As is sometimes the case with the first opus of a saga (c.f. the Legend of Zelda series), the game is rather difficult. The enemies might put up a fair bit of a fight in certain areas, all in proportion to your team composition. It makes the game quite challenging, and can be immensely frustrating if you don’t take the time to carefully build up and prepare your characters. Read: a lot of levelling up. This is particularly dangerous for people who have all-Black Belt/Monk and all-Thief teams, since any other combination will pretty much be forced to fight more in order to get money for spells and equipment. Black Belts/Monks and Thieves, on the other hand, don’t need to spend as much on their gear, and therefore run the risk of being underlevelled.
The game’s difficulty is increased by the fact that there are no items that allow you to revive characters. So if anyone in the party should die before your White Mage learns the Life spell, your only option will be to trek back to the nearest town to revive them at the Chapel. Likewise if your White Mage or Red Mage kicks the bucket.
To continue in the challenge chapter, this is the very first appearance of the optional superboss. Most subsequent FF games will have at least one of those: an overpowered enemy, stronger than the final boss, which, however, you can safely ignore if you don’t feel up to the challenge. In this game, the culprit goes by the name of Warmech/Death Machine. It is the ancestor of all the Omegas from subsequent FFs: a deadly robot on legs that goes “voip!”. Due to the fact that, even with a decent amount of levelling, your characters will probably be somewhere around level 30-31 when they face it, luck will more than likely be a factor to pull through the battle. There’s also the added difficulty that it’s a rare random encounter in a place where the enemies are no joke. Thus your team probably won’t be as fresh as you’d wish when it finally shows up.
Speaking of bosses, Garland is the first of a long line of FF villains, and while some of his descendants have garnered solid fanbases, he’s…not exactly anything to fawn over. And let’s not even start with his name. Just about his only legacy is his famous (or infamous) “I, Garland, will knock you all down!” line, which is a solid contender for the title of Best Threat Ever. Other than that, he has the barest amounts of backstory, and you never learn anything about his motivations. So this is another department where this game makes you appreciate the distance that the series has travelled since then.
The battles are choppy and tend to take forever, and the combat screen is cluttered with unnecessary text boxes. The abysmal message speed doesn’t help, especially when your characters gain a level at the end of a fight, and you have to scroll through their (individually boxed) stat gains…which are randomised. So your Warrior may gain those extra HP which could make him comfortably survive the next boss fight…or he may not. And yes, it is as much of a pain as it sounds. Multi-targeting spells will hit every enemy/ally in turn, and, again due to the speed of the game, I’ll just let you imagine how that feels when you’re up against nine enemies.
Protection from negative statuses is available under the form of the Ribbon, which protects against most status ailments, or the ProRing, which shields against instant-death spells. But there are only three Ribbons in the game, which means that you will inevitably have to sacrifice the safety of one of your characters. Moreover, it takes up an armour slot, which means slightly lessened defence.
Inventory space is limited, but it will most likely not be an issue for regular items, since there aren’t many of them, and you can only buy them in shops (enemies don’t drop items yet). Curative and key items are stored on the same screen, but you’ll most likely never have so many as to completely fill it. You will have problems with limited armour storage though, due to the previously mentioned spellcasting pieces of equipment, so be sure to sell anything that your party will definitely not be needing ASAP.
On a different note: *gasp* this game actually has an attempt at a world map! You can discover how to access it by deciphering the cryptic message of a very unlikely interlocutor. While it’s not amazing or very useful, it’s still a commendable effort, at least to let you gauge the relative layout of your party’s surroundings. Just don’t expect much more than that.
Finally, I must mention a detail which I find infuriating: the passageways in dungeons are narrow, and you’ll often find them obstructed by bats. And by ‘obstructed’, I literally mean not being able to proceed because a bat can’t move out of a corridor. So get ready to stand around and wait while the A.I. kindly decides to finally move those damn things out of the way.