Playing FF was a heck of a lot more enjoyable than I had anticipated, partly because I went all in, shamelessly importing four characters from the magical gamespace multiverse to flesh out the Warriors of Light. Through them, I could inject personality and commentary into a very simple game whose party was only as interesting as you imagined it to be. If I hadn't done that, the game would've been been flat like Zork, or like ... well, early Might & Magic, not that anyone here played that puppy.
I came into Final Fantasy I thinking, "Well, this is the first Final Fantasy, so I mustn't expect the complexities and story plotting and characters of the later games. It'll be simple and clunky and the game mechanics will probably drive me INSAAANE." By virtue of the fact that I was playing a remastered edition, I didn't have to deal with the arbitrary game mechanics of the original, so I could just sit back and play it. I don't feel any burning desire to play games on PROUD or HARD or ARTIFICIALLY DIFFICULT mode. I've done graduate school three times; that's enough for me.
I liked FFI. It really did have a certain charm, despite its stock fantasy simplicity; it did have many of the beloved game and story elements that have made Final Fantasy enduring. I could believe that this game hooked enough players to rescue Square from near-bankruptcy. Even odd little things like the iconic black mage with the Jawa eyes contributed to making it just...a little...different.
Of course, all the D&D flashbacks gave me the nostalgia factor I was missing by not coming to Final Fantasy until VII-VIII. So that helped.
So, some in-game stuff. Spoilers to the ending, such as it was.
As expected, it's a very generic World of Fantasy, although it already had Final Fantasy's distinctive blend of fantasy and sf elements, airships and floating continents/fortresses, the token ancient civilization with mysteriously durable artifacts, the four elements, time loops and all that. Even the Elf prince in a coma rang a bell -- how many times in FF games does someone conk out for part of the story, and is in crystal / stasis / unconscious so that we have to go on a quest to help them recover? (I truly did appreciate that it was a prince, not a princess, and I probably didn't give Square enough credit for counterbalancing the stereotypical rescue-the-princess task at the start of the game with wake-up-male-sleeping-beauty immediately after). There are also little details like bells/geomancers and blackbelt/monks which I don't recall from D&D, but which were stock for the first five games or so of FF's life.
As for story and world, the game doesn't have much, really, to meta about. There are bits, but they're vestigial. A few that caught my eye:
Mermaids losing their tails. What is the story behind the villagers of Onrac being amazed at your legs, and Kraken imprisoning the rest of the mermaids in the Sunken Shrine? How did the land-based mermaids get legs? Why did Kraken imprison the others? Was he jealous of their tail fins, secretly loathing his tentacles? The 20th anniversary edition adds the Mermaid Spa & Resort bonus dungeon whose real name escapes me. With it came a tiny bit more backstory: it was built so human sailors could live with their mermaid brides in an underwater grotto which is mysteriously not completely flooded, in the way of fantasy underwater grottoes. I feel there was more story here about the mermaids, possibly from some npc comments I missed. Inquiring minds want to know.
--Dwarves: Lali-ho, Rally-ho, seems to be the Dwarvish equivalent of Kupo. I'm actually glad it vanished.
-- Bahamut and his red dragons, the franchise's first-ever entrants for Noble NonHuman Warrior Race. They are cultured and disciplined critters who say wise warriory things and go to the Citadel of Trials to prove their Klingon prowess. (At least, unlike FFX's Cloister of Trials, the Citadel included monsters as well as puzzles.) Bahamut gives the Warriors of Light clothing upgrades when they prove themselves as warriors. Oh, and they live in the Cardia Islands (which I dubbed the "Swiss Cheese" Islands); Kardia means heart in NT Greek. So they're fairly well developed, compared to the rest of the civilizations on the map, so why does the 20th anniversary edition show Generic Warrior of Light fighting a big red dragon? Wasn't Tiamat blue with many heads?
[Obviously, this is all based on D&D's Bahamut, king of good dragons and the embodiment/deity in charge of the Lawful Good alignment, who rewards and sponsors heroes and champions. But Bahamut was in D&D a platinum dragon; red dragons were evil following the Smaug blueprint. ]
-- Elves in Name Only. Other than having a magical key that opens lots of treasures, which the Elf Prince had for safekeeping because apparently he was a trusty guy, I really didn't get much sense of elves in this game. They were painfully undeveloped. Even the Drow Elf Astos never really shows up again after his one miniboss arc, a common problem in older FFs.
-- Garland. Best knight in Cornelia; why did he go bad? Was he teased as a child for having a floofy floral first name?
-- Fiends. My Final Fantasy X fan heart is pleased to learn why the somewhat contrived "fiends" was substituted for the generic fantasy word "monsters." It came from this game, and, I suspect, goes back to D&D's Fiend Folio, from which some of FFI's odder monsters were lifted.
