This summer I picked up Final Fantasy Origins, a rerelease of Final Fantasy I and II for the PlayStation. It had been a long time since I’d played Final Fantasy I, so I was excited to give it a try.
The awesome thing about Final Fantasy I that was lost in most later FFs was the ability to choose the classes of your entire party. You had six options: Fighter, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage, Black Belt, and Red Mage. Instead of going with a balanced party, I wanted to try something a little more challenging: all white mages.
White mages are very weak as fighters and are limited in their armor choices. Their only strength is their healing ability. Save the world with only healers? Sign me up!
This is going to be a lot harder than I thought
I picked my mages and gave them ominous names: Hate, Nova, Kick, and Vein. My Battlin’ Babes.
As soon as I left the safety of the first town it was apparent how difficult this would be. Within two or three battles, my party was annihilated. Time to start over.
For the first hour of the game, I played gingerly. I’d leave the safety of the town, kill a couple monsters, gather just enough gold to heal at the inn, then return to town to rest up. It was slow work, but eventually my characters leveled up a bit.
My Battlin’ Babes were terrible fighters. They were just kids, thrust into an epic quest because of some prophecy stating that they were the Warriors of Light. Maybe these prophets read the tea leaves wrong. Most of the time their attacks missed their mark, and when they did hit, only dealt a modicum of damage.
Even in this opening area I couldn’t defeat all the monsters. Half the time I had to run away. My girls were weak, and scared, and they had no idea what they were getting into.
After a couple hours of play, I was ready to face the first dungeon.
Wrong-o. As soon as I stepped foot indoors, I was defeated in the first battle. My party annihilated again.
We died a lot
Dying was the theme of the game. I learned not to overextend myself. I played timidly, venturing only a bit outside the cities, and then hightailing it back to safety as soon as trouble showed up. The journey back to town could still be dangerous, and my girls could still see battle several more times.
Final Fantasy I didn’t have the idea of front row, back row (in later games, putting characters in the back row protected them more, but made their attacks weaker). Instead, the person situated at the top of the party list was most likely to be attacked, the person at the bottom the least likely. The order was Hate, Nova, Kick, and Vein. Hate, being the woman at the front of my defenses, usually died first.
Most of the time, I could get back to the sanctuary with only one girl dead. Hate probably died 50% of the time, Nova 35% of the time, and Kick 15% of the time. Vein rarely had to be resurrected: if she died, chances were the entire party was gone. And those sanctuaries charge for each resurrection!
I began to create my own storyline for the game. FFI is bare bones when it comes to story (it’s understandable: it was the first FF and an NES game with limited memory). I spent so many hours leveling up that I had to create my own story to stay entertained.
The deaths were real, and so were the resurrections. Hate traveled back and forth to the afterlife so often that she began to lose her mind. She developed a fatalistic worldview and was the first woman to lose the ideals of our quest. She didn’t care about saving the world: she just wanted to live a little.
And get revenge on all those enemies who killed her.
A new strategy for dungeon crawling
I eventually made it past the first dungeon, and then the second. But after this point, I could no longer crawl dungeons to completion.
Normally, when I enter a dungeon I want to explore every room, open every chest, find every secret. But that was getting impossible. The enemies got exponentially stronger, and I still barely had any weapons to attack them with.
I had to start using maps of the dungeons so that I could take the most efficient route through. I only opened chests if they gave me useful treasures. Most of the weapons and armor I couldn’t use, but the good stuff I could sell. After a time, I stopped fighting monsters entirely in the dungeons. I just took the hits, ran away from every single fight, and saved my strength for the bosses.
Most dungeons took five or six expeditions in and out to clear. I would progress a little way, then leave, heal, and sell the loot. And begin the process all over again. If I was lucky, I made it to the boss with heal spells remaining.
And then we started healing
What my girls lacked in fighting ability they made up for in healing. Each girl could learn three spells of a given level. All had healing spells and a variety of protection spells: shield spells, and spells that increased their evasion.
On boss battles, our opening set of moves was always a series of shield and evasion spells. Our evasion was so high that most of the time the monsters couldn’t hit us, and if they did, they barely did any damage. From there we’d whittle away at the monster’s health. Some battles took 45 minutes to complete, during which time my Battlin’ Babes suffered almost no damage.
Eventually I had enough money to buy cabins, which let me heal and restore spells in the wild without having to trek all the way back to a town. Around hour 8 or 9, my girls were finally gaining some confidence.
At this point in the game, though, it became apparently that not all girls were created equal. They started out with exactly the same stats. Usually they all leveled up at the same time, and most of the time their level-up stat boosts were within a point of each other. But occasionally, a girl would get a major stat boost, like twice as much HP as the other girls. These major stat boosts appeared random, but some girls got them more than others.
As I played, I imagined personalities for the girls. Hate was obviously an angry individual. Nobody knew her real name. She was mad at the world and sought revenge whenever possible. She was a decent fighter, but sometimes her rage caused her to miss. And that just fueled her anger.
Nova was the peacemaker. Because Hate was the one attacked first, Nova was the one casting protection spells on Hate. Nova was a nice, soft-spoken girl, rarely interjecting her opinion. The other girls didn’t understand her devotion to Hate. But no matter how irrational Hate became, Nova was still there protecting her, doing her duty to the de facto leader of the group.
