So, that was my first playthrough of Final Fantasy I. Before I leave the game, a few scattered thoughts.
Was it fun? Worth playing?
For a gamer who can enjoy rather than chafe at the simplicity of old games, sure! It was actually more enjoyable than I expected it would be, partly due to the fact that I played the remastered version which had changed the game mechanics. I’m not sure I could’ve toughed it out through the original, which had no Phoenix Downs and required you to lug KOed members back to towns for resurrection.
The story and world were pretty basic, of course, and as I noted in my “Who Are You?” roleplay discussion, the characters were more avatars than characters, as interesting as we made them out to be. The game really did have a certain charm, despite its stock fantasy simplicity; it did have many of the beloved game and story elements that have made Final Fantasy enduring. I could believe that FFI hooked enough players to rescue Square from near-bankruptcy. Even odd little things like the iconic black mage with the Jawa eyes contributed to making it just…a little…different.
The retro graphics and music were good bonuses.
Discussion of the story/world/ending (such as it was):
Now, about that story. One of the fun parts of Final Fantasy fandom are the worlds, characters, and plot. This game didn’t have much of the above, and what it did have was sketchy, but there were a few interesting head-scratchers to ponder. I gather that Dissidia Final Fantasy has picked up on some of these loose ends.
So, spoilers ahead for the game ending, particularly the First Ever Final Fantasy Time Loop Mind Screw:
Some of the head scratchers and plot twists in Final Fantasy:
- Rescue the Princesss, Sleeping Beauty Prince. I groaned a bit when the first task the heroes must do to prove their credentials is to save the princess. I didn’t give enough credit to the fact that the next task is Gender Stereotype Fairy Tale inverted: they have to wake up sleeping beauty, who is male. (It says something about the pervasiveness of gender roles and stereotypes that I immediately built a faux romance around this).
- The Mystery of the Mermaids. Maybe I slept through some of the npcs responses in Village Onrac, but just what is the full story behind the mermaids? Why did Kraken imprison the mermaids in the Sunken shrine (no tasteless tentacle jokes, please)? Was he jealous of their tail fins, since he was stuck with icky tentacles? Why do some of the villagers in Onrac by the sea express amazement at your “real legs,” implying that the inhabitants are mermaids who lost their tails? And in the 20th anniversary edition, what happened to the sailors who hung out with Mermaids in the Mermaid Spa & Resort bonus dungeon (whose real name I can’t remember)? I love all the flappy loose ends here that a modern game could never get away with.
- The “Lali Ho!” Dwarves: Was this catch phrase in the original game, or was it added later to synch with later Final Fantasy installments, where dwarves often say “Lali ho” or “rally ho” in a Japanese riff on “heigh ho”? And are you as annoyed by the catch phrase as I am? (I used to hate “kupo,” too. I’m a grouch.)
- Elves in Name Only: Could they possibly be any less developed as a fantasy race? I kept hoping they’d do something, y’know, Elven. Other than the Elf Prince being a trusty enough bloke to be given the Key to Everybody’s Treasure, they don’t really do much. Even Astos the Drow Elf tragically succumbs to Miniboss of Only One Dungeon syndrome, a common cause of disappearances and underdeveloped backstories for Final Fantasy minor villains up through about FFV.
- Garland: Why did the best knight in
CorneriaCornelia go bad? Did all the castle denizens tease him for having a floofy floral name, or what?
- Bahamut and the Red Dragons: Props to Final Fantasy’s first ever entrants in the Noble Nonhuman Warrior Race category! (Cf: Freya, Kimahri, Red XII, etc). They offer warriorish advice, they respect the heroes, they go to the Citadel of Trials to prove themselves right proper Klingons, er, dragons. (And unlike the Cloister of Trials in FFX, there’s actually monsters to fight in the Citadel of Trials, huzzah). Bahamut their king is a noble and helpful chap who provides Our Heroes with spiffy duds and unlockable character classes with amped-up abilities. Plus they live in the Kardia Islands — which I named the Swiss Cheese Islands, but their in-game name comes from Greek for “heart.” This is all well and good. There’s just two problems. One, Bahamut the patron of heroes and Lawful Good righteousness in D&D is a Platinum Dragon, not a red dragon; red dragons in D&D are evil, following the Smaug blueprint. Later Final Fantasy games seem to revert to Bahamut = Platinum Dragon, although he can be a little bit terrifying / mean at times. The other problem is, why is the Warrior of Light in the 20th Anniversary Edition Trying to Lop off Bahamut’s Head in the Opening FMV?! Evidently he was confused by red dragons = good as well.
