I had always recognized the D&D elements embedded in Final Fantasy. However, the games I played first were VIII, X, and VII, the PSX games which diverge the most from FF’s Dungeons & Dragons roots.
These roots are plain to see in Final Fantasy I. Stripped clean of its successors’ additions and complexities, FFI is clearly a video game adaptation of vintage, first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, just like many other video games of that period.
Playing Final Fantasy I hits me with a double whammy of nostalgia, both for later Final Fantasy games and for my formative years playing AD&D as a teen and young adult. In a way, the D&D throwbacks help me know what it’s like for old-school Final Fantasy gamers revisiting the games they played as kids.
Here’s just some of the D&D borrowings I noticed while playing this game.
Bestiary: The world of old Final Fantasy is populated almost entirely with critters lifted straight from 1st edition AD&D — see the list at the bottom of this post. Even the hitherto-unusual use of “fiends” for “monsters” seen in the “Four Fiends” sounds like it was inspired by AD&D’s alliteratively-named Fiend Folio. Also, we’ve got old-school D&D Elves and Dwarves, which were borrowed from (and changed from) those of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Astos the “Drow Elf” is a dead giveaway: drow elves were a D&D creation. So too were Bahamut the Platinum Dragon, patron of lawful good heroes, and Tiamat the five-headed dragon, patron of chaotic evil; both were drawn from Arabic and Babylonian legends, but in real-world mythology were very different.
White Mage: Until now, I’d missed the fact that Final Fantasy’s White Mage class derived from AD&D’s “Cleric” class, a fighting priest permitted to participate in war so long as he/she didn’t used edged weapons. Hence: hammers, clubs, flails, morning stars. (I usually played the party cleric, so why did I fail to notice this?) D&D clerics served pagan or invented fantasy deities, carried some kind of holy symbol, and had temples or churches — echoes of which continue to reverberate right up to Yuna and even, to some extent, Vanille. The cleric class had decent HP, although not much as fighters, and had (I think?) high endurance. Clerics could cast healing and purification spells and turn undead to powder. (Dia/Diaga spells in FF). All this was ported straight to FF’s original White Mage, who was thus NOT simply an inverse of a black mage.
Black Mage: Whereas the Black Mage ported D&D’s old “Magic User” character class. MUs were notoriously low on HP, although they were smarter than everyone else.
Thief: Likewise, I don’t think old D&D thieves really were that big on stealing, since we usually just killed off monsters and ransacked the corpses for treasure. Instead, thieves were simply stealthy and quick and evasive and good at picking locks and discovering traps. Again, in FFI, the thief doesn’t have a “steal” ability and is more of a nimble fighter.
So the oddities of original FF character classes, with buff white mages and non-stealing thieves, are due to the source material. (Although the thief’s not stealing may also have been due to programming; it was probably easier to have a “now let’s add loot, gil, and XP to the party inventory” subroutine separate from the battle subroutine). Also, that explains why original Final Fantasy makes you pick a character class before the game starts, and that’s it. Whereas later FFs alternate between the “character locked into role” system of D&D or “job classes” or “sphere grids” which let you develop multiple roles per character.
Magic System: Furthermore, original NES Final Fantasy tortured its players with a magic system straight from D&D: magic users learned spells which were consumed like ammunition when cast, and could not be cast again until one returned to an inn/tent to rest for the night. The Dawn of Souls / Origins / 20th anniversary remasters replaced the obsolete magic system of 1st ed D&D with Final Fantasy’s in-house MP system, making the game much easier.
Other D&D Borrowings: The system of Stats (Strength/Intelligence/Wisdom/Dexterity/Constitution in D&D), Status Effects (Saving throws vs. Poison, Paralysis, etc), other Character Classes (Ranger, Paladin, Druid, Bard), HP, Gil (gold pieces), weapons limitations according to class, Inns and returning to town for character resurrection, hordes of undead, all monsters dropping treasure, and even dungeon crawls with elaborate maps are hallmarks of early D&D.
At this point these borrowings are essentially fair use, as D&D invented or popularized many stock fantasy trope and monsters which are now standard for the genre, appearing in numerous books, films and game systems. (Also, D&D itself shamelessly copied; it was largely an attempt to codify the adventure party / quest formula of J.R.R. Tolkien, with helpings of Lovecraft and Jorge Borges added for spice).
