Final Fantasy is a 20 year old game at heart, but is still worth a look by those who can appreciate what it offers.
Weaknesses: Can feel dated at times; Some parts are way too easy; Frequent random encounters can become tedious; Light on plot, and no character development; split-second load times while opening menus can occasionally be annoying.
The original Final Fantasy has quite the back-story. First and foremost, it is the first game in a now legendary franchise, and it just so happened that it saved Square from bankruptcy. Final Fantasy has been ported many times, and Square has decided that Final Fantasy is due for yet another port. Except this time it is in honor of the original Final Fantasy's 20th Anniversary, therefore it would only be natural to see the original game resurface in some form or another once again. This new port makes it's way to Sony's PlayStation Portable, bringing with it all of the new features from Final Fantasy Origins for the PlayStation, and Final Fantasy I+II: Dawn of Souls for the GBA. This time however, Final Fantasy I and II have been separated from one another.
The PSP version of Final Fantasy boasts quite a few new features, and it's easily the definitive version of the original game. The storyline in Final Fantasy is obviously relatively simple, partially due to the fact that it is a 20 year old game. The story focuses on a prophecy that states when the world is plunged into darkness, four warriors of light bearing crystals will appear to save the world. The story remains quite simple from here on out, but does flesh out a little more towards the end. At varying points in time four fiends all traveled into this time period to cause the decay of the Earth itself by corrupting the four elements of Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth. The goal in Final Fantasy is to defeat each of the four fiends and restore order to the world. Although Final Fantasy wouldn't be Final Fantasy without at least one plot twist or two, so you can expect things not to turn out exactly as planned near the end of the game if you've never played it before.
The gameplay in Final Fantasy has gone through several changes since it's original release on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but the core gameplay mechanics are still present. At the beginning of your adventure you will have to create a party of four characters out of the available six character classes. You can select from a warrior, thief, monk, white mage, black mage, and red mage. The warrior, thief, and the monk are your typical melee classes, but have several differences. The warrior is the most well rounded being able to equip pretty much anything. The thief can only equip lighter armor and weapons, but is much quicker. The monk doesn't equip anything aside from an accessory, but boasts high natural defense and incredible physical strength. The white mage, black mage, and red mage are the magic casters of the bunch, and each specialize in different categories. The white mage is adept at learning and casting many protective and healing spells, while the black mage learns very powerful offensive spells. The red mage is a hybrid between these two and and can learn a variety of white and black magic spells, but does not have access to the most powerful spells from each. What makes the red mage good is his ability to equip decent weapons and armor and therefore can be a useful melee fighter as well. The problem with him comes later in the game, since he doesn't really ever get good at one particular thing, but is decent at doing several things.
Eventually there will be a point in the game where you can do an optional side-quest to upgrade all of your characters to more powerful classes. Doing this will upgrade them to knight, ninja, master, white wizard, black wizard, and red wizard respectively. The biggest difference in doing this is that it allows the warrior and thief to learn several magic spells, and the mage classes can all learn several new more powerful spells. The monk simply becomes more powerful. Each class can also equip a larger variety of weapons and armor, so doing this definitely helps make the gameplay more interesting.
Instead of learning spells by leveling up, they are learned by purchasing them at shops in the different towns. The catch is that all of the spells are separated into levels, and you can only teach each character three spells from each level. So your black mage can only learn three level 4 black magic spells, and the same goes for the white mage and white magic. The way it works for the red mage, is that he can learn any combination of three spells that are either white or black magic spells per spell level.
If you've played any of the other Final Fantasy games before then you will feel at home with the original Final Fantasy. The adventure begins on the world map, and in traditional Final Fantasy fashion, you go from town to town completing quests while fighting monsters and gaining levels and items for your group. Most of the quests are completed by entering specific locations and going either up or down several levels and then finally fighting a boss and/or obtaining a key item. Fortunately you have access to a map of the world that is activated by pressing select and circle at the same time. Finding your way around is generally pretty easy, but you'll only be able to see the names of places you have already visited. All of the major locations are already located on the map, but there is no name associated with them until you visit their location.
It is not difficult to appreciate the 16:9 widescreen display generously offered by this anniversary edition of Final Fantasy. The visuals are gorgeous, with some nice touches thrown in for good measure. The most noticeable effect is when you are in a town and there will be shadows of clouds passing above in the sky which actually move. It does a great job of adding to the atmosphere, and kind of makes one wish that Square would make PSP anniversary editions of all of the 2D Final Fantasy games. The game looks really nice and sharp on the PSP's large screen, and it easily features some of the best looking 2D graphics around. Unfortunately the enemies do not have animated movements, but the 2D Final Fantasy games have always been this way so it's easy to overlook if you've played any of them before.
The music in the anniversary edition of Final Fantasy also sounds excellent, considering how old the compositions are, and that they were originally composed for 8-bit hardware. Fortunately all of the tracks still stay true to the original ones, and they all sound great. It's far from the best soundtrack in the series but the quality of the compositions is wonderful, especially compared to the original compositions. It's also worth pointing out that even though the music for Final Fantasy is pretty old, there are still quite a few memorable tracks that will probably catch your attention.
This release of Final Fantasy retains all of the bonus content from the Dawn of Souls release, but it also adds in the opening FMV from Final Fantasy Origins. There is also a new bonus dungeon exclusively for the PSP version, which is a nice bonus for the hardcore fans, but is something that more casual players probably will never bother playing. It can be accessed once you have defeated the four fiends, but is entirely optional. There is also an unlockable music player which gives you access to all of the tracks from the game, as well as a few remixed themes from Final Fantasy III, IV, V and VI. These remixed songs actually appear in the bonus Soul of Chaos dungeons during bonus boss fights. There is also a bestiary which like the music player has become a staple in pretty much every Final Fantasy game. It can be accessed from the main menu, as well as within the game itself. Last but not least, there is an art gallery which is a nice feature, especially for people who enjoy Yoshitaka Amano's artwork. Yoshitaka Amano was also kind enough to do a few new drawings for Final Fantasy I, and they can be viewed in the art gallery. Although, much of the content must be unlocked by completing various tasks within the game, such as completing it a second time to unlock more artwork.
When it comes down to making a decision on whether or not this new version of the original Final Fantasy is for you, it simply depends on whether or not you already own any of the other versions. The PSP version is clearly the definitive version of Final Fantasy, and if you've never played it before, then the PSP version is definitely the way to go. If you merely can't decide whether or not you want to pick up this version and already own Origins and/or Dawn of Souls, then it really just depends on how important a graphical upgrade and some new additions are to you. For the average person who has already played through this game at least once, this version is probably not worth your money. However, if you are a hardcore fan and would like to experience a significantly improved version of a classic game, then you will most likely have no regrets in picking up this anniversary edition. Final Fantasy I is still an old game at heart, and is probably best experienced as a history lesson by fans of the franchise. That being said, newcomers can still have a good time with Final Fantasy I, but might want to look towards more recent titles as an entry point into this legendary franchise.