The game that started it all is back. Twenty years after its first release on the NES, Final Fantasy I makes its way to the PSP. Much more than just a port, this game includes upgraded graphics and sound, 3D spell effects and an extra dungeon. Plus it includes all the extra stuff that was found in the PlayStation 1 and GBA versions. Is Final Fantasy I: 20th Anniversary Edition just a nostalgic trip down memory lane, or is it a legitimate PSP RPG in its own right? Read on to find out.
After loading up the UMD, the first thing you'll be greeted with is the opening cinematic. This FMV of one of the Warriors of Light fighting against a dragon while, elsewhere, a crystal patiently waits is excellently made, as is always the case with Square-Enix CG. Short and to the point, this video gets you in the mood to start playing the game, though it also gives a stark contrast against which the 2D sprites appear slightly disappointing.
The in-game graphics are, in terms of 2D sprites, very pretty. The wonderfully clear PSP widescreen allows relatively high resolution and colour depth, which shows off the detail of the characters, enemies and backgrounds. All of which are improved substantially since the previous versions of the game, especially the incredibly detailed boss sprites. The backgrounds during battles have a particularly striking painting quality, allowing the bold-coloured character sprites to contrast heavily against them. Animations are a mixed bag, with walking and fighting having only two frames of movement. While this can be said to give the game a retro feel, the reality is that it can be quite jarring to see your nicley detailed character moving so jerkily. Having said that all spell effects have been improved substantially. The faux-3D feel that they have does a really good job of making this game applicable for a modern audience.
Final Fantasy games are renowned for their fantastic soundtracks and, while not as celebrated as FFVII or FFVIII, Final Fantasy I is no exception. Gone are the midis of old. They have been replaced with recorded versions of all the tunes and sound excellent through the PSP speakers, though they're even better through headphones. Tracks of note include Ahead On Our Way, a song reused in several other Final Fantasys (you may know it as the FFXII main theme) and the suitably epic World Map theme. The sound effects are adequate, though you will find yourself gritting your teeth at the sound of the "battle commence" noise for reasons I'll explain shortly.
No doubt in 1987 Final Fantasy had a deep and immersive story. Sadly, our standards have risen nowadays and we require far more in terms of narrative than this game has to offer. The story has not changed a bit since the original release. Most dialogue is either repetitive nonsense spouted by random townspeople, or requests for you to perform fetch quests. When you're not carrying an object from point A to point B, you're descending into dungeons to restore grace to the four elemental crystals jotted around the world. After this the story tries to get a bit clever, with a twist at the end which, if not confusing, will just seem a bit random. Despite all this you'll still find yourself encountering dwarves, elves, pirates and mermaids. A true fantasy tale.
Gameplay has remained largely the same, and we wouldn't have it any other way. While Square Enix have completely revamped Final Fantasy III in 3D on the DS and plan to do the same to Final Fantasy IV, the Anniversary Editions have remained grid based and 2D. Regardless, the game doesn't seem too dated in how it plays, particularly for a handheld title. Character classes haven't changed and you still have to pick your four party members at the outset from the choices of Fighter, Monk, Thief, Black Mage, White Mage and Red Mage. We stuck with the default party: a Fighter, Thief, Black Mage and White mage which we named Auron, Bartz, Vivi and Aeris, respectively. Sadly, the gameplay is so similar to the NES version that the random encounter rate has remained the same. Prepare to dig your nails into your PSP in fury during lengthy dungeons as the monsters simply don't. Stop. Coming. Random battle haters, steer clear.
The battle system is, again, very similar to anyone who has played the NES original, though the magic system has been given an overhaul since then. Where before you were given a set number of spells per level that you could cast between rests, now an MP system has been implemented. This makes spell casting much more similar to modern RPGs and is a welcome addition to the game. As is the ability to save anywhere, making the game much more attractive as a portable title.
The UMD the game comes on is awash with extras. While at the outset most won't be available to you, on completion of the game the Extras menu will open up on the main menu screen. This menu contains a bestiary of all the monsters you've fought during the game (gotta catch 'em all!), a music player so that you can listen back to any pieces that you particularly enjoyed and, our personal favourite, the art gallery. Yoshitaka Amano, the concept artist for many Final Fantasy games, including this one, has a very distinct and celebrated art style (see the image below). The art gallery gets updated, seemingly, as your bestiary does and includes a total of 76 available images to be viewed. As well as original Amano concept art, CG stills are unlockable within this feature, all of which can be zoomed and panned so that you can take in the complete detail. If you have any interest in Amano's work then the art gallery is reason enough to complete the game.
As well as the additional content in the Extras menu, the game contains the additional dungeons from the GBA version Dawn of Souls. These four dungeons are between 5 and 50 levels deep and house bosses from Final Fantasy II through VI. The more powerful equipment can only be obtained by completing them. A really nice thing about this is that when you are fighting a boss from another game, the music changes to the boss tune for that particular title. These are then unlocked in the music player in the extras menu. There is a final optional dungeon new to the PSP version called the Labyrinth of Time. Each floor has a time limit and a puzzle. The time limit can be elongated before you begin by trading abilities, such as being able to cast white magic or use items, for extra minutes. The only downside is that it is not possible to save once you've entered the dungeon, meaning you have to either complete it in one go, or give up and start from the beginning later.
Overall Final Fantasy I 20th Anniversary Edition is a must-get for any RPG fan who hasn't played the game in the past. Even if you have played it before, it's still worth picking up. Particularly if the last system you played it on was the NES. If you tried Final Fantasy I in the past and didn't like it then chances are this isn't version isn't going to convert you. It's too close to the original, in terms of gameplay. Despite some dated aspects, such as ridiculous monster encounter rates and grid based movement, the game holds its own remarkably well for a twenty year old title and the improvements and extras are definitely worth the price. Especially considering this is a game you can carry around with you wherever you go. The game is also massive. Expect to take 15 to 20 hours to finish it, or up to 30 hours if you complete all the sidequests. Quality, longevity, portability and nostalgia in one package. Could one ask for more?
PSP Fanboy Score: 8.0
Second Opinion: Andrew
Final Fantasy is not necessarily a bad game. The remade graphics are sharp, at times distressingly so. However, in spite of the incredible new music and vivid widescreen presentation, the game simply does not feel "new" enough to justify its admittedly high $30 asking price. Were it $10 cheaper, Final Fantasy would come easily more recommended. However, modern gamers ask for a far more complex and refined gameplay experience: with complex back stories, and involving battles and dungeons that require actual depth in thought. Some may call it "classic," when a more appropriate word would've been "antiquated."