Fire Hose Classic: Difficulty Analysis and Grindless Gaming in Final Fantasy

This article was originally posted on March 5, 2010. We’re reposting it along with a bunch of small changes to update new thoughts on the game’s difficulty. Enjoy!

Difficulty adjustment (usually picking easy/medium/hard) is great as for making games appealing and usable by everyone. Really awesome games will adjust difficulty quietly and without being seen, either through dynamic difficulty adjustment or through choices made by the player. This past weekend I realized during the cgcmarathon that the original Final Fantasy, a Dungeons and Dragons inspired 8-bit classic on the original NES, had a great choice based difficulty adjustment system that let the user choose how hard they wanted the game to be at the very beginning of their quest! The only problem? That it isn’t clear at all. All of the critical decisions get made the first few minutes of the game at the “party select” screen, and there is no indication whatsoever as to how crucial these choices are or what the impact of the choices will be.

So how does difficulty adjustment work in Final Fantasy? Let’s examine, using math.

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. When you pick your party, just add up the value of each character.

5 – Fighter: Can soak up damage dealt by enemies, dish it pain consistently throughout the game, and is cheaper to equip than the mages.
3 – Black Belt: The cheapest character to equip and deadly in the second half of the game, this character loses points for being relatively worthless during the first half as he can’t take or deal much damage early on.
2 – Thief: A slightly less useful version of the Black Belt, except he never really gets good. The ninja upgrade isn’t really that much of a boon, and he remains the weakest fighting character.
3.5 – Red Mage: This guy can deal damage, wear some armor, and knows both white and black magic spells to boot. He’s very powerful in the early game, and while he gets weaker later on he still holds his own. He’s somewhat cheaper to equip than the other mages.
1 – White Mage: Can’t take a hit, can’t deal damage, very expensive to have in your party and counter intuitively healing isn’t super helpful in this game. This guy (girl?) sucks.
2 – Black Mage:
Also can’t take a hit but at least can occasionally deal damage. Very expensive.

Once you have your total for the characters in the group, subtract these modifiers if they apply to how you are playing:

-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.
-2 – 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.

Got your total? Great! Check it against the list below to see how difficult playing through Final Fantasy will be. 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. Grind will be inevitable at some points.
9 – 12 points: Hard, and you’ll have to level a bit to get past certain 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.

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