is "Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden" (roughly: "Sword of Mana: a Final Fantasy Side-Story"). You are almost right when you say it is a crossover: it is a spin-off of Final Fantasy and "Secret of Mana" is its sequel.

      On the other hand, the "Final Fantasy Legend" trilogy is completely unrelated to the "Final Fantasy" franchise. Its original Japanese title is simply "SaGa".

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    15. >A commenter wrote an excellent guest post about the continuation of Wizardry in Japan.

      I'm really looking forward to this. I worked a bit on some of the English fan translations of the Japanese wizardries...

      It's really interesting how the US side of the wizardries leaned in one direction from 6 on, and kinda petered out and the JP side just... exploded. I've always wondered why the old-school DRPG thing went so far (and keeps going) in Japan.

      It's also kind of fun how the Japanese side was interested in keeping the old-school gameplay, but polished the presentation so, so much. I always think of big presentation values being for flashy action games, but not in this case...

      I also look forward to coverage of the Final fantasy legend line. I'm not sure (kinda doubt) you'll like them, but they tried new and interesting things mechanically.

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    16. I think Pokemon's RPG credentials are pretty solid.

      Your set of monsters is your 'party', they level up, have a variety of different progression paths (though one aspect isn't really flagged in-game or in the documentation) and the combat is stats-based. There are the usual dungeons with fixed and random encounters, stores, towns, quests, NPCs etc.

      The divergence from more traditional RPGs is that the equipment/spell/action slots are all captured by the character's move list - You don't find a magic sword, or a scroll of fireball, you find consumables that teach your characters Rage or Fireblast (and different 'classes' can learn different moves). Games beyond the first generation do give characters a single item slot, in which they can hold an accessory, sometimes this is a stats boost, sometimes this is a quick-use consumable, and sometimes this will be something that impacts the character development.

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    17. Pokemon came out in 1996. Even discussing it seems premature although I am positive that Chet will make it there in time.

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    18. Oh for sure, I just think its funny that the best known RPG of all time happens to be on the GameBoy of all things.

      And as a result we have a movie in which Deadpool is the voice of mouse plushie that shoots lightning.

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    19. stepped pyramidsJune 20, 2020 at 4:34 PM

      Spiderweb Software's Geneforge is basically Pokemon with isometric tactical combat rather than Wizardry-style head-to-head. But that won't come until 2001.

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    20. If Final Fantasy is an RPG, then so is Pokemon. Definitely a JRPG rather than in the Western style, but it's definitely the same genre as Final Fantasy (or at least a subgenre thereof).

      In terms of Phantasy Star I - look, I love that game to death, and it was the first JRPG I finished. To give you an idea of where it sits on the spectrum, it's essentially the same core gameplay as Final Fantasy. Character development is a little lighter as there's no "prestige classes" or spell selection. There's just as much grind. But it does feature some navigation challenges that FF is missing, plus fairly intricate first-person dungeons that were graphically mind-blowing when it released in the context of the limitations of the Master System hardware.

      Phantasy Star II and III each do some genuinely different and unique things that are worth discussing, given infinite time to play them.

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    21. The first Pokemon game (like the first Final Fantasy game) both lean more to Western style than JRPG style, at least in my understanding of the terms. Neither of them have prewritten plots or pre-determined characters and both allow you to make your team basically however you want. And both of them have at least some degree of open-worldness (Not as much as Ultima but there is at least some option to how you do things in both games).

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    22. About character development. Compared to FF2(IV) there is pretty much nil character development in FF1 beyond naming the party. FF2 is where the series begins to explore divergent character personalities and backstories, FF3(VI) continues the trend with intricate backstories and more complex personalities.

      FF8 and beyond is where I feel the rails begin to come off in the series, over-investing so heavily in character development as to negatively impact the game experience. Later titles in the series seemed more like watching the game play itself at times with too many FMV's and instanced, linear events.

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  19. For what it's worth, your characters aren't literally children. The short arms and legs are a stylistic choice to allow them to create detailed 16x16 sprites that are still clearly legible from the couch. They have to be 16x16 for animation purposes - you'll notice that the unanimated enemy sprites are bigger and more realistic. I think it might help if you stopped assuming that console = kids = childish and therefore bad - it's, uh, a very 1980s PC enthusiast outlook that I don't think has stood the test of time very well. Final Fantasy is distinctly not leaning into being childish any more than Ultima or Wizardry, there's a lot of your personal preconceptions bleeding into your perception here. It is true that in a certain later era of JRPGs the protagonists were almost always teens but not this early!

    As far as taking notes goes, this game definitely does not want you play ultra-casually on the couch the way you describe - it's seeking to satisfy the same itch as a CRPG for people without PCs. It's worth noting that the Famicom platform in Japan was sort of a hybrid game console-PC that was marketed to adults as well as children; much of the childishness of English-language NES materials like the FF manual is an artifact of Nintendo's marketing strategy in the US, not the intent of the developers as such. The US hybrid market was considered to be already locked up by the C64 so Nintendo didn't even try to compete on that level.

    One last thing, about the grind...yeah, this game is pretty grindy. I think you have it worse because you don't have a black mage though - judicious use of black magic helps you be able to go through dungeons at more appropriate levels.

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    1. I realize they're not literally children. Six-year-olds would not be capable of wearing plate armor and fighting werewolves. But I would need to hear a lot more arguments to convince me that childish DEPICTIONS of the protagonists was the only way to go given hardware limitations. No law said that the developers had to depict entire bodies (as opposed to just faces), or that the bodies couldn't be adult but squat. Meanwhile, we have plenty of evidence of Japanese media infantilizing protagonists when there was no consideration of graphic limitations.

      I don't mean for a second to suggest that everyone should have the same reactions that I do to the graphics. If they're fine for you, great. All I can report on my blog is how I feel about them and how it affects my enjoyment of the gameplay. I'll stop doing that when I no longer feel that way, not in an artificial desire to make myself seem less dated.

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    2. I didn't mean to come off as harshly as I think I ended up doing. Of course you should be genuine - that's what makes this blog great.

      I suppose I just don't quite understand the reaction to the art style when you've tackled much stranger games with what seemed like more of an open mind because they were on PC. To me these sprites do not read as children and I am not sure they did to the creators, either; so saying that the developers could have depicted them in a more adult way is confusing because I don't think they intentionally depicted them in a child-like way. In comparison to the plate-wearing paladins of a CRPG they are, but CRPGs often have their own stylistic excess in the opposite direction.

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    3. >>> No law said that the developers had to depict entire bodies (as opposed to just faces)...

      Are you suggesting that you like the disembodied heads of Moebius and Windwalker better than the chibi characters of Final Fantasy 1??? That would be hilarious!

      (P.S. I realized which game portraits you were thinking about.)

