Final Fantasy Origins – Second Opinion

Despite the noble premise of introducing a virgin audience to Final Fantasy II, what Origins boils down to is still just a re-package of obsolete 8-bit games that are guaranteed to sell because they bear the Square moniker despite the fact that they have aged terribly—an aging that no amount of superficial cosmetic enhancements can hide.

Let's not forget that Square(soft) was not always the blockbuster-maker that it is today, and Origins is stark proof of that. Besides revisiting the games for nostalgic purposes, the only other real motivation for playing them is from the perspective of a videogame historian interested in tracing the beginnings of Final Fantasy trademarks like the chocobos, Cid and his airship, spells, and character classes like the white and black mages.

Obviously, the beginning of any chronology is crucially important, especially that of a franchise that has grown to be as successful as Final Fantasy has. But eventually, the bridge between the old and new simply becomes too wide to cross without deliberate (and sometimes masochistic) effort. Medieval music, for example, is so far removed aesthetically from the music of today that most listeners find it incomprehensible. This is because over time, the ear changes in the way it perceives music. Dissonances become acceptable, conventions change, and certain musical practices die out altogether. The only way for modern people to appreciate such ancient music is to invest the time to study it and train their ears to listen in a different way. By learning the theory behind such works, they can eventually be regarded with a grudging respect, which eventually, after having saturated the ear with the "foreign" sounds for long enough, can evolve into true appreciation.

Final Fantasy I and II require the same amount of effort, with an arguably smaller reward. I've studied with scholars who can find deep layers of musical and cultural significance in the simplest of Gregorian chant, but I didn't find the same wealth of material by delving into Origins. The games are occasionally historically interesting for the reasons Thom mentioned, but the physical process of navigating two such bare-bones and unfriendly games may simply prove too much for the gamer acclimatized to the role-playing games of today.

For the record, I found Final Fantasy I almost unbearable to play, with its transparent fetch-quests criss-crossing over a sprawling world map, dungeons filled with dead-ends, and random battles that occur with neurotic frequency.

Nor was I particularly pleased with Final Fantasy II. The so-called freedom to control the development of each character is actually misleading, because certain characters are predisposed to take on certain roles in the party anyway. And of course it comes as no surprise that the one predisposed to be the wimpy, bow-toting white-magic-user is the girl. (A convention I would have been more than happy to see fall by the wayside along with II's stat-building experiment.) Level-building is essential to keep from getting annihilated in dungeons, and I quickly discovered that the easiest way to do this was just to have my party attack itself to build stamina, strength and hit points. Hardly realistic role-playing there.

I did find it interesting to observe how much the storytelling process had evolved between II and I. Although still awkward and childish in places, with potentially poignant moments losing their impact due to shallow NPC reactions, II's story can clearly be seen (as Thom said) as evolving toward the ambitious scope that would crystallize in the more refined sequels.

Despite my bravest attempts at immersion, however, I never reached the point where Origins was consistently enjoyable. The games definitely belong to another era; an era that I haven't played enough Dragon Warrior or Phantasy Star lately to be truly at home with anymore.

As it stands, Origins will likely be relegated to my shelf beside such "status objects" as Tolkien's Silmarillion (a dry history of Middle-Earth designed as a sort of compendium to The Lord Of The Rings that I never had the stomach to do more than skim), and my untranslated book of the German folktale Der Ring Das Niebelungen, of interest to me only because Wagner based his famous "Ring Cycle" of four operas on the poem. Although I appreciate what Wagner did with Der Ring, the source material, with my high school German rapidly fading, is all but incomprehensible to me.

Status by association? Yes. Rating: 5.5/10