We had just crossed the street from the Electronics Boutique in the plaza near Kyle’s house, and were settling in at Wendy’s like we often did, and started talking about future marathon plans. I don’t well remember what we were playing the day Kyle suggested it. By this point, The Marathon was not only ongoing, but it was well and truly unstoppable. You can read about them here, but in brief: we were playing through (often speed-running) series of single-player games together, swapping the controller at set points. The Marathons hadn’t started with that much fanfare. Mega Man 9 was coming out, so we took up Mega Man 1-8. It was a change from our usual schedule: a little of this, a little of that, one infamous ongoing game of Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, starring my greedy alter ego and his army of sweet potatoes and no remorse. Now it was all different, now there was direction. Hardly a conversation went by where we weren’t quoting our own Mega Man in-jokes. Over 100 Robot Masters and counting, and everything mechanical a “jerkbot.” Everything mechanical is still a “jerkbot,” actually. And if King Jet, an awful boss from Mega Man and Bass couldn’t stop The Marathon after near three hours of failure and tedium, nothing could.
Somewhere in the conversation, as I’m picking away at my fries, we’re talking about doing Kingdom Hearts next. If the Marathon is unstoppable now, it needs fresh targets, new jerkbots to steamroll. But somewhere in that conversation about KH, Kyle makes the fateful suggestion. Final Fantasy, he says.
Maybe not so fateful, come to think of it. Something about his approach makes me think he’s thought this through already. He’s played more Final Fantasy than me, including the ones everyone has played: VII through X. I grew up with an N64, and my experience with Final Fantasy is a lot more limited. I think it’s important to tell you what we’ve played up-front. Kyle’s played VII through X, Tactics and Tactics Advanced, Crisis Core and Mystic Quest. He’s played scraps of I and VI and IV. Not a bad base, all things considered. My history is… less involved. I had the Game Boy games, which weren’t truly Final Fantasy at all, and have also played Mystic Quest, since we played that game together. My RPG background covered some of the other games from the era: Breath of Fire III here, Chrono Cross there, some of Wild Arms, you get the picture. I had barely touched Final Fantasy proper, including half of I and a quarter of VI and VII. That’s it. This out of eleven single-player Final Fantasies at the time, and three times as many spinoffs.
Suffice to say, Kyle proposing we play through the series was a little extreme, but also appealing. It was something we only knew so much about. But Final Fantasy would mean years of commitment, and has.
We set our rules: we would each finish an entire quest, and then swap controllers. Later, things got more free-flow. We only got so far into Final Fantasy on day one, but we blew through it the next day we got together. The early NES cart was not exactly meant for long plays. And I wrote, and created the first Marathon Journals, which have now been polished for posting over here.
The original Final Fantasy was first released in 1987 on the Japanese Famicom by Squaresoft. The game capitalized on the stampeding success of 1986’s Dragon Quest by their future rivals and future partners, Enix. There are so many stories, urban legends and so much misinformation surrounding the era, backed by poor journalism in general, that I’m not going to relay any of them to you (though you could do yourself a great favour by reading HG101’s series on “The Dark Age of JRPGs” and put to bed the old story that Dragon Quest waltzed in from nowhere). All you really need to know is that the game was ported to North American on Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990, and didn’t hit Europe for a decade. By 1990, Final Fantasy II and III were already out in Japan, and it was too late to bring them over, but that’s a story that’s going to take a few more entries to tell.
Since 1987, Final Fantasy has been released on several platforms, including on the Playstation bundled with Final Fantasy II. That leads us to our version of choice, the Gameboy Advanced Dawn of Souls bundle, also a bundle with FFII. This version made several serious changes to the game that have been retained ever since, forcing anyone interested in FFI to guess which version they’d prefer to play before even picking it up. I’ll try to address the changes as we go through the game. I’ve been writing a version comparison article, but the game is readily available in both forms. “Old Style” Final Fantasy is available on the Wii Virtual Console (the NES version) and the PlayStation Network (the PSX bundle with FFII). “New Style” Final Fantasy is available on GBA, smartphones (not recommended due to glitches) and the PlayStation Network for PSP, but excusing the GBA version, all of these are at an inflated price tag and available only on their own. Life isn’t fair.
Why the Dawn of Souls edition? Well, the NES version would not hit the Virtual Console until October 2009, a while after we started the Marathon (my first journal entry for the marathon is dated July 2009, but I feel we played much earlier, maybe even as far back as late 2008). Kyle may have had the PlayStation 1 “Origins” release, but we had heard better things about the version of FFII on Dawn of Souls, and figured it was best to stick with the same version for consistency. We would not be so… exacting for later games, but since this is one of the more controversial version debates out there, I figured it was important to say that we didn’t actually put any thought into it.
(You might also be wondering: why the NES screenshots? Well the short answer is: World of Longplays doesn’t have a GBA run and it was easier to grab the NES. The screenshots from this intro and the rules post to follow were actually taken by me, at a stage in this project when I thought that would be viable.)
We did put some thought into the Marathon rules, which you can find here. After getting so obsessed with destroying the Robot Masters, it only made sense to find something to shoot for.
- We would play every game entitled “Final Fantasy” in rough order of release.
- Our focus would be primarily on the games’ narratives. As a secondary objective, we must get the best ending, whenever possible. That said, I will be here taking my records with a focus on game design, like an imp on the opposite shoulder to intent.
- As a secondary objective, we had to get every character in each game (or at least, the most characters possible) as soon as possible, with their default names.
- No cheat codes or GameSharks.
- Other than that (and a number of additional conditions) anything goes. This is the so-called “Marathon Prerogative,” and we use it when the game is annoying us. It takes a little while to annoy us, but the Prerogative makes sure it’s funnier for us in the end.
- Some surviving elements from the earlier speed-run marathons survive, leaving us with a sense of… efficiency, if not the original urgency.
There are a few other nuances we threw in as we were playing, but I’ll discuss those as they arise.
It should be said up-front: this first journal, Final Fantasy I, is the only one that’s going to be on this site that has been heavily rewritten from its original form. I think it’s important to preserve my original impressions for this series, but I hadn’t hit my rhythm with the first piece and it needed the extra work. But the revision process has revealed a few problems. First, the original journal just wasn’t very good at the details! Since we played around or over six years ago, I don’t remember the playthrough as well as I’d like. This means I’m going to be talking a little more about the game than our experiences, but it’s how it has to be. I will do my best.