Review of Latest Final Fantasy Endures Due to Harsh Reality

Final Fantasy can be anything, yet not everything can be Final Fantasy. Series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi once advised that a game can be Final Fantasy “if it has a sapphire window with text in it.” Unlike many other video game franchises, there aren’t any truly unambiguous characteristics that one can point towards to define a Final Fantasy game. As far as ambiguous characteristics go, I believe a sense of urgent passion to be the key ingredient.

You can make all the jokes you want about Final Fantasy never being “final,” but the title reflects the mindset that created it rather than it being a literal statement. Mr. Sakaguchi famously began Final Fantasy with the intent that it would be his last video game project before calling it quits in the video game business. Final Fantasy originated with the kind of passion that one would put into their final project. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that after so many entries, Final Fantasy continues to endure.

The mindset behind Final Fantasy speaks to me. Not to be a downer, but no one really knows how much time they have in life. While we shouldn’t live in fear that each moment will be our last, it makes sense to put our all into the projects we currently have in front of us. The pressure of our finite existence turns the stones we cast out into the world into diamonds…ideally, anyway. That kind of pressure also explains why each Final Fantasy gets filled so thoroughly with ideas that each can stand alone in its own universe. Urgency brings out the best in Final Fantasy’s eclectic nature, with each entry having its own special charms that stand on their own and are worthy of respect.

I respect the original Final Fantasy for its adherence to harsh reality. I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s a realistic game, but rather that it contains hints of reality that color the otherwise fantastical nature of the game. Final Fantasy conveys its sense of reality through how its gameplay mechanics portray a sense of adventure.

Many games promise adventure, but truly providing one is more complicated than it seems. So many games make adventures and Actions seem easy. If you breeze through an adventure without effort or thought, however, is that really much of an adventure at all?

To me, adventure begets hardship. Hardship, especially in games, comes in many forms. Getting lost, bumping up against powerful enemies, or having to manage resources all serve as possible examples. Games need to consider a balance, of course. If a game only beats you down with hardship that won’t be fun, so the quality of the adventure depends on how it executes the hardships.

The original Final Fantasy works because it balances things… I wouldn’t say fairly, but fairly enough. If you take your time, you can overcome the challenges it tosses your way. If you rush headlong brainlessly, you’ll die constantly. Final Fantasy promotes caution and preparation, and it primes you for that from the moment you begin the game.

Final Fantasy primarily builds its sense of adventure up through choice. When you start the game, the game doesn’t just start. Instead, you need to decide who you’re bringing with you for the journey. Your choices for party members shape your experience on a fundamental level. Each of the six classes carries their own positives and negatives. dramatically changing how you approach the adventure.

Your party braces you for the kinds of problems you’re going to face. Strong striker classes like the wrestler or Monk move Actions along with the heavy damage they deal and ability to tank hits, yet will eventually succumb to their wounds without support. White Mages solve a lot of logistical problems in terms of keeping your party alive, but their talents can only be stretched so thin. Most newcomers may opt for an even spread of classes that covers all their bases, while others seeking a challenge may skew towards something wackier. Four White Mages? It’ll never work…or will it? Probably not without some heavy grinding and resets, at any rate.

Party choice creates a sense of ownership that allows you to invest more heavily into the experience. Your decisions here stick with you for the entire rest of the game, so in a sense they’re the most important decisions to make. You even get to name the poor souls you drag along with you, which gives extra incentive to keep them healthy. Otherwise all of that effort you put into their names would go to waste! Ignore the ones in my screenshots.

Once you pick your team, the game plops you onto a grassy field. While the nearby town tempts players into being the first destination, you don’t need to heed its call. You can just as easily bypass the town and go wherever you feel. If you do that, however, you will likely find yourself overwhelmed by random experiences with enemies before you find anything cool. Even if you at least visit the castle to hear about infamous knight Garland, he’s liable to knock you down if you beeline straight to him.

That’s the most important lesson that Final Fantasy teaches you. The best way to prevent your first stop from being your final stop is to make your destination a nearby town. In towns, you can stock up on weapons, armor, and items to preemptively solve the many problems you’re guaranteed to run into. Virtually the entire game works this way – you stock up at a town, head out for adventure, then either find a new town or go back to the previous one when plans go awry. It’s a constant cycle.

Players need to proceed under the assumption that their plans will in fact go awry – the random nature of the enemy experiences ensures that. Sometimes you’ll make major headway into a dungeon without any interruptions, while other times can feel like you’re tripping over goblins every few steps. The experiences themselves can range from smacking around EXP fodder to something that forces you to guzzle down all of your resources.

Random experiences get a bad reputation for how they can annoy or inconvenience players, but many games, including Final Fantasy, would be lesser without them. They inject the world with the peril that makes it feel real. The ever present fact that one bad ambush by enemies can lead to a game over screen glues the entire Final Fantasy experience together. Without the fangs of defeat looming in the shadows, everything else in the game loses its importance.

For example, the Marsh Cave will likely be the biggest roadblock in the game for most players. It’s a dungeon that branches out into multiple directions and frequently assaults you with enemies that poison your crew. Unless you overprepare by leveling up your characters and stocking up on items, you’ll find yourself drained of resources before you come anywhere close to cleaning it out.

The deadliness of the Marsh Cave essentially forces you to make multiple trips into it. That’s by design and it’s even openly encouraged by the floorplan. The initial floor of the dungeon branches out into multiple directions that mostly lead to dead ends. Returning back from any of them will funnel you back to the entrance.

The choice to bypass all of that ultimately lies in the hands of the player, of course. While I understand that sometimes people just need a little help, I hope that anyone playing the game today plays it with an open mind about what the game is supposed to be. That’s partly why I wrote out so much about the appeal of the game in the first place. Balance is important to Final Fantasy – it’s a game that defines itself through hardship. In order to experience the adventure it provides, however, you need to be willing to give it a chance.