This is a personal breakdown of the Final Fantasy games I've played. Any release dates posted are drawn from Wikipedia since I don't have a super-tronic memory.
FINAL FANTASY (1987)
The inaugural game in the series was simply, Final Fantasy. This, along with the Dragon Quest series, helped cement the RPG genre as we know it. Top down maps, with turn based combat soon became the norm.
The game itself is pretty standard. At the start, you built your party of 4 by combining any combination of the following classes: Monk, Warrior, Thief, Red Mage, Black Mage, and White Mage. Late in the game, each class turned into a better version of their starter class through an all powerful class change.
Monk was your two handed fighter that needed no weapons. High HP and multi-hit attacks were his trademarks. Turned into a Martial Artist.
Warriors were your weapons and heavy armor users. They could boast high Vitality, so they took less damage usually. Turns into a Knight
Thieves were the quickest of the group. They didn't hit hard in combat, but they could pilfer goods from the enemy. Turns into a Ninja, who can then throw things... and move even faster. With many attacks.
Black Mages could use damaging/crippling magics against the enemies. Black Wizard gets access to the strongest Black magic in the game
White Mages used healing and buffing magics on the party. White Wizard gets the strongest buffs and heals.
The Red Mage was a combination of the White and Black Mage, but wasn't as proficient at either. Can cast decent spells, but not the strongest from each color. Also can be used as a backup melee fighter. I don't know why they didn't call it the Gray Mage though. Red Wizard gets some of the medium-high spells from both schools. (Like 7 or so on a scale to 10.)
Anyways, the party (I went with Fighter, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage on my PSP playthrough) starts off as a small group of do-gooders that go around doing heroic things like saving princesses, until an event occurs and you're called upon to save the world.
The story, is kinda lacking. The gameplay is definitely monotonous. It's a grind. The original NES version is difficult. The PSP version? Not so much. Part of the difficulty comes from getting lost. This game can get by on it's historical merits, but to some, that's enough. It can be entertaining enough to keep you playing for a few hours without realizing. You're not going to get attached to any of the characters. It shows exactly how the massively popular series started. It may have a few gray hairs, but it's worth a look for those curious about the franchise origins.
Fianl Fantasy II (1988)
I haven't played much of this one, but I will say this... The NES version is BRUTAL. At the beginning, if you don't stay on the intended path, you will encounter insanely tough enemies... and you will die. Not a supposed-to-lose die, but a Game Over die. The main premise is that there's a war going on, and an invading Empire has taken over the kingdom. You are recruited into the resistance after a scuffle with the Empire left you and two party members unconscious, and the main character's brother missing.
That's right, they introduced characterization. One of the more interesting things in this game is the dialogue system. At certain times, you can either learn or say key words. these key words can be used to grant entrance to places, or to see extra snips of conversation with the NPCs. It's actually a pretty interesting concept for a video game.
Magic and weapons work like this, the more you use a specific spell or weapon, the better you get with it. Granted, your characters are naturally specific at the start (Main character is better at swords at the start than axes, Big guy is better with Axes than staves, the chick is better with Bows than swords). You buy magic and "Affix" it to a specific character, then poof, they can use it. Using it makes it stronger and more effective, so grinding serves more purpose than just levels.
Speaking of levels, there's no real "level" system in the game. You get stat increases at random after battles. If your character does a lot of damage over the course of a few fights, then his strength will increase. If they take lots of damage, their HP and Vitality will go up and so on. A dynamic stat system like this falls in the middle of the "Pro-con" scale. At least for me.
Last in this part...
Final Fantasy III (1990)
Here we are, number 3, and the last NES release. Granted, it never came stateside til the DS port, but whatever. You start off as a young teen who falls into a crevice after an earthquake. You are then deemed to be one of the "Warriors of Light", along with 3 others. Then this rag-tag group of peoples are supposed to save the world.
The notable addition in this game was the base for future Job Systems. You can change a characters class from say, Warrior to white mage, with the only downside is that you'd be in a weakened state for x amount of battles after the change.
I've only played a bit of the DS remake, so I can't go into full detail about this game. I will say I do like how they tried to incorporate a job system here. I'm a fan of how FFV (Later) and FF Tactics (Later) have used these systems. The penalty for switching classes is a bit harsh, and it makes it difficult for experimenting with party ideas, since you're weakened for so long after a change.
That wraps it up for this part of the breakdown. Not much to work with here, since I never played much of 2 or 3, but next up is Final Fantasy 4, 5, and maybe I'll get to 6.