Thursday, July 10, 2014

JRPG July: The Final Fantasy Legend

Has the summer video game drought got you down? Champing at the bit waiting for Monster Hunter 4? Well, the super cool apricotsushi of the Chic Pixel Blog has the solution! The JRPG Community Game Along! Each month she organizes these online community game along events where everyone is encouraged pick a game from the monthly selected genre and play along or document it with the appropriate hashtag. This is a great reason to pick up a game that's been sitting on your pile of shame for a long time or to just try something you've always wanted to play! The JRPG genre is one of my favorites (and I have a monster backlog), so I had to join in on the fun! I decided to play The Final Fantasy Legend released by Square in the US in 1990 for the Game Boy!

In my younger years I was an avid reader of Nintendo Power and vividly remember pouring over articles with any coverage of the Final Fantasy Legend games while trying to re-draw the monster sprites in my sketchbook. Even though Final Fantasy Legend III is probably my favorite Game Boy game of all time, I never ended up getting a copy of the flagship title in the series. Back before the age of the internet, if you weren't lucky enough to get a game when it first came out and readily available in stores, then it was extremely hard to find unless you stumbled across it in a flea market somewhere. I never got around to nabbing a copy until recently and I've always wanted to play it, so I figured it was a prime candidate for the JRPG Game Along!

As most people probably know this wasn't actually a Final Fantasy game in Japan but rather the first game in the "SaGa" series (of Romancing SaGa and SaGa Frontier fame) with it's original name being, Makai Toushi ~ SA・GA (often translated as, "Warrior in the Tower of the Spirit World ~ SA・GA") Besides being the first game in the SaGa series, it's also the very first RPG released for the Game Boy in the US, and features a score composed by the amazing Nobuo Uematsu.

(This is the "Title Theme" and my favorite piece of music from the game.)

Basically, the story is you're an inhabitant of a town that sits at the base of a massive sealed tower. According to legend, anyone who climbs to the top of the tower will reach paradise. So, you gather a party of adventurers and set off to try and find out what awaits you on the highest floor!

You start the game by picking your hero and three other party members from one of the three classes: human, mutant (esper in Japanese), or monster. Humans are can use all weapons and armor but no magic, mutants can equip spellbooks and learn magic randomly in battle, and monsters have different rechargeable physical and magic skills depending on their type. I really like how you can actually pick the gender of your characters and have a badass spell slinging sword wielding all female party if you want! It's a nice bit of customization that's missing from a lot of JRPGs from this era. Growing up, most of my gamer friends were ladies and I know they'd appreciate this option. (It's actually beneficial to make a female main character because they start with the powerful "saber" weapon that you can sell for a ton of cash and then fully outfit your entire party with equipment. This completely negates the need for early money grinding!)

(Here's the main character selection screen. Other monster options are available when creating your other party members.)

Even though Final Fantasy Legend plays like a standard JRPG it has a few aspects that I thought were really interesting and unique for the time. For one, there are no experience points or levels! JRPG heresy, I know! Besides using better weapons an armor, each class has a different way of getting stronger. Humans use potions to permanently increase their stats, mutants will randomly gain stat boosts and magic spells after battles depending on luck or what actions they choose, and monsters get stronger by eating meat and evolving into different types. Humans are weak at the start of the game, but have the potential to be ridiculously broken by pumping enough money into them. Although, I honestly had the most fun with the mutants and monsters. It was always fun to see which new ability the mutants would get or what crazy new type your monster would evolve into next! This can be good or bad as your mutant might replace an amazing spell with a useless one, or your monster might change from a super strong dragon into a weak (albeit possibly cute) crab.  But really if that happens, it's not a big deal and adds to the fun!

Another thing I really like about the SaGa series is how it blends traditional medieval European fantasy, Asian fantasy, and sci-fi. You start the game in a medieval fantasy backdrop, but as you climb the tower each floor is a different world. Ranging from floating cloud cities, deserts, and even a post apocalyptic Akihabara with robots and hover bikes. (Really, who doesn't love hover bikes?) Also, the weapons you find range from traditional swords and magic books to lasers and chainsaws!

