“Eons ago, the Tower spewed forth beasts and monsters of many kinds. Adventurers set forth to end the invasions and find the legendary Paradise on the other side.”
– Final Fantasy Legend, game manual
What is Final Fantasy Legend?
Final Fantasy Legend is an early-era RPG developed by Square Co. (now Square-Enix after merging in 2003) and released for the Gameboy in 1989. Contrary to what the name might have you believe, the game isn’t remotely related to the Final Fantasy series. The game was marketed as a Final Fantasy game in the US release due to the popularity of Final Fantasy — the original Japanese game was released under the title Makai Toushi Sa·Ga, and by extension FFL games are referred to as the SaGa series. None of the other games in the series are any good though, just this one (in my opinion.)
The plot of Final Fantasy Legend is nothing special, but it captured my imagination as a child; it really gave my childhood a sense of wonder, and I find that I have a lot of nostalgia for things like that. But I digress.
The plot is simple. In the center of the world, there is a giant tower that goes high up into the sky. Legend has it that at the top of the tower lies paradise. At one point in history, many adventurers had once ventured into the tower and attempted to ascend it; however, nobody succeeded. Many monsters spewed forth from the tower and into the world, and because of this the tower was sealed, and the orb that was used to seal the tower was also sealed away behind some magical hero statue. The hero statue once wore a set of armor, a sword, and a shield. Somehow, though, the armor, the sword, and the shield have fallen each into the hands of one of three kings, and seem to be representative of the legitimacy behind their throne for some reason.
You are a spry young adventurer who wants to make an attempt at ascending the tower. You start out in the “city” (which has like four buildings, because this is a Gameboy game) at the base of the tower. You walk to the guild and recruit three other party members from a variety of races: esper fae-like “mutants”, humans, and any number of monster “races”. You can then name each of the heroes in your party, but you only get four letters, so coming up with unique, pronounceable name-esque things will prove difficult. If I remember, my characters were named Nico, Itev, Isan, and Corr. I felt very clever for coming up with them.
Your party sets off into the world. You need to gather the pieces of armor from the three kings, place them on the hero statue, get the orb, and unlock the tower. The first king gives you a quest: a fair maiden whom he has fallen in love with has been taken prisoner by bandits. Rescue his bride-to-be from the bandits’ lair, and in return you will get his item (I believe it was the armor.) Your party is a group of honorable and noble heroes for doing such a thing, right? Wrong. When you meet the second king, you ask for his sword, he refuses to give it to you, so you butcher him in his own castle and pry the artifact from his corpse. However, when you enter the third king’s hall, you find his dead body, and learn that his steward killed him in cold blood in order to take the shield and become king. You then proceed to confront and kill the wicked steward, re-establishing the honor of your heroes.
You can actually equip and use the kings’ armor, shield, and sword. They’re some of the most powerful items in the game, and you get to use them on the first (and by extension, easiest) world. But once you return to the statue of the hero, you must surrender the items and place them on the statue.
Once you place the items on the statue, the statue surrenders its orb. Just as your party is turning to leave, a boss appears; one of the “fiends” of the game, Gen-Bu. You must defeat him to walk away with the orb. Thankfully, this is the first world, and this ancient primordial evil is conveniently weak. Your party of heroes manages to defeat Gen-Bu, and then they take the orb to the tower and use it to unlock the tower. Pretty basic fantasy RPG stuff.
Anyway, you ascend the tower and encounter other worlds just like your own, all of which also have the tower in the middle. Some worlds are necessary for the progression of the game and the story, but some aren’t. There’s a world in which people live in paradise and know no pain or suffering, and there’s a world in which people are being tortured endlessly by gargoyles. You can’t fight the gargoyles or free the people. You just pass through the world (or never encounter it at all. It’s one of the side-worlds, not one of the main ones.) There are worlds that are super technologically advanced, and there are worlds with no technology. One of the worlds is post-apocolyptic with an enormous desolate, cratered, charred landscape. As you explore the ruins and rubble, the “fiend” of that world (I think it’s a dragon, but I can’t remember) confronts you over and over, and you have to just run, or he kills you.
As you ascend the tower, you will encounter worlds in which the tower is sealed — just like your starting world. You will have to get the orb of that world in order to unseal the tower and continue your ascent. Thankfully, an old man continually appears throughout the worlds and gives you clues as to how to get the orbs. As you play through the game, you learn that each of the orbs is in the possession of a “fiend”, much like Gen-Bu of your starting world. And unlike Gen-Bu, these fiends are brutally difficult. There’s one world in which you need to go under the ocean to find the fiend’s castle, and if you manage to survive the castle, you reach the room with the orb. The catch? There are over a hundred identical orbs in the room, and if you select the wrong one, the game generates an encounter with a powerful enemy, the Atom Crab. Even if you do select the right one before all your heroes die, you still need to fight Sei-Ryu, the fiend of that world.
There are a lot of worlds and I won’t bother to go through them all. Eventually, you defeat all four of the fiends, and confront their leader, Ashura (whom, if I remember correctly, is a demon or something of that sort.) You kill Ashura, but then later in the game, you find out that neither Ashura nor his four fiends were actually dead, and at the very end of the game you need to fight them all again, one after the other.
