Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Final Fantasy: Won!

Why is the game talking to me like it's Mister Rogers?
When I finished my first entry, I had just completed what was basically an introductory series of quests--the game's Act I, if you will. Acquiring the ship opened up the game world for exploration, although the plot imposed a certain amount of linearity. Act II consisted of finding, entering, and conquering the lairs of four elemental fiends that were destroying the land. Conquering each fiend conferred (or restored) elemental power to one of the four globes that the party carried. Act III was about finding and defeating the person who had unleashed those four fiends in the first place.
The story was revealed slowly, and only fully in the game's final moments. In the end, I vacillated on whether I thought the story was original and amazing or kind of stupid. I suppose it depends a lot on what kind of day you're having. I might have parts of it wrong, but I think it goes something like this: Garland, who had kidnapped the princess in the game's first quest, was so pissed at his defeat at the hands of the four heroes that he used a time gate to travel back in time 2,000 years and summon four ancient fiends of earth, wind, fire, and water. He sent these fiends 1,600 years into the future, and over the next four centuries, they slowly gathered the powers of the elements (starting with wind). Their activities caused the collapse of the northern kingdoms, and they were threatening the south as the game began. Their eventual monopoly of the elemental powers allowed them to operate the time gate that sent Garland back in time in the first place, creating a chicken-egg paradox referred to everyone in the game as a "time-loop." The characters had to break the loop by traveling to the past and defeating Garland and his fiends before they got started.
Your first hint of a much bigger story.
I do like that the game's first villain, basically a pushover, turned out to be the "big bad," and that the tired rescue-the-princess quest had world-threatening ramifications. I think it's amusing that the characters' own actions are what prompted his rise in power. I'm not sure I've seen that trope in an RPG before.
As I said, there's some non-linearity that develops once you get the ship, and it increases once you find the airship. I suppose you could do the four elemental quests and the promotion quest in any order, but I suspect the nature of the geography, the difficulty level of various areas, and the complexity of the quest leads most players to do things in the rough order that I did. Basically, I just went by geography, looping around the lower continent, following the thin threads of land north, and then moving west across the upper continent, visiting all the visitable locations in order. The in-game map, which has a flashing pixel at each visitable location (even a hidden one) really helps with this endeavor.
Shortly after the introductory events of my first entry, the party arrived in Melmond, where we saw our first evidence of the elemental effects. The agricultural community was suffering from the effects of the loss of earth power. The town had been invaded by a vampire and many of its buildings destroyed. I tracked the vampire down in a cave near the town. The vampire turned out to be just a minion of the Earth Fiend, a powerful lich. Once we defeated him, earth power was released back into the world and the denizens of Melmond told us that things were beginning to grow again. I should mention that there were a couple of ancillary quests necessary to find items to pass various blockages in the earth cave, but there are lots of walkthroughs and videos if you want that level of detail.
A village slowly decaying.
Sailing around the southern continent, we came to the city of Crescent Lake, where a bunch of sages had gathered. They were off to the east of the main part of the city, on a barely-noticeable side-path, so it took me longer to find out about them than if I'd been following along with the manual. Once I did, they confirmed that we were dealing with four fiends harvesting four powers. They said I should check in with them frequently, and indeed their dialogue updated periodically to reflect our progress through the quest.
We get some exposition on the main quest.
Someone--I forgot to screenshot exactly who--give the party a canoe, allowing us to explore the river network of the southeastern part of the southern continent. There were two important dungeons here: an ice cave and a volcanic cave ruled by the Fire Fiend. The Fire Fiend was the only one whose elemental theft didn't seem to manifest in any specific threat or destruction in the world, but I got the impression that it was also the most recent. For my party, this cave was probably the hardest part of the game, mostly because I hadn't done much (recent) grinding before taking it on, and the lack of black magic in the party made it difficult to deal with the large parties of enemies I found there, some of whom were able to cast mass-damage spells like "FIR2" multiple times.
Canoeing along the waterways.
But I pushed through and ultimately confronted the Fire Fiend, a multi-armed demonic creature named, amusingly, Kary. Upon her death (it probably wasn't intended as a "her," but for some reason that's how I thought of it), our second orb began to glow. I'm not really sure why the orbs glow, as I got the impression that we weren't so much capturing the elemental power as releasing it back to nature. Perhaps it's the nature of the globes to glow when the elemental power is in its natural state.
Given the use of other figures from Indian mythology, I suspect this is supposed to be KALI.
The ice cave, which also had a lot of hard combats, produced something that the game called a "floater," which must have caused a lot of guffaws among the juvenile NES community of the 1980s. I'm still not sure what it was, but an NPC in Elfland had told us to take it to the desert south of Crescent Lake, which we did, and for some reason the airship "rose from the desert" when we used it.
Well, yuck.
The airship is a quick and easy means of transportation. Unlike the ship and canoe, no enemies attack while you fly it. The only disadvantage is that (much like the magic carpet in The Black Gate) it can only land on a square of clear grassland, which of course became far less available from here on. It was still easier than taking the ship, but to visit many of the northern cities and dungeons, you have to land the airship some distance away and walk, of course fighting numerous random combats along the way.
Flying around in the airship. None of the tiles around this town have enough grass to land. I'll have to find another place and walk.
The people in the city of Lefein, the next stop, spoke a language that we didn't understand, so we left it for now and moved to the next city, in the far northeast, called Gaia. There's a spring in town whose fairy had been recently kidnapped by a pirate, bottled, and sold to a trading caravan in the west. We also learned about an ancient skykeep in the region and a castle to the west where you can "test courage." At all of our city stops, we upgraded weapons, armor, and spells when necessary, plus refilled our stock of healing potions to the maximum (99). There were some dungeons that literally took all of those potions. Having to buy them back one by one got old fast.
The castle was the next stop, after we moved on from a tower in the desert that wouldn't let us in. The castle was called the Castle of Ordeals. You need the crown from the earlier Astos fight to get in. Once in, it's a multi-leveled dungeon with a teleporter maze and plenty of random combats. The ultimate goal is to find a tail (of what, the game didn't say).
Finally! I wasted a lot of my youth searching for this.
I had no idea to do with the tail once I found it, but the issue was cleared up by the next series of dungeons we explored: a bunch of small caves on an archipelago to the west of the castle. These caves were inhabited by friendly dragons who said that humans and dragons used to live together. One of the caves has the dragon king, Bahamut, whose name (like the later Tiamat) comes eastern mythology by way of Dungeons and Dragons. Bahamut took the tail and promoted all of the characters to their prestige classes: warrior to knight, thief to ninja, black belt to master, and white mage to white wizard. These promotions not only improved the power of the characters but (in the case of the ninja and white wizard) allowed them to wield better equipment and changed their graphics to more adult figures. It also allowed the white wizard to move on to Level 6 spells and gave some spellcasting ability to the knight and ninja. In a replay, I would arrange to visit the Castle of Ordeals much sooner.
Approaching Bahamut.
The final city, in the far northwest, was called Onrac. There, I learned of a Dr. Unne, who had studied the language of the Lefeinish and could translate their speech if he had a stone slab. I also learned of a sea shrine that had sunk when the power of air was stolen; a resident of Onrac created a submarine to help the mermaid denizens of the shrine, but it needs something called Oxyale for its power. Finally, I learned that there was a caravan in the desert west of Onrac.
I don't know. Having TAIL turned out to be pretty useful to us.
There was a hidden cave behind a waterfall west of Onrac, but for the life of me I can't remember what I did there. But I did find the caravan to the west and purchased the bottled fairy from Gaia. Released at her spring within Gaia, the grateful fairy gave us the Oxyale we needed for the submarine.
The fairy rewards her return to the spring.
In the ruins of the sunken shrine, we freed a bunch of mermaids and found the stone slab that would translate Lefeinish. At the bottom level, we faced the Water Fiend, a giant kraken, and defeated him after a few tries. 
A mermaid makes a Splash reference but misspells Daryl Hannah's name.
The white wizard tries to protect us against the kraken with "INV2."
We brought the slab to Dr. Unne--fortunately, I had a screen shot showing him back in Melmond. (The manual had called attention to him at the time, so that also helped me remember.) He taught us Lefeinish. This allowed us to communicate with the people in Lefein, an ancient civilization that used to rule the skies with the power of wind; their society collapsed when the wind power had been stolen 400 years ago. NPCs told us that the desert tower was the portal to the skykeep, and they gave us a chime that would allow entry.
I think you need to elaborate how, exactly.
Another multi-level dungeon and many combats later, we came face-to-face with Tiamat, the Wind Fiend, and defeated her. The dungeon also gave us a supply of "Adamant," which we took back to the dwarf caves to be forged into Excalibur, or "Xcalber" as the game has it, one of the more powerful weapons that a knight can wield. The skykeep, I should mention, had a couple of robot NPCs and some graphics that indicated computers, evidence of the height the Lefeinish civilization had reached. This won't be the last time the series blends fantasy and science fiction, of course.
The party checks out a computer bank as a robot stands guard.
The killing blow.
All of the orbs were glowing now, and we'd defeated all of the elemental fiends. At this point, the dialogue of the sages in Crescent Lake changed to tell a lot more about the backstory and to reveal that "someone" had traveled 2,000 years back in time to release the fiends in the first place.
It's cool that dialogue options change depending on where you are in the story.
