Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition Hands-On

We spend some time with Square Enix's upcoming Final Fantasy remake for the PlayStation Portable.

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Already available in Japan, Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition is currently scheduled for release in North America next month--almost 20 years since the original game debuted in Japan. The Anniversary Edition of Final Fantasy will add a number of enhancements to the original's winning formula, including all-new widescreen visuals, new dungeons, an enhanced soundtrack, and a Pokémon-style bestiary detailing every type of enemy (there appear to be more than 200 in total) that you've encountered and defeated on your travels thus far. We recently had an opportunity to play through the first couple of hours of the game, and although that time offered very little in the way of a challenge, we still had a lot of fun.

You can choose four character classes to play with from the six available.
You can choose four character classes to play with from the six available.

After checking out the all-new rendered intro movie, you'll be invited to create a party of four characters to play with. You can choose any combination of character classes from the six available, which include warrior, thief, monk, black mage, white mage, and red mage. The first three are melee classes with different strengths and weaknesses, while the three mage classes specialize in offensive spells, defensive and healing spells, and using a combination of the two, respectively. Charter advancement in Final Fantasy isn't nearly as complex as in some of the series' subsequent offerings, but there's still some room for customization, courtesy of equipment upgrades and additional spells to learn.

Equipment such as weapons, shields, helmets, gloves, and body armor can be upgraded almost constantly as you progress through the game, either by finding better gear in treasure chests or by purchasing it from the stores located in all of the world's towns. The equipment in Final Fantasy isn't as varied as that in more modern role-playing games, but you'll still be forced to make some tough decisions from time to time, prioritizing accuracy or attack power when choosing between two similarly powerful weapons, for example. If that sounds like too much work, you can simply hit the "optimal" button, which will automatically equip your chosen character with the best (in theory) gear. When browsing equipment in a store, helpful icons make it easy to tell instantly which characters in your party are able to equip what, as well as whether or not the new gear is better than what they're wearing or carrying already.

When playing with mages, you'll have still more freedom to customize your characters as a result of the way that learning new spells is handled. To learn a new spell, you simply have to find the store that sells it and purchase it over the counter. Black and white magic spells are organized into levels that determine how powerful they are and how much they cost. There are four spells per level for each discipline, but the catch is that your character can only know three of those four at any one time. So, for example, when purchasing spells for a low-level white mage, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between a healing spell and one that deals damage to all undead enemies on the battlefield. It is possible to unlearn and subsequently relearn spells if you find that your mages are ill-equipped for a particularly challenging battle, but there's a significant cost involved, so it certainly isn't something you'll be able to make a habit of.

Cornelia's towns have plenty of stores for you spend your hard-earned gil in.
Cornelia's towns have plenty of stores for you spend your hard-earned gil in.

Final Fantasy's currency, gil, isn't hard to come by since every monster you defeat will drop some, but if you're anything like us, you wouldn't relish the prospect of "grinding" random battles on the world map simply to make money. If you've ever played a Final Fantasy game before, you'll be familiar with the concept of random battles--encounters with enemies that can't be seen as you explore the world map--and you likely either love or hate them. If you visit message boards populated by fans already enjoying imported version of the game, you'll almost certainly find a thread or three complaining about how frequently random battles occur, but in truth it varies a great deal, so you might walk across half a continent with very little action and then have to fight through several battles in a short space of time. The random battles can certainly be frustrating if you're en route to a dungeon and want to conserve as many of your health and magic points as possible before going in, but there are plenty of items that you can use to ensure that your party is at full strength. Consumable potions are the most obvious, of course, but you can also regain the aforementioned points by using sleeping bags, tents, or cottages while outside on the world map.

Like those on the world map, most of the battles that you'll fight inside dungeons and caves are randomly generated and can pit your party against up to nine enemies simultaneously. Combat in Final Fantasy is an uncomplicated turn-based affair in which you'll give orders to all of your party members at the same time and then watch as your instructions are played out. The combat animations--especially those for enemies--are functional rather than flashy, but the character sprites and backgrounds are nicely detailed.

Enemies we've encountered to date include the usual assortment of goblins, wolves, skeletons, zombies, ogres, spiders, and the like, as well as some aquatic adversaries that pop up from time to time when traveling in a boat. All of the monsters in the game have a weakness waiting to be exploited, which can be to certain types of elemental magic or specific weapons. Lightning attacks are effective against the aforementioned aquatic enemies, for example.

Final Fantasy's story revolves around the exploits of the prophesied Warriors of Light.
Final Fantasy's story revolves around the exploits of the prophesied Warriors of Light.

To talk too much about Final Fantasy's storyline seems like an exercise in worthlessness at this point. If you've played the original game, you already know it, and if you haven't, we're not going to be the ones to spoil it for you. What we will tell you is that the four members of your party are thought to be the prophesied "Warriors of Light" who will save the world of Cornelia from eternal darkness by locating and restoring light to four crystals. There are plenty of subquests for you to complete en route to that objective, and after just a couple of hours playing, we've already rescued a princess and saved a town from pillaging pirates.

Clearly, we've only scratched the surface of what Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition has to offer, but we look forward to bringing you more information closer to its release.

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