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Retro Corner: 'Final Fantasy'

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'Final Fantasy' screenshot
First Released: NES (1987)
Now Available On: Virtual Console, Windows Phone, iOS, PlayStation Network

To many gamers in the West, the Final Fantasy series began with its seventh core entry in 1997, but it had been around a lot longer in the Far East. The original Final Fantasy debuted on the NES in Japan ten years previous, and proved to be a release of great significance in the territory.

Not only was Final Fantasy credited with saving parent company Square (now Square Enix) from bankruptcy, it pioneered many of the themes and mechanics that still make up the backbone of the role-playing genre today.

'Final Fantasy' screenshot
Final Fantasy is set against a sword and sorcery backdrop, following four heroes on a quest to restore light to the elemental orbs, which serve as the world's life force. Players control the entire party throughout the game, and have the option to choose different classes for each character, including warrior, thief, white mage and black mage.

There are three large continents to explore via an overworld map, with dozens of dungeons, towns and other locations to visit. The game took place from the overhead view, but switched to a closer camera perspective when the party entered a battle.

Combat was one of the areas where Final Fantasy polarised players. It was turn-based in nature, and a standard-setter in this regard. Battle commands were carried out through a menu system, which legions of fans thrived on, while others found it to be as much fun as filling in a spreadsheet.

The random nature of battles could be frustrating. It was hard to move more than a few feet on the map without being pulled into a battle, and when it was over, it was easy to forget which direction you where heading. A lot of aimless wandering was required to level up, an issue that was picked up on by several critics at the time.

'Final Fantasy' screenshot
Turn-based skirmishes were only the tip of the iceberg here. Levelling up through XP points was a significant part of the game, as was looting and character customisation. There were magic spells to wield, new weapons and armour to seek out, and alternate classes to become adept in. It's all standard RPG stuff today, but to many gamers back then it was bold new territory.

A team of just seven developers, spearheaded by Hironobu Sakaguchi, worked on Final Fantasy at Square. Sakaguchi is adamant that the studio would likely have folded had the game not been a success. Only 200,000 copies were to be shipped, but this soon increased to 400,000, and the game's popularity eventually saw it find its way to other territories.

Final Fantasy may have taken its time to make it to Western shores, but Square (Enix) has more than made up for that with the sheer number of times it's been ported, repackaged and remade since. The game was first converted for the US market by Nintendo of America in 1990, though it wouldn't make it to PAL territories for another decade or so.

'Final Fantasy' screenshot
Later editions were launched on platforms including the MSX2 and the WonderSwan Colour, before the title was remade from the ground up for the Sony PlayStation, with a revamped version of Final Fantasy II bundled in. Since then it's found success as a mobile game, coming to iOS, PSP, and, most recently, Windows Phone (make with the Android edition, Square Enix!).

The original Final Fantasy still remains nothing short of a great RPG. The stellar mobile ports that have been released in recent years prove that the makings of a classic were always in place. The original is always worth revisiting for its historic significance, but you can't go far wrong with the handheld remakes.

Do you have any fond memories of Final Fantasy? Write a comment in the space below!

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