One sage told us that we'd have to use the time gate in the Temple of Fiends. I didn't know what that was. Another said that it was in the "center of the Four Altars," and I realized for the first time that the dungeons holding the four fiends, where I'd recovered the powers of the elements from altars, basically made four corners of a rough square (though slightly tilted on the map), the center of which was the temple where I'd defeated Garland. Returning now, we found it a bit different, with a time gate in the central room rather than Garland's throne. 
I'm having trouble picturing this geometrically.
The gate took us back 2,000 years to what was now a multi-leveled temple, including one floor for each of the four elements. Each floor was swarming with the types of random encounters that were found in the four individual dungeons, culminating in a second battle with stronger versions of the four fiends. After defeating the lich, the kraken, Kary, and Tiamat a second time, I finally confronted their master, who revealed himself as Garland.
A little villain's exposition.
He summoned or transformed himself into--I'm unclear on this point--a demonic being called "Chaos," which we had to fight and defeat. Chaos is particularly difficult because not only does he have spells that instantly slay the characters, he casts "CUR4" on himself, healing all hit points, in the fourth round. I found it tough to survive more than four rounds with him, so I had to try my best to knock away all 2,000 of his hit points in the first three. This wasn't impossible, as with a little critical hit luck, my first three characters were capable of doing almost 1,000 hit points per round in melee (collectively), but it did take a few reloads.
Chaos is so badass, he has demonic faces for knees and a dragon literally poking its head out of his stomach.
Once Chaos was dead, the endgame text appeared, telling us that the time-loop was broken. As a result, when we returned to our own time, we would find the world vastly changed. The fiends would have never risen to power, and so no one would remember us or our quest, though somehow the elves, the dwarves, and the dragons would remember the events and tell them as legends.
A bit from the endgame text.
There's one line, referring to the heroes, saying that "Sara and Jane wait for them . . . Of course, Garland does too." Jane is the Queen of Coneria, and Sara is the princess. The line suggests that the four heroes, appearing out of nowhere at the beginning of the game, may have in fact been the four party members returning from the past. Even though the world has changed, Garland apparently still kidnaps the princess, and she still needs to be rescued. This suggests that perhaps the time-loop has not been broken, and the game has come full circle, but perhaps I'm over-reading it, especially since the ending text takes pains to emphasize that you broke the time loop.
One of the downsides of time travel.
Let me back up and talk about combat and grinding. Each of the dungeons described above served up a boatload of random combats before we reached the "big boss" at the end. It's important to fully explore each dungeon because the dungeon's chests hold the best equipment, including vital quest items. Even if you knew how to beeline for the boss, it wouldn't be a good idea to do it.
On the other hand, sometimes you waste time getting to a chest for something like this. This was pretty late in the game.
Eventually, I developed a system to dungeon exploration. It begins with spending the night in a "house" outside the dungeon so you both save the game and recover the most of hit points and magic slots that you spent getting there. Houses are one-use items that cost 3,000 gold pieces each, but by the end of the game you're swimming in money. You also want 99 health potions and at least 20 "pure" (anti-poison) potions. Late in the game, it helps to have "soft" (anti-stone) potions.
I learned to explore the first levels as thoroughly as possible, then exit, heal, and spend another night in the house. Then with my knowledge of the first level (sometimes the first two), I would re-enter the dungeon and try to make it to the end. I learned to be judicious about which combats I fought and which I fled. Fleeing usually works, but the characters rarely go first, so you generally take some damage--sometimes significant--even when running away. If the enemies seem beatable in a couple of rounds, it's generally better to fight and get some experience for the damage you take.
Once I had the "Exit" spell (which came after promotion), I was a lot more comfortable exploring dungeons, knowing that I could just warp out if I reached the end of my resources. Until then, you have to at least plan for a return journey, although many of the dungeons mercifully return you to the surface automatically when you succeed.
Even the game knows how awesome this spell is.
The monsters in this game are an odd and sometimes funny mix.  A lot of them are taken directly from Dungeons and Dragons (e.g., chimera, cockatrice, manticore, naga), but there are a lot of funny ones that must have gone through an odd translation process. Ghosts and geists are separate creatures, for instance. A "red caribe" is a sea creature whose name must have something to do with the Caribbean. "Sahags" are a strange attempt to abbreviate "sahuagin." The "badman" looks like Batman, although with a sword. Best of all are funny combinations like the wizard mummy, the wizard vampire, the ZomBull, the zombie dragon, and the frost gator.
Minus the sword, this graphic could have easily been taken from an issue of Batman.
I found that the boss fights were always a toss-up. The bosses seem to have a mixture of weak magical attacks (like "Darkness"), moderate physical attacks, and devastating magical attacks. Some of them are capable of instant-death spells like "Rub." (There's a counter-spell, but it often doesn't cast first.) The AI isn't tactical, however, and bosses seem to select their attacks at random from their arsenals. Sometimes, I'd get unlucky with an immediate "Rub"; other times, bosses would waste their rounds on weak attacks while I beat at them. No boss ever took more than a couple of reloads.
When I say "reloads," though, I often mean reloads of save states. I'm not going to pretend that I won this while adhering to the game's rules about saving, which would have required me to reload from outside the dungeon for every party death (or death of my white wizard) that occurred within a dungeon. I save-stated about once per dungeon level, frankly sometimes more. The issue was time. I won the game at Level 27, but the game's maximum is Level 50, and I'm betting that era players were a lot closer to the maximum when they won. There are so many ways that the dice can go the wrong way, even in regular encounters, that you really need those extra levels to ensure victory. Even then, I suspect that an original player would have had to try most of the dungeons multiple times. I wanted to have a look at the game, but I wasn't interested in stretching 30 hours to 80.
My characters at the game's end.
In the last quarter of the game, I found that the dungeon combats delivered enough experience by themselves that grinding wasn't necessary, but you don't have to grind in this game to get bored by the sheer number and regularity of the combats. The regularity is probably worse than the number. Most games seem to roll for random combats at regular intervals; for instance, you might have a 20% chance of a battle every 10 seconds or a 10% chance every move in a tiled game. It doesn't happen often, but occasionally you might have a streak of a few minutes in which you fight no combats at all. (Of course, there are other times when you have a streak of several combats almost immediately after one another.) Final Fantasy, on the other hand, seems to simply give you a random battle every 6 seconds of movement, period. You can't even hope that maybe you'll make it through this level or down this corridor without one. 
I don't know that a black or red wizard would have made things easier. Maybe early in the game. Late in the game, I found some objects that cast low-level black magic spells, and my ninja acquired a few black magic levels, but by then the first few spell levels were relatively useless against higher-level enemies, so if I'd had a black wizard, I suspect his value would have been limited to his higher-level spells, of which maybe he'd have 10 slots. Those spells would have been helpful for some of the boss battles, perhaps, but they wouldn't have gotten me through all of the random battles necessary to get to the boss.
My party performed pretty well. My knight and master, in particular, escalated in both damage and critical hit percentages with every level, until by the end of the game they were doing hundreds of points of damage in a single hit. My ninja was less deadly, but only a little bit, and he got a lot more useful once I found a weapon called "Masmune." 
Wow! What is it?
My white wizard waned in power steadily throughout the game. I used her mostly for healing and occasional buffing or protection spells, although her HARM series of spells were nicely devastating to undead when we encountered them. Late in the game, I started finding items that she could use in combat, and she became a lot more useful again. Usable magic items are rare, but they never seem to run out of charges. The most useful by far was a healing staff which cast the "HEAL" spell with every use, restoring a couple dozen hit points per character. That's not enough to stave off death from a really tough enemy, but it's enough to keep the party's health above a certain threshold if I used it every round in every combat. It prevented my potions from running out and thus let me save them for when I really needed them. She also found a mage staff capable of casting "CONF" (confuse) every round and a wizard staff capable of "FIR2" every round, neither of which was a game-changer, but both of which were occasionally helpful against large parties.
Using the staff in combat.
I like the regularity of equipment upgrades, both from shops and from treasure chests. Just when I'd found something that I thought couldn't be exceeded, the game would have another surprise for me. Because of the cost of these items, plus houses and spells and healing potions, the economy remains relevant for about two-thirds of the game. After that, you've run out of stuff to buy and you keep accumulating thousands of gold pieces per battle. I ended with nearly 600,000. Different party compositions would need gold at different rates, though. An all-black belt/master party would need virtually none (no equipment and no spells) while an all red-wizard party might still need to grind for gold at the eleventh hour.
My final weapon selection.
One final thing that I enjoyed about the game is the way that the character classes' strengths and weaknesses remained relevant and noticeable throughout. My knight ended up with such good armor that he was almost immune to physical attacks, yet magic got through to him easily. My master could dodge most attacks but would take a lot of damage if something hit him. My white wizard was rarely targeted but very weak if an enemy singled her out. When my ninja scored a critical hit, he could be deadly, but when the critical roll failed, his efforts were laughable. I don't have a lot of desire to replay with a different party combination, but I understand the urge. I imagine a party of four white wizards would have a nearly impossible time, but I'm sure someone's done it.
The unarmed master's critical hits often outperformed weapons.
I had intended to wrap this whole thing up in one entry, but there's a lot more to say about the game and its legacy, plus I have to do the GIMLET, so I suppose we'll have one more. In the end, while I still have some complaints about specific aspects, I'm glad I experienced it overall. 
Final time: 30 hours


