Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment in Final Fantasy, circa 1987

It's kind of amazing how this basic, buggy D&D ripoff gave birth to one of the most beloved series of all time, and that it (along with Dragon Quest) defined the JRPG genre. Also, WHY CAN'T YOU BUY MORE THAN ONE HEAL POTION AT A TIME, DAMMIT!?!

Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (DDA) is something that has been popping up a decent amount in the video game world recently; games that automatically, or through player input, adjust the difficulty to make games easier or harder to play are appealing because they make titles usable by large ranges of the population. I realized this past weekend, while going nuts with the cgcmarathon, that it’s been around for a while and that the ORIGINAL Final Fantasy, a Dungeons and Dragons inspired 8-bit classic on the original NES, had a great self-DDA system that let the user choose how hard they wanted the game to be at the very beginning of the game! The only problem is that it isn’t clear at all that is what’ s happening, since it is the “party select” screen, and doesn’t give any hints about how hard it will make the game.

So how does Self-DDA work in Final Fantasy? Let’s examine, with this easy to reference formula.

How to determine game difficulty in Final Fantasy based on party make up

When choosing your party in Final Fantasy, there are six characters to choose from. I’ve assigned them numbers here based on their usefulness:

5 – Fighter:Can soak up damage, dish it out consistently throughout the game, and is cheaper than the mages.
3 – Black Belt: Cheap and damage dealing at higher levels, this character loses points for not being able to take a hit and for being relatively worthless in battle until around level 10 or so.
2 – Thief:A slightly less useful version of the Black Belt, except he never really gets good.
3.5 – Red Mage:Can deal damage, wear some armor, and knows both white and black magic spells to boot. A bit cheaper than his white and black variant counterparts.
1 – White Mage:Can’t take a hit, can’t deal damage, very expensive and his healing isn’t super helpful. This guy (girl?) sucks.
2 – Black Mage:
Also can’t take a hit but at least can occasionally deal damage. Very expensive.

-3 – No Magic: If you’ve got no mages in your party, subtract 3 from the total points. Magic is generally less useful than attacking but has a knack of pulling you out of a hard battle here and there.
-3 – No Class Change: Not getting the rat tail and doing a class change makes the end game harder as there will be weapons, armor, and magic that your characters can’t use. The end of the game is somewhat easier than the beginning though, so it’s not as damming as you might think.

Once you’ve made your party, add up the total number of points from your four characters and check against the list below. The difficulty level assumes that the player has a basic knowledge of what to do in the game but is by no means an expert who knows all the game’s secrets.

16+ points: Easy, grind free playing. Just walk through the game and kill anything in your path!
13 – 15 points: Medium difficulty, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
9 – 12 points: Hard, and you’ll have to grind at points, but doable.
8 points or less: Grind-tastic. Enjoy your hard game full of pain, disappointment, and failure.

That’s it! Pick your party and you are ready to go, knowing that you have defined how difficult your game will be.

My “I want to take it easy and not have to grind at all” party? It’s these guys.

I love this party even more than the 8-Bit theater one

The party I played with during the CGC Marathon was probably the worst one possible. SCREW YOU, ALL WHITE MAGE PARTY!

Man, just looking at this team brings flashbacks of pain.


  1. Sharat

    Just figured I’d mention the fact DDA stands for DYNAMIC difficulty adjustment, as in it changes in real-time depending on your skill level. So what you’ve described is just difficulty adjustment, which has been around since there’s been a hard or easy mode to choose from.

  2. this explains why, after 12 years, i still have an unfinished saved game on my FF cartridge. :/

  3. For the record, my party = [Fighter, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage]

  4. Yup, that’s a hard team right there. Your fighter does all the work and the other three just hold you back.

  5. Jim

    The Fighter, Thief, White and Black Mage party is what I played through the game with as a kid, too. I agree – it’s tough. The funny thing about it is that it was the Nintendo Power-recommended party.

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