I'm going to preface this with the fact that I'm basing this review on the version found on Final Fantasy Origins compilation, and minor bits and pieces of the original on the NES. I've only completed the version on Origins, so the vast majority of this review will be based around that version.
Released in 1988, Square decided that based on the popularity of Final Fantasy, they were going to make a sequel. This time, the development team decided to craft a story first, and then work on the gameplay. This actually wasn’t a bad idea, and was kind of groundbreaking for the time. They also decided to be ambitious on the leveling up mechanics which, even though groundbreaking, didn't work so well.. More on that later.
Like the original Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II was remade/ported several times. Though the original game on the NES was never released outside of Japan. The first experience for Westerners was through the remake found in Final Fantasy Origins on the original Playstation.
Story:You play as four young characters: Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon, whose town was attacked by the soldiers from the evil Palamecia Empire. Having barely escaped with your necks attached, you wake up in the town of Altair, home of the resistance fighters. Led by Princess Hilda of Flynn, she wants to restore the former glory of her kingdom, and also stop the evil Emperor of Palamecia. You want to join the resistance, but Hilda says you’re too young and inexperienced. So you go off to find your friend Leon, who went missing in the attack. You then meet Prince Scott of Kashuan, who informs that a rogue soldier from Flynn betrayed them and has joined the Empire, he then dies. You go back to Hilda and give her the news, she decides to have a change of heart, and you are now resistance members. Thus your quest begins!
While the plot has more going on than the original game, and other RPG’s at the time, it’s still a bit archaic. The game mostly consists of reporting back to Hilda several times, and her sending you on a giant scavenger hunt. Go here and find this item, cool, now go here and do this. Oh okay, now to this place and, yeah you get it by now. I get that you’re supposed to be helping out the resistance fighters, but holy cow is this tedious and mostly pointless.
Gameplay:This is where the game royally messes up. Gone are the traditional leveling up mechanics of turn based RPG’s, and now there’s a progression system. It makes sense on paper, and a lot of modern games still use it, to a significantly better degree. To increase your attack, you hit things more, to increase magic, you use more magic. So on and so forth.
The problem here, is that the execution of this mechanic just doesn’t work in an old school RPG. It also makes it incredibly tedious. The game wants you to grind like other RPG’s at the time, so you have to sit there and grind EVERYTHING.
Going through all the random encounters in the overworld, your attack will be the first thing to go up. This initially seems fine, as you can start one-shotting all of the enemies on the field, that is, until you get to a dungeon. These enemies are much stronger and take several more hits. Since you’ve been one-shotting enemies until now, your defense is really low, as is the amount of HP you have. Well now you’re screwed.
Well how do you level up your defense and HP without going to an inn after every battle? Easy, by beating the ever loving crap out of yourselves. One of the most infamous mechanics in this game, is that the fastest way to level up your HP and defense, is by attacking your own party members. The developers put this mechanic in to wake up sleeping party members, but players soon realized that this is the fastest way to level up those stats. So now instead of actually fighting the enemies in the overworld, you spend your time beating the snot out of yourselves, and healing.
Now is a good time to talk about magic in this game, and it sucks. Just like your levels, you level up your spells. Well this game decided that it wanted to be even more tedious, by having each spell have its own separate levels. All your spells start at level 1, and if you want them to not be garbage, you have to grind them to at least level 5. Even then, the spells don't really do much damage. Your regular attacks will do hundreds of damage, but spells, even at level 5 do about 30-50 at most. I just got tired of leveling up my spells because of how much time you spend grinding every single spell for every character.
To level up a spell, you have to cast it a bunch. How much you ask? 100 times. So when you get a spell like Ultima and Flare near the end of the game, you have to cast both about 500 times each, and they still only do about 100 damage at most. Luckily like your HP and defense, this is easily exploitable. Due to a glitch in the game, all you have to do is select a spell, then a target, then cancel it. This counts as casting the spell, so if you want to waste time, you can do this about 100 times in a single battle, and your spell will level up. Hurray!