  1. Well done. The comments section for the last FF entry is humongous, so I'm not even going to pretend I have anything original to say, but I've always liked this series for its big swings, both in terms of its mechanical innovations and bizarre storytelling. Not all successes though, as I'm sure you'll discover if you ever decide to try Final Fantasy II. Girding myself for that GIMLET; FF1 definitely has a few rough patches.

  2. "I wasn't interested in stretching 30 hours to 80."

    Huh, howlongtobeat has the game listed at 17-35 hours, I wonder how you came out at the high range with save states. Maybe lots of these scores are also with save states, better party composition, and bug fixes in the new version? Or maybe you did something in an unusual order.

    1. Yeah, I don't get those times. First of all, the range from 17.5 for "main story" to 35.5 for "completionist" doesn't make any sense. The only "optional" part of the game is the promotion quest, and that doesn't take 18 hours.

      As for the low times, I assume people are playing with both save states and walkthroughs, and perhaps not playing for their first time.

      80 might have been a bit of an exaggeration. I not that on HLTB for "all playstyles," a "leisurely" game takes an average of 60.75 hours. That strikes me as a more realistic time for all the grinding that I would have had to do to not use save states.

    2. I think those times must be based on the remakes, which make the game (mostly) easier, but also add a bunch more optional "challenge" dungeons. So it's shorter overall for the main game, but if you try to play through all the extra content, it ups the time/

    3. If you know exactly what to do, you can breeze through a lot of the game with ease. Without getting too detailed, good use of elemental weaknesses (via spells, elemental weapons are broken) can let you clear out enemies much higher level than you "should" be fighting (incidentally, you don't seem to have stumbled on the Peninsula of Power, which is an area near a town that has much tougher monsters due to an editing mistake, good for grinding), letting you zip up in levels. If you do that, get just the chests with the best equipment, and beeline to all the bosses, you'll shave a lot of time off compared to a normal playthrough.

    4. That site howlongtobeat looks highly random; it looks like it's based on volunteers entering their own best guesses from memory. I wouldn't draw any conclusions based on that.

    5. Yeah, this took some time investment back in the day. The first time my brother and I beat it was when we rented it from a local video store and the last player had leveled the party up to around level 10 (ready to attack the Marsh Cave, roughly.)

      We played it straight through an entire weekend to grind our way to the finish. But that was after having rented it a few times, having to return it, and renting it again to find someone else had erased the party and trying to start over, so we were pretty familiar with the game through roughly the volcano.

      (And had the unwavering dedication of 8-year-olds playing a game in an era with no Internet to speak of and few television options.)

    6. The biggest problem with HLTB is that it doesn't differentiate first-time, blind play from people deliberately trying for a speed record. My times are always going to be slower than the average because I'm playing for the first time and not using walkthroughs.

    7. My times for first playthrough are always near the high end of the HLTB spectrum, across a variety of games, and I typically end up with "Main Story + Extras". I think there are a lot of "second-try" or "assisted" times on there, as well as people underestimating from memory. Having said that I am also a conservative player who takes longer than average.

    8. HLTB times for older games are heavily biased to replays. When I played this last it took me 18 hours (RM, BB, WM, BM), and I couldn't tell you how many times I played through it as a kid or how long it took the first time. I didn't exactly speed through the game (I talked to each NPC), but I knew essentially where to go for the next plot point. I took things in a different order: ice cave, promotion, and then volcano; doing so made the volcano much easier to get through.

    9. Oh, I forgot to mentioned two things.

      HL2B does have a "this is a replay" checkbox, but I don't know how that plays into their algorithm yet it is marked if you open up the individual play times of each category.

      My final party level was around 30.

    10. Back in the day on the actual NES I routinely beat FF1 with level 26-28 characters. An encounter with four gas dragons in the final dungeon will mess you up but the endgame quite doable even for a first time player at those levels. I don't think I ever ground above level 30 on the NES. I was not an RPG newbie having played things like Bard's Tale and Might and Magic on the Apple IIe. I also didn't know about the spells from items until I got a strategy guide years later.

  3. The "tail", btw is a "rat tail" and is intended to represent something truly valueless that you found after completing such a difficult dungeon. It will come up again in some of the future FF games. I think you would have been hinted to fetch it if you had not stumbled on the dungeon first.

    All in all, a great playthrough! I am glad that you enjoyed bits of it in the end.

    The various remakes that came out later made money and experience more plentiful, nearly eliminating any grinding required. Most of the later FF games will end up like that, usually with some side-quests or bosses that are far more difficult than the actual "final boss" to reward grinding and strategy while making the quest and story progression less frustrating for casual players.

    I look forward to the GIMLET!

  4. Masamune was a legendary swordsmith in Japanese history; the "Masmune" sword that you found is intended to be a katana equivalent to Excalibur. I imagine Japanese players had a bit of the same confusion in reverse when they found Excalibur!

    Re: the utility of black mages, they are more for blasting down the tougher random encounters than fighting bosses. Your ninja didn't have the stats to make his black magic useful compared to just attacking, but for a black mage the low and mid-level spells are useful throughout the whole game. Enemies have elemental strengths and weaknesses, so a well-used black mage generally has a higher damage output than a thief/ninja.

  5. Was excited to see how it played out and I`m delighted to see that it played out so well. Love the dialogue, to the point, but with just enough flavor. Like it better than the tortured prose of many CRPGS of the era.

    Monster portraits are also really well drawn. You can tell they had some experienced graphical artists.

  6. Kary is a mistranslation of "Kali" as in the multi-armed Hindu goddess. Her graphics are a blatant ripoff of the marilith from AD&D. So yep, it's a she.

