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Final Fantasy Origins
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
It's been awhile, about 15 years actually. Who would have thought these games would still stand up to other stuff out there. Yet, whether it's through nostalgia or the fact that they were just good to begin with, Squaresoft's Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II (which was never released outside Japan) have returned together in Final Fantasy Origins.

They've gotten facelifts however, and now feature 16-bit era graphics and CD quality sound and music. It's a tough call whether to say the new graphics are good or not. They certainly don't stand up to the graphics in Final Fantasy IV - VI, but you must remember that these remakes were originally made for the Wonderswan (a portable system that never saw the light of day in America, and didn't really do great in Japan either). So while the graphics could have been considerably better for a PSX game, we'll all understand if they didn't spend the time and money remaking all the art a second time.

The fact that they could have been better aside, they are certainly an upgrade from the 8-bit graphics of the original, especially the battles. The games also contain the obligatory new FMVs you can find in any Square remake. There are no ending FMVs this time however, just a quickie at the start. I do have one real complaint to make in the art department though, and it involves the monster sprites in Final Fantasy II. For the most part, in Final Fantasy I, Square used the original monster art; they just juiced it up with more colors. For some reason, however, they chose to rework the monster art from scratch in Final Fantasy II. Almost all the monsters look considerably different than they did in the original. The sad part is the original art was better. The original monsters looked more like the summoned hellspawn they were meant to be. These new renditions all look a lot more like your atypical clichéd monsters.

In contrast, the music is nothing but good. The original music was created by famous Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. Tsuyoshi Sekito has remastered the original music, and they sound ten times better than the originals. The only thing they shuffled around a bit was the battle music. The original Final Fantasy I lacked boss music completely, and Final Fantasy II's boss music was sparsely used. Both now feature several new battle themes, but don't worry, the originals are in there too. The sound has been remastered too, and there's just no comparison. The 8-bit Nintendo sound effects just can't stand near CD quality sound.

While the games boast a heavy helping of cosmetic upgrades, the core gameplay remains untouched. That could be good or bad, depending on your tastes. These are old school, 8-bit, console RPGs. Complete with random battles, expensive equipment, hard enemies, and loads of leveling time. However, these are still Final Fantasy games at heart, and even if you find most old RPGs boring, if you like the new Final Fantasy games, chances are you'll find something to enjoy here too.

Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II are not as similar as you might initially think. While Final Fantasy I has a typical variety of the Final Fantasy system of leveling and jobs, Final Fantasy II is radically different. There are no levels in FF II. Instead you level up each stat independent of the others. Attacking physically raises strength and weapon skills. The power of a magic spell increases as you use that spell. You gain HP by taking damage in battle, and MP by using MP in battle. Using Black and White magic, respectively, raises Intelligence and Spirit. Well, you get the picture.

It's actually not as bad as it may sound. The enemies stay pretty weak for the first part of the game, and you'll soon figure out tricks to raise your characters stats easily. My biggest beef with the system is that many spells are too hard to raise to a point where they are effective. For example, in the final dungeon of the game, I was doing about 800-1500 damage to an enemy if I attacked physically. However, when a person with good stats for casting magic used Ultima 7 (and note, Ultima is the strongest attack spell in the game), it would do about 200-400 damage. Something's not right with this picture.

The stories of the game will look pretty familiar to fans of the series. Final Fantasy I has you gallivanting around the world in search of the four crystals. Final Fantasy II has you playing members of a rebellion trying to stop an evil emperor; it's actually nothing like Final Fantasy VI, despite what it sounds like. They aren't as boring as they may sound. In fact, Final Fantasy II probably has one of the best narratives I've ever seen in an 8-bit game.

There's no getting around it, these games are pretty hard. The biggest problem you are going to have in Final Fantasy I is lasting long enough to get through a dungeon. Magic points are in very short supply. It's not the bosses I would be worried about. They're actually pretty easy. It's when that random group of four dragons attacks you and gets a preemptive strike - ouch!

You'll have the opposite problem in Final Fantasy II. Especially near the beginning; the normal enemies are laughable, but you'll have a hard time scratching the bosses. One of the things that really makes Final Fantasy II nasty is the limited inventory. You usually carry around 99 potions? Not in FF II. You can only hold 64 items, and you better be thankful for that; it was only 32 in the original.

It's actually not that bad. Both games feature an 'Easy' mode where leveling is easier and items are cheaper. It easily cuts down leveling time by half or more. Also, Final Fantasy Origins features a Collection option on the menu where you can see art and monster info you've unlocked. You can also keep track of which chests you've opened so far. So this helps knock the difficulty down a bit as well.

Game Mechanics:
Well these are old games, so there's not much else to talk about. I'm going to point out one more major flaw with the game because there was just NO excuse for it. The game won't tell you if you're in a fight you can't run away from. It will just let you keep trying to your heart's content. This is extremely bad for three reasons. Number one, it's hard to run away in these games to begin with, so you'll have to try a good number of times to be sure. Two, one round of combat in this game can be killer. And third, the original games WOULD tell you! Why on Earth would you leave something like that out?

Despite a few frustrating bumps, Final Fantasy Origins is one helluva ride. Whether it's out of nostalgia, or just to see where it all started, I recommend picking it up.

-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

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