(Japanese character art for the human male. Note the chainsaw, asymmetrical shoulder pads, and bazooka! That's a whole lotta look!)

(I love the sassy zombie monster art!  It looks like they're giving duckface!)

Despite all the positives and interesting aspects about the game that I mentioned, there are definitely some rough patches as well. The story is pretty simple. I'm sure this is partly due to the translators fighting with the Game Boy cartridge memory limitations at the time. From what I've read, the translation is pretty accurate to the original Japanese although any bits of humor and drama were mostly lost, but again I'm sure the localization team did what they could. (Although, a few times the game was fairly obtuse on how to proceed in certain areas, and I did end up having to check a guide.)

Another thing worth mentioning is that nearly all weapons, spells, and shields have limited charges and will vanish when depleted. (This doesn't apply to a mutant's naturally learned spells or any of a monster's abilities. These can all be recharged at an inn for free.) Durability and breakage mechanics normally drive me crazy in RPGs, but here it didn't really bother me since weapons are fairly plentiful.

Additionally, the game is full of glitches and bugs, although none will harm your game. For example, even though a human's Strength and Agility stats are supposed to max out at 99, you can actually pump them up to a hidden level 255 making them insanely powerful. Although, you have to be careful! If you increase their stats over 255, they reset back to 1!! Another programming error makes it possible to one-hit kill the normally crazy hard final boss with a certain weapon, and this is just naming a few.

Despite the rough edges, I still had a lot of fun and am glad I finally decided to give Final Fantasy Legend a shot! I feel like the main draw for me was the exploration aspect of the game as well as the random and fun ways my party members evolved and got stronger. Also, any glitches in the game I found were actually kind of fun and nostalgic taking me back to the early days of the Game Boy and the "Tips & Tricks" section of Nintendo Power.

I would definitely recommend this game to any JRPG lover who wants a fun light nostalgia trip and can look past the quirkiness and somewhat weak story. Because this game got a large reprint in 1998, finding a copy is really easy and it shouldn't cost you more than $5 for a loose cart.


  1. Gah, the title theme really brings back memories :) I played the hell out of this game back in the day on my OG GameBoy and loved nearly every second of it. Like you, I was wary of the weapon durability/breakability, but in the end it didn't prove to be much of an issue. Anyway, now that you've reminded me of this game, I think I'll have to give it another go ASAP--although maybe I'll play FFL3 first, as that's the only FFL game I've yet to play!

  2. Haha, yay! I definitely had a blast with it! I was like that with FFL3 as a kid. I remember feeling so proud of myself when I finally beat it! I kinda want to play through FFL2 now! lol

  3. Have you not played FFL2 yet? If so, you're in for a treat! As much as I liked the first FFL, I liked FFL2 much more. The story's really great--or at least it was for its time.

  4. I own FFL2 but I've never fully played through it! I should go back to it! Although I've been sidetracked by Mother 1/ Earth Bound Zero and Shovel Knight lately! lol

  5. Final Fantasy Legend was one of my favorites back in the day! After loving FF2 (4) on SNES, i had to have more, and i knew about the FFL and Adventure games because of Nintendo Power. ONE of my friends told me that FFL was the BAD one and not to play it, but BOY WAS HE WRONG. I loved all of them, FFAdventure and the FFLegend games
    The story is pretty light in FFL, but it has that weird thing that Kawazu games do so well where you always feel like something *isn't* being shown, as if the parts of the game you see aren't all there is to the little world it takes place in.
    I still have an FFL cart but the battery's gone bad after 20-something years (it was working when i played it last year), but i'm playing Unlimited Saga for JRPG July so i'm playing the other end of the SaGa series!

    1. Nice! I need to give the SaGa series some more love! ^^ Have you played much of the Romancing SaGa SFC games? I was interested in the second one but the fan translation that's out is terrible! So I'd have to try going at it in Japanese lol