    I'm assuming you didn't stumble upon Warmech. We'd definitely have seen a screenshot if you did. (Its an ED209 styled mech with NUCLEAR as one of its attacks.)

    1. That doesn't sound familiar. Where would I have met that?

    2. If I remember correctly, Warmech shows up in Skykeep.

      Also, there have been crazy persons beating the game with just ONE white mage.

      I think the only run that hasn't been successfully completed was the single thief run. Though that was years ago, so someone might have done it by now.

    3. Warmech is indeed a rare encounter in a single small area in Skykeep. Most players won't see it because of this unless they specifically know where it is and repeatedly fight there until it shows up (or they get extremely unlucky).


    5. warMech does indeed appear in the floating castle, on the long bridge right before the Tiamat battle. It's a very rare encounter... I want to say a 1 in 64 chance or something, but I'm not sure on the exact number.

      WarMech is often considered the first "optional superboss," a boss harder than the actual final boss that you can fight just for bragging rights. This pattern would become much more visible in later games in the series.

    6. > Also, there have been crazy persons beating the game with just ONE white mage.

      That's what I did when I did my playthrough on my NES several years ago. So I did it with no save states. The opening is rough, but then you get to the Peninsula of Power and can take advantage of the fact that a hard reset of the console puts you on the step of the encounter table where you will roll 2-4 ZomBulls and 0-2 of the non-undead enemy. So you tent, hard reset, get the encounter, and hard reset if a non-undead spawns or the fight goes badly. If you win tent and hard reset to repeat. Combine with a little bit of level save scumming to get the handful of agility upgrades needed to guarantee I can run from all fights and it came down to just not getting screwed in the Ice Cave. And rolling well against Chaos at the end. Good thing the Masamune is equippable by everyone.

    7. For maximum pedantry: WarMech is found in three of the possible 256 encounters on that long thin bridge just before Tiamat. Also, all three encounters are located very late in the encounter table, so you're not going to see it unless you try to find it or somehow enter the Mirage Tower after a fairly long session without doing a full reset-restart of the system.

    8. "Kary" is technically not a mistranslation -- the Japanese is straight-up "Marilith".

    9. I mean, it's not a mistranslation of "Kali" per se; they seem to have been avoiding "Marilith".

  7. Probably worth comparing this to those weird games that all used joystick controls in a more full-featured rpg experience. Given the limited range of buttons here it's probably for the best they didn't try adding a bunch of extra complexity that would drag everything down. Not that it isn't missed, mind!

    1. It would on other sites, but my blog is about CRPGs, so it gets compared to CRPGs.

    2. And please continue to do that! I think the main value we find in you covering these games is your perspective coming from CRPGs. For me, this was the first RPG I played, so I didn't have the years of CRPGs behind me to compare it to.

    3. Oh, sure; I was thinking of some of the c64 games (or was it amstrad?) that had awkward joystick controls despite being a computer game. I've no idea how they thought having like twenty different commands with only one or two buttons was a sensible way to make a game.

    4. I wonder what would have happened if console makers had introduce controllers of modern complexity with early titles. Would we have latched onto them as intutively as we do now? Or did players NEED 25 years of evolution of game controllers, mastering joysticks first, then pads, then pads WITH joysticks, etc., to get to where we are now?

    5. I think it's more like once you rule out a keyboard, there's only so many controls you will ever need for the types of games that can be made on that hardware. What kind of game are you gonna make for the NES that needs two triggers, two bumpers, four face buttons and three directional inputs? You weren't going to be moving through a true 3D space, so looking and movement were synonymous. You probably wouldn't have a need for quick inventory slots, or multiple kinds of melee attacks.

      Typing is useful to any game at any technology level because typing is infinitely versatile. There's only so many gameplay applications for buttons and analog sticks, and it took a while for consoles to get access to games that required that extra level of control.

    6. I really, really don't like controllers. But maybe that's because I don't use them regularly so whenever I take one into my hands it feels like a foreign object. The last time I seriously tried to play with one was 10 years ago, when I graduated high school and we had a gamecube in the recreation room. I really sucked at using the thing. Since then, I have only touched a controller once, and that was when I visited Gamescom as a reporter for RPG Codex. It was either in 2016 or 2017. In one area they had a couple of consoles running the console port of Risen 3, and I was curious enough to take a controller and try it out. It felt extremely awkward.

      I don't mind specialized controllers like joysticks (for flight sims and space combat games) or driving wheels (for driving games), but controllers seem extremely awkward to me and I just don't see the point. It's not like they can do anything that mouse and keyboard doesn't do better.

    7. Some early consoles had controllers with a lot of input - the Intellivision phone pad, or the Atari 2600's Star Raiders controller come to mind.

      In the end, I think cost was key. 4 face buttons (A, B, Start, Select) were enough for most games you could realize with the NES hardware, and it is pretty telling that the Sega Genesis initially shipped with a controller that also had 4 buttons (replacing Select with a "C" button for easier access). Every input costs money, and when you're looking at millions of units even the tiniest of costs adds up. So they limited the controls to the smallest number that was practical.

      What seems to have driven the button count up is arcade ports of fighting games. Arcade machines, of course, can have exactly the inputs that the game developer feels necessary, and a good fighting game needs quite a few inputs in order to have enough complexity to work.

      When the SNES launched, it shot to a total of 8 buttons (8 face buttons+2 shoulders), which proved perfect for porting the big fighters of the day (Street Fighter and a heavily censored version of Mortal Kombat). Sega responded with a 6 button pad, and the next evolution was Sony adding an extra pair of shoulder buttons to the SNES pad as part of the ill-fated Nintendo Playstation project. Later, two analog sticks were added, and you have the originator of every major controller in use today.

    8. My only controller experience was when I had a NES in mid-90s. This year I got an Xbox controller and found it extremely unwieldy. Though having hands small hands didn't help either - my trigger fingers could barely reach triggers.

    9. Just to add to Gnoman's summary, the extra shoulder buttons on the PlayStation pad were supposed to be used for movement in three dimensions, before they introduced analogue sticks in a later revision.

    10. I'm not sure I agree that the NES controller was sufficient for most NES games. They made it work because they had to, but there are frequent suboptimal controls using select oddly or an awkward combination of buttons or forcing you out of the action to navigate menus. Or they just never coded in an action that could have made the game better.

      Modern retrogames that copy the style from that era have no trouble using up the extra face and shoulder buttons. I think the SNES controller is really the minimum, even for the 2D era, and while it might have been too far a leap forward at the time, the NES would have been better off with it.

    11. As I recall, joysticks before the NES had only one button, and the NES has four. So that's already a big step forward.

  8. If I remember correctly, you can do the Castle of Ordeals as soon as you got the canoe. You just exit the boat into a river which leads there.

    And yes, playing as four white mages is difficult and has been done. The hardest way of doing something like this is a single thief playthrough (get your other characters killed immediately). That one is next to impossible and requires save scumming to get max stat gains every level.

    1. I assume "single thief" or "four thieves" means not getting them promoted to ninjas along the way?

    2. Yeah, it is possible (though not advised) to complete the game without obtaining the promotion. You end up not being able to equip most of the weapons and armor found after obtaining the airship, although I believe the Masamune is still usable.

    3. I usually see them allowing promotions. I believe that single thief is so hard WITH the promotion that trying without it would be actually impossible.

    4. Solo ninja is a lot easier in the later stages due to access to FAST, but the hardest part of the solo thief/ninja is getting past Lich. Then you grab the Canoe, hightail it to the Castle of Ordeal to grab the loot there (Zeus Gauntlet, Gold Bracelet, Heal Staff), then do the Ice Cave and the Waterfall to get the defense, at which point you fall back on the basic RUSE spam strategy which you would be using even as a Ninja.

      It's really the grind before Astos that's the problem. And Kraken 2, but that's an issue for every solo.