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    4. Personally, I genuinely like the bust-style of Moebius better than the chibi style of early JRPGs, yes. They're not beautiful but they're less visually off-putting to me.

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    5. Yeah, Abacos, I was about to respond with similar incredulity. I found the Moebius heads extremely disconcerting. I honestly can't imagine anything worse.

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    6. The comparison to Moebius is perhaps not entirely fair: whether you like chibi or not, FF's graphics are well done (especially for its time). Moebius's graphics are just bad, even if you like the bust-style (personal tastes may differ, of course).

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  20. This game could've been so much more if most of the magical weapons weren't useless and the spells worked properly.

    As it is any weapon that is supposed to be uniquely more powerful against a particular enemy type (such as the Dragon Sword)...isn't. The weapons may be more powerful than others, but the bonuses don't work.

    A lot of the spells either do nothing or, in some cases, have the opposite effect.

    For example, the Black Mage spell TMPR is supposed to raise an ally's attack, but actually does nothing at all. LOK2 is supposed to make an enemy 20% easier to hit, but instead makes it 20% more difficult.

    Frustrating, but what remains is still a good game. It felt like an "epic" adventure when I was a kid, moreso than Dragon Warrior, but that's a matter of personal taste.

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    1. So it sounds like I can't trust relative sale prices of weapons to be an accurate gauge of the effectiveness of those weapons. I guess I'll have to change strategies.

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    2. The game came with, in addition to a manual that took you through the first portion of the game and listed what each of the spells that were available were supposed to do, also came with supplemental material such as a map of (at least half) of the world, something like a beastiary, maps of the first few dungeons, and a list of equipment complete with their stats and who can wear them. And the printed material only had a few errors in it!

      I'd say if someone was willing to make one for you, since it would have been included with the game anyways, then a list of weapons and armor would probably be a good idea.

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    3. I still have my original Final Fantasy strategy guide (Nintendo Power Issue 17). The art was fantastic, definitely helped flesh the game out a bit. You can find PDFs online now, of course, and it provides information on all the spells and equipment, though the software bugs weren't known then.

      I remember there was some sort of contest in Nintendo Power that required a Final Fantasy player to answer three questions that were answered close to or at the end-game. Three contestants were picked for cash prizes or a vacation, something like that.

      Nintendo and Squaresoft pushed this game hard and the promotion was apparently a success given the longevity of the series.

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    4. Whoops, forgot to link to the strategy guide if anyone is interested:

      https://archive.org/details/NESGameGuides/mode/2up

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    5. I totally sent in an entry for that NP contest. (Didn't win, of course.) I still know that two of the three questions were "Where can you find an inquisitive broom?" and "How much do LIF2 and NUKE cost?" (It annoyed me that that last question didn't specify whether they wanted the combined cost of the spells, or the cost of each one.)

      Nintendo was trying hard to push all RPGs throughout the 80s and 90s, since they were never as popular here as in Japan and they wanted to change that. They literally gave out free copies of the first Dragon Quest to all new Nintendo Power subscribers (like, a month after I renewed my subscription :-/ ). Even into the 90s they were trying strategies like playing up how HARDCORE and INTENSE The 7th Saga was, or bragging about how a minor boss in Earthbound was a literal smelly pile of vomit, or making the cute Moogle mascot of Final Fantasy VI into some kind of tough street-smart breakdancer.

      Really not sure how well any of it worked. I feel like the first really big American success with RPGs was when Final Fantasy VII came out on the PlayStation, with a bad but straightforward translation. But I don't know how the sales figures really looked offhand.

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    6. I know for Earthbound at least, the advertising was a big reason why the game sold horrifically over here. Whoever thought "This game stinks" was a good ad slogan should never work in advertising again

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    7. That's worse than John Romero is gonna make you his bitch.

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    8. I remember that advertisement, it came with Scratch 'N Sniff squares attached to it. One smelled something vaguely similar to pizza, which was appropriate.

      There may have also been a $10 coupon for the game, I remember trying to buy it from my friend for $5, but he insisted he was going to buy Earthbound.

      He didn't and neither did I. Shame really, it was an amazing fever-dream to play through.

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  21. Is the white mage even really supposed to be a girl, though this was popularized by 8-bit Theatre? The powered-up version doesn't look very girly. In FFIII, where the heroes are four class-changing boys, the white mage class reuses the same sprite plus an extra white pixel below the eye. Arguably this makes the appearance even cuter, buy I don't think that the heroes are supposed to change sex alongside with class as well.

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    1. None of the characters are explicitly either sex. I thought of the white mage as a girl when I was naming her, so in my party, at least, it's a girl.

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    2. I believe I always assumed the white mage was female, long before 8-bit Theatre (or the Internet) existed. My reason was probably primarily that it felt weird for there to be no women in the party otherwise. I think other people in my school disagreed with me on this point, and it did strike me as strange that the Nintendo Power guide's art always depicted a party of four male characters.

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    3. For what it's worth, the upgraded class version of the White Mage has a distinctly masculine look despite the long hair and robe, having the same strong jawline and shoulders of the other classes.

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    4. The strategy guide Nintendo sent to Nintendo Power subscribers show what I think is supposed to be the White Mage, but he's wearing a brown robe with a hood and doesn't have red hair.

      I've always assumed the White Mage was a woman too.

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    5. FF1 character gender is not defined. Later games in the series the gender is explicit, white mages being typically female. No idea why Square(soft) did this.

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    6. I always thought the White Mage was a woman, but it was so long ago that I honestly can't remember whether that conception came before or after reading 8-Bit Theater. Most likely after.

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    7. There's a long tradition of healing/support classes in games being feminised, which comes out of a whole bunch of unhelpful cultural gender role stuff.

      Which isn't to critcise any one particular game or say you're not allowed to like particular women-healer characters that mean a lot to you, but there's a reason we assume these things even in the absence of other cues, and we probably shouldn't.

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  22. I've been a lurker for many years, it's my first comment. This entry was a lot of fun to read, it's like discoverering Final Fantasy for the first time again. I've played it when it came out, when I was 11 years old. It was not the first RPG I tried (I tried some on Commodore 64 and PC), but it's the first one I fully understood and was able to finish. English is not my first langage, but FF is simple enough that I could understand it even then.

    The name "Black Belt" I suppose is because of Nintendo's policies, which prohibited religious references in their games, in Japan the class is "Monk". Later versions and translations of the game changed it back to "monk", if I'm not mistaken. (Same reason all crosses were removed from the Dragon Quest games, etc.)

