Original Release: 1987 JP/1990 NA, Platform: NES, Developer/Publisher: Square, Image Source: GameFAQs
When I was six years old, my parents stopped at a garage sale on the way home from some trip into the United States. I can remember getting out of the car with a sigh. What can I say? I was young, impatient, and not looking forward to tagging along behind my Dad as he spent forty-five minutes looking at a few small tables of used junk. I never would have imagined that this impromptu stop at some random person's house near the border of Quebec would be a life changing event.
As we browsed through this person's cast offs, my eyes caught sight of a familiar construct of grey plastic. Reaching across the table, I grabbed onto an NES cartridge labeled "$5." I was shocked. I'd never seen a video game that cheap before. Then again, I'd also never seen one in such terrible shape. Its chassis was covered in dings and chips as though it had been lobbed across a room a few times. Worse than that, one entire section of it looked as though it had been re-purposed as a chew toy for an overzealous dog.
"It works fine," said the host of the sale, offering a sudden interjection. "I tried it out yesterday." I looked at the game again. I'd been so distracted by the cartridge that I'd failed to see the cover art, which was still mostly intact. Against a black backdrop there was a crystal ball containing a castle in the sky and a sword and an axe crossing behind it. At the top the title read "Final Fantasy." My interest was immediately piqued by the fantasy imagery. "What's it like," I asked. "You walk around and kill stuff with swords," he shrugged. "It's kind of like Zelda."
The second those words (aka: lies) passed from their lips, I had to have it. I showed it to my Dad who fished five dollars out of his wallet and handed it over. The garage sale host, in turn, produced a little black instruction manual along with a larger red Nintendo Power strategy guide. Pulling them into my arms, I retreated back to the car to get my first glimpse of what I just knew would be my new favorite game.
It took me all of half a second with the strategy guide to realize that this was nothing like The Legend of Zelda, something further confirmed when I got home and started trying to play it. Why couldn't I see any of the monsters on the map? Why did I have to click on words to fight instead of doing the deed myself? What in the mother of heck were all these "stats?" A complete and utter virgin to role-playing games, I struggled with it for about five minutes before giving up. My Dad walked in, saw that I was playing something else and shrugged. "At least we only spent five dollars on it."
It was my older brothers who would eventually get me to give it a sporting try. Returning from a weekend at their father's house, they immediately took it and, with the power of their superior reading skills, used the strategy guide to dive into the game. For weeks I watched them play, quietly soaking in the depth and newness of the experience unfolding on our TV. The disappointment I felt during my initial moments with the game was swiftly transforming into an eagerness to try it again for myself. It wouldn't be long before I did and, armed with more realistic expectations, I soon found myself falling in love not just with Final Fantasy but (though I didn't know it at the time) with the RPG genre itself.
Returning to the game again years later, I'll admit to feeling some apprehension. While I know very well that games age, the original Final Fantasy is one that I have a lot of love for and one that I still wanted to enjoy. Luckily, while the years have indeed changed my tastes and some of my impressions, I found it, overall, to still be an enjoyable and challenging JRPG experience.