So now your spells are leveled up, but now that they’re leveled up, they take more MP, so now your MP levels are subpar. Well with luck doing the exploit, your MP will increase, so after leveling up multiple spells, just cross your fingers that you now have enough MP to cast heal enough times.
One thing you should keep in mind, is that you can never escape a battle. To escape a battle, your luck and evade stats need to level up. Though don’t expect this to level up at all, as this is all based on luck, and it randomly appears. So even by the end of the game, your evade and luck will be obnoxiously low, so you will have to fight every. single. battle.
This wouldn’t be too bad, if this game didn’t have a ridiculous random encounter rate. I’m not sure if this was fixed in later versions of the game, but in the NES and PS1 version, you can get an encounter with only about 2-10 steps. This is exacerbated when many dungeons have multiple doors that lead you to an empty room. Thanks for wasting my time. It doesn't help when you enter these empty rooms and are teleported to the middle. where you're guaranteed a battle before you get out the door. I’d recommend using a map to not waste your time.
Then there’s the final fight with the Emperor. Your attacks and defense are high enough to one-shot every enemy in the final dungeon, but once you face the Emperor, you only do 50-100 damage, because his defense is incredibly high. If you have the blood sword, it drains 1/16th of his health, and does a lot better than your other weapons. Just hope you didn’t get rid of it based on your limited inventory space, and it being weaker than the other weapons you’ve obtained. Luckily your defenses are really high, so he also does pretty piss poor damage to you. For me it was just an endurance run, that lasted an entire hour, and after all of my MP was finally drained, he died. Holy fuck was that a schlog.
One feature of the game that’s added, is that you have a rotating fourth member in your party. This isn’t exactly unusual in Final Fantasy games, but I really wished that most of your extra party members weren’t useless. Outside of Minwu, they’re all weak. So now you’re stuck leveling up those characters that are rotated in and out of your party. How much does this game want you to grind?
Visuals:Like I mentioned in the opening, the graphics will be based on the PS1 version of the game. Like its predecessor (also found on the compilation), it's a complete overhaul from the original 8-bit graphics from the NES. Despite the fact that it came out two years after Final Fantasy IX, the graphics look more akin to a game on the SNES. One thing to keep in mind, is that these are actually enhanced ports of the remakes on the Wonderswan Color. So all Squaresoft did was enhance this version to look much more pleasing to the eye on a television screen. That said, this graphical update is much more pleasing to the eyes than the 8-bit original. The sprites for the characters are much more detailed, and some of the enemies look very good, especially bosses like the Emperor.
Music:Like just about every Final Fantasy game, the soundtrack was composed by Nobue Uematsu, and that means the soundtrack is pretty good. The updated compositions found on the Playstation version is a very nice plus for it. The MIDI audio sounds much closer to real instruments than just 8-bit beeps. Though despite that, it seems like the soundtrack isn't up to par with the soundtrack on the original Final Fantasy. There aren't as many memorable tunes.
Verdict:This game is more of a chore than an actual game. Unless you really really really love grinding. Trying to play this game legitimately is not recommended in the slightest. It’s not good game design where you’re pretty much required to abuse exploits in the game. Playing this legitimately would have all your characters incredibly lopsided. I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have you cast spells multiple times in a legitimate fashion to have it level up to a normal level? Are the spells that significantly weak to compensate for how many times it has to be casted to level up? Why Square why?
This game really only exists for curiosity’s sake, so only play it if you want to see where many of the Final Fantasy tropes got started. If you're wondering which version to play, the PS1 port plays the closest to the original NES game, but with minor modern enhancements, and a few FMV scenes. Apparently the latter releases try and fix the leveling up mechanics a bit, but don't quote me on that.
Visuals (or Graphics): 7/10.
Final Fantasy II
Grungie reviews the classic Final Fantasy II (1988), the second installment in the Final Fantasy franchise.
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