The Light Warriors cometh
Imagine for a moment that you were born emotionless, with a small crystal shard in your hand. Would you care? Would you investigate further? Endlessly, like those people that chase their geneology back to the time before humans existed? Maybe you'd found an annual convention for emotionless, crystal-loving but ultimately likeminded, battle-hardened and experience-hungry gentlemen? Well if you were and are interested in any of the above, congratulations. You are a Light Warrior. This is how you start the game. After an almost completely unrelated introduction movie featuring a nameless light warrior that bears absolutely no relation to any of the playable characters, you are spawned into the field with seemingly careless abandon. There is a town above you. Slowly you realise that your characters are actually standing in a field populated with various Goblins that wouldn't mind skinning you alive, backstories that cover about as much of your characters as the zero equipment they are wearing and quite possibly a Red Mage.
Let's go check in on the town, shall we? It looks peaceful enough. You gain the courage to push up but as you do a random encounter is triggered against five enemy goblins. Your party has nothing, so you proceed to fist each Goblin into submission. Its slow but hey, the worst they did was knock your Black Mage to 15HP right? This shit is easy! You run into the town, beaming heavily from your victory and discover the shops for the first time. They have that shiny sword you know WARRIOR has been eyeing up for years, its a bargain. There's that shirt that the BLACK MAGE wanted to wear to the annual convention next year and a big hammer for the vaguely androgynous WHITE MAGE. You're happy to have customised your starting party, happy about giving them lovely new weapons and staying in that four-star inn you'd heard so much about. Ecstatically you stroll toward the field but a huge hulking guard steps in your way. WARRIOR wants to kick his teeth in, you can tell from the look in his eyes but WHITE MAGE intervenes, settling the sword-wielding psycho. Now, the guard seems interested in you, not because of that half-ounce RED MAGE has tucked inside his tunic or the illegal collection of weaponry in your general area, but because he in all his incredible foresight has picked today, of all the days to partake in "Random Light Warrior checks".
You see, the day you happened to come to Cornelia happened to coincide with the kidnapping of the Princess. It seems Cornelia's entire army have failed to rescue said Princess from the clutches of an evil knight, terrifyingly named Garland. The King panics, as all good father's would and decides a prophecy is the best political move. With the Light Warrior's entirely coincidental discovery they are summoned to his castle and he sets about explaining the situation and the deal he wants to make. There's no promise of gold, power or concubines, no real motivational speech. Just the single promise that he will commission a bridge to take you to the other side of the river where higher level random monsters reside, including dead horses to beat. One could argue that the King is just having a laugh. I mean, sending a small group of barely-equipped level one characters to assault a guy that just dealt with the entire Cornelian army could be attributed to madness, or even a bad breakfast. In theory it sounds quite the fool's errand.
Caught in a Time Loop
Thankfully though, your party haven't graduated from "Ye olde school of intelligence" recently. They opt to silently and emotionlessly agree by cut/pasting their crystals above their heads. They do that a lot actually. So here is your first challenge, one that introduces the main portion of the game - Grinding. In order to become stronger, one must fight an insane amount of times per level. Often before you can explore an area you'll have to spend a while mowing down enemies just to stand up for five minutes in the deeper depths of the dungeon, where enemy encounters have a habit of triggering mere steps apart. Though survival can often be ensured by your supply of potions. Garland is pretty easy with a full equipped party and his dungeon drip-feeds victory to you, but by the time you take your first tentative steps into the Earth dungeon to kill a generic vampire, you'll realise just how much games have progressed in the many years since the NES release of Final Fantasy. Having to retreat back out to town and then going all the way back through the dungeon again to fight a bigger boss.