    I understand why an american who did not grow up with it would find the japanese style childish, but it's amusing to me that during my teenage years, my reaction was totally the opposite : I absolutely hated how american companies always tried to transform the japanese manga/anime style in something like american comic books : huge muscular bodies, serious faces, ridiculously macho style, semi-naked women in steel bikinis, etc, which I found ugly. Most NES game covers were like that. I saw that as a kind of cultural erasure or desecration, something insulting. It's because I was starved for anime : there were a lot on TV during my childhood in Quebec, and it almost completely disappeared during the 90s. (It was judged "too violent"). I was pissed off they were trying to erase the little we could have had. I used to write letters to game magazines about it!

    An example of this transformation : the cover of Dragon Warrior II in the US : adult and serious heroes, versus the cover of Dragon Quest II in Japan, by Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, the most famous manga artist of the time. When I discovered that, much later, I thought it was insulting to remove his art for marketing reasons. It's also misleading : the sprites in the game are clearly based on Toriyama's art. It's clearly more oriented towards kids, though.

    It took a lot of time for american companies to stop trying to "americanize" the box art and marketing of japanese games. Nowadays, Dragon Quest has the same Toriyama art in america as in Japan.

    I suppose the way we "read" a visual style is based on culture. On the contrary, I still have problems sometimes with the american visual style in RPGs, which I found very cheesy, of incredibly poor taste when I was young. For me, the covers of the Wheel of Time books are incredibly ugly, for example. The graphical style of early Might and Magic is ok for me, but from VI onward, I find them repulsive, because they are trying to be realistic, using scanned photographs, but instead of coming of like the Lord of the Rings movies, it's like bargain bin LARP, it's like a crappy fantasy B movie with no budget from 1983. I don't know if anyone share the same sensibilities, I'm curious. (Nowadays, the aesthetic of western games are mostly fine, though. Skyrim is fine. Maybe it was a 90s thing).

    Something about the game itself : the gameboy advance version of FF1 is much less grindy, it's like speeding through the game with a racing car, that's quite pleasant (but not nearly as challenging).

    Sorry for being so long winded in my first post!

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    1. Ultima III was a particularly fun example of the cover thing. The original cover was a fairly realistic Western drawing of a big demon. The Japanese Famicom port replaced it with a drawing of an anime-styled RPG party. The English translation of the Famicom version for the NES took the Japanese art and redrew the same characters, in the same poses, in a Western style. So strange.

      For the removal of religious elements, the resurrection store in Final Fantasy is even more egregious. The English release calls it a "clinic", with a heart above the door, staffed by a "Magician of Life" according to the manual. In Japanese? It's a church, Christian cross and all.

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    2. The american NES Ultima III is a perfect example of what was so ugly to me, exactly! But you reminded me that I also had the PC version with the Demon cover, and it's absolutely awesome, like a metal album cover! That's quite an interesting case, indeed!

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    3. Darnziak, please comment more often. These are exactly the types of comments that make my blog great. I have less experience with the subject matter in front of us, and I need alternate perspectives to make a complete entry.

      A couple reactions to specific things:

      1. The Wheel of Time series has the worst cover art of any book series I've ever read. (I'm talking about the original paperbacks; there are some reissues that aren't bad.) I think I'd prefer something chibi. At least that way, I could just ignore it entirely and make up my own idea of what the characters look like.


      2. I guess I can see why Christians would object to the idea that anyone can haul a body into a church and get it resurrected. American RPGs probably use eastern themes in similarly (unintentionally) offensive ways.

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    4. I'll just point out that this change wasn't made in response to anyone making objections to previous games that depicted what would be consider Christian symbolism so much as Nintendo of America making a blanket decision to avoid displaying such in their games outside of Japan... except for the crosses seen in their Zelda games.

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    5. Yeah, NoA had a blanket prohibition on real-world religious symbols in games released for the American NES and SNES, along with stuff like alcohol and graphic violence. (I think some early games like the Zeldas were released before those guidelines were fully solidified? Not really sure. The first Zelda had a "Bible" that was turned into a "Book of Magic" in the US.)

      I'm sure that made life interesting for a lot of localizers, because Japanese RPG developers seem to love including obvious Christian symbols in their games. I'm guessing they figure that, if they're setting their stories in a fantasy analog of medieval Europe, then there should probably be a fantasy analog of Christianity in it?

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    6. CRPG Addict : Okay thanks, I'll comment from now on! I've been reading your blog for many, many years. As for me, when I was young I played both CRPGs and Console JRPGs. I remember finishing Ultima 6 on PC when I was quite young, maybe 12 years old. I also loved Eye of the Beholder, Lands of Lore, games like that. My favorites were on console, though : Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. I stopped gaming for a long time but I restarted 3 years ago. I just played Dark Souls and The Witcher 3 last year and Skyrim this year, I have a lot of catching up to do!

      I'm glad I'm not alone to think the Wheel of Time covers are ugly! (I was also talking about the original paperbacks, the illustrations by Darrell Sweet).

      Also, a precision about what I said : the "monk" class was not a christian reference, the class is an eastern fighting monk, something like a shaolin monk. Like many people pointed out, Nintendo tried to remove any religious symbols from their games, christian or buddhist or otherwise. There must be a list of these changes somewhere on the net. For me the most interesting is Devil World, a game by Shigeru Miyamoto which was never released here because it's shock-full of christian stuff, crosses and bibles and devils, etc.

      Delete
    7. @Darnziak, I felt absolutely the same as you about American video games and americanized video game covers.

      Thanks to this blog, I started to appreciate American games and graphics.

      Delete
    8. Making fun of the WoT cover art was a pretty popular pastime back in my day. The most notable thing is that the characters completely change in appearance from book to book.

      I suspect that the "monk"/"B.Belt" thing specifically had less to do with the religious implications and more just with the fact that the Shaolin martial artist archetype wasn't particularly well-known in the American target market. (I think this was before D&D had monks as a standard character class, right?)

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    9. Monks appeared in the AD&D Player's Handbook in 1978, so no.

      Delete
    10. One of the most interesting cases of Nintendo censorship is the adventure game Maniac Mansion. They even removed a classical statue from one of the rooms because it depicted a bare-chested woman!

      Nintendo of America had a strict family friendly policy, which meant no references to sex, no references to religion, and no excessive violence. Most Nintendo games imply that characters just get defeated instead of killed.

      In the RPG space, the SNES versions of Wizardry are a good example. The English releases changed the Bishop's name and put some clothes on naked female sprites. The original Japanese Super Famicom versions have no censorship.

      (and despite being a pure PC player and disliking consoles, the Super Famicom versions of the early Wizardries are my favorites because of their gorgeous graphics)

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    11. Maniac Mansion is also a fascinating example of a Western game being modified to fit a more Japanese aesthetic: it got an Famicom port (done completely independently of the American NES port) that redrew the characters in the chibi style. And the port of Zak McKracken for the Japan-only FM Towns computer platform not only came with this very much localized box art, but gives the characters larger eyes when the Japanese language option is selected.