  9. Some assorted notes I took as I read through the entry:

    - "KARY" was actually just a marilith in the original Japanese, they scrubbed the name in the English version probably for TSR copyright reasons. (Later official translations of the game restored the "Marilith" name.) So yes, "her" was correct.
    - The waterfall cave is where you find the CUBE that grants access to the floating castle. I forget how you're supposed to be pointed in that direction or if you're expected to stumble upon it.
    - I think the implication with "Garland does too" is that with the time loop broken, he never kidnapped the Princess to begin with and is simply a good knight.
    - Your observations on how random battles work are pretty spot-on; the vast majority of Final Fantasy games use some variant of a step counter to trigger encounters, with different types of terrain sometimes advancing the counter multiple steps to adjust the apparent rate. The only part that's random (as random as a computer can be) is the initial value of the counter after each battle.
    - As far as I'm aware, yes, every possible party permutation in FF1 has been completed, including ones involving duplicates.
    - As a final footnote, the bats in the room you originally fought Garland have some interesting dialogue that can only be seen after you've defeated all four fiends.

    I'm looking forward to the final post (and also more Ultima VII!)

  10. "I imagine a party of four white wizards would have a nearly impossible time"

    Funny that you mention this, since it's a famous challenge run of the game, big enough to get a legendary shout-out in a famous webcomic that uses FF1 as a base:

    That said, I've done it and it's actually not too tricky, just boring. You have enough healing power to outlast most enemies, so it's typically just a matter of outlasting them by focusing 3 of your party on healing while the other one focuses on dealing damage.

  11. Glad that you had fun with this overall, but the frequent encounter rate would wear me out so quickly, I'd drop the game before I get even 10 hours in. My tolerance for frequent trash encounters, especially random ones, has really gone down in recent years.

  12. Going forward in JRPGs, you can expect that grinding to be a constant feature, but become (on average) less obnoxious due to:
    (a) many games with a less troublesome encounter rate;
    (b) combat itself becoming a little deeper and more entertaining; and
    (c) character progression becoming deeper, so that frequent combats mean frequent interesting character progression.

    But that's still relative. Grinding remains a strong feature of most JRPGs through to today, and even new games coming out this year don't necessarily succeed in making it fun.

    1. Any games in the genre that don't have grinding? I always wanted to give the genre a chance but all the games I tried had something offputting in them. Too frequent random encounters and grind with a relatively simple combat system, and all conversations with NPCs were lengthy cutscenes with zero player input.

      I guess there are no JRPGs where dialogues either use Ultima's keywords or Fallout's dialog trees? All the ones I tried have a hands-off approach to conversation where you approach an NPC and then the conversation happens automatically, with no player input whatsoever.

      As for the combat, I guess those eastern RPGs who play more like Gold Box than Wizardry are called "SRPG". I enjoyed Tactics Ogre, Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, as well as some newer titles like Troubleshooter. But they're explicitly labeled as SRPGs rather than JRPGs so I assume that whenever combat includes maneuvering your characters across a grid, it's no longer referred to as a JRPG.

      The only genuine JRPG that looks interesting to me is Shin Megami Tensei because it looks like a pure Wizardry style dungeon crawler without too much of the annoying JRPG fluff.

    2. PetrusOctavianusJuly 2, 2020 at 5:21 AM

      Wizardry Gaiden IV: Throb of the Demon's Heart for the SNES the is good, has an English translation and is easy to play with an emulator. No grind and no puke inducing anime.

    3. Wizardry series is highly popular in Japan, so there is metric ton of JP exclusive Wizardry games. You may want to try some of those with translations/fantranslations JariFrank. Shin Megami Tensei has some cool things about it too, especially the plot and a few endings in each of the games. The thing is, Japan wasn't so big on dungeon crawlers, so those are in the minority of the games for sure, but there are some open-world JRPGs too (Metal Max series - essentially wacky post-apocalypse, for example). They had a sea of weird, off-the-wall games which can't be compared to anything else, like Mother/Earthbound.

    4. I generally like what JRPGS are trying to accomplish, but yes most of the time they seem to fall short of the mark. It's hard to relate to too cute characters/monsters. FF XII and Suikoden V maybe the best for my taste (story in former is claimed to be based on Star Wars, but OTOH the Star Wars story is also claimed to be based on a Kurosawa movie. Combat is maybe simplistic but not easy, and can be automated).

    5. Honestly, well-balanced JRPGs really shouldn't require grinding, if you're not going for ridiculously overpowered postgame bosses or anything like that. If you fight all the random battles consistently and pay attention to how your abilities work, you should be at roughly the power level you need to deal with the next event in the plot. When RPGs require terrible grinding, they're probably either really old and poorly balanced (early Dragon Quest), or designed specifically for niche gamers who genuinely do enjoy grinding (Disgaea). If you want to see good examples of how good JRPG progression is supposed to work, HCBailly is a prolific Let's Play-er who plays older JRPGs almost exclusively and usually does as little grinding as he can possibly get away with.

      You'll occasionally see a bit of grid-based movement in a standard JRPG—Radiant Historia comes to mind—but you are correct that any serious grid-based planning like Final Fantasy Tactics would usually be marketed as strategy RPGs. I'd consider SRPGs to be a subgenre of JRPGs, but I don't really play SRPGs, so what do I know?

      I haven't played it myself, but I think Etrian Odyssey is a well-known modern JRPG series with Wizardry-style dungeon crawling?

      I'm not aware of any JRPGs that use dialog trees extensively. Final Fantasy II kind of tried to do it, but it's just not a mechanic that really works well on console platforms. Newer games will sometimes give you one or two branches in long conversations, but they tend not to affect the flow of the scene all that much. I guess people in Japan who like complicated conversation trees will probably be playing visual novels instead, which are their own massive genre (and tend not to have many RPG mechanics).

    6. stepped pyramidsJuly 2, 2020 at 5:27 PM

      There are visual novel/RPG hybrids, but all the ones I'm aware of require you to have an extremely high tolerance for anime tropes far exceeding even the goofiest Final Fantasy entries.

    7. As someone who grew up with and played a lot of both styles I find most CRPGs, particularly the dungeon crawler genre, to have far more grinding than the average JRPG. The "JRPGs = grinding!" stereotype is IMO a longstanding myth that comes from the fact that JRPGs typically have more vertical stat progression than CRPGs, allowing grinding to function as a crutch for unskilled players in lieu of strategy, whereas grinding in CRPGs tends to just add more health at best without really improving your damage output or other variables crucial to winning combat.

      No amount of grinding will really help you defeat Werdna in Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord if you haven't devised the correct strategies to efficiently handle that battle (and get lucky with the turn order and Werdna not deciding to just smack you with Tiltowait). Most JRPGs will *let* you overpower challenges with stats, but it isn't the developers' intent to do that usually, barring primitive examples like the original Dragon Quest. And even in Dragon Quest I'd argue that the only entries that "require" any significant amount of grinding are the first two.

    8. PetrusOctavianusJuly 2, 2020 at 8:59 PM

      Funny you should mention Wiz 1. I remember thinking it might have been an idea to grind until my characters all had enough HP to survive a Tiltowait when I played it Iron Man, when in the end I was forced to reload once.

    9. Good lord, that'd be a lot of grinding, considering it'd take a mage with 18 VIT until level 19 to have 101+ HP on average.

      More likely the way would be to swap your front and back lines with mass class changes once you get to level 13 or 14 or so, so your mages can benefit from having HP typical of fighters.

    10. Grinding on Murphy's Ghost is how I beat Werdna after my first party wipe at him. Essentially all fighters to level 13, and then change them to spellcasters, then bring in my actual front line.

  13. The formula for random encounters is this:
    Generate a random number and add it to a base value. This is the number of "steps" until an encounter. Different terrain depletes this at different rates. You'll never fight a random encounter two squares in a row due to the base.

    You can also exploit the counter by depleting it before taking the stairs to a harder area.

    There are also fixed combat squares with a predetermined monster formation. These are often in front of chests or choke points, but they can occur anywhere. The Cthulhu-like mages at the end of the swap cave are like this. These unmarked fixed squares can make it feel like the RNG is cursed sometimes. You can exploit these when grinding to force back to back encounters.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Some notes:

    Warmech's a special boss fight that can only appear on the bridge to Tiamat in the last level of the sky fortress. He's quite difficult and you get nothing special for winning.