- The Lufenians and their cousins in the “eye of the hawk” town to the north that I didn’t bother to screencap: These “Sky People” created the Flying Fortress, which in the NES version was more like a satellite in space than a floating castle. They had an airship. They pass down their memories through arcane rites. They have an obscure language and say only “oompa loompa” (or something like that) until you unlock their language with
an Al Bhed PrimerThe Rosetta Stone. They left behind robots and mysterious warp cubes and bits of advanced tech. But apparently their civilization came to an end 400 years ago with the arrival of Tiamat, who seems to have taken up residence in their Flying Fortress; now they live on in a faraway and hard-to-reach Village of the Ancients (okay, it’s never called that, but this is Final Fantasy) at the edge of the world. This “technology and ruins from advanced lost spacefaring civilization” is a video game cliché now, but it wasn’t when this game imported the trope to D&D fantasy.
- Fiends: I always wondered where Final Fantasy X came up with that archaic word for “monsters.” I suppose it’s a throwback to this game’s four Fiends. Having seen how much of Final Fantasy I is lifted from D&D, I’m convinced that its original use of “fiends” is derived from D&D’s Fiend Folio. Mystery solved!
- The Time Loop:
Okay, this deserves its own heading. Probably its own post, but I’m being lazy.
Final Fantasy I’s Time Loop Mind Screw
This game has the first of Final Fantasy’s celebrated WTF (!) endings, wherein a perfectly ordinary hack-n-slash fantasy adventure suddenly morphs into an SF plot device that depends The Force or time travel or pyreflies or some other mindblowing complexity. In this case, it’s a (mostly) stable time loop. Quoth Garland the Villain at game’s end, describing the time loop during his obligatory Gloaty Exposition Before I Kill You (or not) Villain Speech:
Two thousand years from now…you killed me. I am Garland.
Oh, you did defeat me then. But the four great forces saved me by sending me back through time! Once here, I sent the four Fiends into the future… where they shall once again use the four great forces to send me into the past!
In two thousand years, I will remember none of this. But I will be reborn again here. So, even as you die again and again, I shall return! Born again into this endless circle that I have created!
One of the Four Exposition Dudes at Crescent Village adds: “You would have no memory of this, but before you wandered into this land, time flowed properly for you. But that flow of time has become warped for you here, in this time.”
The sages also tell you that the four Fiends reappeared to damage the crystals at different times: 400 years ago, the Fiend of Wind Tiamat (who probably clobbered the Lufenians?), two hundred years ago the fiend of Water, Kraken; Lich appeared shortly before the game started to vampire-suck the Earth Crystal and distress the village of Melmond, and Marilith wakes up two centuries early to have a go at you in the Fire Cavern.
So, basically, the stable timeloop was:
- (2000 years ago): Garland arrives on the point of death, sent back by the Four Fiends. He is revived, turns into Chaos, welcomes the Warriors of Light when they arrive, and kills them.
- (interim): a few centuries before game time, the fiends he sent “into the future” arrive in staggered shifts and begin darkening/sucking on the Crystals.
- (gametime): Garland the knight kidnaps Princess Sarah, the Four Warriors of Light nearly kill him, the four Fiends send him back in time, then the four Fiends themselves are destroyed by the Warriors of Light.
That’s the stable time loop you have to disrupt. All you need is the same plot device time machine the fiends and Chaos used to go back in time and kill Chaos without being killed.
Problem: during the endgame, the Warriors of Light also kill the four Fiends in the past, on the way to dueling Garland/Chaos in the final dungeon. So how does he send the exterminated fiends back to the future?
My only way to solve the conundrum is to guess that the fiends are, as one of my characters put it, like a fungus — they grow back. They seem to be personifications of the destructive side of each element, so that’s mythologically plausible.
Final Fantasy Epilogue: The Closing FMV
There’s not a closing FMV, but rather, a scrolling text epilogue. I posted the full epilogue script at the end of this post on my fandom journal and analyzed it. To repeat the most interesting parts:
- Princess Sarah and Queen Jayne (barely in game; she’s in Cornelia Castle) are mentioned as the two significant named characters in this game, even though they do almost nothing. It’s interesting just how few named characters there are in this game, apart from the bosses you fight.
- The epilogue mentions “Tales of dwarves and elves / of dragons and shining civilizations / that reached for the heavens even / as they fell.” Sadly, the game only hints at these things. Later games will do more to tell such “tales.” However, there are at least hints that the Lufenian civilization, the Sky People who built Mirage Tower and the Flying Fortress that was taken over by Tiamat the Wind Fiend 400 years ago, bringing their civilization (apparently) to a close.
- The epilogue is a bit rambling, but stresses that the power of light can be used for darkness /destruction, and we should avoid that. Poor Japan; about two thirds of all the anime and video games i’ve seen have some sort of Nuclear Subtext
- At the very end, the epilogue states that “the warrior is you.” So, no wonder the four Warriors of Light have no discernable personality or spoken lines. The game calls you, the player, “you,” throughout the game. It’s a fairy tale, and the whole game has that feel — right down to the fact that fairy tales tend to be a bit sketchy on logic, motives, story depth. As psychologist Bruno Bettelheim noted in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, fairy tales are stories that allow children to explore parts of their inner lives through fantasy and symbolism, and they usually self-identify with the protagonist. YES, THIS IS WHAT VIDEO GAMES DO.