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    12. The 70's and the 80's had lots of Hong Kong movies about Shaolin Monks, I'm not really sure they were unknown

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    13. I love the story of the conversion of Maniac Mansion to the NES. https://www.crockford.com/maniac.html

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  23. The original NES version of Final Fantasy has some very significant bugs that are worth putting in one place.

    This is serious enough to not ROT13: If you use a House to rest, magic is only restored if you save! As a side effect, if this game is loaded, the party’s magic will be at the state it was before saving.

    - Gur pnyphyngvba sbe pevgvpny uvgf nppvqragnyyl hfrf gur vaqrk ahzore bs gur jrncba vafgrnq bs gur fgberq inyhr. Guvf znxrf pevgvpny uvgf fvtavsvpnagyl zber serdhrag guna gurl jrer vagraqrq naq enzcf hc fgrnqvyl guebhtubhg gur tnzr. Jrncbaf ner trarenyyl fhccbfrq gb unir n pevgvpny engr bs (ebhtuyl) 0.5% gb 2.5% jvgu fbzr jrncbaf ng 5% naq n unaqshy bs raq tnzr barf tbvat ng 15%. Oynpx Orygf ner fcrpvsvpnyyl fubeg punatrq orpnhfr hanezrq vf vaqrk 0 fb gurl arire trg pevgvpny uvgf hagvy gurve pynff trgf hctenqrq naq gura fhqqrayl gurl evc guebhtu rirelguvat.

    - Vagryyvtrapr qbrfa’g qb nalguvat fb fcryyf obgu qba’g orpbzr zber cbjreshy jvgu yriry naq ner pnfg jvgu rdhny cbjre ol Erq Zntrf naq Oynpx/Juvgr Zntrf. Lbh qb bs pbhefr trg fgebatre irefvbaf bs fcryyf fb guvf vfa’g nf abgvprnoyr nf vg pbhyq or.

    - Fcrpvny rssrpgf ba rdhvczrag ner aba-shapgvbany.

    - Ehaavat vf whfg zrffrq hc va trareny.

    - Gur GZCE, FNOE, KSRE, YBPX fcryyf qba’g qb nalguvat. YBX2 qbrf gur bccbfvgr bs jung’f vg’f zrnag gb qb. URY2 jbexf zber cbjreshyyl guna vagraqrq va onggyr.

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  24. Nice, a post where I can share a bunch of relatively useless trivia I know. First off, as other commenters mentioned, this is an extremely buggy game. Most of them got fixed in later ports. Of said ports, the best one is probably either the GBA or PS1 port. The PS1 version has things like a new translation, a difficulty selection, and is the only port released outside of Japan to keep the original magic system. The GBA port replaced it with a MP system, locked the difficulty to the PS1 version's easy mode, but added randomized bonus dungeons featuring bosses from later Final Fantasy games. Said ports also came with ports of Final Fantasy 2, but that's not really relevant at the moment.

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  25. One thing to bear in mind is that this game whilst being made in Japan, it was coded by Nasir Gebelli, a pretty awesome Iranian-American coder who previously made games on the Apple ][. Whilst he didn’t design it, I’m sure he had a reasonable amount of input to it, which makes this a bit of a hybrid series in terms of sensibilities.

    Also bear in mind that Japanese text is a lot more compressed than English, so originally the equipment and spells would be full names rather than abbreviations. Similarly some of the conversations may have originally been more detailed or written with nuance that’s missing in the English version. For instance the intro screen is very much written in an old timely way in Japanese.

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  26. Regarding the art style. I wasn't going to say anything, but this makes me want to pull my hair out. Minor spoilers. It's referenced in the manual, but I assume Chet is not skipping to the later parts of the "walkthrough" that makes up most of it. Rot13 just in case.

    Fnlvat gur punenpgref ybbx puvyqvfu vf ernfbanoyr, orpnhfr gurl ner puvyqera. Gurl yvgrenyyl "zngher" vagb nqhygf yngre. Gurve cebcbegvbaf punatr jura guvf unccraf. V qba'g xabj ubj crbcyr ner sbetrggvat guvf, nf vg vf n snveyl zrzbenoyr nfcrpg bs gur tnzr. V'z abg fher vs vg vf fb rkcyvpvgyl fgngrq va Wncna. Vs abg, gur "phgrfl" negfglyr pbhyq or hfrq gb vaqvpngr gurfr ner yrffre irefvbaf bs gur nqinaprq pynffrf. Gur tnzr orvat bevragrq gbjneqf puvyqera frrzf zber yvxryl gubhtu.

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    1. I wonder if his opinion will change when he comes to your Rot13

      Delete
    2. It wasn't really directed at him. But let's just say, if he wanted vindication, he could turn to page 75 of the manual.

      Delete
    3. The sprite change referenced (which he's already mentioned in the main article) is only supposed to be the "more advanced" version of the class. The "mature into" line, along with every single word in the walkthrough, was added by the localization team.

      Delete
    4. Did I miss something? He briefly mentions prestige classes, but it could be because they are referenced in early parts of the manual. He might not know what they look like. It's just a courtesy either way, since I am not directing this at him.

      My point is that most explanations provided by commenters don't take the class change into account. Graphical limitations, for example, are unlikely because the class change happens. Expressions the characters make also look fine when copied by the advanced classes. Japanese people apparently do depict adults as adults, at least in the later parts of this game. They could have had the protagonists looking that way the whole time.

      Why is this not the case? It could be to show the cartoonish characters are lesser versions of their final forms. It could also be that the game is appealing to children. Personally, I think them "growing up" is a nice touch. It is just bugging me how people are forgetting that it happens. It's like the elephant in the room.

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    5. Nobody is ignoring that it exists. They are stating that the only source suggesting that they are supposed to be "grown up" versions of the base classes is the description in the manual. A description that - like the entire walkthrough that it is a part of - seems to exist only in the US manual as part of their "we know you don't know how to play this kind of game, so here's a leg up" policy.

      The means of getting the class change (pbzcyrgvat n Gevny bs Beqrnyf naq oevatvat cebbs gb n Tbq Bs Qentbaf) are very at odds with the notion of them simply being the "adult form" - this is heavily implied to be an extremely rare and special occurrence.

      Delete
    6. I don't think they are ignoring it. More likely they forgot it happens or don't know it happens (Not everyone completes their NES games, and I'm no different). I'm not calling out foul play or anything. That it happens just makes several explanations for the art style unlikely. Particularly those involving technical limitations since, as you will see, characters with adult proportions are capable of doing things on the screen without any trouble.

      As for them literally growing up... Gur ivfhny punatr frrzf zber flzobyvp guna nalguvat. Vg'f gur "pbzvat bs ntr" zbzrag sbe gur punenpgref.

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    7. Let me make sure there is no confusion here.