Kick was aggressive, but not angry. Her battling ability was fueled by calmness and decisiveness. She was the best fighter of the group. I’m really not sure why, as the girls’ stats were pretty similar. Kick landed far more attacks than Hate, which just made Hate hate Kick even more.
Just as Hate and Nova had a special relationship (though Hate was seemingly oblivious to it), so, too, did Kick and Vein. Vein was the weakest fighter for some reason. She missed a lot and did very little damage. Vein was timid, the youngest of the group, shy. Kick looked out for her, protecting her whenever possible. Vein envied Kick. How could Kick be such a good fighter and spellcaster?
But over time, Vein proved her worth. As mentioned, the party died a lot, and Vein was often the one to bring the bodies back to the sanctuary. On those trips back to town, Vein would face hordes of monsters alone. This steeled her resolve. She was determined to be a valuable member of the party.
Leadership changes hands
Dying doesn’t just have a financial penalty. If a girl is dead, and the party finishes a battle, only the surviving members get experience points. Hate, being the one who died the most often, had the least amount of fighting experience. By mid-game, it was apparent that she’d fallen behind her sisters. Not only did Kick tend to get the super stat bonuses at level-up, but Kick was rarely dead like Hate, so she advanced through the levels faster.
Leadership had to change. Hate, being in the top slot, could no longer protect the party. Her defense was weak and she had the least amount of HP. Kick, proving herself as the strongest fighter, took over the top slot. Hate felt crushed and humiliated, being moved down to the third slot next to Vein. But a new alpha female was in charge, and Hate knew that she didn’t have the strength to challenge Kick and usurp her authority.
Losing leadership of the team was only one setback that Hate faced. Midway through the game, the party found Thor’s Hammer, an item that let the user cast Lightning on all the enemies on the screen. This was a huge boon to the Battlin’ Babes. Instead of attacking with a normal weapon with a 50% hit rate and low damage against a single enemy, now one person could attack every enemy on the screen at once with a 100% hit rate. One person could now do more damage in a single round than the other three girls were likely to do in four complete battles.
Hate received this weapon, back when she was still the leader. It seemed most appropriate for Hate to call lightning down from the skies to fry her opponents.
But Hate kept dying. And when she died, nobody else could use that item until it was swapped out after battle. This was a huge problem. So just as Hate was demoted from leadership, her weapon was transferred to Vein, the most survivable member of the group.
And at this point, Vein became the most valuable member. The other members’ function was not to win battles, but to keep the group alive so that Vein could attack and attack and attack.
The experience caves
Even though life was turning around, the girls were still too weak to fight most monsters in the dungeons. They needed to level up. They found two caves in the world that spawned mummies when they stepped on a certain spot. This was key: mummies were undead, and gave lots of experience and gold.
And the girls had one offensive spell in their arsenal: Harm.
Harm called light down from the heavens, which fried undead in their tracks. The girls would hit the experience caves with an array of Harm spells and annihilate mummy after mummy. They would kill hundreds of undead, slowly buy surely gaining experience and leveling up. They spent hours doing this, and the effort paid off, at least for a while.
Every girl an awesome item
Three-quarters of the way through their quest, all girls had an awesome item. Vein had Thor’s Hammer, and Hate used Zeus’ Gauntlet, which also cast lightning on the foes. The girls also found Heal Staffs and Heal Helmets, which cast basic healing protection on the entire party. By this point, the girls’ hit points were so high that a single heal spell didn’t help much. But two of them cast in a row each round while the other girls laid waste with lightning was extremely successful. Soon, the girls were beating any enemy they faced and leaving battles with nary a scratch.
They were also dying a lot less. They finally felt like warriors, in charge of their own destinies. Hate and Kick patched up their squabble, and Hate acquiesced to Kick’s leadership. Nova now looked out for everybody, not just Hate, and Vein finally felt like she stood among equals.
The girls breezed their way through several dungeons, collecting so much loot and money they ran out of things to spend it on.
Life was good, until they went to the sky.
Hell in the air
After defeating the four Fiends that threatened the world, they had to travel to the sky to finish the fight and save the world.
But the air proved incredibly challenging. Despite their awesome weapons and their full assortment of spells, even the run-of-the-mill monsters were difficult to defeat, and running away was getting harder and harder. The enemies seemed to increase in difficulty 10 fold over those on the ground, and the girls weren’t as ready as they thought.
They left, leveled up, and came back, only to realize they were still too weak.
So they left, leveled up again, but still barely made any progress.
The girls were beginning to lose hope. Maybe the Enemy was right: maybe they couldn’t handle it. Hate began to adopt her fatalistic attitude again. The universe was surely playing games with them, giving them modest success only to pull the rug from under their feet and reveal how futile it all was.
And they heard the most disheartening prophecy of all. This final castle wasn’t the end. If they managed to get to the end, they’d have to revisit it a second time, the monsters of course even stronger.
There was no way.
* * *
If you’ve read to the bottom of this post, thanks for sticking through! I’m sorry to leave you on a sad note, but at this point I set the game aside. I know it’s possible to beat the game with four white mages, but I’m at the point where I now need to invest hours and hours and hours of grinding just to make my characters strong enough and I lost interest. Writing about this game, though, has gotten me excited to revisit my Battlin’ Babes and see what they’re up to, so who knows? Maybe I’ll finish the game someday.
What really blows my mind is that apparently this game can be beat with only one white mage! You simply let the other three members of your party die and progress solo. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must be. Here’s a walkthrough explaining how it’s done!