    The 4 white mage challenge run is indeed pretty tough, but honestly 4 thieves was the hardest of the "all one class" challenge runs back when I did em. Thieves are just so mediocre and there's no great way to grind em up.

    Having black magic would've made certain areas a LOT easier; Lightning spells utterly wreck sea creatures and hey, there's a whole sea area. Fire is ruinous to undead, including Lich, and those various ice monsters in the floater cave. The fire monsters in the volcano don't like being frozen. A lot of the ooze/muck/slime type monsters are basically insta-killed by the appropriate elemental spell and are otherwise a huge hassle. Tiamat can be literally instakilled with the right black magic spell. Black magic also, paradoxically, gets the best buff in the game: Fast, which works similarly to Haste in DnD based games.

    The canoe was given to you by the sages that stand in a circle.

  16. Calling fighting random encounters in order to gain experience grinding is begging the question. As is clear from your review of the original Dragon Quest, the loop of slowly leveling up by fighting is not something getting in the way of the gameplay in that game -- it is the gameplay. Final Fantasy has a lot more going on than Dragon Quest,t but it's still designed thiswthis because its implied audience up believes that leveling up really fun and the quest is window dressing that gives it some color. Calling it grinding misses the point.

    1. Sure, some people enjoy the gameplay loop of repeatedly seeking out and overcoming the same challenge in order to obtain some reward, but what's the problem with referring to that as grinding? It seems to succinctly communicate exactly what's going on. Is there a better word?

    2. PetrusOctavianusJuly 2, 2020 at 3:19 PM

      Grinding is when you actively seek out random encounters or respawning fixed encounters to get more XP.

      Grind is when the game throws random encounters at you every second step.

    3. Terminology aside, Thecla makes an interesting argument: that 1980s players regarded plot points (including fixed encounters and NPC dialogue) the way that we regard cut-scenes today: interesting ways to break up the action, but not the reason that we play the game. Running around and fighting random combats was for 1980s players the equivalent of exploring the open worlds of, say, Red Dead Redemption or Assassin's Creed. Occasionally, you check in with the next main mission, but really what you want to do is explore, shoot caribou, and make money.

      What do you think about that argument?

      Either way, I don't think that "grinding" necessarily has to be pejorative. I prefer games that allow it, in fact. It has a pretty well-established definition of meaning "deliberately seeking out random combats so you're tough enough for the fixed combats." Thus, your point and the use of the term can still be true.

    4. PetrusOctavianusJuly 2, 2020 at 5:22 PM

      Well, I'm of the opinion that very few CRPGs require any grinding, Bard's Tale 1 being the only one I can think of, or if you Iron Man a game and can't take chances. I like a challenge in my CRPGs, and I'd rather reload a couple of times and prevail with a normal leveled party, rather than grind for levels.

      I disagree with Thecla; it's not how I remember it. My recollection of the Bard's Tale games, for example, was that I really liked the special encounters, and was disappointed with the third one for having so few of them. Same with the Gold Box games; it was the difficult set encounters and the large battles in Pool of Radiance I really liked, while I detested the copy pasted random encounter in Gateway to the Savage Frontier.
      Might&Magic 2 was different, though, since both enemies and loot was so random, so every encounter was a potential new useful item. And it was already an open world game.
      Maybe NPC dialogue and Journal Entries broke the flow, but never as annoyingly as cut-scenes can be.
      A better analogue for me is the jumping puzzles in Half-Life; now that's what I call mood killers.

    5. I think Thecla was specifically talking about console players of the period. Naturally, I don't need to ask for opinions about whether computer RPG players played like that.

      I agree that the percentage of RPGs that require grinding is small. I don't find myself complaining about it very often. The opposite--hitting level caps well before the end of the game--is a much bigger problem.

    6. I'm persuaded that the term isn't necessarily pejorative, although a lot of people do use it that way. I'm more trying to argue that we should keep in mind that a game with a lot of combat isn't necessarily designed that way because they designers wanted to pad their content or didn't have better ideas - it can be because they believed it was fun. It's hard to get into the minds of players more than 30 years ago, but we can see what game makers thought they wanted. My personal memory is that I did play Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy when they came out as a small child and didn't play CRPGS until later. I remember reading complaints about the frequency of random encounters in Final Fantasy II US in video game magazines, and disagreeing because I liked getting to do all those fights. That game, by the way, is tuned to require almost no grinding and is more fun if you play it straight through. I don't remember Dragon Quest II or III well, but I played IV a lot and it does not require many extra fights to succeed and seems to be intended for an audience more interested in storytelling. So within just a few years the emphasis of these JRPG designs had changed.

      On the other hand, the original Final Fantasy assumes that you like doing a ton of fights and that leveling up is inherently fun. There are still a lot of JRPGs coming out that cater to this play-style, although they usually cordon it off into the post-game for players with old fashioned tastes.

    7. The console JRPG I started with was Phantasy Star, which is pretty representative of grindy JRPGS.

      The grind was always entertaining when the *rewards* for grind were frequent. If you were only five combats away from your next level-up, or your next spell, or buying the next weapon, it was fun to grind.

      If, on the other hand, you were just trying to complete the endless frikking ice maze on Dezoris / Dezolis, then you very much were tired of running into yet another frikking enemy encounter. (Or if the next power-up was an hour of grinding away but you really couldn't progress without it.)

      Phantasy Star was very linear in that there was no amount of "playing cleverly" which would eliminate the need for frequent and exhaustive grinding. It was an inherent part of the game, not an option to adjust to the difficulty, and that's pretty representative of the approach of most of the JRPG genre, particularly from this era.

    8. I'd also say that in many games level-ups (and their associated rewards) ARE the content, or at least part of it, and sometimes saying "you don't need to grind to finish the game" is tantamount to saying "you can skip 80% of the plot and just fight the end boss if you want to".

      Sure, you *can*...

      (I say this to explain my approach. Good games support multiple ways to play them, and no way is wrong if you enjoy doing it. And grind isn't inherently either content or fun in all cases.)

    9. I love leveling up as much as the next guy, but repetitive grinding of random encounters is just tedious and wears me out. It drains all the fun out of the game. I enjoy RPGs for the hand-placed encounters (Baldur's Gate 2 has some great encounter design, some encounters in Temple of Elemental Evil are great, and Knights of the Chalice is good throughout), not for the repetitive random ones.

      Although I can enjoy a game focused on slaying your way through hordes of enemies as long as the combat is fun and/or quick. I'm fine with most roguelikes because 90% of their encounters are over in 5 seconds unless it's a dangerous boss enemy you need to think about. Same with Diablo-style games, slaying your way through enemy hordes is really quick there (unless the enemies have bloated HP pools, in which case the game becomes tedious and boring). I also don't mind Arcanum's combat at all, everyone says the game has terrible combat but in real time mode it's over so quickly, it's pretty much a non-issue.

      The main issue with JRPGs is that they combine grind with lengthy wastes of time. It becomes even worse in newer games than in the old ones: fancy unskippable animations for each attack, spell, even for chugging a potion. Where a fight against 10 orcs in Might and Magic would take 20 seconds, sou can spend 2 minutes on the same fight in a late 90s JRPG because of all the fancy animations slowing the gameplay down. That's pretty much the opposite of fun for me.

    10. The whole idea of level caps is to make grinding psychologically unnecessary. I guess whatever you do it will make some players unhappy...

    11. Yeah, I don't think 'randomness' is essential to grinding. I think the important element is repetitive sameness. It's facing the same challenge over and over again, one you have already bested and you know exactly how to beat again, for which there is no tension over the outcome. You are pretty much on autopilot. But the draw is the reward cycles for putting in the work.

      And you can see this in other genres, like watering your plants every day in a farming game. It's not just about fighting monsters for XP.

      So a game can use randomness but not be grinding as long as it's paced to keep things fresh and provide a steady stream of new types of challenges.

    12. Gerry, see my entire phrase: "hitting level caps WELL BEFORE THE END OF THE GAME." I don't mind level caps in a vacuum. I mind when you hit them with 20 hours to go even though you HAVEN'T been grinding. Fighting combats with no character development is like working for no pay.