      1. The changed sprites are in the US manual. Pretty much everyone here knows exactly what they look like.

      2. Exactly how to do the class change is fully known.

      3. Therefore, there are no unknown elements involved. No forgetting, no ignoring. Failure to accept your interpretation is not a result of any lack of knowledge. It is a rejection of your argument on the grounds that it is wrong.

      The class-change is no more a "kids becoming an adult" thing than upgrading a fighter into a Ninja is in Wizardry. The context of the class change might as well be screaming it at you.

      Delete
    8. Saying technical limitations prevent a game from doing something that it actually does later implies ignorance. My point is that most explanations provided by commenters no longer make sense if you have seen the advanced classes. I can only assume they either forgot the class change happens or don't know it happens. Don't get hung up on the manual. I mainly pointed it out because I don't know if this a spoiler or not. It's kind of a grey area.

      I've recognized that the Japanese version may not refer to them as children explicitly. It's still not a stretch to say characters growing tall, muscular, and obtaining adult proportions strongly implies maturation.

      Delete
    9. For what it's worth, the Japanese introduction describes the Crystal-bearing protagonists as 若者 /wakamono/, basically meaning "young people." A couple of dictionaries seem to consider the term synonymous with 青年 /seinen/, which usually refers to older teenagers.

      Just skimming through it, it doesn't look like the Japanese manual alludes to the class change at all. I'll try to pay attention to if any relevant terms are used in the Japanese script if/when I reach that point in the actual game.

      Delete
  27. Many elements of Final Fantasy came from looking at Dungeons & Dragons directly, rather than the intermediaries of D&D-influenced video games. The black belt / monk class is from AD&D 1st edition, as mentioned by another commenter. Actual D&D video games wouldn't implement them until... was it Baldur's Gate II? The red mage is really more of a fighter / cleric / mage multiclass with relaxed equipment restrictions than a Wizardry bishop, since he does have martial proficiency and doesn't have item identification. And as you've pointed out, enemies are ripped straight from the monster manual. It's kind of like how Richard Garriott was coming from D&D rather than from mainframe RPGs.

    Of course, we do get some things that originate in computer RPGs, like that Wizardry free use of spell charges by level instead of memorizing specific spells ahead of time.

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    1. IIRC, they actually did get in trouble for some enemies which are obviously meant to be Beholders, and Illithids/Mind Flayers (which are called "Wizards" among other things.) The Beholder sprite was renamed "Eye" and changed to something less copyright-infringing for the American release.

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    2. Another example of the change was Marilith being changed to Kali for the US release, then back for the PS 1 version

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    3. I think that the change of Marilith was more of a space limitation, combined with common transliteration issues.

      "Kali" fit into the space limit in English where "Marilith" would not, and then got hit with the archetypical r/l problem.

      Delete
    4. Seconded about D&D being a major influence on FF1. Practically every monster has a D&D analogue, with for example the Zombie morphs going Zombie, Ghoul, Ghast, Wight in the original, the 'Ochu' and 'Naochu' being an Otyugh and Neo-Otyugh, the slimes going Green Slime, Gray Ooze, Ochre Jelly, and Black Pudding, and so on.

      Also, the white, red, and black mages are the colors from Dragonlance.

      http://finalfantasy.istad.org/2013/01/final-fantasy-vs-dnd/

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  28. I don't have anything of substance to add... I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this entry. I grew up on CRPGs but had next to no experience with consoles. Obviously I'm aware of how important a product Final Fantasy is, but I've never played it and likely never will, so it's great to get this bit of historical perspective!

    I feel like the periodic JRPG article works as a weird subplot to the entire blog. "Meanwhile, in another universe..."

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    1. I also really enjoy all of the articles of the past few months. This blog is really on a roll.

      A couple years ago I used to sometimes skip the middle sections of some posts that contained mostly "travel reports", so to speak, but now there are enough interesting observations interspersed that it never gets boring.

      A big thank you to Chet!

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  29. Looking at the concept artworks for this game mentioned above, I am struck by how artfully some of it is drawn.

    The artwork of the fairy princess and that of the heroes entangled by the Kraken`s arms especially. Gorgeous pencil/ink work and the faces are so expressive.

    On the latter, you can really see the fear and disbelief in the warrior`s face as the Krakens huge tentacle grabs him.

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    1. The artist is Yoshitako Amano, he is very well known. He did art for most of Final Fantasy entries. Look him up!

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    2. I'm always struggling why all his concept drawings looks so familiar too me.

      It reminds me at art nouveau but with finer lining, on the other hand the FF6 concept art really reminds me on a "magic flute" opera I saw as little wee on TV

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    3. YoshitakA Amano, sorry for the typo.

      Delete
  30. Very intrigued to see you playing this. Other commenters have already said most of the interesting things I could possibly have to say, but I'll throw in my own $0.02 on the visual styles thing. As a weird person who grew up with a foot in both ponds so to speak (I'm 37 now; I had a PC before I had an NES, but I owned both as a child, and my first RPG of any shade was Might and Magic Book One), I find that I tend to appreciate both styles for different reasons. There's a certain sort of charming amateurish earnestness to a lot of the early western CRPG graphics, the games that were essentially produced out of their creators' garages like the original Wizardry trilogy, the early Ultimas and the first Might and Magic. By contrast, the early Japanese console RPGs were already corporate productions for the most part with greater access to professional artists and the like; the PC market didn't really catch up strongly in this regard until VGA graphics reached mainstream availability, from what I remember.

    The console productions also generally had to contend with the fact that they both had considerably lower screen resolution than PC games of equivalent vintage - the NES and SNES both have a standard screen resolution of 256x224 pixels, compared to the 320x200 or 320x240 that was common of most PC games of the era - and also were designed to display on considerably lower-fidelity displays than a typical computer monitor; even the monitor that came with my Tandy 1000 computer in 1988 with its 0.64mm dot pitch, which is pretty terrible by the standards of later CRTs, had a considerably sharper display than the television I was playing FF1 on in 1991, on which the DOS prompt very likely would have been functionally illegible. (The NES resolution is a step above the Apple II though, which many of those early DOS games were ported from; the Apple II has a nominal resolution of 280x192 but due to the way it produces color through artifacting, the practical resolution was actually 140x192.)

    As an interesting footnote though, the original Japanese release of the first Dragon Quest (known as Dragon Warrior here in the US) actually had more Ultima-styled iconographic character icons; Nintendo of America commissioned Enix to redraw the first game's graphics in the style of the later Dragon Quest games (which were already released in Japan by that time) when they localized it.

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  31. I started on the NES as a kid in the latter part of the 80's, but was never aware of the Final Fantasy games.

    I'm wondering if it never hit the Australian market until later editions (I've still never actually played a FF game).

    It sounds interesting, but has that same infantile like that I admittedly didn't mind in my youth when I played Zelda.

