The Final Fantasy Legend
Published by Square Soft
Game Boy, 1989/1990

220px-Ffl_boxfront

The Skinny: An early RPG about eating your enemies and hitting gods with chainsaws.

The Final Fantasy Legend launched in Japan as Makai Toushi SaGa in 1989 and came to the U.S. in 1990 for the Game Boy. It was given the name change to appeal to fans of Final Fantasy, which came out on the NES earlier that year. While the games were considered separate series in Japan, they do share some thematic similarities. Both games task you to create a party of four adventurers and battle four Elemental-themed monsters for control of magical crystals, here called “Spheres.”
But these spheres actually have a purpose besides serving as a quest’s macguffin. Each sphere unlocks a door to a tower rising to the heavens that is said to lead to Paradise. Defeating each beast lets you progress a little further in the tower, leading to new worlds, and new monsters to fight.
Helmed by Final Fantasy II designer Akitoshi Kawazu, FF Legend ditches the Dungeons and Dragons-esque Class and Level systems of other 8-bit JRPGs in favor of something more experimental. Players can choose between three different character types: Humans, Mutants, and Monsters. Furthermore, Humans and Mutants are divided into two genders with slightly altered starting stats. Each class progresses differently. Humans don’t have access to magic, but can increase their HP and stats by buying and using special potions. Mutants’ stats increase based on their actions in battle, like in a more streamlined version of the system in FFII, and also receive new abilities that change randomly. Monsters are the same as the various enemies you fight in the overworld, and can progress by eating the meat left behind by defeated foes. But the system for this is complicated and unpredictable. Eating the meat of a weaker monster will drop you back to a less powerful form.
While this system can be a bit unintuitive and frustrating, once you figure out where you’re going, it’s much more streamlined than the grind-heavy rpgs of the era. While the monochrome graphics and story are a bit pared down for the hand-held system’s limited capacity, Final Fantasy Legend does some legitimately amazing storytelling for its day. By limiting the areas to tiny ‘worlds’ along a tower, the game both provides a string of new experiences, and uses story rather than a level system to give the player a sense of progression. And as slight as these experiences are, there’s something about them that feels groundbreaking and takes the sorts of risks that I usually associate with later Square Soft games like Final Fantasy VI.
You start out visiting castles and questing for kings, but by the end of the adventure, you’ll find yourself zooming through ruined cityscapes on your flying motorcycle. And there are a bunch of little hidden side worlds you can visit as well, from a ‘hell’ where petitioners willingly undergo tortures to try and purify themselves to a poignant scene in a nuclear bomb shelter, This is where the game gives the best little punches, and I wish there had been more of these side worlds.
While it may be hard to go back to for modern gamers, replaying this now 30-year old rpg gave me a solid hit of nostalgia. Final Fantasy Legend’s design choices had a lasting impact on Square’s development, from the disparate world structure of Kingdom Hearts to the isoteric Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy X. It’s well worth tracking down a copy if you’ve never played it.
The Final Fantasy Legend hasn’t been rereleased digitally anywhere, but it’s a pretty easy cartridge to track down, if you have a game boy or game boy advance to play it on.