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Hugh Likes Video Games Retro: The Final Fantasy Legend

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

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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.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Metroid II

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Hugh Likes Video Games-Metroid II
Metroid II: Return of Samus
Nintendo Game Boy
Published 1991
Metroid_II_US_boxart
The Nintendo Game Boy was a little system that could.  Propelled to success by its classic version of Tetris, the monochrome game system boasted a wide variety of games despite its low resolution and hunger for batteries.  Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s with a limited budget, most of my gaming nostalgia goes back to the original, which still holds a place of pride on my display of gaming systems that have since gone to pasture.
One of my favorite games of the era was Metroid II: Return of Samus.  This handheld sequel to the original NES game follows space bounty hunter Samus Aran as she traverses the caverns of an alien world to destroy weaponized aliens called Metroids.
While not narratively complex, the Metroid series offers plenty of exploration, tricky platforming, and the most badass woman in all of gaming as a protagonist.  II is a bit shrunk down and more linear than its 8-bit predecessor, but the thrill of actively hunting rather than simply exploring is an improvement on the original.
The maze-like interior of planet SR388 is divided into sections, each with a number of metroids.  Each section is cut off by ‘boiling acid’ which conveniently recedes when the required number of metroids have been killed.  This replaces the standard Metroid mechanic of requiring upgrades to proceed, although the game is still littered with toys for Samus to collect.  But the metroids Samus encounters aren’t simply the jellyfish-like floating aliens encountered in Metroid.  On their home planet they havea multi-stage life cycle, and become larger and more difficult as the game progresses.
While the game is a bit linear, and, if you collect everything, easier than other Metroid games, it is still a standout of the original Game Boy library.  You can find it fairly easily in used game stores, or digitally in the 3DS eshop.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Pokemon Red

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Pokemon Red Version
Nintendo
Nintendo 3DS/Game Boy
Pokémon_box_art_-_Red_Version
2016 is Pokemon’s 20th anniversary.  As such, Nintendo is pulling out all the stops for a year full of new games, giveaways, and other special events.  One of the first is a rerelease of the original gameboy Pokemon titles as downloads for the 3DS.
I played the original Pokemon Yellow as a teenager when it was originally released, admiring the rather deep strategic RPG gameplay beneath the cartoonish aesthetic.  This new version retains the style and the feel of the original on 3DS.  Like other Virtual Console releases, this is a pixel-perfect rendition, and the game looks great on the New 3DS XL screen.  Unlike other game boy rereleases, Pokemon retains its multiplayer capabilities.  Players can trade monsters and fight with their friends using local wireless in place of the Game Boy link cable.  This system is limited to players in the same room, and is functionally identical to its 90’s link-cable counterpart.
Pokemon is an early and easily the most popular entry in the ‘collectable monster’ sub-genre of RPGs.  Players take the role of a boy traveling across a large island to collect and raise Pokemon, monstrous animals that can be trained to fight.  Along the way, they assist a scientist working to classify the creatures, constantly foil a criminal organization, and battle all comers in hopes of being the best there ever was.
The strategic aspect of the game is basically a more complicated version of rock papers scissors.  Each monster has an elemental type, and its attacks are weaker or stronger against other types.  Fire is strong against Grass and weak against Water, for example.  Player raise their monsters with a fairly simple leveling system, but can teach certain moves to their team members to give them an advantage.  The game strikes a nice balance of being simple enough for a child to learn with deeper enough strategy for more experienced players.
Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow are currently available for 3DS from the Nintendo eshop.  While they don’t boast the dazzling 3D graphics of more recent entries, they are sure to delight nostalgic fans.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Final Fantasy Adventure

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Final Fantasy Adventure

Game Boy

Square/Sun Soft

Final_Fantasy_Adventure_Front_CoverFinal Fantasy Adventure 3

Today we’re traveling back in time for a classic edition of Hugh Likes Video Games.  Final Fantasy Adventure is a action RPG originally released for the Game Boy by Square.  Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu, western fans may be more familiar with its blockbuster sequel, Super Nintendo’s “Secret of Mana.”  The game follows a escaped gladiatorial slave as he fights against the forces of the evil Glaive empire to protect a mysterious girl who may be the key to an ancient power.

A top-down action role playing game, Final Fantasy Adventure feels more like the Legend of Zelda than its command-based namesake.  In fact, the name was changed for the U.S. market to tie-in to the popular NES and SNES titles.  Over the course of the game, the hero, who the player names themselves, equips a variety of weapons, armor and magic, travels through a world that is surprisingly vast for the little handheld, and befriends a number of allies to help in his adventure.

Having recently replayed Final Fantasy Adventure, I can say that it holds up in some ways and not others.  The combat is solid fun, and the story is spare but enjoyable.  The repetitive dungeons and occasionally frustrating puzzles, which occasionally rely on luck rather than skill, are not.  Also aggravating are the town NPCs, who have completely idiotic pathfinding, and give long speeches whenever you touch them.  Getting out of town can occasionally be more of a hassle than the dungeon you just left.

Despite the antiquated elements of the game, Final Fantasy Adventure remains a hidden gem from the dawn of handheld gaming.  It is not yet available in the Nintendo Virtual Console store, but there was a rather bland remake for the game boy color called “Sword of Mana.”  Unfortunately, it didn’t hold up to the original.  If you have an old Game Boy or GBA laying around, pick up this one if you get the chance.