    As you rightly question, I'm not certain I'd have that same fondness were it my introduction now...

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    1. From what I've seen, Australia used to get ignored in general for most game releases. Hell, I remember a joke about localizations of "Japan gets it first, America gets it a month later, Europe's lucky to get it at all, and Australia's lucky if they remember it exists"

      Delete
    2. Since Final Fanstasy was one of the most advertised and marketed games by Nintendo Power magazine at the time, I would assume it never really made it to the Australian market.

      I remember it was quite expensive at retail on release, about 60 USD or so. A big dent in kids allowance at the time.

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    3. I'd never even heard of Final Fantasy, and I had quite a few Nintendo Powers and a Nintendo Magazine System subscription.

      And yeah USD60 would have made it the most expensive game I'd seen in store.

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    4. I remember the prices being ridiculous. Back then Walmart hadn't yet taken over retail and there were very few places to buy NES carts except the big toy store or the mall. There was no internet, nor could you take a picture unless you had a Polaroid or Kodak camera. Taking pictures inside a retail store just wasn't done, but I did find this:
      https://www.reddit.com/r/nostalgia/comments/7uaooo/buying_video_games_at_toys_r_us_when_you_were_a/

      Not Nintendo, and FF1 wasn't the most expensive, that was Romance of the Three Kingdoms coming in at 74 USD as I recall. I bought that one too.

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    5. My first NES game that I bought for myself was 'Iron Tank', a capricious and cruel choice for a nine-year old. Pretty sure it was $60 too.

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    6. Not sure about Australia, but FF7 on the PS1 (and PC) was the first of the series with a European (PAL) release.

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  32. One of the things I thought the original Final Fantasy did a lot better than a lot of early jRPGs is give you a regular drip-feed of good equipment upgrades in treasure chests. I'm playing through Phantasy Star II right now, and it's a bit inconsistent about that, sometimes giving you items that you could have bought in the previous town that are woefully obsolete by the time you find them. Incidentally, if you have the stomach for another jRPG down the line, the original Phantasy Star is another fairly significant title in some ways. It hasn't aged nearly as well as Final Fantasy, and the mechanics have a level of sophistication somewhere between Dragon Quest I and II. It mostly wins points for visual presentation, at least as far as I'm concerned, as it was pretty impressive-looking for a 1987 title.

    Back to FF, though... about halfway through the grindiness starts to be a little less of an issue. If I'm remebering correctly, some pieces of equipment have special effects when "used" as an item in battle, so it's good to keep that in mind.

    Regarding what you mentioned about the opening up of the world: as I recall, things remain semi-linear for awhile, but open up quite a bit after around the midpoint of the game. Several of the Final Fantasy titles have sort of a balance of linear and open-ended, and this is really true of the Dragon Quest/Warrior series, which really hit its stride with the third installment.

    As far as note-taking for console titles go, it's also important to remember that many kids in the 80's had subscriptions to Nintendo Power, or knew at least one kid who did. Nintendo did a big push for both Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, and I'm pretty sure they published a dedicated strategy guide for the latter. There were also RPGs that came with guides in the US, like Phantasy Star II and Earthbound (the former of which has some of the most complicated top-down dungeons I've seen in a video game). Final Fantasy IV was greatly simplified in its initial Western release as Final Fantasy II, and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest was developed for Western audiences as sort of a "my first RPG."

    I think there was sort of a perception that Western kids didn't really understand RPGs... which is kind of curious, given that Dragon Quest was intentionally simplified for a broader console audience in Japan, and jRPGs as a whole broadly followed the template of Dragon Quest. But as you mentioned, I don't think the same people were necessarily playing both Might and Magic and Final Fantasy, unless they happened to buy the Japanese console conversions of Western RPGs for consoles. Might and Magic *did* get an NES port, which I've heard is reasonably faithful, and one of the developers of Wizardry said in an interview with Jeremy Parish (of the Retronauts podcast) that he felt the NES version of Wizardry was actually the definitive version. Ultima, on the other hand, didn't make the transition well at all...

    Anyway, sorry for the novel there. As someone who plays both PC and console RPGs, I'm glad you're giving this a shot. I'm deeply curious as to how you would react to Final Fantasy VII (I myself like it a lot less than a lot of people, mostly because of the gameplay mechanics)... although we're quite a ways out from 1997. It *did* have a PC port, though.

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  33. "As usual, they look like children."

    Oh Chet, just you wait..

    I hope this wasn't a spoiler. I said nothing explicit after all. FF1 has always been dear to me, played it at least half a dozen times probably since the 80's. FF2 (SNES) probably best of the entire series, I've played most of them.

    Yeah you picked a bad party lineup, expect to have problems later on. Start over, ditch the thief and pick a Bl.Mage instead. You'll thank me later.

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  34. As was already pointed out, the original Famicom/NES release of the first Final Fantasy suffers from serious bugs, which among other things make certain high-level spells non-functional.

    Fortunately the original Final Fantasy is one of those extensively modified games by fans and there are several patches to fix the bugs, remove the censorship in the English release and to replace the English localization with newer re-translations aiming for better accuracy.

    One popular IPS patch combining new translation with bug-fixes, removal of censorship and (in some cases optional) enhancements is this:
    https://www.romhacking.net/hacks/1631/

    Also, this provides newer, alternative re-translation added on top of the above patch:
    https://www.romhacking.net/hacks/4624/

    Of course, it may be better to play the unmodified English release first for this blog, since that was the only realistically available version for non-Japanese players in North America and Europe (as imported NTSC release due to lack of official PAL version) at the time of release.

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    1. Back when nesreproductions.com was still active I had the 'Grond's Final Fantasy' hack burned into my FF1 NES cartridge. I believe it's technically a port of FF1 to the FF3 engine, but it worked fine.

      I'll give these hacks a try. I'd really just like to play the "original" game without the bugs, but that's surprisingly hard to find.

      Delete
    2. I have played AstralEsper's "Final Fantasy Restored" hack, which fixes, among others, the black belt bug, the INT bug, the critical hit bug, the running bug, fixes all spells and fixes all magical weapon effects.

      The main gameplay change besides that was it removed the Silver Sword from the weapons shop in Elfland, and I think gave certain boss refights more HP.

      It was a REALLY good hack. It did not make it feel like an entirely different game per se the way some hacks or mods can, but it did open up a lot more equipment and magic possibilities.

      However, despite running being fixes, the Thief class is still awful, and the Ninja still underwhelming. Looks cool, though.

      Whichever version you play, if you want to plow through the game try two fighters and two red mages or even three fighters and one red mage. Talk about easy mode.

      Fighter, Red Mage, White Mage, and Black Mage is a fun party too.

