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Express Train To The Chaos Shrine: Final Fantasy, Part One

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It would be pointless to try to explain in words what Final Fantasy means to me. It’s a song, it’s a sword, it’s a sworn oath, it’s a pair of wings erupting from a castle, it’s the cry of a large yellow bird or the shine of light on a crystal or the Color Fortunes vending machine in the inn at Frontier Village Dali. It’s late nights and heartbreak and GameFaqs (shout out to DingoJellybean and PsychoPenguin for their walkthroughs), sick days and sleepovers and BradyGames strategy guides and long long summers filled with endless hours playing minigames, mastering job classes, and exploring towns I already knew like my own home for the dozenth time. When I got my first guitar, the first thing I did was find a site filled with tabs of music from the series, and when I pick up any new instrument it’s the same. I’m sure you have a thing like this; there are many like it, but this one is mine.

When the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Collection was announced I had mixed feelings, and whether the reader knows these games or not I’m certain the ugliest of these feelings will be familiar: a knee-jerk reaction against the idea of something so important to me, so large a part of who I am and how I’ve lived my life, being released to the masses who might not appreciate it as I did. That’s right, my good moogles: I Was A Teen-aged Gatekeeper, and other true tales of sordid snobbery. (‘TWAS I WHO HID THE WATCHMEN GRAPHIC NOVELS WHEN MY BLOCKBUSTER GOT THEM FOR THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.) But I’ve set that aside and chosen instead to join the countless new players on their journeys, to many lands I’ve mapped myself, and to some I’ve never visited.

BUT ENOUGH UNEXPECTED AND UNSOLICITED SINCERITY. It’s 2023, which means we can only interact with things we love by producing content about them, and I don’t have the resources to fight City Hall on this. So welcome to the first in my new series; come join me as I play through the entire Nintendo Era of Final Fantasy starting with the first, in which I have never made any significant progress; it will be rad and fun and very dumb, I hope you’re as excited as I am.
Engines on full; Mr. Sakaguchi, take us out.

Final Fantasy is now famous for its plots on plots on plots, some of which are almost not Star Wars clones, but in the beginning things were simple: you boot it up, you’re given four characters, and choose a class for each of them from:

Then you get dropped into a town and go do an identity theft on a dragon or some shit, but first things first, let’s name these goons; something hearty, substantial, that will carry them through the whole game. Something welcome at almost any table.

Wait a minute, that doesn’t seem right.

You’re right, Genghis Khorn; the only reasonable choice is to name my team after my cats.

Alright, let’s open up the hood and see what’s a-tickin’ and a-wrigglin’ inside.

Everything seems to be in order here, stats and such, hat: pointy, so let’s check out one of the features I’ve been most excited about: Boots. I mean Boosts. I mean Roast Beast.

BWHOMSTS, which allow one to adjust the enemy encounter rate and EXP and Gil one gains from battle, and presumably other stats in later games; credit score, ham rate, reverse temperature, etc. Turning these up like this DEFINITELY breaks the game, but frankly I’m not really interested in playing the game “as intended”, because it was intended to be played on a shitty CRT Zenith in a world that doesn’t exist anymore. For my part, I’m gonna die one day, and I appreciate the recognition that a lot of the people who are gonna be playing this aren’t on summer vacation after 8th grade and/or aren’t made of 3ams anymore; I left EXP at 2x because I’d still like some challenge, but I feel more than comfortable maxing out the Gil because daddy’s got a wicked Phoenix Down habit and we all know how video game economies go.

Now, I had planned to grind up to Lv. 5 before entering town just to get a good foundation, but my team’s quickly dwindling HP and lack of healing items or spells quickly proved that impractical, so let’s see what’s up in old Corneria-town to-nite:

Oh okay, apparently it’s Cornelia in this version, sure. I’m actually not being snarky about that; I can’t keep up with the translation and localization versions, no Ted Woolsey am I. Yet.

The map is another objectively fantastic quality of life improvement that I have POWERFULLY mixed feelings about; on the one hand yes, now I don’t have to scour every pixel of every fucking hamlet to make sure I don’t skip a shop or permanently missable secret ultimate weapon or whatever, and obviously that’s a good thing, but on the other, I have very fond memories of doing just that, exploring every town to see what secret passages and dumb little Easter eggs or hidden pianos might be secluded in a pile of crates, under a bridge in a canal, or behind the black.

This isn’t a perfect objection, clearly; any player inclined to scour every inch of Mist or Bran Bal or Waltz will probably do so regardless of whether or not they can see where the item shop is right away, and also I would have to imagine secrets like the ones I remember finding probably aren’t displayed on the corner-map anyway. My concern-trolling that Kids These Days Have It Too Easy is the wistful cringing of an Old who sees himself creeping toward oblivion, and should be dismissed as such.

WELL, WELL, WELL, WHAT’S ALL THIS THEN. That was just for me, as a treat. I have nothing to say about this well.