-- The ending. OH THE ENDING. It's the first Final Fantasy Time Loop Mind Screw, and it's a whopper. Lemme quote the iPad edition's End Battle Villain Gloat Speech in full (I think it's basically the same as the original, a better translation established in the 20th anniversary edition):
Two thousand years from now...you
killed me. I am Garland.
Oh, you did defeat me then.
But the four great forces saved me
by sending me back through time!
Once here, I sent the four Fiends into
where they shall once again use the
four great forces to send me into the past!
In two thousand years, I will remember none of this.
But I will be reborn again here.
So, even as you die again and again,
I shall return!
Born again into this endless circle that
I have created!
So, the stable time loop has the heroes (nearly) killing Garland-the-evil-knight at the start of the game, but then he's sent back in time and kills them during the end-game Chaos Shrine battle, during which he manifests as the uber-boss Chaos. During your play-through, you finally break out of the time loop by killing Chaos-Garland 2000 years in the past. The problem is that when you play the game, you kill the four fiends in the final dungeon before reaching Garland/Chaos, so how could he send them into the future 400 and 200 years before the end of the loop? (And why staggered?)
Possible brilliance: the four fiends embody the dark aspects of elemental forces, so they "regrow." But perhaps not all at the same time. Perhaps Garland wasn't really sending them "forward" in time, just back from the parallel dimension of the Chaos Shrine.
I still can't work out what happened to the Chaos form of Garland in the timeline where the heroes didn't defeat him. It seems almost like the timeloop is more stable if they do: that way, he can be born in Princess Sarah's day, go back in time, and get killed. Otherwise where does Chaos go? I suppose Dissidia and/or the fanfic Rina's just cooked up may provide an answer.
--The epilogue. Here's the whole epilogue for posterity. It's amazingly rambling, I think. My comments added:
The time loop was severed at last...
The endless struggle that raged over
two thousand years had ended, and
peace prevailed once more.
The light of the four Crystals restored the forces of wind, water,
earth and fire.
It was a mere trick of fate that had given rise to the
chain of Garland's wrath.
But magnified by the four forces
meant to guide our world,
that trick of fate also gave birth
to the Fiends.
This backs up my thought that the four fiends grow like sentient manifestations of elemental forces from the dark side of the Four Crystals, or (I guess) through misuse of them. DARK AEONS, YO.
With the four forces flowing
as they were meant,
the warriors prepared to cross time
and return to the world they
knew— a world where Princess Sarah,
Queen Jayne, and even Garland himself await.
There are so few names in this first game that it's interesting to see whose names are signalled as significant. Rina ran with a plot bunny on this, making Sarah out to be the goddess of Dissidia, yes?
When was this fateful day that sent time spiraling into a loop?
None can say.
It seemed the cycle into which
time had fallen would last forever.
But the bravery of four young
travelers changed that. They took
the forces that filled the world with
darkness, and used them to
bathe the world in light.
They're not orphans, in this game, but here's their sole bit of characterization: young. Yep, we're back in classic JRPG mode. And fairy tale mode, incidentally.
None will ever recall
the struggle the four endured,
for the breaking of the chain
means that it never existed.
But within the tales of fantasy
that people tell, the memory
of their deeds lives on...
Tales of dwarves and elves,
of dragons and shining civilizations
that reached for the heavens even
as they fell.
the dwarves and elves were barely a presence, and we really don't get much of a backstory on the shining (Lufenian) civilization that fell even as it built its Mirage Tower of Babel and ascended to the heavens. Did Tiamat clobber them? Did the four Fiends arise from their harnessing of the Crystals?
With the memories of their struggle
buried deep in their hearts, they
will quietly watch over our world.
I'm relieved to see, on closer reading, that the Four Warriors remember their journey, even if the world does not. Also, note they've been parked in "observation mode," ready to swoop down and help out the world in the following games (and indeed, some games show the Old Generation of Four Warriors lending a hand).
Remember always that the forces
of the world must be used as
they were intended—that the
power of light must never be
used for dark, and that the true
Crystals reside in your heart.
For you are the warrior who
You are the bringer of light...</blockquote>
The last bit about "the warrior is you" ties into my whole "Who are you?" riff about player POV in the original Final Fantasy game. The game is meant to be a journey of parts of your own inner self, divided in four, in a way that's almost Bruno Bettelheimish.
Also, as it's Final Fantasy (and indeed, 20th century Japanese), the power of light = atomic energy, and it can go Very Badly Wrong If Misused. Familiar yet sad to see yet another game/movie from Japan working its way through that trope.
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