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  35. I'm glad you're enjoying this, somewhat amused you picked such a poor party, and enjoying the thought of you trying more JRPGS. You weren't wrong about Dragon Warrior being a glorified tech demo. This is really the part where JRPGs start really living up to Ultima 3's legacy, which is evident in both Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior games down the line. I would say, don't discount Dragon Warrior as a series. Ultima 1 is a far cry from Ultima 3, and so it is with Dragon Warrior 1 vs. 3.

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    1. Yes, this. A lot of the limitations of the original Dragon Warrior were a matter of limited cartridge capacity; I think the developers wanted to do more, and once the sequels came out, they certainly did. Dragon Quest 3 is arguably on closer footing with the early Final Fantasy series, so I'd consider it worth a look.

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  36. I write this with the full understanding that you probably will not actually play the whole series, but the Final Fantasy series is, to me, really interesting in that you can observe the series starting off as very similar to Western RPGs and then diverging into basically the archetypal JRPGs.

    Final Fantasy I is pretty much 100% Western style, and is extremely similar to games like Wizardry. You have four blank slate characters, a generic medieval European setting, and a somewhat open-world (it's not as open as Ultima but there's at least one "side quest" and you can do several major dungeons in any order).

    FF2 is a hybrid. You have a predefined cast of characters. You have 3 party members you can basically develop however you want, stats-wise, and a fourth rotating slot with characters who you can still develop however you want, although they come much more developed and already skew towards certain roles. It has a linear plot where the Queen sends you on quest after quest. As a note, this game is worth checking out solely for how unique its mechanics are- it's an early example of a (not very good) leveless, skill-based game.

    FF3 has a slightly more defined group than FF1. They're all orphans raised by the same guy but none of them have defined names or personalities. Once again, you can develop them however you want with the "Job" (class) system, which allows you to switch between jobs on-the-fly. This is another one that's cool for the mechanics, other RPGs prior to this had let you do "class changes" but this is the first one I can think of that lets you change them on the fly. This one is pretty linear, but still has an "open world" feel in that you kind of are left to figure out what to do next on your own.

    FFIV has a completely pre-defined cast and story and is pretty much totally linear (you can still name them). For the first time you're basically playing a group of characters with pre-defined classes and stats, and furthermore which ones are available is completely dependent on the storyline.

    From FFV onward, we're basically in full territory of having pre-written, roughly linear stories. Most of the games still let you have some customization of the characters, but we're clearly in JRPG territory from then on.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. At the very least, Addict will probably play FF7, FF8, and FF15 (his current stated criteria states that console games that got PC ports within 2 years of their original release are fair game for the blog). While nearly every FF game does have a PC release, most are outside that 2 year window unless you want to get into technicalities:

      FF3's DS version was ported to PC in 2014, about 7 1/2 years after the DS release (and 24 years after its Famicom release).
      FF4's DS version was also ported to PC in 2014, about 7 years after the DS release. This version's substantially different enough from the SNES version not to consider that release date, but it's still well outside the window.
      FF4: The After Years' mobile remake was ported to PC (in the graphical style of FF4 DS) in 2015, about 1 1/2 years after the mobile release. If you consider the mobile version being remade in 3D and having some content changed as sufficiently transformative, this would possibly be in the blog's purview; it's about 6 years out from the original English Wii release.
      FF5 was ported to PC in 2015, as was FF6. Neither are substantially changed from the GBA versions upon which they were based, released about 9 years prior.
      FF7 was ported to PC back in 1998, less than a year after the English PS1 release, so it's the first one we'll see on the blog as a bonafide CRPG.
      FF8 was ported to PC in 2000, a mere 3 months after its English PS1 release. We should absolutely see this eventually as well.
      FF9 was ported to PC in 2016, but this is 15 1/2 years after its original release.
      FF10 and FF10-2 got their HD remastered versions ported to PC in 2016; this is just barely over 2 years after the original console releases of the remastered version, and just shy of 14 years after the original PS2 release.
      FF11's an MMORPG and thus outside the blog's purview, as is FF14.
      FF12: The Zodiac Age was ported to PC in 2018. This is just one year after the English console release of that version on PS4; it is 11 1/2 years after the English PS2 release of the original FF12, but Zodiac Age is a substantially different game throughout (based on a director's cut rerelease that was Japan-only until 2017).
      FF13 got a PC port in 2014; this one's 4 1/2 years after the console release.
      FF13-2's PC port was also in 2014, and 3 years after the console version.
      However, Lightning Returns's PC port in 2015 does fall within the 2 year window (by a few months), so that could edge the other FF13 games in.
      Finally, FF15 got a PC port in 2018, about 1 1/2 years after its console release.

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    3. To clarify: the "2 year" thing has never been invoked, and I mostly coined it as a rule-of-thumb to just kill discussion on a couple of games. Technically, all RPGs that EVER had a PC release are on my list. The "two year" rule only determines whether I play the PC release in the original year or the PC release year. The point is that if a certain amount of time has passed, it's hard to regard a PC release as a proper "port" of the original; it's more likely that they're "remakes," and I consider remakes new games.

      If there's honestly been no significant change, I would err on the side of playing the game in its original release year, but it's hard to imagine that when 8 years go by between a console release and a PC release that SOMETHING wasn't updated, expanded, or advanced for the PC. At the very least, I'm going to investigate it.

      Finally, I only regard a game as having a PC "release" if it was actually programmed for a PC operating system. Games that simply use bundled emulators or the equivalent do not have a "PC release" no matter what MobyGames says. If those DID count, every console game would have to appear on my list.

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    4. stepped pyramidsJune 21, 2020 at 9:02 PM

      One wrinkle is that I'm not sure the original PC release of Final Fantasy VII is either playable or obtainable anymore, both of which will be increasingly common problems in the Windows era. 3D games are also hard to run accurately in emulation. In the case of VII, the currently available PC release (not the actual "Remake" that came out recently) is a faithful update of the original PC release, down to including the inferior MIDI version of the score. It adds some optional cheat features and higher-res textures, but the gameplay is unaltered if you don't cheat.

      Of course, that isn't going to be a problem for quite a while.

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    5. As for the obtainability of windows games no longer for sale, there are a bunch of abandonware and straight up piracy sites that specialize on games from that era. I'm also constantly on the lookout for obscure RPGs from the era and hunting down copies along with some other lads from RPG Codex. We managed to hunt down the lost Omega Syndrome not too long ago!

      As for running them, virtual machines are a thing. I'm on Windows 7 64 bit which can't run 16 bit applications, but luckily Windows 7 has a built-in XP Virtual Machine. Just requires you to download an update from Microsoft. I'm pretty sure such an XP VM is also part of Windows 10.

      With a VM running an older Windows, late 90s and early 00s games no longer pose a problem.

