Game: Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition
System: PlayStation Portable
The original Final Fantasy is a legendary title that has commanded countless ports and remakes since its original appearance on the Nintendo Entertainment System two decades ago. In celebration of the franchise’s twentieth anniversary year, Square-Enix is releasing the first two titles in the series for the PlayStation Portable. Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition is essentially the most recent in a line of remakes, but stands out as being the most proficient and best executed of the lot from both content and technical standpoints. Unfortunately it is ultimately just another rehash of FFI, so to those who have played the original or one of the myriad other rereleases, you may not find ample cause to pick this game up now. Conversely, players who have been groomed into the RPG fold by the likes of Final Fantasy VIII, will find much of the character, convolution and technical exhibition gone from this invariably aged game.
What will likely be the most noticeable departure from the FF series of late to newcomers is the lack of character development in Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition. Instead of being thrown into the middle of a political upheaval, heated rivalry, love triangle or worse, the game opens with a bland ‘pick a team of four people and enter their names’ screen, typical of the console RPGs of old. Consequently, the plot in the first Final Fantasy is more concerned with destiny than any character relations or drama. The team you assemble at the outset are the fabled ‘Warriors of Light’ whose goal is to power-up magic crystals across the landscape to rid the world of monsters. Along the way, the band stumbles upon new weapons, magic and towns. Each town is pretty much a one quest affair- heal up at the Inn, buy whatever new things are being sold in town, and then head out to kill the evil wizard, recover the item or what have you. It’s pretty basic, but there is some nostalgia in seeing the first use of Fire, Cure, and Phoenix Downs in a game.
Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition has, however, the updated thematic elements seen in other ports. Names and places have been slightly altered in some places, or completely thrown out in others. The kingdom where you first start out is called Cornelia – is was misromanised as ‘Corneria’ in the original NES version. I mentioned ‘crystals’ but even these were actually ‘orbs’ back in the day. Also the sprites, having been redrawn twice since the NES incarnation, bear only little resemblance to the originals. Fans of Final Fantasy IX will immediately notice that most of the cast from that game (themselves harkening back to the earlier games) are nigh identical here. The White Mage and Black Mage almost everyone will start with are mirror-like semblances of Princess Garnet and Vivi Orunitier from FF9 respectively. High-end bosses of the Anniversary Edition have had their sprites retooled along the same stylistic lines as their appearances in future Final Fantasies. The Lich, Hades, Tiamat and more bear more overt visual connections than simple namesakes. These have been common throughout the recent remakes but are more pronounced on the PlayStation Portable’s superior resolution.
Speaking of resolution, the brilliant 480x272 display shows no signs of stretching or skewing in Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition, suggesting the graphics were not only redrawn (or existing hi-res assets retooled) but reworked for the new widescreen aspect ratio. This is assuredly the game’s strongest selling point over previous iterations, but it also combines the unique content of the two previous efforts. A few years ago the PlayStation featured the first Final Fantasy as part of Final Fantasy: Origins whose special boasts were the high-resolution (if not high quality) full-motion video segments. These prevail in the PSP version, but are complimented by the bonus dungeons found only in 2004’s Final Fantasy I & 2: Dawn of Souls in addition to yet another bonus dungeon, this one a PSP exclusive. Sadly this is the extent of the gameplay bonuses. While there are graphical effect tweaks and such that may be noticeable only to the veterans, not a great deal else has changed since the 2002 Origins release, or even the WonderSwan release before that. As a side note, the beautiful arranged soundtrack from Origins returns with a few new themes, but is only worth minor mention.
Extra content attempts to fill the gaps in some places. There is the now-expected bestiary feature, allowing you to review the stats of slain monsters, and an art gallery equipped with an illogical time-release mechanism that, so far, feels extremely unrewarding. To make things worse, the art unlocked hardly fits the visual style that the game has going for it otherwise. The facetiously difficult and labourious exclusive dungeon, ‘The Time Labyrinth’, is no more an exercise in masochism, if you ask me. One unexpected bonus, however, that was extremely pleasing was the inclusion of a fully English text mode. In addition to this option, Japanese can be selected with full use of Kanji, or all in Hiragana – no doubt a great suit of alternatives for all the budding Japanese amateurs who imported the game.
Everything about Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition is acceptable to mildly-impressive until you consider the price. At $39.90USD for the Japanese version, or $29.95USD for the local release in June, the game is overpriced, firstly because this is a remake of an extremely dated game, but more importantly because every other time it has been rereleased in the last 5 to 10 years (depending on region) it has shipped alongside a remake of Final Fantasy II and bundled for less than $29.95USD. If you wanted to get really upset about this, you could even argue that the large number of Final Fantasy remakes as of 2007 have saturated the market – even more reason to make the price lower. There was also a missed opportunity to pack this game in with a bunch of collector’s items to help warrant the asking fee. A cheap soundtrack CD would have been an acceptable show of good faith, as seems to be all the rage nowadays. Square would almost certainly turn a profit no matter what sum they charged at retail, so paying out $30 for this as it stands (and another $30 for the Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition in a month’s time) is unjustifiable to me, and anyone else who thinks it through long enough.
The bottom line is this; Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition is a very conditional purchase. It is without a doubt the best version to date of a classic RPG, and its pixel art and remastered soundtrack are still captivating. To be sure, there is enjoyment to be had. However, it hinges on expectations not being as high as they would necessarily be for a contemporary Final Fantasy, the player not having played through this game once (or perhaps more times) already, and the willingness to overlook the fact that the same game can be found as a bundle, and cheaper, on the PlayStation and GameBoy Advance. The only true advantage Anniversary Edition holds over its predecessors is the higher-resolution display. Whether or not that alone is worth the steep asking price is up to you.
The grade would be higher were the pricing for the game not so ridiculous. As it stands, as remaking old games go, this is as well done as they come. There aren’t any artbooks, soundtrack discs or other paraphernalia to make this a celebratory collector’s edition, but the game itself is solid and looks and sounds better than it ever has before.