Black Mages are promoted to their level of incompetency

Final Fantasy 1

Final Fantasy (1987)

Sometimes I have to wonder how frustrating it must be to be a manager. Obviously, as I am an unambitious layabout, I haven’t got a staff to manage. But I do have extensive experience with Football Manager, which almost counts. There’s no need to overcomplicate management, because it’s a lot more simple than people realise.

Just have a think about what it’s like for sports managers, or better yet, put yourself in their shoes. You try to empathise with the players, get on the same psychological wavelength as them to make sure the big babies aren’t on the verge of bottling it. You prepare the team as well as possible, make sure they’re conditioned, make sure they’re fit. You lay out the full strategy against your next opponents, several times and as plainly as possible. Then your players go out and act like a bunch of pilchards doing whatever they like, and you’re left tearing your hair out. And in the end, guess who gets the bullet?

It’s no use you going into the chairman’s office and waving your arms about and swearing like a sailor. You’re gone, and it’s not fully your fault, but someone’s got to be the scapegoat. Those players cost a lot more to hire and fire than you did, after all.

You would’ve been forgiven for thinking that you could trust the players, that they’d have a bit of autonomy and be well-drilled enough to band together through adversity. What you certainly didn’t expect was to see them fall over and get stuck, like a wind-up toy that’s still lamely flailing its limbs. It’s all exploded in your face, old son, but because you’re not the main asset, it’s you who’ll be going belly up and it’s going take an awful lot for your career to recover.

That’s what it’s like in the very first Final Fantasy – not so final really, was it? But the bit that prevents me from getting very far in this game, apart from the now deeply depressing overall presentation on the NES version, is that when you’re in a random battle you can’t just keep hammering A to fight until all the monsters finally go away. If two of your lads target one monster, with the first fighter defeating the beast, when your second guy tees up his shot he’ll still target the aromatic dust that was previously a pug-ugly goblin, which obviously results in a miss.

There you go – there’s management for you in a nutshell: you make it as easy as possible for them, but even if they do follow your instructions, they can’t think one iota for themselves and they take everything you say extremely literally. Result, youre the one left looking stupid, you will be the whipping boy of all the tabloids, your P45 is in the post and they’re shaving rude words into your children’s hair.

It could have all spelled doom for Squaresoft, now Squeeeenix, since this game was famously their last throw of the dice before all the lads went to look for less stressful jobs, like giving massages to scorpions. Talk about high stakes – there’s been cases of football managers having heart attacks on the touchline, true. But given the notorious Japanese work culture I could hardly imagine the stress faced by Japanese executives and business owners on the verge of bankruptcy.

How many seppukus would it take to cleanse your soul of THAT kind of shame? It’s just as well for us all that Final Fantasy went on to be a hit. I personally think more game companies should threaten and emotionally blackmail their customer base like this. “If you don’t buy our latest entry in the Atelier Lolita trilogy, then fine, but you’re gonna have our blood on your hands.

The story isn’t a four-disc epic, of course, so here it’s simply about there being four crystals causing trouble, a few dragons maybe and then a troupe of lads, who never speak and have no names and appearances until you select them, are tasked to save the world from evil.

A hilariously wretched (or wretchedly hilarious) translation kills some of the pathos here though, to say the least. Since it’s all monsters, swordplay and heroism, obviously people are going to get killed. But when the first boss tap-dances towards you and says, “I, Garland, will knock you all down!” then you can conclude that this probably isn’t the game where the infamous Final Fantasy angst kicked in.

There are a lot of magic spells in the game, but you might as well forget about most of them since they don’t exactly work as described. The Trades Description Act was already torn to shreds by the game’s title mentioning “Final”, but this puts the tin lid on it. All names in the game, including that of your protagonists no less, are restricted to 4 characters meaning you won’t even have a notion of what the spells are supposed to do anyway.

So feel free to head on into battle against 9 Gargoyles and try to throw out an AMUT spell to see what it does. It fails with the inevitability of a drongo failing all their school exams, with a similar lack of fanfare, and then your team gets the larrups off the entirety of the Gargoyle Globetrotters and it’s yet another party wipe.

Don’t get me wrong, the use of shops and menus was still fresh and revolutionary at the time, even if Dragon Quest was way ahead, but you’ll feel like you’re reprogramming the game itself trying to get through all of the shopkeeper’s dialogue and inventory. All you’ll want to do is buy a better sword, which would be great if you had any way of determining if this new, vastly expensive sword was better or not. You might also be in the market for a few high level spells, the spells being divvied up into a hierarchy of levels which I’ll never understand.

Though the battling gets pretty mutilating, I do enjoy the fact that there is a dedicated option to DRINK on the battle menu. If the game was easier and I had the luxury, I’d just characterise my Ninja as a hard-drinking, jaded badass. Unfortunately, he needs to get in there and dish out slaps to tree monsters, only to miss half of his shots anyway once the lads before him have had their turns.

The best option to play Final Fantasy 1 is categorically not on the NES. It’s a cool collector’s piece if you can get it, though you won’t find it in Europe. You won’t find Final Fantasies 1 through 6 here for that matter. There was also a PS1 edition, part of Final Fantasy Anthology, but I wouldn’t recommend that  one either – still a bit lacking in cheer.

Get Dawn of Souls, the Game Boy Advance edition that comes packaged with II and cleans both games up a little bit. That one won’t make you target specific enemies, it’ll give you a bestiary and a lot more hints and information on weapons and spells. It’s just brighter all round too, even on the original GBA screen. And, trust me, it makes the first entry to this juggernaut series a whole lot easier to manage.

17 March 2020

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