So, last time, I was talking about the original Final Fantasy game and even how I got introduced into the whole RPG business. Today, we can just skip all of this and lay the focus on just the game. What do we have? What does the title say?
Oh, no… please, I don’t even…
I said no! Damn it… You see, back in the NES era, game developers had the habit to make sequels very different from the successful originals that even made the sequels possible, like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – Waldo II: The Great Waldo Search – and of course Final Fantasy II: Not So Final Anymore, eh?! They were probably under the impression people don’t want to play the same game twice. Well good thing they learned from that mistake because now we have good games like Super Mario Warfare 3: Ultimate Edition now with additional DLC you can buy right when the game comes out!!! Who needs difference?!?!
Well, as much as I am happy with games breaking their own traditions these days (because thinking out of the box is the rarest concept you will see in big companies), those NES sequels were mostly horrible. I’m sure they did their best back then with the hardware limitations they had, and wanted to see what concepts were better sellers, but that doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t surpass the originals. And unfortunately Final Fantasy II didn’t either.
I say ‘unfortunately’, because I really want to like this game. It has a great story and one of the best Final Fantasy villains, and one interesting mechanic. It was also the first game to have a lot of things we associate with the Final Fantasy series, like Chocobos. But everything else is just… ah, I’ll get to that anways. Let’s have a look at the story and characters first.
The world is in peril. The sinister Emperor of Palamecia – also known as David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King in the 80s movie Labyrinth – summons evil powers from hell to take over the world. While he attacks the kingdom Fynn, four young citizens trie to escape, but are soon defeated by the Emperor’s soldiers. Three of them are then rescued by Fynn’s Princess Hilda and brought into a rebel army hideout in the town of Altair. The three decide to join the rebel army to take revenge for their killed families and to search for their missing fourth companion. They are sent on a mission by Minwu, a White Mage, to scavage the abandoned area of Fynn. Upon entering the town and making their way past the imperial guards, the three find Hilda’s lover Prince Scott who was thought to be dead in a secret room of the local pub. And then dies. So you go back, report, and take on the next mission.
Noticed something weird? If you remember from the first Final Fantasy, your first task was to rescue a princess from a lunatic knight. That’s it, you went up in his hideout, had the first boss fight, and boom. Perfect introduction into what awaits you. Here? No boss. Nothing. In the last post, I talked about how I loved the simplicity of the first Final Fantasy: go to town, fulfill quest, go to next town, fulfill another quest, go to next town, etc, etc… There’s none of that here. Let me break it down to you how you even get to the first boss of the game:
You pass the town of Gatrea to reach Fynn, find Scott, obtain a Ring, bring the Ring back to Hilda, search for Mythril for the rebel army’s weapons, have Minwu temporarily join the party to assist you in your search, use his canoe to reach the town of Paloom, take a ship to the town of Poft, go to the town of Salamand, interrogate Joseph, go to the Semitt Falls cave, fight your way through the dungeon, rescue Paul and Nelly, go further into the dungeon, and eventually you will reach the first boss in the game and then you obtain the Mythril. And it’s noone else than… a sergeant? All this work for a minion of the empire?! Okay, yeah, fine.
No, not fine! Why this long route for the very first boss in the game? Not just that, but the easiest boss in existence (that is if you aren’t terribly inexperienced), and he doesn’t even have any kind of back story. Just… a soldier. Sergeant, sorry.
By the way, yes, that’s the structure of most of the game. It’s still just going from Altair to a town, doing something and returning. Similar to the first game, except you pass through several towns and regions until you reach the destination, and have to figure out very cryptic stuff. It’s well… I think the game is confusing most of the time, but that’s just my opinion, of course. I bet there are more than enough people who like this structure, who like a more open approach. But here are the reasons I personally dislike it: The places are too far away from each other. There is no map. All you get are vague directions where to go. And what’s the worst of all of this? Do you really want to know?
Get a little off your route, you are dead. Seriously. Right at the beginning, if you walk into the wrong direction – no – even if you simply take a wrong curve at one point even when you just walk a few squares further, enemies that are much stronger than you will pop out, rip out your guts and eat you alive while you have to watch every tendril of your intestines spray bloo-
Okay, it’s not that horrible. But it might as well be. If way too strong enemies are the indicator you’re in an area you’re not supposed to go into yet, there’s something wrong with this game. You could just have put a bridge there instead, with a guard that only lets you past at a certain point in the story, or a mountain you have to use a spell on, or whatever. That’s basically how it was in the first Final Fantasy. It was nearly impossible to reach areas that have overpowered enemies – unless you wanted to! Here… you walk a little astray, probably didn’t save recently and… dead. All your progress gone. So… that’s already one negative aspect of the game. I’ll get to the rest later. For now, let’s have a look at the main characters:
Firion is the protagonist of this game. In the original NES version, his in-game sprites looked exactly like the Warrior/Fighter class from the first Final Fantasy, which makes sense since he starts out with a sword and a shield. Story-wise however, you should notice something very different. Yes, he has a name, and other than the in-game sprite, a unique look. Final Fantasy II is the first game in the series that features pre-defined characters to tell a more character-related story other than just saving the world. Which is why this game is actually very important for later titles.
Adopted after his original parents’ death long time ago, he got two new siblings, and one of them is Maria. She starts out with a bow equipped, and you will notice in the menu that her character icon shifted a little bit to right compared to the other characters. This is where the concept of having a formation first appears in a Final Fantasy game. Characters that are placed in the back row of the formation (like her) are less likely to get hit by melee attacks, but can’t use them either. And guess what: your own melee characters can only attack the two rows of enemies closest to you. So, you probably will need a ranged fighter.
