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Final Fantasy (iOS)

RPGSquare Enix2010

One of those classics that I played long, long ago without actually finishing. It was alright.

Final Fantasy is a true classic - it essentially took Dungeons & Dragons' combat mechanics and put them into a video game. All the standard elements were there - classes, spell levels, even transformation to "prestige" classes later in the game. Importantly, though, the dice rolls were hidden from the player; the only indication was the final damage numbers appearing above the enemies' heads.

As an early(ish?) NES game, though, Final Fantasy could also be brutally difficult. Success required hours spent "grinding" - attacking weak enemies repeatedly to get stronger. There was little to no explanation of how the game's various systems worked, or even of what the player was supposed to be doing. Characters ordered to attack an enemy that was already dead due to poor timing would do nothing, wasting their turns.

When I first played this game, on an NES, I had never played anything like it before. I struggled my way through Dragon Warrior the year before, the first RPG I had ever played. For Final Fantasy, I worked my way deep into the final dungeon, and decided for some reason that the four characters I had picked would never be able to win. Final Fantasy had no way to modify your characters once you had selected them all the way back at the beginning, and there was only one save slot on the cartridge. I chose to start over with a new group of characters, and I never got even close to where I had been before.

So, I was pretty excited when I saw that Final Fantasy was available on iOS, and that it went on sale at some point. The iOS version is itself a port of the WonderSwan Color port of the game, a portable system from Namco Bandai that never made it to the US. It features some simplifications to make it more in line with modern JRPGs. Instead of casting X spells per level like in D&D, mages get a pool of MP and spells have different MP costs. Characters are finally smart enough to just attack something else if their target dies before they get around to attacking it. Also, some of the spells and items seen in later Final Fantasy games make an appearance. The iOS version also features some flaws, the biggest of which is a lack of support for running in the background. Switching to another app for any reason - or even just pulling down the notifications tab - will instantly kill the app, losing all progress. Getting a phone call when you haven't saved in a while can be maddening. You quickly learn to save all the time, after every battle, even after every few steps.

All in all, though, the iOS port is an improvement over its NES ancestor. I put together my group of adventurers - a fighter, a monk, a white mage, and a black mage - and got to work. I spent some time grinding, of course, but a lot less than I remembered doing as a kid. And after a few weeks, I made it to the end, fought Chaos, and won. A bit anticlimactic.

Playing through Final Fantasy again reminded me just how simple this game really is. You go on one warm-up quest at the beginning of the game (which ends up being important to the plot later), then you seek out the Four Fiends, and then you go fight Chaos. There are a small handful of "side quests" along the way, all of which are necessary to finish the game, but outside of making sure everyone has the right equipment and is at a minimum level, that's all there is to it. The iOS port adds some additional post-game content, but I didn't bother with any of it. Beating the game, finally, was reward enough.

Will I go back to play through this game again? Doubtful. There are some interesting challenge possiblities (all characters same class, only using one or two characters, etc.), but this game lacks a lot of the interesting strategy of Final Fantasy V. There are items that cast spells infinite times, and unlike FFV, anyone can use them regardless of class. By the time you're near the end of the game, ordinary encounters pose very little threat, and it's just a matter of racing to the boss to be done with it.

If you haven't played this game before, or if, like me, you played it once and gave up, the iOS port is a fine way to play through the game. If you've already played it on another system, though, it's just the same game with a few nice tweaks, and you really are not missing much.