Essentially, just as D&D was a game that let us roleplay adventures like those in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy books inspired by them, Final Fantasy was a video game adaptation of tabletop roleplaying, allowing the computer to serve as Dungeon Master (GM) and for us to play D&D solo. It wasn’t the first game to do so — Ultima, Might & Magic, Temple of Apshai and many others had done so before — but it was a particularly effective video game adaptation of D&D mechanics.
How Final Fantasy differs from D&D
At the same time, Final Fantasy wasn’t only a video game adaptation of D&D. From the start, it began to move away from D&D tropes and mechanics (the white and black mages wielding light and dark magic, for example, and the “red mage” hybrid of the two).
It’s fun watching how many seeds of Final Fantasy concepts were planted with the original installment. A few I’ve noticed:
- Crystals (“Orbs” in the original NES game… later spheres, mako, magicite, etc)
- Elemental magic (the fire/fira/firaga sequence, although they were called Fire1, Fire2 and Fire3 in the first English port)
- Colors of magic: adding to the widespread concept of white and black magic, FF developed its own concepts for blue, green, time, and earth/geomancer magic.
- Ships, airships (a very anime component) and subs. Also the folding canoe, although it disappears in later games.
- Warriors of Light are mostly absent from Final Fantasy VII onward, but there are still vestiges of the stock heroes of FFI-V in later installments
- “The Big Bad broke the world 400/500/1000 years ago, and now we’ve reached a crisis so it’s time to fix it” backstory
- Character classes morphing in some fashion [ETA: now that I think about it, this came from AD&D, in which the “druid” subclass started as a cleric and had to play as such for about five levels before specializing; the “ranger” started out as a fighter, and the “illusionist” started as a magic-user. FFI adapts this as a mid-game class upgrade.]
- Haste, Slow, Blind, Poison and “status effects” (Inspired by D&D “Saving Throws” against poison and paralysis, but FF expanded the concept of Status Effects and ran with it)
- Classic Final Fantasy weapons like Mythril Knife and Excalibur, Coral and Ice Blade (although I’m playing the 20th anniversary remake, and some of these were added to the remake), Masamune and Sasuke’s Knife
- Ninja class — distinctly Japanese, and it would pop up again and again in FF, as well as Samurai
- Dancers. There’s a dancer npc in the very first village, and I noticed them all over III; later they become intermittent job classes.
- Recurring Final Fantasy monsters like Ochu, Cerberus and Gigas (some of these names are different in different remakes of Final Fantasy I, but I think it was “Gigas” in the original Japanese?)
- Villains mucking about with spacetime.
Chocobos, Summons, Mist, limit breaks and more complex weapons/spells/character customizations were yet to come, but nearly all the raw material is there.
Appendix: Bestiary of Final Fantasy I compared to AD&D
Green = monsters unique to AD&D’s Monster Manual or Fiend Folio, or which were not present in the western fantasy genre until D&D popularized them: Rakshasa, Naga, e.g. (For that matter, we probably have D&D to blame for introducing dinosaurs and pleistocene animals to the regular mix of Greek and European mythological beasties.)
Italic = Final Fantasy monsters which are just a palette shift of other FF monsters; usually the prototype is a D&D monster.
Even when monsters are not unique to D&D, the Final Fantasy monster often borrows stats, abilities and status effects developed for D&D (Tiamat as a five-headed dragon instead of watery primordial chaos, green dragon breathing poison, e.g.).