The game mechanics don't really change throughout the whole quest, its the same thing all the way. Eased slightly by the gradual addition of exceptionally overpriced gear and magic. Most will play on to meet the legendary Bahamut in order to be granted "advanced jobs" like Knight, Ninja, Red Wizard, Black Wizard, White Wizard and Master. Class changing was extreme to the max back in the days of radical Saturday morning cartoons and cereals that turned your milk bright green. Anyone who wants character customisation has only one real option. This is to save before level and repeatedly switch off and gain the level until their stats raise by that one extra number. Magic is however customisable to a degree with three spells learnable to each tier for each character. All classes with the exception of Monk can use magic at some point due to the class change, limited only by the tier they can reach and a few certain exclusive spells. For a Red Mage in particular, this creates a dilemma at every magic shop. Should he learn to cure or nuke? Maybe a debuff or that interesting new buff you've been eyeing since White Mage cast it on you last week? Its all up to you and your characters support.
The games difficulty is rather madcap. Certain sections are very, very easy while others require intense patience and the medical supplies of your local hospital in their entirety. Enemies love to attack you at every second step in some places, where the encounter rate seems totally broken. When you are constantly bombarded by enemies that can use one-hit finishers on you, it gets really frenetic and fun, while at the same time frustrating and controller throwingly intense. For instance if you failed to pack any gold needles then you may find yourself playing the part of an interesting and incredibly lifelike, four-piece garden ornament set when you were attacked by that squadron of seven Cockatrice hanging around in the volcano, each have a chance to petrify you on touch. Its steadfast in that part of your childhood when games killed you because they felt contractually obliged. This kind of "Old school" thing could quite easily get you off though.
Porting the night away
This conversion was released alongside its hideously deformed bastard child: Final Fantasy II on the Playstation portable on two UMD's. Quite why is a mystery, considering you can probably get it for a fiver on eBay with Final Fantasy II included into the package on one Game Boy cartridge or Playstation disc. They retail at £15 each, which is acceptable for this incarnation of Final Fantasy as a budget RPG. It is rather archaic, despite its slinky makeover here. The sprites are generally all above SNES quality and some of the graphical effects are nice. The overall graphical feel has a Playstation-era "Tales of..." feel to it. The aspect ratio has also increased from the other three incarnations.
Storywise, this is probably the weakest incarnation of the series. The characters have the acting skill of a heavily sedated Sylvester Stallone and the flamboyant villains aren't much better. The narrative itself is also quite simple and generic, feauturing the world being threatened by elemental disaster after four fiends interupt mana flow from the planets elemental-controlling crystals. Ultimately it goes into time travel and endless loops. Sound familiar? Yeah, thought it may. Though most of this can be forgiven when you remember what hardware it was developed for initially. For the time, the story would have been an immense epic that threw the Princess right out of the "other castle".
Players who have only recently become fans of Final Fantasy may be put off by the lack of commands and the significant lack of any real Final Fantasy staples like Cid or the Chocobo. Though it does have an Airship and seafaring vessels (Though the oceans here have a disturbing concentration of pirates). Many elements of the game will be familiar to those that have seen Final Fantasy IX through to the end with many of the main bosses and key items reappearing in the title. If you are hardcore enough to endure the old-fashioned exploring then you are in for a ride. Its an entertaining game in moderate doses. It isn't however exactly long by modern RPG standards.
In closing then, if you must purchase one of the Final Fantasy Anniversary titles then this is the sure fire winner. Despite its weak storyline and plant-pot characters it kicks seven shades out of its irksome spawn. It also contains all of the additional content from Dawn of souls if you missed the oppurtunity and itself introduces a new time-limited dungeon, filled with appearances from later games in the series' canon. Anniversary throws in unlockable artwork from Armano's gallery along the way. It also returns the CD-quality music from the Final Fantasy Origins edition. For those that care it also contains the slightly evolved script from the Origins' release as well. If you find that your life is taking you places you don't want to go, end it all and grab Final Fantasy II along with it. Just call someone beforehand so that you are found quickly. The PSP devalues quickly if its recovered from a crime scene.
Until the next time Square grabs the premiere Final Fantasy's teats firmly and creates yet another conversion anyways. How many extra dungeons does one need? Great package for old school thrills though.
6 / 10