You command a party of four warriors who journey through a variety of different worlds, connected by a central tower, in order to discover the tower's secrets--which, reportedly, lead to paradise. Each of the worlds is terrorized by a Fiend--a monster of great power--and the party is compelled to seek out and defeat these fiends, saving each world's denizens in the process. The final floor of the tower reveals a startling truth about the nature of the Fiends, the tower, and your party's involvement in all of the events that unfold throughout the game.
Part of the SaGa series, SaGa--or Final Fantasy Legend, as it was known in North America--started some trends that repeated throughout the franchise. Instead of equipping a single weapon for attacking purposes, as was the case in the core Final Fantasy franchise, SaGa had each character equipping a "bag" of weapons and items, as described below in the Gameplay section. The series' method of character growth through taking actions and eating monster meat, as opposed to gaining experience levels, also originated here. (The "do X more and become better at Y" methodology did find its way into Final Fantasy II.) However, the multi-character, "non-linear" method of progression didn't really begin until the Super Famicom entries in the series, which were the Romancing SaGa games.
Final Fantasy Legend plays in a traditional turn-based queue style made popular by the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series. In other words, you select a command for each of your four party members before making a final confirmation, which leads to the beginning of the "round" between player and enemy. One notable difference between Legend's battle system and those of Dragon Quest / Final Fantasy is that each of your characters can equip multiple, distinct weapons, spells and shields -- most of which have limited uses before they break or otherwise expire. For instance, your fighter can carry a Rapier, Long Sword, Battle Axe and Psi Dagger, and is free to use whichever he pleases in a given round of combat. Shields similarly count as "consumable" items (i.e. use a shield for a round, and you're protected; but it'll break after multiple uses) as opposed to other armor (mail, helmets), which act as one might expect (they simply buff your defense stats; they are not "used" in battle).
Your human characters must level up with the aid of potions, with one type of potion per main statistic. Furthermore, after you've reached a hit-point maximum of 600, further potions will only increase the maximum by one at a time. Mutant (the "mages" in this game) characters grow based on how you use them, similar to Final Fantasy II's (Famicom, Wonderswan, Playstation, Gameboy Advance) level-up system. If a mutant continues to attack with a Battle Axe or other strength-based weapon, eventually his strength statistics will increase. Attack with an agility-based weapon (whips, rapiers), and his agility will increase. Similarly, use of magic and magic-imbued items will increase a character's Mana. Oddly enough, Final Fantasy Legend never tells you when your statistics have increased naturally.
Legend also offers monsters. Monsters don't level up; rather, they grow by eating the meat of stronger monsters left behind after battle. Eat the meat of a weaker monster, and your character will devolve accordingly. This monster class is one of the distinguishing factors of the Legend spin-offs, continuing in Legend II and being expanded upon in Legend III. The general logic of "eat the meat of a better monster to improve" applies, and there is a near-formulaic method of how the game determines which monster you'll end up having. However, to get one of the most powerful monsters, the Hi-Slime, you must be a certain monster and eat the meat of one of the reincarnations of one of the major bosses in the game. After that, you must have the resulting monster consume the meat of a potentially weaker, normal enemy.
Players are given a choice of how to form their party at the outset of the game. If s/he so wishes, the party can be made up entirely of humans or monsters. This bucks conventional wisdom, of course, since these parties would be too devoid of magic and too inflexible, respectively.
As opposed to characters whom you can revive infinitely, Final Fantasy Legend has characters who have three "lives" represented by hearts on the screen. Extra hearts could be purchased, but they were almost prohibitively expensive. Once a character dies, he loses a heart. After all hearts are lost, your only option is to go and recruit a new character from the guild--whom you'll also have to develop completely from the ground up. This mechanic was immediately removed in the sequel, where characters who were downed in battle would revive immediately afterwards with 1 hit point.
Final Fantasy Legend's backstory is presented in a quick text blurb at the beginning of the game:
"It has been said that the tower in the center of the World is connected to Paradise. Dreaming of a life in Paradise, many have challenged the secret of the tower, but no one knows what became of them. Now, there is another who will brave the adventure..."
That "another" happens to be your lead character, whom you are prompted to select before starting the game. After choosing your lead, you find him (or her) dumped in front of the town that sits at the base of the tower. This is the appropriately-named "Base Town" where your lead will recruit three party members from Base Town's guild. As you take a tour of Base Town, you come across a top-hatted gentleman who tells you that a being named Gen-Bu has hidden the key to the door in a statue in a nearby town called "Hero."
