Is the remastered Final Fantasy: 20th Anniversary Edition on the PSP worth a JRPGer’s time? That’s a definite maybe.
Available On: Nintendo Entertainment System, MSX2, WonderSwan Color, PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation Portable,Virtual Console, PlayStation Network, iOS
Original Release Date: December 17, 1987 (Japan), July 12, 1990 (USA)
System Played On: Playstation Portable
Version Release Date: 2007
I can remember first playing Final Fantasy for the NES in 1991. I practically begged my parents to buy it for me as a birthday present the previous Summer, and again that Christmas. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to restore the four crystals during that fated year of 1990. Instead, I was treated to a lovely LJN title called Back to the Future Part II & III. Apparently the non-stop cursing and controller chucking that occurred when I played the first Back to the Future (also made by LJN) were hints that I desperately needed the sequel to that bullshit game.
Anyway, during the Summer of 1991 I spent a lot of time over at a friend’s house playing Final Fantasy. He was my only friend that enjoyed RPGs, and both of us had logged in numerous hours playing Wizardry, the Dragon Warrior series (our favorites, at the time) and both Zelda games that were on the NES. Final Fantasy quickly become our new favorite game, and we took it very seriously. We had created our own maps, bestiary and had devised numerous boss strategies depending on what classes our party consisted of. It was perhaps because of these moments in my gaming history that the Final Fantasy series will always remain one of my favorites, and why Final Fantasy: 20th Anniversary Edition on the PSP brought back so many fond memories.
The basic gameplay found in Final Fantasy is what one will find in virtually every other Final Fantasy game: a world map, a menu screen used to outfit party members and a battle screen filled with commands. The NES Final Fantasy was a bit slow and clunky, and some of the battles took much too long to finish, or at least felt that way. This isn’t the case with the PSP version (or GBA version, for that matter), as SquareEnix did a fine job with speeding up the gameplay and making the various menu screens much easier to use.
As in the NES Final Fantasy, players choose what jobs (Warrior, Thief, Black Belt, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage) the four Warriors of Light will be at the beginning of the game. I’ve always loved this aspect of the first Final Fantasy, as it allows the gamer to make the game more challenging by choosing a party made up of the weaker jobs. For example, I once tried to beat the game with all White Mages. I would go into the details but … well, it was a traumatic experience for everyone involved. Anyway, this version of the game is a tad easier than the original, but the five bonus dungeons (which change upon every visit) certainly make up for that and can provide for a more satisfying game experience, especially for completionists.
The plot to Final Fantasy is fairly simple, not to mention generic. Essentially, there are four elemental (earth, fire, water, wind) crystals (“orbs” in the American NES release) that need to be restored in order to save the world. These crystals have been going “dark” for a couple of centuries, and a prophet named Lukahn predicts the coming of four Warriors of Light who will restore the crystals power and defeat the evil that is spreading across the land. There really isn’t much else to the story, except for the “twist” at the end which is more hokey than clever.
The game’s dialogue is just as boring as the story. The Warriors of Light are silent heroes, and the NPCs offer up some very cryptic dialogue. Ever so often there will be an NPC that says something amusing, and there is always at least one NPC in each town that will guide the Warriors in the right direction, but other than that most of them aren’t worth talking to.
Only a few buttons are used for the game, and they all do what they’re supposed to do. The addition of the “L” and “R” buttons to navigate through menu screens is a nice touch, and can make things go a little bit faster. Furthermore, players can customize the controls in the menu to fit their needs. Other than that, the controls are practically the same as the original.
Perhaps the most dated aspect of the original Final Fantasy is the music. I’ve gone back and played the 8-bit classic a couple of times in the recent past, and I’ve found myself either turning the sound way down or completely off. Yes, I know, Uematsu composed the soundtrack, but the music that plays in most of the castles and villages is just horrific. Thankfully, the PSP version borrowed the remixed soundtrack found in the GBA Final Fantasy remake.
SquareEnix beefed up the graphics for the PSP remake, even more so than the GBA port. The higher resolution, CGI cinematics and the inclusion of aerial effects found in the game’s villages are a nice treat. The spells cast during battle look vibrant and powerful, and the weapons look big and shiny. The character sprites are much improved, as well, and the monsters look even better. The visuals are definitely one of the game’s strong points.
Buy it. Try it. Forget it.
Try it, if you’re a fan of the genre. If not, forget it. The “modernized” version available on the PSP doesn’t add anything new to the story, but it does provide the gamer with new dungeons to explore, a faster and prettier combat system and much improved music. These changes don’t take away from the game’s original “charm”, and actually provide for a much better experience. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the original 8-bit Final Fantasy game still holds up today – it doesn’t. In fact, Final Fantasy on the NES is liable to put someone in a coma due to how slow it is. Sure, it is a solid piece of gaming history, and any vintage game collector worth damn has a copy, but only the most die-hard of Final Fantasy and JRPG fans (which includes myself) will find it worth revisiting. Trust me, the PSP and GBA remastered versions provide a much better way to enjoy the original Final Fantasy.