|#||(orig. Japanese)||D&D Monster Name||NES (orig. English)||Dawn of Souls|
|2||goburinga-do||(morph of Goblin)||GrIMP||Goblin Guard|
|4||kureiji-ho-su||(morph of Nightmare)||MADPONY||Crazy Horse|
|6||burakkuuido||Giant Spider||SPIDER||Black Widow|
|7||giga-suuo-mu||(morph of Crawler)||CREEP||Gigas Worm|
|8||uo-guurufu||Dire Wolf (Worg)||GrWOLF||Warg Wolf|
|15||o-gachi-fu||(morph of Ogre)||GrOGRE||Ogre Chief|
|17||kaizoku||Pirate (listed under Men)||PIRATE||Pirate|
|19||sahaginch-fu||(morph of Sahagin)||R.SAHAG||Sahagin Chief|
|20||paire-tsu||Pirate (listed under Men)||KYZOKU||Buccaneer|
|23||taranchura||(morph of Spider)||ARACHNID||Tarantula|
|27||guri-nsuraime||Green Slime||SCUM||Green Slime|
|29||gureiu-zu||Gray Ooze||MUCK||Gray Ooze|
|31||buraddibo-n||(morph of Skeleton)||R.BONE||Bloodbones|
|36||anakonda||(morph of Cobra)||COBRA||Anaconda|
|40||hirugiga-su||Hil Giant||GIANT||Hill Gigas|
|41||a-sueremento||Earth Elemental||EARTH||Earth Elemental|
|44||o-ka-zeri||Ochre Jelly||OOZE||Ochre Jelly|
|47||o-gameiji||Ogre Mage||WzOGRE||Ogre Mage|
|54||howaitodairu||(morph of Crocodile)||FRGATOR||White Croc|
|58||ho-ndodebiru||(morph of Gargoyle)||R.GOYLE||Horned Devil|
|59||pirorisuku||(morph of Cockatrice)||PERILISK||Pyrolisk|
|60||faia||Fire Elemental||FIRE||Fire Elemental|
|61||faiahidora||(morph of Hydra)||R.HYDRA||Fire Hydra|
|62||ra-bauo-mu||(morph of Purple Worm)||Grey W||Lava Worm|
|64||faiariza-do||Fire Lizard||AGAMA||Fire Lizard|
|65||faiagiga-su||Fire Giant||R.GIANT||Fire Gigas|
|66||reddodoragon||Red Dragon||Red D||Red Dragon|
|68||howaitodoragon||White Dragon||Frost D||White Dragon|
|69||uinta-urufu||Winter Wolf||FRWOLF||Winter Wolf|
|71||aisugiga-su||Ice Giant||FrGIANT||Ice Gigas|
|74||da-kuuiza-do||(morph of Astos)||MAGE||Dark Wizard|
|76||deza-tobarette||(morph of Baretta)||ANKYLO||Desert Baretta|
|77||se-berutaiga||Sabertooth Tiger||Saber T||Sabertooth|
|79||uirumu||(morph of Wyvern)||WYRM||Wyrm|
|85||sandouo-mu||(morph of Purple Worm)||Sand W||Sand Worm|
|86||minotaurozonbi||(morph of Minotaur)||ZomBULL||Minotaur Zombie|
|87||kingumami||(morph of Mummy)||WzMUMMY||King Mummy|
|90||kureigo-remu||Clay Golem||MUDGol||Clay Golem|
|93||sahaginpurinsu||(morph of Sahagin)||WzSAHAG||Sahagin Prince|
|94||howaitosha-ku||(morph of Shark)||GrSHARK||White Shark|
|96||shi-suneiku||Sea Snake||SeaSNAKE||Sea Snake|
|97||umisasori||(morph of Scorpion)||LOBSTER||Sea Scorpion|
|98||shi-tororu||(morph of Troll)||SeaTROLL||Sea Troll|
|100||uo-ta||Water Elemental||WATER||Water Elemental|
|101||uo-ta-na-ga||Water Naga||NAGA||Water Naga|
|103||chiranozaurusu||Tyrannosaurus Rex||T REX||Tyrannosaur|
|104||burakkunaito||(morph of Death Knight)||BADMAN||Black Knight|
|107||buru-doragon||Black Dragon||Blue D||Blue Dragon|
|108||guri-ndoragon||Green Dragon||Gas D||Green Dragon|
|109||suto-n-go-remu||Stone Golem||RockGOL||Stone Golem|
|110||eaerementaru||Air Elemental||AIR||Air Elemental|
|111||supirittona-ga||Spirit Naga||GrNAGA||Spirit Naga|
|112||desunaito||Death Knight||EVILMAN||Death Knight|
|114||burakkupurin||Black Pudding||SLIME||Black Flan|
|117||da-kufaita||(morph of Astos)||FIGHTER||Dark Fighter|
|121||desubihoruda||(morph of Evil Eye)||PHANTOM||Death Eye|
|122||pa-puruuo-mi||Purple Worm||WORM||Purple Worm|
|123||aiango-remu||Iron Golem||IronGOL||Iron Golem|
- GameFAQ guide to FF1 differences by “The Collector” for original Japanese transliterations and NES English editions
- Wikipedia for list of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st ed. monsters (from Monster Manual and Fiend Folio),
- JSJWarner88’s blog for Bestiary of FFI: Dawn of Souls (basically identical to that of Origins, 20th Anniversary PSP, and iOS/Android remasters).
- Note that D&D’s monster list itself borrows from Lovecraft and, largely unknown, Jorge Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, which gave us monsters such as catoblepas, carbuncle, and many others.