While I am a fan of Ogre Battle, I am also fan of console based role playing games, if not necessarily the most knowledgeable fan. To address the large pink elephant in the corner, I have played many games of the Final Fantasy series, and in almost every case the games have been excellent. It would be too dismissive of the games to discuss some of the positives and negatives of each game in a single diatribe. Instead I have decided to tackle the Final Fantasies in the order of their numerals, from the original Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy X. However I have not played the unreleased Japanese Final Fantasy III for Famicom, the Super Famicom Final Fantasy V, or the PSX versions of Final Fantasies IV-VI. I will also tend to switch back and forth to the original American and "correct" names, because the way the games were released in America shaped how I view them.
Final Fantasy (NES)
I was introduced to Final Fantasy through this game, although I got this game by accident. It all started one day in grade school when some of my classmates were talking about Mega Man 2. Though I had an NES, I had never heard of Mega Man before and at first I thought it was a movie. I asked my mother if there was a movie called Mega Man and she replied there was something called "The Omega Man." I watched it, and while I thought it was a good movie (and the obvious inspiration for "28 Days Later"), it didn't sound like what the people at school were describing. Not too long after this, I started watching Captain N: the Game Master and learned about Mega Man. Of course the show did its job with me, and got me wanting to play Mega Man 2 and Kid Icarus. (The show failed to get me to like Castlevania because I didn't know what game Simon Belmont was from at first.) I told my parents I wanted these games, but I told them over the phone and either they couldn't find what I was looking for or misunderstood what I was saying. I got Mega Man 2, but instead of Kid Icarus I got something called "Final Fantasy."
I can remember how I first played the original Final Fantasy. This was a different type of game I was used to, one where I didn't press buttons to shoot at the enemy or jump on their heads. I had to read the instruction booklet, and while it was overwhelming, I followed its guidance to the letter, not knowing that some of the spells didn't work the way they were described. But at the same time, I did not develop a set of heuristics to the game, which for me is vital for me to have any fun. To put it in simpler terms, it's like playing Monopoly, knowing the rules, and knowing the ultimate goal is to buy every property on the board, but not understanding the basic strategies (like trying to buy all the properties of the same color). Needless to say, it took me years to truly "get" Monopoly. In the same way I was confused in Final Fantasy, and though I had been able to get to Elfland, I was severely underleveled and bewildered. To make matters worse, I had started to walk to the Marsh cave, but the enemies overpowered me in the forest surrounding Elfland. I had saved with a tent in the woods, but I was too far away from town and each time I restarted the game (since in those days there was only one save file), my party died before reaching the Inn. So I put it away, thinking that along with Bad Street Brawler, it would be a game I'd never play again.
One day, though, after getting bored with Mega Man 2, the three incarnations of Super Mario Bros., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, and Chip N' Dale's Rescue Rangers, I decided to put "Final Fantasy" into my NES again. I started the game all over again and within minutes, I "got" it. I didn't just understand the point of the game; I understood how to play it. From that moment on to this day, I have been a fan of the Final Fantasy series. It's amazing to think that it all started with a simple mistake.
Of course, being a video game, one is immediately confronted with graphics, well, it is impossible to compare the graphics to the visual feats of today. The graphics never really hindered the gameplay according to me. However, they did hinder my understanding of the natures of the creatures I fought in battle. I thought Ochu were aliens, I had no idea what Kary was, and I didn't realize why enemy Mages and Fighters didn't look at all like the people in your party. Add to the fact that at times I could not tell which of the three Creeps attacked my party make me consider the graphics average, although I suppose my only foray into the NES Final Fantasies may be unfairly biased due to what I had seen later.
Music, for an NES game, was very good. I must say I was impressed with the number of memorable tunes that stuck with me from this game. The Matoya/Ice Cave theme was catchy, and I fell in love with the theme of the underwater temple. The only tune I really had issue with was the actual battle theme, because even though it has been remixed to death, it is still a weak tune.
Gameplay in Final Fantasy is a mixed bag, although at the time I had nothing to compare it to, so I didn't complain. Thus the faults in the menu, the turn-based combat, and even the magic system did not bother me at all when I first played. I simply had to pay attention to HP and triple check that I hadn't given my character an order to use a potion. I knew of no other way. I was under the impression that if one leveled up, one could get the maximum level of casts for every level (9 level 8-spells). As I played through the game the first time, I saw this was not the case, and in subsequent adventures never picked parties with more than one pure mage (either black or white) unless I was looking to challenge myself. Moreover, there is a quite of degree of non-linearity in this game. After obtaining the necessary items and experience, one could fight the final three Fiends in reverse order -- or any order -- he or she chose.
The story in Final Fantasy, though is not a strong point, primarily because it has little story. Rather this game embodies the worst of RPGs in this regard, a bunch of discrete sidequests (wake the Elf Prince, get the Floater, rescue the fairy, etc...) that only serve as an excuse to level up. While it introduced some of the staples of the Final Fantasy series in this regard, it also lacked what the Final Fantasy has become known for, a strong drama to accompany the gameplay. Even in the Origins update, which changed the beloved orbs into crystals, I am still confused as to why the party had to go back in time and defeat Chaos in the past. I suppose, though, that I didn't mind simply because most games didn't have much of an in-game story and forced the player to pay attention more to gameplay.
Speaking of the Final Fantasy Origins, the remake of Final Fantasy for the Playstation, there is not much one can say regarding it. It sports thankfully superior graphics and a more user-friendly interface. I remember buying one Heal potion at a time and getting bored with the simple pressing of the A button, then having to leave the shop to check how many potions I had gotten. However, it committed the unforgivable mistake of switching the Chaos Temple theme with the underwater theme. Still, it is far easier than the original, and while that alone doesn't make it better, it doesn't make it worse. In any case, the original Final Fantasy is (pun fully intended) squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of quality. The series got off to a good start, but there was a lot to be improved.