Whooaa Nelly, Laser Grind is back for another round of bourbon- and menu-based combat! If you didn’t catch the first entry in the series, here’s the lowdown: I am endeavoring to explore the origins of modern RPGs by playing through their ancestors, while also enjoying fine whiskey — today, a fine 12-year called Eagle Rare. This time around, we take a look at the first entry in the most prolific and ironically named role-playing series ever…
This is the most blatant case of false advertising since The Neverending Story.
Launched in 1987 in Japan and 1990 in North America, Final Fantasy has been re-released again and again on a variety of consoles and virtual shops for 25 years. Originally branded as “Fighting Fantasy,” the iconic name came about as a dark joke by series director Hironobu Sakaguchi, who claimed that if the project failed, he’d have to quit the industry. Fortunately for him, the Final Fantasy series has sold nearly 2 million copies worldwide to date. The game also boasts an incredible soundtrack from legendary games composer Nobuo Uematsu, whose tunes can be heard in this dope episode of VGMpire. But contrary to its subsequent success, Final Fantasy was only green-lit after the success of Dragon Quest on the NES/Famicom.
This will make sense if you read the first article…
Enough history! As a self-described video game anthropologist, I find it’s best to study through immersion, so let’s dive right in! Final Fantasy offers four characters from six available classes. Later in the game, you can even undergo an optional quest to promote your characters to their upgraded classes, equipping them with upgraded magic, weapons, and armor. It also makes their sprites look more badass!
Since these Warriors of Light appear carrying four darkened orbs and with very little backstory, I’ll fill in the holes.
Fighter. Years of being called a ginger left him wanting to protect others from bullying, so he became a noble badass. This bro is your standard tank character: he’s strong, he can equip the best weapons and armor, and he doesn’t take shit from anyone. I mean, look at that fiery red hair! He upgrades to the Knight, which lets him use lower level white magic.
Black Belt. The black belt grew up without cable, but he had a VCR and Steven Segal’s entire filmography on VHS. Unfortunately, this mostly led to him getting beat up a lot. On the plus side, those ass-whuppins made him strong! Dude has HP out the ass and can evade attacks, and though he starts out on the weak side, he hits harder and more often with leveling. He upgrades to the Master, making him even faster.
Thief. You know that kid who was always stealing stuff from your locker? Maybe he usually had headphones on and wore lots of Criss Angel t-shirts? He grew up to be the thief: agile and quick, able to avoid the enemy and his attacks. He’s also very lucky, although this plays no discernible role in battle. He upgrades to the Ninja, which gives him access to more weapons, and low-level black magic. This makes him quite the versatile cat.
Red Mage. Bruce Lee once said he didn’t fear a man who practiced 1,000 kicks 100 times, but he did fear the man who practiced 1 kick 100,000 times. The Red Mage is the first guy. He switched majors a dozen times in college and finished with a degree in communications, giving him average skill in all crafts and all stats. He can fight, but not like the fighter or black belt, and he can use low-level black and white magic. After upgrading to the Red Wizard, he can do slightly more than a little of everything — a true jack-of-all-trades.
White Mage. The White Mage smells like patchouli oil and doesn’t understand why you aren’t a vegan. She values all life, and has even dabbled in Jainism. She’s not in the fight to cause damage — she’s there to prevent or repair it. Her strength is non-existent, but she boasts healing and support magic that will keep everyone else kicking ass much longer. Plus, she’s got spells for going Austin 3:16 on otherwise-pesky undead fiends. Upgrading to the White Wizard gives her access to the most powerful, game-changing healing magic. Don’t leave home without her!
Black Mage. This guy… He can’t take a punch, he can’t throw a punch, but he can straight up murder you in Magic: the Gathering. Instead of spending his time trying to attract a lady or bathing regularly, the Black Mage spent his youth watching Buffy and studying ancient tomes full of black magic. What this means is that he’s not the guy you want to hold a conversation with, but he absolutely is the guy you want backing you up against a group of deadly monsters. Upgrading to the Black Wizard allows him to learn Nuke, a spell that does to enemies and bosses exactly what its name suggests.
After much deliberation, I carefully chose my party…
We are once again plagued by a four-digit name limit.
With this plucky team of troubled youths ready to enter the fray, it was time to talk about the story of Final Fantasy. Fortunately for you, I don’t have to make this one up!
Who needs a 20 minute cinematic?
So there you have it! The world sucks, and we sort of show up with some orbs. At least we know that this isn’t going to be another “rescue the princess from the evil guy” story.
We start our tale at Cornelia Castle, where we’re immediately tasked with rescuing the princess from the evil guy. Well, I guess not all anthropological activities are exciting or original. We track the princess to a decaying old ruin, located about 20 seconds north from Cornelia, only to discover Garland, the dickwad who stole our princess and put her in another castle. Perhaps we can settle this peacefully!
“…knock you all down — to death!”
Despite his threat, he goes down about as easy as Patty the Daytime Hooker, and we head off to Cornelia to see the closing credits and lock up another chapter of Laser Grind. But wait! Instead of closing credits, the King builds a bridge to the mainland, and once you’re across, they roll the opening credits instead. Clever girl. The true goal of the game is to defeat the four elemental fiends, light up the orbs, and fix the world. How novel!
With the true quest officially underway, let’s talk about gameplay! Like most RPGs of the time, you’ve got your world map, your towns and dungeons, and your the battle screen. They aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel on this one, but the size of the world, number of dungeons, and character customization are definite upgrades from competitors. Those able to use magic are allotted three spells each, over eight levels. The twist is that there are four spells for each level, so you’ll have to pick just three. On to the battles!
Having met Chris and Tyler, I know which command they would choose.
Combat is turn-based, of course, and depending on the size of the monster sprites, they can feature up to nine jerks at once. Unlike modern turn-based RPGs, however, you have to strategically plan your attacks on each enemy. If you attack the same imp with two characters, and the first attack kills that imp, the second attacker’s move is wasted — it doesn’t carry over to another enemy. But I suppose it’s part of the charm of grinding! Fortunately, there are spells that affect entire groups of monsters.
Bosses can be tough if you haven’t been grinding properly, and will happily wipe out your whole party in a single strike. This is especially true of the four elemental fiends, each of whom returns light to an orb upon defeat. You can tell they are trouble by their intimidatingly centered sprites.
She’s so centered! And tan!!
Of course, between each of these powerfully giant collections of pixels, there are plenty of fetch quests and side stories to explore. We’ll get into those on the next page!