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Like many Americans, my first console RPG was the free copy of Dragon Warrior from Nintendo Power. Although my memories of playing it are fuzzy, Nintendo's plan worked. Dragons, exploration, and pretending to be a wizard were my general pastimes in those days. My dreams of jumping on goombas and being a Tetris piece were nothing compared to the ones sparked by the wilds outside of Tantegel Castle. However, this isn't a piece about Dragon Warrior. It's about how Final Fantasy was better. Dragon Warrior was just the appetizer.
Final Fantasy allowed for more customization. I could make a party of four black mages, name them after my best friends, and watch as they failed. Then I'd start over with a completely different plan. This time around, I'd assemble a more balanced party, level more, and buy better weapons. Comparing my groups and tactics to those of other friends who played the game was an early lesson in revision and party dynamics that has served me well in the Pokémon days of my dotage. On a more creative front, the world was chock-a-block with different personalities, each living a tiny digital life. Comparatively. For the time.
I remember being angry with Zillions ("Consumer Reports for Kids") magazine for panning Final Fantasy. One of the criticisms was its instruction book was too long. "It's the size of a short novel," explained the reviewer. I thought this was entirely missing the point. Who wouldn't want a short novel along with their video game? The more words, the more content, the more maps, the better. Anyway, most of it was a player's guide that provided guidance to those who needed it. There was so much to explore. Better yet, when the battery backup failed and erased my most recent excursion to the Marsh Cave, or it was time to return the game to the video rental store, the books and maps remained in my head.
I drew so many maps that by second grade, I tried to start my own video game company. It lasted for about a week before my teacher knocked the legs out from under it. The company's rivalry with another classmate's effort was making waves. Final Fantasy wasn't the only early RPG that I counted among my influences by second grade, but it was the second half of the bridge that led to all the others. The company's name was Power Wave.
Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke
Square Enix released Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls in late 2004, and as a trusting customer I experienced these games for the first time. The original Final Fantasy came across in its Dawn of Souls incarnation as a breezy title with a whole lot of fighting that never made me think much. My most potent memory of the experience was wading through one of the optional dungeons added to this version, mashing the A button while in a line for late-night food with an original GBA that was barely visible.
I sometimes wonder if this game would have left more of an impression on me if I played the NES version. I get an odd sort of enjoyment out of playing old 8-bit RPGs such as Phantasy Star and Mother. I tend to look at these games from an almost historic interest, with such thoughts as "so that's what RPGs were like back then," or "so that's how this series got started," coming to mind. I never quite experienced that with the first Final Fantasy, as I played the Dawn of Souls version on the Game Boy Advance. Sure it was modernized and dropped many archaic mechanics, but it also lost some of that charm. Sure I witnessed classic scenes, such as Garland's threat to knock the four warriors of light down and his explanation on the time loop that turns him into Chaos, but the four warriors are blank slates and the story is mostly straightforward. The simple battle system and lack of difficulty didn't help. The Dawn of Souls version wasn't a bad game by any means, but it didn't make the first entry in the series stand out to me.
Michael A. Cunningham
I wasn't even ten years old when I was first introduced to Final Fantasy. My cousin had an NES and when I went to visit my family in Florida, we would always play games. I'd played Atari 2600 games, Super Mario Bros, and other NES titles, but I'd never even heard of Final Fantasy. She introduced me to her adventuring party of Alex, Alan, Alec, and Ales and showed me how you could explore the world and battle monsters. I'm not sure what was so impressive about this, but I loved being able to create and name a party of different classes. It was so cool to have a choice in whom to play as, since most games I'd played to this point featured static protagonists. I also fell in love with the character designs, even if I only saw them in the Official Nintendo Power Player's Guide. The Black Mage with its little hat was cute and all, but I really loved the upgraded Black Mage with its menacing hood. Sadly, neither of us were that great at the game at the time, especially since I spent most of the time simply watching.
When our family vacation was over and I had to leave the game behind, I was very sad. I'm not sure if my family wasn't able to find me a copy or if I just forgot about it, but between summer and Christmas I received a few other NES games, none of which were Final Fantasy. I was very excited when my cousin came up to visit us at Christmas and brought her copy for us to play again. I had received the NES game 720° in the time between our visits and my cousin had developed a love of skating games, so as our trip neared its end I offered to let her borrow 720° in exchange for Final Fantasy. We never traded back.
Whether due to lack of skill or lack of patience, I never did finish the NES version of Final Fantasy. Eventually, I did pick up the PlayStation re-release in the Final Fantasy Origins pack and proceeded to play a little more, but again did not finish it. When the GBA version was released as part of the Dawn of Souls remake, I finally was able to take my party of Warrior, Thief, Black Mage, and White Mage through to the end. I was quite upset at the character design change. Apparently the hat-wearing Black Mage was more popular than the more adult NES version of the Black Wizard, so when time came to upgrade I was disappointed that he didn't look as cool.
The original Final Fantasy still holds an important place in my heart for introducing me to the series. While far from my favorite, I do enjoy periodically jumping back into the world for a quick runthrough, especially when it gets re-released with some visual upgrades like what happened with the most recent PlayStation Portable release. That version is by far the most beautiful, but still lacks the cool looking Black Mage. Oh well, nothing's perfect.
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