      I guess I agree, asimpkins, that randomness isn't exactly necessary to the concept of grinding, but if you accept my definition that grinding is deliberately seeking EXTRA combats for the purposes of leveling, 99% of games are going to implement those as random encounters. Very few games would offer optional fixed encounters as an outlet for grinding; most fixed encounters are in service to the plot or one of its quests.

    13. Ironically Wizardry 1 is one of the games that *does* offer such a fixed encounter, in the form of Murphy's ghost. (A lot of first-person dungeon crawlers include a similar fixed fight as an homage to Murphy's ghost, too; for instance, all of the Elminage games have the statue of Avi performing the same role.)

    14. I've seen some FF1 veterans treat the Beholder in the Ice Cave as the game's equivalent of Murphy's Ghost. The Dragon Zombies in the Citadel of Trials are also a popular choice.

  17. My best interpretation of the ending, based on just having read the Japanese text, is this. In an original timeline, there was a fight between a renegade knight named Garland and some local warriors over a princess, and this happened to be exactly at the locus where the four constituent powers that form the world converge. Garland's anger created a disharmony with the four powers, and that led to space and time being twisted and sending him back in time. He then used the power of that locus from the past to divert the four powers to himself and make himself immortal. With the powers thus diverted, history changed and the normal world was suddenly turned mad. The four powers resisted this by creating the four Crystals ("ORBs") and choosing the most convenient people to take them and go fix the problem. And with Garland defeated in the past and the time loop broken, everything, including Garland, went back to normal.

    The text does make a big deal out of the fact that no one consciously remembers those events or the battles that righted them, but there was some kind of echo in everyone's hearts that inspires them to maintain harmony with the four powers henceforth, or something. It does feel like a very Japanese fable to me; the basic theme they're trying to convey seems to be that a tiny act of disharmony in the wrong place sent the whole world into chaos.

    On which note, the four "fiends" are just called four Chaoses in the original text. There's no particular explanation of what exactly the final boss is; I assume it's just meant to be Garland with superpowers. (It is still just called "Chaos" in Japanese.)

    I think they also imply that the awakening of the four fiends/Chaoses was following a regular pattern of 200 year intervals for some reason, and that thus the fire fiend Marilith ("Kary") wasn't actually supposed to wake up for another 200 years. But the party's defeat of Lich caused her to start awakening earlier.

    1. Other random notes:
      - The "floater" is a magic stone that makes things float. Other guidebooks definitely describe it that way in English, but I guess the game's internal text doesn't clarify that. I thought the English manual might, but looking at it now, I guess it doesn't either. Wow.
      - The "tail" is definitely a rat or mouse tail. (The Japanese word is nezumi, which could be either one.) I think Bahamut's English dialog does mention that it's the "tail of a rat."
      - The "adult" sprites in this game actually look far stranger to me than the original ones. They just look like they have tiny shrunken head and cartoonishly huge biceps. So I don't know. It is a kind of neat change in art style, though, and I do wish we could have seen those proportions better realized in future games. Every other game uses the same basic proportions as the initial sprites, though.
      - I'm not sure, but I think the woman with the submarine says something about being an illusion created by the mermaids when she disappears in Japanese. That seems to follow with one of the mermaids later saying that you "answered our call."
      - I guess it's not really called out, but there's a black opening on one of the last floors of the floating castle that you can examine, and you get some text describing the four powers converging on the Temple of Fiends as you look at the world from above. I think there might be an animation on the in-game map conveying that after you defeat Tiamat too? I'm not sure.
      - Even knowing how much D&D influence there was on this game, I was still surprised at how many obvious D&D monsters there were when reading the Japanese names. Apart from the obvious mind flayers and beholders, there are just so many random D&D things like rakshasas ("catman"), bulettes ("ankylo", I think?), and ochre jellies ("ooze", maybe? One of those slime enemies.). D&D players in Japan must have loved this game.
      - "caribe" and "red caribe" were just piranhas and red piranhas originally. I have no idea why those got changed. "badman" was a black knight. "zombull" is a zombie minotaur; the regular "bull"s are just regular minotaurs. I think the "WzMummy" was a "mummy king" in Japanese? A lot of enemy variants just got the generic "Wz" or "Gr" prefix in English when the Japanese names were a little more varied.
      - For what it's worth, I played the game more or less fairly just now, and finished at around 27, maybe 28. I probably got fairly lucky in missing some unavoidable wipes, though. It's also possible that the Japanese version was just a little easier somehow, but I'm not aware of any differences. Definitely spent the last half of the game with the white wizard doing nothing but spamming the heal staff, though. There's also a "heal helm" that I had my knight use occasionally too? Not sure what that turned into in English offhand.

    2. I was planning on posting about some of the Japanese to English differences, but you did a much better job than I could have. Only thing to add is that in the original version, the orbs were crystals. Crystals end up playing decently large roles in later Final Fantasy games, presumably as a reference to the original. While all later ports reverted the change, it's still a callback that would have been completely lost on the vast majority of non-Japanese players for a while

    3. My understanding has been that crystals were changed to orbs to eliminate the possible (New Age?) religious connotation. None of the later games bothered with that tweak, thankfully.

    4. I'd not heard that. I'd assume that "orb" is just a significantly shorter word than "crystal."

      Note that the graphics on the menu screen were still round balls in the original, so "orb" was a perfectly reasonable description of the objects seen on screen. It wasn't until FF3, I believe, that they started using the hexagonal quartz shape for the standard representation of crystals.

    5. Here's the full list of the monsters, and their D&D source:

    6. Thanks for going into such detail about the differences from the Japanese version, NLeseul. I was curious about all of that, and you saved me a lot of research time.

      Laszlo, when you mean "their D&D source," do you mean for the characteristics of the creature or the images? Or both?

    7. And I still think the Badman looks like Batman.

    8. The Evilman (Black Knight per direct translation) may have been based on the Anti-paladin from AD&D

    9. The concept of dark knights (another variant of the "black night" enemy") is one the series will be fascinated with for the next several games. A dark knight will be a major villain in the second game. The third game will introduce dark knights as a playable character class late in the game. The fourth will open with a dark knight slaughtering helpless villagers, and then make him the protagonist.

    10. Great list, Laszlo!

      The CRAWL does paralysis damage only, so given the name similarity I suspect this is a Carrion Crawler, which has 8 attacks but does paralysis damage only.

      The 'Sahaginchifu' and 'Sahaginpurinsu' sound like Japanese transliterations of 'Sahuagin chief' and 'Sahuagin prince', which were leader varieties of sahuagin listed in the Monster Manual; 1st ed had extensive lists of higher-level enemies for humanoid monsters.

      'Goburingado' sounds like 'goblin guard', which all the goblins in Pool of Radiance were called for some reason. Not sure if there's a connection as FF1 came out a year earlier.

      The PHANTOM's 'desubihoruda' sounds like 'death beholder', perhaps analogous to the death tyrant.

  18. FYI, for anyone who isn't aware, the whole segment of the game with the floating castle full of advanced technology and staffed with ancient robots is essentially lifted wholesale from the plot of the 1986 animated movie Castle in the Sky. It's probably the most 'homaged' movie in Japanese RPGs - the other big plot element is a mysterious girl who falls from the sky wearing an even mysteriouser pendant, a motif repeated in dozens of games.

    1. It is also the plot of the D&D adventure module S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks written in 1979 by Gary Gygax.

    2. Sorry, but a crashed UFO is hardly flying or a castle, is it? ;)

    3. FF seems like a melange of a lot of sources. Thanks for letting me know about that one.

    4. "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" is itself inspired by the flying city of Laputa, probably the least remembered segment of "Gulliver's Travels"

    5. PetrusOctavianusJuly 2, 2020 at 5:36 PM

      But a legendary name: "TheWhore".

    6. Laputan machine.

      "I am not a machine - -"

    7. A lot of the later FF games extensively reference Star Wars, too.

  19. Congratulations!

    I got my party up to level 37 before I gave up and went and fought Chaos to end the game. Which was trivial. My Master was doing MORE damage with his bare hands than the Knight with XCalber, and in fact, I killed Chaos in two rounds so he never even had a chance to heal himself to full. I had trouble even finding encounters I could grind on for XP around there. Getting your party to level 50 is more a measure of patience than difficulty.

