Helluin (auronlu) wrote,

META POST: Old-School Final Fantasy & AD&D

Again, I wanna thank Seventhe and Lassarina for inspiring this mega Final Fantasy marathon. I really, really needed a brain break after relatives and holiday stress. Playing Final Fantasy I has been just the cure. (My early caveats about it being old and a bit rudimentary have fallen away...it's great fun!)

While playing these first few days, I've had many thinky thoughts. So. FINAL FANTASY META. SPOILER FREE. You do not have to have been following my silly playthrough to read these comments.

Final Fantasy I box art (note enclosures)
More Rulebooks 1st Edition, Great looking rulebooks just have some scuffing on front
AD&D manuals (same set I owned)
Topic the First: How vintage Dungeons & Dragons shaped Final Fantasy I, and how FF games immediately began to pull away from their D&D roots.

As soon as I started playing FFI, I started getting AD&D flashbacks. Stripped clean of later Final Fantasy layers and additions, FFI's game mechanics, character classes, monsters, and a ton of details are clearly a video game adaptation of original, vintage, first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which I started playing in 1979 after graduating up from the Basic set.

Until now, I'd missed the fact that Final Fantasy's White Mage class was actually AD&D's "Cleric" class, a fighting priest who was allowed in battle so long as he/she didn't used edged weapons. Hence: hammers, clubs, flails, morning stars. (I usually played the party cleric, so why did I fail to notice this?) D&D clerics served pagan or invented fantasy deities, carried some kind of holy symbol, and had temples or churches -- does any of this ring a bell in later Final Fantasy characters? The cleric class had decent HP, although not much as fighters, and had (I think?) high endurance. Clerics could cast healing and purification spells and turn undead to powder. All this was ported straight to FF's original White Mage, who was thus NOT simply an inverse of a black mage.

Whereas the Black Mage ported D&D's old "Magic User" character class (called something else these days, essentially a wizard). MUs were notoriously low on HP, although they were smarter than everyone else.

Likewise, I don't think old D&D thieves really were that big on stealing, since we usually just killed off monsters and ransacked the corpses for treasure. Instead, thieves were simply stealthy and quick and evasive and good at picking locks and discovering traps. Again, in FFI, the thief doesn't have a "steal" ability and is more of a nimble fighter.

So the oddities of original FF character classes, with white mages being buff and thieves not stealing, are due to the source material. (Although the thief's not stealing may also have been due to programming; it was probably easier to have a "now let's add loot, gil, and XP to the party inventory" subroutine separate from the battle subroutine). Also, that explains why original Final Fantasy makes you pick a character class before the game starts, and that's it. Whereas later FFs alternate between the "character locked into role" system of D&D or "job classes" or "sphere grids" which let you develop multiple roles per character.

The world of old Final Fantasy was populated with critters lifted straight from AD&D's monster manual:
  • Bahamut, king of the good dragons, patron of heroes, vs. Tiamat the evil dragon, promoter of chaos,
  • liches, skeletons, zombies, mummies, ghasts, ghouls, and the other undead
  • gray oozes and ochre jellies and green slime
  • giant lizards, dinosaurs (whut?!)
  • wolves and wargs, sabretoothed tigers
  • weretigers, werewolves, werewhatsits
  • mindflayers, evil eyes, ankhegs (invented for D&D)
  • ogres, goblins, trolls, clay golems
  • drow elves
  • And many others.

Also, we've got old-school D&D Elves and Dwarves, which were borrowed from (and changed from) those of Tolkien's Middle-earth.

(A lot of D&D, as you can tell, was developed as a game system to mimic/codify the "adventure party on a quest" concept popularized and practically invented by Tolkien. Clerics (and, later, Bards) were an original D&D concept, but Rangers, Fighters, Magic-Users derived from LOTR. So too did beautifully-illustrated world maps, a staple of any good D&D campaign.)

Final Fantasy's shops, inns, dungeon crawls, maps, the perils of getting killed in the field and having to be resurrected in town, camping, character stats -- nearly all derive from D&D, although MP was a Final Fantasy innovation. Essentially, just as D&D was a game that let us roleplay adventures like those in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy books inspired by them, Final Fantasy was a video game adaptation of tabletop roleplaying, allowing the computer to serve as Dungeon Master (GM) and for us to play D&D solo. It wasn't the first game to do so -- Ultima, Might & Magic, Temple of Apshai and many others had done so before -- but it was a particularly effective video game adaptation of D&D mechanics.

At the same time, Final Fantasy wasn't only a video game adaptation of D&D. From the start, it began to move away from D&D tropes and mechanics (the white and black mages wielding light and dark magic, for example, and the "red mage" hybrid of the two).

It's fun watching how many seeds of Final Fantasy concepts were planted with the original installment. A few I've noticed:

  • Crystals ("Orbs" in the original NES game... later spheres, mako, magicite, etc)
  • Elemental magic (the fire/fira/firaga sequence, although they were called Fire1, Fire2 and Fire3 in the first English port)
  • Colors of magic: adding to the widespread concept of white and black magic, FF developed its own concepts for blue, green, time, and earth/geomancer magic.
  • Ships, airships (a very anime component) and subs. Also the folding canoe, although it disappears in later games.
  • Warriors of Light are mostly absent from Final Fantasy VII onward, but there are still vestiges of the stock heroes of FFI-V in later installments
  • Pirates
  • "The Big Bad broke the world 400/500/1000 years ago, and now we've reached a crisis so it's time to fix it" backstory
  • Character classes morphing in some fashion [ETA: now that I think about it, this came from AD&D, in which the "druid" subclass started as a cleric and had to play as such for about five levels before specializing; the "ranger" started out as a fighter, and the "illusionist" started as a magic-user. FFI adapts this as a mid-game class upgrade.]
  • Haste, Slow, Blind, Poison and "status effects" (Inspired by D&D "Saving Throws" against poison and paralysis, but FF expanded the concept of Status Effects and ran with it)
  • Classic Final Fantasy weapons like Mythril Knife and Excalibur, Coral and Ice Blade (although I'm playing the 20th anniversary remake, and some of these were added to the remake)
  • Ninja class -- distinctly Japanese, and it would pop up again and again in FF, as well as Samurai
  • Dancers. There's a dancer npc in the very first village, and I noticed them all over III; later they become intermittent job classes.
  • Recurring Final Fantasy monsters like Ochu, Cerberus and Gigas (some of these names are different in different remakes of Final Fantasy I, but I think it was "Gigas" in the original Japanese?)
  • Villains mucking about with spacetime.

Chocobos, Summons, Mist, limit breaks and more complex weapons/spells/character customizations were yet to come, but nearly all the raw material is there.

Of course, because I know certain patterns in Final Fantasy games, I'm looking for them. It's like watching a new Indiana Jones movie: there will be some surprises, but you know a lot of what to expect. So I've got a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek game meta in my playthrough write-up, with my characters anticipating character class upgrades, chocobos, an airship, etc. They've read FFwiki and know what to expect.

I can't experience FFI as a first time gamer, devoid of expectations or knowledge of the series. So I'm not trying to. I'm dialing up and seeking out the nostalgia.

(1/7: Edited to kill the EXCESSIVE CAPS and make thoughts flow better.)

This entry was originally posted at http://auronlu.dreamwidth.org/217424.html, where it has comment count unavailablecomments.
Tags: f: ffi, stuff: game discussion

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