So that’s it, right? You defeated the demon and his four fiends, you ascended the tower, you beat the game! Wrong. You ascend the tower even further, and encounter a peaceful meadow or garden (the Gameboy graphics leave it open to interpretation. I always interpreted it as a meadow.) without any monsters. I believe it had a couple of table sprites, which I interpreted to be picnic tables. In this meadow, you find the old man that had helped you throughout your ascent throughout the tower, and learn that he is God with a capital G. He created everything; he created the tower, he created the monsters, he created the four fiends and the demon Ashura. He created the stars that became the carbon in your mother’s ovaries. Worst of all? He created it as a game, something to keep him entertained. This fills the heroes with rage, and they decide to fight God.
You kill God.
And boy, let me tell you, I consider it to be my greatest gaming achievement to this day. It is obscenely difficult. Even if you completely max out the stats of every single one of your characters, and acquire the best weapons and armor in the game, there is a good chance you will lose. Again, and again, and again. You just have to savescum over, and over, and over, and pray fervently for good RNG. This may be because I had two espers and a monster in my party instead of four humans. Toward the end of the game, humans overtake espers and monsters in terms of sheer strength and power. Espers and monsters are good for crowd control though. But I digress.
Once you kill God, though, your heroes encounter door behind where God was standing. What could be on the other side? Is it Paradise? God’s celestial domain? Or does the tower continue to climb even higher? You’ll never know, because your heroes decide to turn back and return to their original world, and the credits roll. You win, but you feel immensely dissatisfied with the lack of closure.
The gameplay is very unique. I haven’t played another game like it. I’m sure other JRPGs from the 80s have similar themes, though. Its combat is similar to Pokèmon; you select items, attacks, or weapons to use, you attempt to flee, and each character and monster gets a combat move per turn. You can get status effects such as paralysis, sleep, etc. The inn heals you, but charges you one GP per health point.
Did I mention the game is difficult? The game is brutally difficult. The distance between villages is large. The monsters you encounter will wear your party down. Your characters will die. You will have to venture to a House of Life (which can be found in villages) and spend a hefty sum to get them revived — and once they die three times, they’re dead forever. Even if it took dozens or hundreds of hours to get them to be as strong as they are. You have to start fresh, recruit a new character at the local guild, and keep going. The game is insanely grindy — you need to stick near the villages and grind, heal at the inn, rinse and repeat, in order to get strong enough to venture out — and I got very attached to my characters, even when I replayed the game as an adult.
There are three character types: humans, espers, and monsters.
Humans get stronger by drinking potions that raise your strength, HP, and agility. There are weapons that correspond to strength (longswords, hammers, namely. There’s like a couple dozen “variants” of longswords) and there are weapons that correspond to agility (mostly rapiers, but I think ranged weapons are agility weapons.) Humans have the most equipment slots, so they can have multiple weapons, armor, helmets, shields, all equipped at once (unlike espers). You have to grind monsters for GP, and grind them at a faster rate than your weapons degrade in order to simultaneously replace your weapons and also buy STR, HP, and AGI potions to raise their respective statistics.
As a human, your STR and AGI stats “max out” in the GUI at 99. You consume potions until you get the statistics up to level 99, and then you stop consuming potions — which is all good, right? Wrong. The stats actually max out at 256, but regardless of how high your stats are, it displays as 99. Additionally, if you happen to consume one potion too many and surpass 256, your stats reset back to zero (or maybe one, I don’t remember.) Therefore, you simply have to very carefully count or be sure to savescum as you’re consuming the potions in vast quantities. I actually surpassed 256 in one of my games, and had to spend ages upon ages getting my stat back up again. It was awful.
Espers get stronger by combat, and while they can use weapons and can have weapons equipped, their true power lies in the abilities they develop. They can develop fire attacks that deal heavy damage to multiple monsters at once. However, sometimes their really good abilities will disappear and be replaced with really bad ones. An all-esper run would be hell.
There are dozens upon dozens of monsters races, and monster characters get stronger by eating the corpses of monsters you defeat. It isn’t entirely random; each enemy monster is assigned a “tier” and a “group”, and if you eat the meat of group x while member of group y, you become group z. Some people with way too much free time on their hands have actually made monster transformation guides, which I transcribed into a spreadsheet for my own personal use while I replayed the game. Also, if your monster is level x, and the corpse you eat is of a monster that is level x, you become x+1. But if the monster’s meat is x-1, you become x-1. Also, if there is no x+1 in the target group (and the next tier is x+2), you do not rise in level. When I most recently played the game, I tried very very hard to get my monster to become a Phoenix, but I made a mistake and ended up getting the “darkrose” monster. It was still a damn good monster, just not what I wanted.
It’s good for a game from that era, but it doesn’t hold up to today’s standards. There was a move called “saw” that was supposed to be entirely ineffective against high-level enemies but an instant-kill against low-level enemies. How it was supposed to have worked worked was that if your STR was higher than the defense of the enemy in question, it was an instant-kill, but if your STR was lower than the defense, it was ineffective. However, the devs failed miserably and actually reversed the effect of the weapon; it instantly killed anything with higher defense than your STR stat. (We know that such was not the intended effect because the move was repaired in the second and third games in the series.) However, I believe you could only get saw as a singular specific type of monster (the “Warrior” I believe), so it wasn’t as though every player got to take advantage of the move. But I digress. The game also doesn’t hold up to today’s standards in that the stats “max out” at 99 but go up to 256. Also, the game is not the least bit balanced. It is so difficult that it’s practically unbeatable unless you take advantage of the stats going up to 256 — not to mention that it’s far too grindy for today’s market. Kids these days like instant gratification. The game was fun when I was a kid because the bad graphics left a lot to the imagination. I could imagine my heroes battling the monsters, and imagine what the monsters looked like. It was a lot of fun, and I’m guessing that the reason I still like it so much to this day is just that I played it as a child.