Nearly two decades before Tim Kring was wooing NBC viewers with cheerleaders in distress, Squaresoft was pioneering the process with four elemental crystals that have lost their luster, causing the planet to slowly deteriorate into a lifeless mass of chaos. Fortunately, four mysterious heroes bearing matching crystals appear out of the ether to save the world, defeat the evil, and live happily ever after.
If this sounds familiar to you, it is because it forms the story basis for 95% of adventure, role-playing, and fantasy games developed prior to 1999. If this sounds really familiar to you, chances are that you have owned or played one of the many other releases or re-releases of the original Final Fantasy, which debuted originally for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This begs the question: why should I pay the original asking price of $30.00 to replay a twenty-year-old title that has been re-released more times than Gone With The Wind?
Let us take a look at what has not changed. Final Fantasy begins by inviting the player to form a party of four from six available character classes. Each class has its own strengths, weaknesses, and magical proficiency, but some strengths drastically outweigh the others. While this may not be an issue in later renditions of the franchise-staple job system, it is an unfortunate frustration here given that these class decisions are permanent - you cannot change jobs without starting a new game - and most shortfalls do not become apparent until the plot is half-finished. By the time you find the holes in your party setup, you have already invested a significant amount of time.
Beyond that, the game mechanics are very simple and straight-forward. The battle system is strictly turn-based. Magic spells are purchased from stores and can be used once an applicable class reaches a certain level. Magic consumes MP, attacks reduce HP, the standard currency is gil, and dialogues with NPCs are portrayed by iconic blue boxes containing vivid white text. This is Final Fantasy in its purest, simplest, most-undeveloped form, but while it is easy to dismiss such a basic system as trivial, the end result is a fast-paced, modestly-entertaining dungeon crawler with good production values.
Final Fantasy's main quest is fun and fulfilling, if a bit quaint. Square-Enix would have you believe that the real treat for veteran gamers would come when it is time to explore the new bonus dungeons. In truth, this is where the experience begins to fall apart. The four Soul of Chaos dungeons win bonus points for paying homage to Final Fantasy games of yore, but the novelty wears off once the player realizes that each dungeon is essentially a longer version of the game's original elemental shrines, except with a higher encounter rate, tougher battles, and more floors.
The Labyrinth of Time, on the other hand, plays out like a series of timed puzzle- and twitch-based minigames. Well-implemented, this dungeon would have been a nice change of pace after twenty hours of deceptively-simple gameplay. In the end, though, this area is the weakest portion of the bonus features included with the new release. The biggest reason for this is that certain primary mechanics of the dungeon - a time limit that can't be paused without sleeping the system, the inability to save, assorted memory-based puzzles that would lend themselves to a paper and pencil, etc. - do not lend themselves to a portable title. The main adventure is excellent at which to chip away in short bursts, but to tackle the Labyrinth of Time, you are ideally sitting on your couch with a few hours reserved and a pile of notes surrounding you.
This doesn't make Final Fantasy a title to avoid. In fact, it's undeniably the most complete and polished version of the classic title that money can buy. The enhanced graphics are light years beyond the title's classic 8-bit sprites, and the remixed soundtrack does wonders for the game's iconic melodies, even if they are the same arrangements we've heard since Final Fantasy Origins. In terms of value, however, this re-release leaves quite a bit to be desired as a result of being decoupled from its younger sibling for the first time in years, and because the PSP's additional content seems rushed and out of place.
Still, as a nostalgia catalyst, a history lesson, or just a quick 15-hour romp through an RPG of the oldest school, this newest revisitation of the original Final Fantasy has quite a bit of value; just not at the original MSRP.