Game Changers: Volume 14 – Final Fantasy I

Did you ever have the chance to play Dragon Quest I (aka Dragon Warrior) for the NES? We’re talking back in 1989 for us North Americans. If not, or in case you need a refresher, I’ll give you a little run down of the plot. You are the descendant of the hero Erdrick who, in times past, defeated the Dragon Lord. Now that the Dragon Lord has returned, you must track down  the scattered pieces of Erdrick’s arms and armour and defeat the Dragon Lord anew. That’s it. No really, that’s the whole thing. Well okay, you do rescue a princess along the way and you do have to collect some relics that will allow you to reach the Dragon Lord’s isle, but basically I’ve spoiled the entire plot for you. As you may have noticed, it’s a bit sparse.

Then came Final Fantasy I.

You knew the orbs were important because they were CAPITALIZED.
You knew the orbs were important because they were CAPITALIZED.

When it came out for the NES (in 1990  in North America, 1987 in Japan), Final Fantasy was notable for its inclusion of multiple party members and enemies as opposed to Dragon Warrior‘s one-on-one battles, not to mention an expansive map, and various means of transportation (Final Fantasy I beat out Dragon Warrior II for the honour by six months on this side of the Pacific anyway). But the game is also notable for being the first to ramp up the stakes in terms of plot.

It starts out innocuously enough: four Light Warriors come to rescue a world plagued by chaos and darkness by restoring four elemental orbs. Certainly it’s not Final Fantasy IV, which begins with the moral and emotional dilemma of a man forced to choose between the commands of his king and what he believes to be right, but it remains a step up from “go get Erdrick’s armour and beat up the Dragon Lord.”  And what you see at the beginning is only the tip of the iceberg.

So the plot of Final Fantasy I… Hold on to your controllers, folks, here goes. The Light Warriors begin their quest to restore the Orbs. First, though, they have to perform a classic fantasy fetch quest and travel to the Temple of Fiends to rescue a princess who’s been abducted by the evil knight Garland (now remember that because it’s important). Fortunately the princess is not in another castle, and having proven their worth as heroes in the oh-so-traditional manner, they are now permitted to venture into the wide world to perform a plethora of other fetch quests which will, over the course of the game, lead to their defeating the four elemental fiends and by doing so, restoring  power to the Orbs. Game over. Roll the credits. Right? Wrong. No sooner have the Light Warriors restored the Orbs than a portal to 2000 years in the past opens up in the place where it all began, The Temple of Fiends. As it turns out, the Fiends sent Garland (aka the demon of Chaos) into the past and he in turn sent the fiends into the future, thus creating a time paradox which the Light Warriors must end by journeying to the past to defeat Chaos.

Are you still with me?

It looks so simple judging by the box...
It looks so simple judging by the box…

So, just to review, Dragon Warrior: find the armour; Final Fantasy: time-travelling fiends and time paradoxes. Final Fantasy I set the stage for the complex storylines with sudden twists that would come to define the series. In broader terms, it also showed that even if much of the game was defined by fetch quests and level grinding, the genre had immense potential for story telling. This potential was realized more fully in the next generation of RPGs on the SNES and forward where story became the central focus of many games in the genre. Some games have gone to extremes, Xenogears for the PS1, for example, where the entire last disc of the game is made up mostly of long story sequences only occasionally interspersed by battles. Others have more balanced gameplay and story but throw in mind-bending plot twists and complications a la Final Fantasy VII. Story is a major element of the RPG genre and Final Fantasy I deserves a special place in history for its truly ambitious plot line in the genre’s infancy.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.