Heading down to the Town of Hero, the party notices the statue mentioned earlier. However, it's missing its shield, its sword, and its armor. Apparently, in order to get the key from Gen-Bu, the party has to restore it to its proper state. The three missing pieces are being held by three kings spread across the land. As you come across the bluntly-titled King Armor, he tells you that a small-town girl from the south whom he is in love with turned down his proposal for marriage. Traveling south, your party finds out that a gang leader has threatened to destroy the girl's village if she doesn't marry him.
Such aggression will not stand, man, and the party decides to help out the village and King Armor. You travel to a cave where the bandits and their leader call home, smite the filthy reject, and upon returning to King Armor, he happily rewards your heroes with the first piece of the statue: a suit of armor.
After the party travels to King Sword's domain to obtain the next piece for the statue, you discover that this king isn't quite so ready to give up his prized possession just yet. You must defeat him, he says, if you want the sword. The party takes him down with only minimal difficulty. Two down, and one left to go. Off to King Shield, then.
King Shield's castle is full of hostile guards who, unwilling to even battle, take it upon themselves to throw the party out of the building as soon as they try to engage in any conversation. Finally reaching the King, you find that he's unwilling to give you his shield...because he's as dead as a doorknob. His Steward, whom you've caught red-handed, sends his minions after your party as he makes his way through a hidden passageway. Dispatching his thugs, you catch up to, corner, and ultimately defeat him.
In possession of the three statue items, you return to the Town of Hero and replace the armor, shield and sword. Miraculously, your party is bequeathed the key--a black sphere--that is said to open the door to the tower at Base Town. But as you head back to make use of your new toy, Gen-Bu appears and engages you in battle. The party must withstand this giant turtle's powerful attacks, and it does so, with much difficulty. That arduous task being over with, the party heads back to Base Town to unlock that door.
Inside the tower, the party sees a sprawling structure of many flights whose doors open up to different worlds. The first new world is dominated by a vast sea, and features a town with beautiful ports where your party figures that it'll need a boat to get around. Obviously. One of the townsfolk spits some seemingly absurd pointers your way: "I saw an island sailing like a ship." But hey, when you need a ship, you need a ship. The party ventures to an underwater cave and, sure enough, locates a small piece of floating land that seems to bend to the lead character's will, giving you the perfect "ship"--your very own piece of real estate--with which to sail the seas.
During your time in town, you learn that you'll need a blue and red orb to pass through to the next level of the tower. The Red Orb is hidden underwater, and after receiving a tip from a nutso old man living in solutide, the party sets off to obtain the Airseed--a magical item that allows its bearer to breathe underwater. Once the party obtains the Airseed and ventures to an underwater town, the heroes learn that they must head to a nearby underwater castle to find the Red Orb. Their journey takes them to a room filled with orbs, and after sifting through them and finally finding the right one, the fearsome Sei-Ryu--a slithery dragon--attacks them. Though this is a more difficult battle than the one against Gen Bu, the party prevails and walks off with the Red Orb.
And what of the Blue Orb? The party travels back to the old man on his island, at which point he asks them a riddle--to give him an item that costs the same as the total cost of a list of other items. After completing the arduous task of finding the items in question, doing some basic math, and buying an item that satisfies the riddle, the party is rewarded with the Blue Orb... which merges with the Red orb to form yet another Sphere which unlocks the next door in the tower.
The party emerges, after a grueling trek up more tower floors, in a world floating in the clouds. Wandering into a nearby town called "Sky Town" for obvious reasons, you learn of Byak-Ko, the near-tyrannical leader of this world, and of the secret resistance plotting against him. Somehow, your heroes find their way into his employ and are sent by him to find Jeanne, whose background he doesn't divulge. He sends you off in a huff, providing you with a sky glider with which to travel between areas.
Touring around a town, you find out why he wants Jeanne. It turns out that when she and her twin sister are united, the next sphere--and your ticket farther up the tower--will reveal itself. The party finds Jeanne being taken alive by some of Byak-Ko's other men. Honorable and just as your party members are, they rush in to defeat the grunts and save Jeanne. She begs you to save her twin sister Mileille, who's trapped in a floating palace.