This is Guy. He’s some… guy. Yeah. His past is mysterious and cryptic, like most of this game. He wields an axe and can talk to animals. He’s… pretty unimportant. I think in the novelization it said he was abandoned by his real parents and raised by a beast in the forest. Well, for the game he’s just filling an empty spot.
So you start out with three characters, but the interesting fact about this game is that there are characters that will join your party for certain parts of the story. Like the White Mage Minwu, the pirate Leila… or Ricard Motherfucking Highwind. That’s right. The first dragoon of the Final Fantasy series, one of the most prominent job classes, and the first character in Final Fantasy with a surname. This is at least one thing that makes the game aaaaaall the more badass for me… until I realize that he’s just a spear-wielder. Well, one can still imagine…
The main villain in this game, The Emperor of Palmecia – or Emperor Mateus in the novelization – turns out to be one of the most hardcore villains ever to exist in a Final Fantasy game. Now, I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t played the game yet, but considering how old this game is, I will make an excuse. And I don’t think it ruins the game itself if you know this. In the first Final Fantasy game, the goal was to prevent Chaos, God of Discord, from being summoned. How does The Emperor top that? It’s simple: after he is finally killed by our heroes and is sent to Hell… he kills the lord of hell, takes over his castle, brings it to the human realm and starts a new empire as the Dark Emperor. Yeah. That’s how you cheat death. You kill Satan and take over Hell. This. This is what I call ambition. And the additional Soul of Rebirth storyline for the GBA and PSP version, just had to add even more to it. Here we meet the Light Emperor, the good part of The Emperor that was sent to Heaven. He is sorry for the actions of his dark side, but in reality he’s just as evil and took over Heaven. Even if the Emperor was defeated in the end, you can’t deny that those acts were insane. I have a problem just finding the right words to describe it. Badass? I know one thing for sure. This guy isn’t just an emperor. He is evil incarnate. And screams like a bitch.
This game also features an airship pilot named Cid. Sounds familiar? Yeah, that’s because there’s one of that kind in every game. And this is the original. A former knight from the kingdom of Fynn. Looks a bit like the Comedian from Watchmen though.
Wow, all this space just for story and characters. I’m really trying to delay the inevitable: the gameplay. There is a huge difference to the first game and to all the other Final Fantasy games. Did you notice something up there? I didn’t tell you the abilities or spells or unique treats of the characters. It’s because they don’t have any. I’m not kidding. Any character can equip any weapon and learn any spell you can get your hands on. How well they can use it simply depends on how often you use it, because each weapon-type and spell can be levelled for each character. And because the three main characters start out the same, you could just give Maria the axe and
Guts Guy the bow and do it this way. The temporary fourth party members start out with their own skills and weapon levels, but you can still do what you want with them. Just takes some time to level that shit.
There is another huge difference when you look at the status screen. No level indicator. That’s because your characters can’t level up. Not in the traditional way at least. It took me a while to figure this out myself, but you have to raise your stats separately, depending on the actions you take in battle. By attacking, you raise your attack power, by taking hits, you raise your defense and maximum HP, by using spells, you raise your maximum MP, and so on. Sounds easy, but you have no clue how much you have to do to raise it a bit. The game doesn’t tell you, you just wait until the message pops up. This method of progression is certainly interesting, but it’s pretty easy to make mistakes. It can just happen that you level a certain stat all the time, while another is ignored simply because, for example, your character isn’t damaged. Or in my case, you don’t use magic on normal enemies, then get to a boss and realize you have only 10 MP and your normal attacks don’t do any damage either. Situations like that, aren’t they just great?
The battle system itself is still the same, other than the thing with the formation and stuff. Also, the normal battle theme is very intense, and made me jump for a second the first time I encountered an enemy in this game. What is really new and interesting is – as I like to call it – the investigation/interrogation system. Throughout the game, people will tell you highlighted terms you can learn, or certain key items. You can use them in specific conversations to find out new information from other characters. An example:
I think this element adds a bit to the already more open world of Final Fantasy II. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to figure out who you have to ask what or show which item to make any progress, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was an interesting approach to make you… backtrack… and be unsure… about your… next steps? … Nevermind.
So in the end, Final Fantasy II can be a pretty confusing game if you’re not prepared, at least gameplay-wise. The story is nothing ground-breaking, but certainly fitting. It pains me. It really pains me that I can’t bring myself to like this game, because I love Final Fantasy, but… it’s not quite good enough. The components for a great Final Fantasy game were all present, but they didn’t find the right formula for this game to put them all together. I am thankful for this game, because the Final Fantasy series wouldn’t have become what it is now, if it wasn’t for Final Fantasy II. Cid, Chocobos, pre-defined heroes, an epic tale of friendship… and a villain who needs your fist in his face. Two or three times.
Well, that’s the first of the three games I consider bad installments of the Final Fantasy main series. Once you get the hang of it, it’s one of the easiest too. Did it age well? Would I have liked it, yes. It’s still kind of enjoyable I guess, if you need to pass time or something. If you think I forgot something or want to disagree with me in any point, feel free to leave a comment.
Now let’s see, I need milk. I have to buy a boat, row it across the river, fight a group of bandits, receive a key from them, return home, unlock a box, take my car keys out of it, drive into town, ride a ferry into another town, go to my friend’s apartment, enter through a hidden entrance, take his neighbor’s spare keys from his room, enter the neighbor’s apartment, take the milk from his fridge and return home. Doesn’t sound too complicated.