This is the first game in the Final Fantasy series (I hope that was fairly obvious). Released December 87 in Japan, and July 1990 in the US it's an oldie but goodie. While it doesn't have fancy 3D graphics, or any FMVs, or a story that is deeply engrossing, or even good music, it's still an excellent game (of course if you expected an NES game to have any of those things then you are a little confused). The game is the story of 4 warriors (that you get to name), who have to find 4 orbs to save the world from the big baddy. This description may apply to about 90% of every RPG made, but Final Fantasy was one of the first to use this story, so you can't complain (well you could, but you shouldn't). Anyway on with the review.
This game has quite good gameplay for an NES game (or even for a new game). The game is the standard 2-D overhead view that switches to a side view when you enter combat. Nothing new (well at the time it was released it was fairly new). As you play the game you wander around the world map looking for cities or dungeons, and when you find them you can enter them and explore around. I think you get the idea, if you've played any other RPGs you should know the basics of how the game works.
Rather than a simple small text menu (ala Dragon Warrior), the game has a full screen menu where you can see all you characters (well at least the picture of them you see in combat). I don't know if any other games did this before Final Fantasy, but I think it's rather neat. From the menu you can use items, cast spells, equip characters, etc. Nothing fancy, just the basic stuff you need to play the game. The menu is easy to navigate so you should have no problems accomplishing what you want to do (I could name a few games where this isn't the case).
As with most RPGs as you wander around the world map (or in dungeons) you will randomly encounter enemies (which of course your characters are too blind to see until the monsters are on top of them). When you enter combat you will see your 4 characters on the right side of the screen (in one rectangle), and the monsters you are fighting on the left side (in another rectangle). Behind the monsters (in their rectangle) you can see the background for what terrain you are in (so if you are in a forest, you see trees, etc.) The combat is turn-based so you enter the commands for each characters, then you get to see your characters execute their commands, and of course the enemies get to attack too. Once everybody has done their attack, you enter more commands. One thing though, is that if you choose to attack an enemy, but the enemy dies before you can attack (because another character killed them), then you character swings at nothing and misses; In later Final Fantasy games your character will choose a new monster to attack. Some people like this, but I can't say that I do.
One neat thing about the game is that you can choose the class for each of your characters, When the game begins you get to choose 4 classes (one for each of the characters). You can choose a Fighter, Thief, Black Belt, White Mage, Black Mage, or Red Mage. The Fighter can equip the best weapons and armor, the Black Belt can do really high damage with no weapons, the Thief can run away easier, White Mages can cast healing spells, Black Mages can cast attacking spells, and Red Mages can cast any spell (but not as well as the White or Black Mage). Allowing you to choose your classes adds a little more enjoyability to the game, you can choose classes that suit the way you like to play. To bad you can't do any other customization to the characters, one Fighter is identical to another Fighter.
The game does require a lot of leveling up (well you could try playing the game without ever leveling up, but I certainly wouldn't want to try it). I guess this is okay, if you just want to fight monsters (which can certainly be fun sometimes), but otherwise it detracts from the gameplay, you'll spend a lot of time doing nothing but fighting monsters in order to gain levels.
The basic story is the your 4 characters (you for some reason are called the Light Warriors), must find the 4 orbs, and stop the 4 elemental fiends. At the end of the game, you'll learn what's really causing the 4 elemental fiends to rampage across the world, although it's rather strange (but at least it's different than other games of the same time). When you first start the game your 4 Light Warriors mysteriously appear in front of a strange castle for no apparent reason (I guess they have Amnesia). In the castle the King tells you to rescue the princess (see there is a princess), from Garland. Rescuing the princess takes all of 15 minutes, after which the story really begins.
There is no character development, and the towns people only say one short sentence (which never changes throughout the game). You also never really learn anything about the 4 fiends (except that they are evil, and you need to destroy them). There is some story development, just not much. If it sound like I'm bashing the story ... well, I am, but for an NES game (especially an early one), it actually has a nice story. If you want a convoluted story, with lots of twists and surprises (which usually make little or no sense), then play one of the later Final Fantasies (7, 8, 9 or 10), but for a nice simple story, check out the original Final Fantasy.
The main difficulty of this game comes from the fact the fights are unbalanced, you'll need to level up excessively in order to fight the monsters. However, at adequate levels, there's nothing really hard about the game. There aren't any puzzles, and the dungeons are easy to find your way through (with the exception of one or two of the later dungeons). Personally I don't like this kind of artificial challenge, but I guess it's the only things these early games could do.
There really aren't any secrets worth mentioning in the game, but it can be fun to play through again. Being able to choose your classes at the beginning really helps add to the replayability. You can try playing through the game with different classes. You can also try to find the sliding puzzle mini game, which is the only real secret in this game.
The graphics may be simple, but they're fairly good. If you don't like the old pathetic NES games, then I suggest not playing this game (I also suggest not playing any NES games), but for an NES games the graphics are decent. Their really isn't a huge variety of graphics in the game, but their is enough variety that you'll get to see some new graphics as you proceed through the game. One thing I like is that the combat actually has a background that changes depending on which terrain you are in, it's a neat little thing that a lot of other NES games don't have.
The sound effects and music are just a bunch or boops and beeps. So why did I give the game a 10? Because the boops and beeps are catchy. The tunes in the game can be fairly catchy, and their is a fairly wide variety of different tunes. Don't expect Beethoven though, remember it's an NES game (and yes I do realize that I've mentioned that it's an NES game far too many times).
Overall Rating: 8/10
Final Fantasy is really a pretty good game, and it started the very popular Final Fantasy series. It can be fun to play even 10 years later. If you've never played the original Final Fantasy, then you should play it to see how the series started.