The party makes its way to the floating palace and fights its way to Mileille, who is standing helpless in a corner. She asks where her sister is, but after you divulge that information, Byak-Ko suddenly appears. "I knew you defeated Gen Bu and Sei-Ryu," he says. "I just used you." Now that he knows Jeanne's location, with the help of a treacherous Mileille who served as bait (she doesn't care anything about the resistance, and was apparently tempted by Byak-Ko's promises of power), he throws your heroes in jail.
Bars can't hold your heroes, however, and they find their way back to the floating palace, where Byak-Ko is standing over both Mileille and Jeanne. He now has the sphere, or so he thinks, and as such he finds that he doesn't need Mileille anymore. As he's about to strike Mileille down, however, Jeanne takes the blow--despite her sister's previous traitorous ways--and suffers a mortal wound. A tiring battle between your heroes and Byak-Ko ensues. Byak-Ko is surprised at his failure, and as he dies, the sphere disappears as well. As the party wonders what's going on, Mileille begins to cry as her sister's life flickers away, with her tears forming the real sphere. It is time, it seems, to move on.
The party fights its way through another few floors of the tower, but instead of being greeted by the ocean or the clouds, your heroes inhale the stinky wiff of a dingy, mundane dystopia. While wandering around, they are randomly assaulted--multiple times--by a fearsome (and apparently persistent) beast known as SuZaku. Attempts to battle SuZaku are all futile, and every encounter ends in the party fleeing to fight another day. Along your travels, you randomly bump into the top-hatted gentleman from Base Town (or perhaps an evil twin), who verifies that nothing works against SuZaku, and that running is the right and only move at this point.
Your heroes also spot a damsel in distress, Sayaka, who--upon being rescued--leads you to a town. Once there, they hit--where else?--the pub and immediately get into an argument, but fortunately, it's with Sayaka's brother So-Cho, who stands down when he realizes you helped her. It comes to pass that there's a biker gang in town, and they're all gunning for SuZaku's head. Perhaps an alliance would best serve everybody.
But in order to take down SuZaku, they have to take down his force field--which, currently, is an impossibility. The biker gang is working on building a machine--affectionately known as ERASE99--to help out in this regard, though, so the party agrees to retrieve parts scattered across this world to facilitate this task. By the time your party is ready to find the last component--some Plutonium--the heroes encounter a seemingly insurmountable obstacle: radioactive barriers blocking a doorway. So-Cho comes to the rescue, barreling his way through the barriers, but at the cost of his life.
After the heroes mourn So-Cho's death (by calling him a fool for being so rash, natch), they take the Plutonium but are assaulted by a War Machine. A tough battle ensues, and when the party emerges victorious, your heroes find themselves back in town where SuZaku has absolutely decimated everything in sight. The party makes its way to the Skyscraper, climbing it in search of SuZaku so that vengeance can be exacted posthaste. After a difficult trek through the Skyscraper and through some subway cars, you come upon SuZaku who--with the aid of Sayaka--is now trapped. The party activates ERASE99, SuZaku's force field is brought down, and a real battle now begins.
With his force field neutralized, SuZaku is vulnerable but still difficult to defeat. Eventually the party takes him down, and goes with Sayaka to mourn So-Cho at his freshly planted grave. By chance, Sayaka happens to have "something" and gives it to your heroes- it's the fourth and final sphere, allowing you access to the last areas of the tower and the ultimate enemy, the Arch-Fiend Ashura.
On your party's travels up the tower, the heroes come across a few tower-dwellers who seem to be living peacefully. Ashura has made them rich, one says. Another claims that Ashura has made some fellow called "Creator" absolutely powerless. Further up the tower, the party encounters a series of messages stating that Ashura is being controlled by something, with the last piece of the message is illegible. The party will soon find out when it reaches the top and finally faces off against Ashura, the Arch-Fiend to end all Arch-Fiends.
Near the summit, the top-hatted gentleman appears again, and warns the group that Ashura is just beyond the passage behind him. When your heroes finally confront him, he attempts to "make a deal" with them: "I'll give each of you a piece of the world. How does that sound?" Not keen on being turned into Ashura's own personal fiends, of course, the group dismisses this "offer" and engages in battle with the Arch-Fiend. Ashura, sporting four arms, sharp talons, a fanged and menacing face in his abdomen and horns sprouting from his head, turns out to be no simpleton, assaulting the team with curse spells and a vicious melee attack that strikes six times. Nevertheless the heroes prevail, as they always do, and push past Ashura's corpse into Paradise.
