This really takes me back ...
20 years is a long time, and many a console have come and gone. But in all that time, a single ironic name continues to bear the fruit of many successful sequels, countless spin offs, and the near infinite potential for rehash after rehash. Final Fantasy is coming, yet again. There are only a couple things you might need to know about Final Fantasy Anniversary for the PSP. One is that it is mostly the same brilliant game you could have played 20 years ago (And indeed you could have played any one of the numerous rehashes in between.) Two, you'll finally get to play it on your PSP. (Well actually... you'll finally get to play it on your PSP legally but that's an entirely different issue.)
Don't get me wrong, this opportunity is a very welcome one and you can hardly blame SquareEnix for making these again and again if people are still willing to buy them. And they usually are, because very simply the games on a whole are very good. And then there are the people who've never played the originals, gamers who joined the party in those turbulent days when cartridge changed to disc. Or, there are the people who haven't seen the game since those two long decades ago. And then of course there are the die hards, the ones who dress not as Cloud or Yuna or all of them, but throw a white table cloth over themselves and go by the name White Mage, or Black Mage, or Fighter. God bless you, for you make the conventions all the worth while.
What will you find new in Anniversary? Not a whole lot really. The graphics have received a major overhaul; all the redrawn sprites look wonderful and certainly help bring the classic a little more up to date. Graphically, it now at least finds itself on par with some of the early PS1 or late SNES 2D RPGS, albeit with the limited animation that the original had. The music is no longer limited to bleeps and bloops, but is fully realized in all its orchestral glory. The gameplay has been tweaked a bit here and there with the tweaks that existed in the GBA rendition a few years ago. Your characters no longer target dead creatures, for one. Phoenix downs make those deep dungeon treks just that much safer. And for the hardcore, SquareEnix has added a bonus dungeon promising to make even the most expert players sweat blood.
Looking back on the first game, late to the game fans might find some factors surprisingly missing. If you're coming in for strong narrative with compelling characters who grow and change and fall in love or grow angsty and what not, be warned that the original never had those things. The overarching story was simple, defeat the Four Fiends of Chaos and visit some shops and towns along the way. In a twist for the series, funny that I could say that now, the first game allowed you to create your own party of four heroes. Notably, Anniversary will allow you to give more than four letters in you character's name! You chose from a small number of base classes from Fighter, Thief, Monk, and the Red, White, or Black Mages. Choose your classes wisely and you'll have a balanced team fit to your playing style. But don't worry too much if you've felt you've picked wrong, me and my brothers proved it many years ago that four White Mages were all you needed to beat the game. Wasn't easy, mind you, but a feat that's still lauded to this day.
It would be easy to say today that we'd be surprised at the massive following this single and very simple game generated. It's even said that the name Final Fantasy was supposed to imply that it would be the only game bearing that title. But the series continued on, not only because of being at the birthing place of a new kind of game but because it really did do many things very well. The combat was meticulously fun and balanced; that's even more so now. Nobuo Unematsu's music was simple breathtaking. Yoshitaka Amano's artwork and creature designs were gorgeous. And the player determined party with many towns and variations of equipment led to what was then, a rarely seen level of customization and replayability. And in those days, on the NES, it cannot be understated that it was a most welcome masterpiece.
Is that enough to get you to check it out now, in an age where its story is relatively sparse and hundreds of great successors are available on the market? Are you going to pick it up just on its merits to gaming history alone? Final Fantasy will be celebrating it's 20th birthday on the 26th of June, and at least one thing's for certain. This won't be the last time you're seeing this game, but it may just be the right time.
On a side note, SquareEnix has a big party planned on the same day at the Playstation Store in downtown San Francisco. Will there be cosplay? Oh there will be, there will be.