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    6. Aha, that makes sense (re: the bundled emulators thing). For what it's worth, none of the PC releases of the various Final Fantasy games are emulation-based to the best of my knowledge, so yeah, guess they will all show up in the distant future then.

      stepped pyramids is correct that the Steam versions of FF7 and FF8 are functionally identical to the original 1998/2000 releases, only with minor code tweaks to be made compatible with modern systems and the baffling addition of an official cheat mode. Note that there's also a separate, more expensive 2019 "FF8 Remastered" release which has no gameplay alterations at all but has significantly improved graphical textures and audio.

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  37. I always wondered why TSR never sued the pants of Square? Or did they?

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    1. They changed some of the monster sprites between the Japanese and US versions that were direct rips of classic D&D monsters (e.g. beholders). IP laws in Japan are weaker than the US.

      The mindflayers made it through though, now called WIZARDs even though they cast no spells. Confused me as a kid.

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  38. Final Fantasy? I see EXODUS: ULTIMA III
    For example: https://www.myabandonware.com/game/exodus-ultima-iii-71

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  39. As mentioned some gear have an effect when used in combat. But they have to be equipped. But have unlimited uses.

    The story is linear. But there are a couple points where you can break the sequence. Like one early elemental dungeon being able to be left until later (not much point to doing so though, since all the gear will be obsolete), or the place where you get what you need to change classes being able to be accessed (and beaten) quite early.

    As for your class lineup, it doesn't matter if you do some extra grinding. You only need maximum level if you're doing a single character run.

    You'll quickly learn which monsters need to be slaughtered as quickly as you can, regardless of cost. A couple points shows why "save or die" isn't used too often against your characters. Not quite as bad as Dragon Quest 2's problem with it though (NO!!! BATBOONS!!!)

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    1. Weapons and armor that cast magic when used in battle do not have to be equipped to be used, just in their inventory. This may be disadvantageous, though, in the case of armor since you can only hold 4 pieces of armor and keeping something you can't equip because it can be used to cast magic means you sacrifice one of those slots. Less bad with weapons, since you can only equip one at a time.

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  40. Lurking for around a year or so but felt confident enough to comment on this post. I highly recommend the series write-up by Pat at socksmakepeoplesexy as its clear he's played, broken, and analyzed this series to death.
    I first played this at a friends house in 1991 when I was 5. His older brother had lost the manual and we had never played an RPG. So we didn't understand how to equip anything and spent hours fighting Imps with our bare fists until we died. No Garland even. My parents were very against "screens" and limited me to 1 hour of tv or NES or computer for most of my life so I didn't get into RPGs until my late teens. I owned Fallout and some others but never had time. I appreciate RPGs now and am trying to play through some of the classics I never got a chance to finish.The point to all that is that I played Final Fantasy on an emulator(you NEED fast forward) about 10 years ago and loved it. It doesn't have much of roleplaying you seem to enjoy but I find building my little party up and wandering randomly to be fun. The dungeons are a good exercise in inventory management with the lack of saves and general difficulty/spell "charge" system. There's even an optional boss at the end. So for a console RPG it feels fairly complete for the era to me. Given the lack of buttons and limitations of the NES(hardware from 1983) I think it was a solid introduction for those of us raised on Mario.

    A few things to note. Magical weapons and some spells are useless due to glitches (a glaring error that makes some items not worth the trouble to acquire). I love the artwork of Amano and if you happen to get a hold of the original monster art it's incredible how faithful it is in 8-bit. It might not be for everyone but he has a fairly distinctive style on paper and it translated to digital better then I would have expected (it gets very faithful in the SNES era). I think that might also explain so of the chibi/child/teen/adult debate about the protagonists. He clearly drew them as adults to me, but given that they're animated (while monsters are static images) I think it was a design choice to make the party in a different style that would be easier to animate. Lastly (and you probably know this) the series flip-flops the first 6 entries between more open-ended with generic characters with a focus on classes(1,3,5) and more story-driven(2,4,6). The aesthetic also begins to change with 6(originally released as 3 in the states) being somewhat steampunk+fantasy with a large cast and some darker themes. It's common knowledge that none of the series were sequels for the first 10 entries but its also interesting to note that at least for those entries the series always tried to switch up gameplay ideas.

    P.S. Apologies for the long post but we're in COVID lockdown and nobody in this house wants my lectures on game design/history.

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  41. To comment on the lack of black magic, I think you'll be fine with your selected party. Depending on the decisions that are made there could be some pain points, however. I'm definitely interested to see how this playthrough develops.

    After completion, you may want to check out the Final Fantasy Randomizer. This is highly customizable, you can set this up to do anything from fixing the bugs to modifying the EXP rewarded to shuffling spell levels to generating procedurally generated dungeons (... maybe, they didn't quite have the last one in the main randomizer when I was actively playing). I had a lot of fun playing the 'Swiss' and 'Brackets' presets. Those tend to be balanced and typically take from 1-2.5 hours to complete.

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  42. Looks like someone else pointed it out as well, but you should know that The Final Fantasy Legend has nothing to do with the Final Fantasy series. It is called SaGa in Japan, and they only changed the name in America to try to capitalize off of the (relative) success of Final Fantasy. So it is not required to play this game first, as they are two completely unrelated series.

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    1. Thanks. I guess I'll stop now, then.

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    2. I'm assuming (hoping?) that Chet is being sarcastic...

      But while it is true that "Final Fantasy Legend" was only branded as such outside of Japan, there is a decent amount of common DNA between this game and that one. Akitoshi Kawazu, the designer on Legend, was on the FF1 team, for example. They were developed by the same company and took many of their lessons from the previous (first) successful RPG.

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  43. This was the first video game RPG I ever played.  I rented it from the local video store when I was probably 12.  Absolutely loved it, but the Marsh Cave was so difficult for me that I gave up on it.  I must have bought it a year or so later, and this time played it all the way through.  In the years since, I've played it through more times than I can remember.  Final Fantasy turned me into a lifelong lover of console and PC RPG's.

      IMO, a party of Warrior, Black Belt, White Mage, and Black Mage is the most fun for a first timer.  You'll struggle at first, because the Black Belt, White Mage, and Black Mage are pretty weak at low levels, but it becomes an overall more rewarding party experience as you progress through the game.  The Black Belt turns an ultimate fighting machine at higher levels (especially after the possible upgrade), and the Black Mage gets some great spells at the higher levels (especially after the possible upgrade) useful for taking on multiple enemies.  The Thief and Red Mage just pale in comparison the further on in the game you go.  (Another good starter party is two Warriors, a White Mage, and a Black Mage).   

       After multiple playthroughs I still think that the most punishing and frustrating part of the entire game is the Marsh Cave.  If you can manage to stick with the game long enough to earn enough gold to get your Warrior a silver sword, and then survive the Marsh Cave, the whole rest of the game becomes a much more manageable adventure.  After that point you can start to afford to stock up on healing potions, which makes a huge difference in survival.

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