Or so they think. Instead, they are greeted with a trap door that sends the four heroes tumbling down to the base of the tower, back in Base Town. However, it's not all bad news: The friends they've made along the way are standing there, imparting words of thanks and encouragement. As the party wanders around, the top-hatted gentleman appears again, standing in front of a door near the Innkeeper. "There is a road to Paradise," he tempts, "beyond the door."
The road happens to be another trek up the same tower you just fell from all the way to the top. Again. As your heroes venture up again, Gen Bu, Sei-Ryu, Byak-Ko and SuZaku rear their ugly heads again as undead fiends, making the journey even more difficult. Fortunately, with the help of new weapons such as the Sun Sword, they fall easily to your heroes.
More climbing and the party finally stumbles into what's supposed to be Paradise. A little exploration, and your heroes run into the top-hatted gentleman one last time. He reveals himself to be The Creator. The Creator claims to have created everything to see true courage. This much may have been true, but to your heroes, apparently it served much more to amuse him than to actually feel the fulfilment that seeing unbridled heroism would bring.
The Creator and the heroes face off in a final battle, but in the end, the party wins, essentially "destroying God". They take a few steps forward and notice one last door. "Is there another world?" asks one hero. Perhaps, but they all decide that in the end, it's best to just go home--which they do, with much aplomb.
Final Fantasy Legend's player experience is sometimes hampered by odd usability issues and oversights.
- The game doesn't tell you when your mutant's stats increase after battle. You'll have to continually check your mutants' status screen to see what their ratings are.
- The game doesn't tell you when your mutants gain or drop abilities. You'll have to keep checking your mutant's ability menu to see if you've gained or dropped abilities. Furthermore it also drops abilities at random, unlike in its sequel where the last ability listed in your mutant's abilities menu is always the one that's dropped.
- The ability menu doesn't let you sort your characters' abilities. With Humans, this is a non-issue because you can sort their commands using the laborious method of equipping and unequipping things until you have the desired menu order, but for mutants, it can lead to ugly menus with blank spots.
- During battle, players cannot take a pass in a round to defend or just sit idle. This means that you have to use an item or weapon, even if it happens to only have a single use left. This problem also exists in Final Fantasy Legend II.
- Human stats can level up to values higher than 99, but the game only displays 99. Furthermore, if you continue to level-up human stats past 255, the stat will actually loop around and lower itself to 1.
- The game is incredibly unbalanced with progression. Humans gain hit points, strength and agility through power-up items. STRONG and AGILITY potions cost 300 gp throughout the entire game, so it's possible to maximize your stats pretty early in the game with no scaling increase in effort. Furthermore, Mutants can increase their Mana statistic easily by using the ESP ability during battle. The sole purpose of this ability is to increase the chances that the caster's Mana will increase after a battle, so it's entirely possible to hit 99 Mana in the first half of the game.
Selected cross-series / sequel trivia
- As you ascend the tower near the end of the game, the music that plays is very similar to the music used later in the Tower of Bab-il (Babel) from Final Fantasy IV (SNES, Playstation, GBA, NDS).
- Lich, Tiamat and Kraken appear as enemies in this game. In the original Final Fantasy and its remakes (NES, Playstation, GBA, PSP), these three were the elemental fiends of Earth, Wind and Water respectively.
- Major boss-level enemies in Legend re-appear in Legend II as regular, albeit powerful, enemies: Gen-Bu; Byak-Ko; Sei-Ryu; Su-Zaku.
- The visual representation of Ashura in Final Fantasy Legend use a sprite that is almost identical (if not entirely so) to the one seen in Final Fantasy Legend II. However, in the sequel, Ashura is one of the earliest boss characters you face in the game.
- The concept of the four fiends is a theme that appears in other Final Fantasy games, notably the original Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy IV. The four spheres relinquished by the fiends is analogous to the four crystals which the Final Fantasy series at large is known for.
- The cover art and logo for Final Fantasy Legend are different than most others in the series before the Playstation Era. The font used for the game's marquee is not the embossed gold lettering, but a flat curvy font. In addition, the cover art is a helmet, sword, and treasure chest under a ray of light. For the American covers of Final Fantasy Legend II, Final Fantasy Legend III, The Final Fantasy Adventure, and Final Fantasy IV (at least as it appeared in North America on the Super NES in 1991), the words "Final Fantasy" all used the same gold, embossed font sitting atop a single solid color (blue, purple, green and red, respectively). Furthermore, the sword replacing the letter "T" in "Fantasy" is missing.