    I was always amused that the Master never got better armor than Wood. Any monster hitting him would do crazy amounts of damage. Of course after awhile his hit points were so crazy high it didn't matter either...

    The old Nintendo guide actually advised you to give Masmune to your White Wizard so he could be a 'decent fighter', but I think your tactic works better.

    1. I know that in the original version at least, monks were a rare martial class that got absolutely insane growth, as opposed to fairly linear growth. From my understanding, an all monk party is by far one of the most powerful you can make.

    2. The Black Belt/Master gets natural absorb if he doesn't wear armor. (I think I recall a bug that he needs a full restart-reset of the console for it to take effect but that might be wrong.) So at level 6 or so he should ditch the armor entirely.

    3. You're thinking of the bug in which a Monk's Absorb becomes equal to his level after a level-up, even when he's already wearing armor. The Absorb is corrected after going to the armor screen.

  20. I remember the Nintendo Power Guide recommended you grind your party to level 9 before entering the Marsh cave. And also buy 99(!) Heal potions and a generous (a few dozen?) Pure potions. As a kid it was a long boring and annoying slog to do, mostly on the plains near the elf city. (At those levels the peninsula of power was way too much).

    I wonder now how much of that was due to concern that NES gamers would quit out of frustration too soon so they advised leveling that high to make it easier? The Marsh Cave is certainly doable before that. And the Earth dungeon is not that much higher in level to tackle.

  21. This post has inspired me: I have picked up and am playing a fan translation of FF3 for the NES. That is the last original Final Fantasy game that I have not played.

    (I did the FF2 remake years ago which reduced the difficulty somewhat, but I have no desire to slog through that again. Maybe it was better on the original console though. I recall that it had a much more detailed plot than FF, but that could be the remake too.)

    I also booted up Final Fantasy Legend for the Gameboy for the first time in years. Wow, the sprites and text are huge! GB must have had insanely low resolution. I look forward to Chet’s take on his first handheld game when he gets to it.

    1. Nah, FF2 has pretty much always been a bad game. Even Dawn of Souls, the most recent port I'm aware of, didn't manage to make it good.

    2. Honestly, FF2 becomes a LOT better once you understand how the growth system works. You can very quickly turn yourself into a physical god and steamroll everything in your path. But it is definitely exploiting things and is a very weird way of playing. Once you get through that initial grind you'll never really need to worry again. But if you play through it "normally" it'll be extremely tough.

      As for FFIII, it is the hardest of the NES Final Fantasies because it lacks any real exploitable mechanics (unless you're willing to do the item glitch to get the Onion Equipment). Original FF had the Peninsula and the dodge stat and II had the aforementioned non-traditional level ups. III requires you to play it normally and it has several hard dungeons and then the final is a marathon. So be prepared for that.

    3. Even playing it with an idea of how to exploit it FF II is still a god awful slog. The dungeon design sucks, you don't get your final party member until way too late, so many things that could be cool (black magic and items) are made absolutely useless by the leveling system. Getting naked and bashing yourself in the face while running into low level goblins (who are probably very confused about what's going on) for the first few hours of the game is not very fun even if it makes the game easier later on. I'll grant that it's got some neat ideas with the plot, and the idea of the final dungeon is cool even if the implementation is lacking. FF III is so vastly superior to it though I really don't see why you should bother with II unless you're one of the people who have to play every part of the series like I have attempted.

    4. Personally, I never really had any problems with FF II. Hell, it and FF X are the only two games in the series that I've beat, although FF II was the PS1 port

    5. The GB monitor resolution was 160x144. The screen size was maybe around 2.75 inch diagonal, so yeah, I I imagine blowing those graphics up to current monitor sizes would look pretty crazy.

    6. Beating yourself up increases health and vitality, but not much else, which isn't as helpful as you might think. It's kind of a waste of time, if you ask me, and much more practical to focus on magic and evasion.

      The Origins remake of II fixes so many bugs and oversights that I consider it one of the few instances of a remake being legitimately superior to the original, though I will say that its sprite art isn't as nice.

    7. Personally I liked the sprite art, although I also grew up with that style more than the 8 bit one

    8. Mr. Popo - FFIII does have one other exploitable mechanic: if you unequip a spell and then use the Sight spell, the unequipped spells will exist in both your inventory and your character's spellbook. In other words, free Gil. You can also use Toad, Mini, and Telepo as instant death spells, though I don't think they're too reliable until late in the game.

      FFIII is pretty manageable for the most part. Telepo is acquired quite early, and all of your party members can dual-wield, so the game really does try to help you as much as it can. The summons in the late game are pretty powerful, too. I don't consider it a particularly difficult installment aside from the endgame.

    9. My "favorite" part of FF2 is when you get the final, ultimate magic spell, sealed away by the gods themselves because of its immense power... and then it's level 1 and does completely worthless damage compared to the basic fire spell you've been leveling up the whole time. Trash game.

  22. That's actually a pretty cool plot! And also a temper tantrum of pretty epic proportions.

  23. I just want to point out that IMHO having a black mage/black wizard speeds the game up considerably. In particular, when traveling by boat, LIT2 will clear a battle in a single turn.

    1. Fair enough. That might be another reason my times clash with HLTB.

    2. Most of the times when I look up different games on HLTB I know when to add or substract time according to my own playstyle of differnet genres, so it is a good source but you need to know how to use it in comparison to your gamingstyle.

  24. I am really glad you finished and enjoyed this classic! It is my favorite "historical" RPG. Some notes from my extensive experience, going all the way back to this game's release:

    Level 27 is around when I normally win on a non-challenge play-through, and it's about where I was when I originally played on my NES back in the day. So you were right on target with where you finished.

    The Wizard Staff casts Confusion, and the Mage Staff casts Fire 2, which you described backwards.

    The original graphics had an awesome looking 1980s style beholder instead of the "eye" monster, and an undead version in the Ice cave, before the American version was forced to change it. You can google pics. Mind Flayers kept their graphics, but were renamed confusingly to Wizard and Sorcerer. You can tell the Sorcerers have the powers of a D&D mind flayer - AOE stun, multiple melee attacks, sometimes resulting in instant death (via brain removal).

    If you use a tent/cabin/house at a dungeon entrance, go in a few levels at a time, fight every encounter, then leave or EXIT to save your resources, with many class combinations you only ever need to grind 1 or 2 levels, or sometimes not at all.

    I am currently part of the way through a solo Thief (no upgrade to Ninja) challenge run with legit save play. I made it all the way to Chaos with a previous solo thief, then the phone I had that save on broke and I couldn't recover the file :(

    1. Also Kary is female, because she's a Marilith.

  25. The game is super easy if you have a party of 3 fighters with the final party member being either a fighter or red mage. I would go with the red mage due to equipment available in the game. It is really too bad that bugs weaken so many character classes in the game.

  26. Congrats on the clear. Volcano before ice cave is the standard ordering - Kary seems rough without access to FAST so I'm glad that didn't turn out to be a roadblock. The early black magic saves time when grinding early, but you are right in that the knight and master steal the spotlight in the end. The on-use items are adequate in a pinch to end some random encounters more quickly when taking advantage of elemental vulnerabilities, so the usefulness of the black wizard would've been roughly equivalent to the usefulness of the ninja as a FAST-bot.

    Level 27 doesn't seem that far off from a typical endgame level without save states, but maybe that's with knowledge of the game mechanics/special defenses from specific armors/item locations. In particular, I seem to recall that the only feedback that you would get from equipping a new armor in the status screen would be the absorb rating and evade percentage. Some armors would protect against different spells like 'Rub', but you didn't have any way to know that without the Nintendo Power guide to the game.

  27. Never played this one, it's probably good, but right now I am not ever going to play any game where the final battle consists of fighting again each one of the super bosses, one after the other, and after you done this again you find the final boss. Square loved to do this and I hate it so much.

    1. Wow, hard disagree here - that's a trope I actually love in games, particularly when you're leveled up enough that even an upgraded version of the boss is a pushover. It's a great way to show progression and give a sense of power.


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