…okay I do have thoughts about this well, actually! I wondered if this was a reference to Dragon Quest/Warrior, which had come out the previous year (1986), which remains the Final Fantasy franchise’s only competitor on its level in Japan and famously has many wells you can go down and explore, but a quick bit of research reveals that the first DQ/W game actually didn’t? So I wondered if maybe that was just thrown into later translations and script-versions as a legacy goof and wink to a worthy foe, but it appears to transpire that nope, this is just a big ol’ mid-80’s coincidence:

Fun! Let’s move on.

Now this is something that always seemed like a weird genre convention when I was a kid, a buncha old dudes hanging out in a public space, doin’ nothin’, talkin’ shit, and bothering young people. Having grown up a bit I now realize, of course, that this is the equivalent of the guys sitting around the barber shop, where they’ll be available to discuss politics, pass judgment on young people, and await death. Fortunately, these guys actually have some useful stuff to say instead of just trying to convince me that Regan “was the last good president”, like explaining the game’s magic system:

One thing I’m very glad the series abandoned in subsequent entries is this dogshit spell-slot/charge system; it’s one of the many elements lifted directly, shamelessly, lovingly, and sometimes illegally from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and guess what citizen it sucks there too. Why did no one like the MP-pool system that 5e offered? How do you stop the Sun from shining? The Lady, or the Tiger?

Regardless: I’ve got my ruffians loaded up with kit and eye of newt, but this is a team of four cats and they’ve been up for more than half an hour, and you know what THAT means.


And now, having rested up and learned a bit, we head back out of town to HAHAHA JUST KIDDING TIME TO GET QUESTY BITCHES

Sure, I definitely seem to have a choice, so why not!

Well that sucks.

Wait how the hell have you “heard” that? I’m hearing this for the first time! W–

I must admit, most rewards and incentives for heroism are like, gold or magic items or the king revealing he’s secretly the bad guy; it’s not often you get a thank-you in the form of a major public works project. Deal! Sold Cornelian!

I do a bit of leveling and then we head out; for this brief bit I did turn the encounters off just to avoid that classic JRPG pet peeve, healing up and prepping for a big fight and then getting nickel-and-dime-and-poisoned down on the way there and forced to either go back to town or use very limited healing magic or items. EXPRESS TRAIN TO THE CHAOS SHRINE BAYBEE.

Listen, just being honest? I’ve seen more chaotic shrines. But I also understand that any home, evil or otherwise, is a work in progress; maybe Garland had a really expensive month and was forced to weigh his chaos budget against an unexpected A/C repair or medical expense, who hasn’t been there? Or maybe, like many of us, he’s worrying less about the outside and focusing more on his actual living space. Either way: Time to steal his shit, murder him, and unkidnap his hostage.

Oh shit! I’m gonna be an old-timey football man! Or inexplicably George Clooney in 2008!

There are also two Mystic Key-sealed doors in here; while I’m annoyed and want whatever’s in there real bad ’cause it could be anything, like a nice fresh calzone or a Stretch Armstrong, I can’t help but acknowledge it’s a nice bit of save-this-for-later instead of letting this first dungeon just be a forgettable, one-note Monster Condo. (Looking at you, Deku Tree)

Then it’s time to meet and stab the master of the house!

…I scoffed initially, but that’s actually just strangely specific enough to be intimidating. I don’t wanna get knocked down! There’s gotta be so many bat-poops on this floor! Better kill this man immediately.

As part of playing these games intentionally, I’m actively engaging with mechanisms I normally don’t, e.g. status-effect spells like the enemy-evasion-lowering Focus, which are notoriously useless in early games, especially on bosses. I couldn’t bring myself to buy Sleep, ’cause fuckin’–come on, but maybe that’ll change. Regardless, making Garland easier to hit can’t be a bad idea, and holy shit it actually WORKS. How much easier does it make him to hit? Impossible to say, but we can use all the help we can get, because Garland is easily the toughest fight we’ve had yet. I think it was very wise of the dev team NOT to include options like Max Level or Infinite HP or whatever in the Boost charcuterie-board as was done with earlier ports/remasters of later Final Fantasy games, because at that point battles feel like a waste of time instead of something just being more advantageous than it should be, as is the case with the EXP/Gil multiplier Goosts.

Garland dies as we all hope to, dissolving in a purple vape-cloud; we rescue Sarah and zoop back to the castle for thanks and large-scale civic infrastructure enterprises:

It’s a fair question, guvnor! But the right of the working man to know to whither his hammer swings isn’t important right now; what matters now is the sweet loot we’re gonna get for this!

Oh sorry, my bad, the lute we’ll get for this.


Tune in for Part Two, in which I presumably find out what the hell is cool enough in the North that you’d use it to thank the heroes who saved your daughter’s life, but apparently not cool enough to be worth maintaining a bridge to make it accessible! What are the Cornelian citizenry’s taxes even GOING to, besides funding the Chancellor’s…lifestyle?

Listen, I’m not judging anybody involved, I’m just saying that booking studio time for your girlfriend doesn’t qualify as a “business expense” in the Kingdom’s ledgers, and I think we should consider voting in a new Chancellor once democracy gets invented.

–The Bageler

‘Til you’re an expert
In a dying field

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