User Rating: 7 | Final Fantasy Origins PS
Final Fantasy, one of the most successful RPG series of all time, wasn’t initially conceived as a megahit. In 1987, the original Final Fantasy was released in Japan for the Nintendo Famicom by Squaresoft—who was, at the time, a struggling video game company. By the time it reached American shores in 1990, Final Fantasy had already spawned two sequels in its native country. Squaresoft had a solid gold franchise on their hands, and the rest is history. Eleven games, two anime series, one feature-length film, several anthologies, countless spinoffs, and a staggering amount of tie-in merchandise later, the Final Fantasy series is still running like a dream. At the time of this writing, there are no less than two Final Fantasy games in development, with another three currently undergoing the US localization process. As US gamers, we have, time and again, been victim to the whims of whomever it is that decides whether a game should see a stateside release. No less than three Final Fantasies--II, III, and V--have failed to reach the western hemisphere during their initial releases. This was rectified somewhat by the re-release of Final Fantasy V as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology in 1999, though this left us missing two games--until now. Final Fantasy I and II, previously reissued and remastered for the WonderSwan Color handheld in Japan, have made their way to the good old Playstation in the form of Final Fantasy Origins--Square’s third stateside Final Fantasy compilation, following Final Fantasy Anthology and Final Fantasy Chronicles. And it’s quite a nifty little package. Those of you who have grown accustomed to the more recent entries into the series will be in for something of a strange experience. Though innovative for their time, these two games come nowhere near the epic stories of later Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy I has a particularly threadbare plot, which essentially consists of "Please, Light Warriors, save the world from the evil Fiends!" To simplify matters further, the main characters literally have no personalities--you assemble a party of four members from an assortment of six different character classes, name them as you see fit, and go from there. Final Fantasy II is a bit more complex, boasting a cast of named characters with definite personalities and motivations along with a slightly more elaborate plot--though still nothing that can hold a candle to anything more recent. In terms of gameplay, these early Final Fantasies can be accurately described as a mere skeleton of what the series would later become; fans will definitely note the building blocks that are present here. Battles are particularly simple turn-based affairs, and tend to be pretty unforgiving--these are hard games. Fortunately, Final Fantasy I has an "Easy" difficulty setting for first-timers. The menus, equipment, and items are reminiscent of what one would typically expect in an RPG, though everything here is, again, comparatively simple. Final Fantasy II’s character advancement system is worth noting. While an interesting concept--and somewhat of a rough draft of Final Fantasy’s oft-used Job System--it’s ultimately pretty odd and doesn’t always work quite right. Instead of gaining experience levels as in most traditional RPGs, your characters in Final Fantasy II improve based on what they do. For instance, a character who attacks often will gain better attack power, while a character who takes a lot of damage will have higher hit points. Magic-happy characters gain more potent spells, while the unfortunate lightning rods in a group get higher magic defense. It can be pretty random and hard to work with sometimes, but it’s certainly a unique approach. Graphically, both of the games on Final Fantasy Origins look like they belong on the Super NES (or perhaps the Game Boy Advance). Those of you who are used to exorbitant amounts of eye candy will probably be put off by this fact, though these games were never meant to look like visual masterpieces. They ARE an upgrade from the original 8-bit versions, and the visuals complement the fairly simple overall presentation that’s at work here. As per all the Final Fantasy compilations, several CGI scenes have been included; these are nice, but nothing that’ll dazzle anyone. The musical aspects are similar--simple, but appropriate. There are actually a few impressive pieces of music here--again, all the audio is upgraded from the original Famicom/NES incarnations--but certainly nothing that rivals the soundtrack of Final Fantasy VII or VIII. Same goes for the sound effects. Overall, Final Fantasy Origins is a pretty good package--and at $29.99, it’s also a cost-effective deal. Will you enjoy it? That depends on whether or not you’re willing to put aside the ever-increasing dependence on visual and aural aspects that most gamers today tend to suffer from. There’s some quality gameplay to be had here; if you’re a longtime Final Fantasy fan, you just might be in for a pretty pleasant little surprise. And if you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia, it’s an excellent way to rediscover the series’ roots. Now, if we could just get Square Enix to re-release Final Fantasy III...