Final Fantasy II (Import) review
Borderline unplayable - but at least it has a good story!!
The original Final Fantasy for the NES was a bit of a jump from what Dragon Warrior had established – a large world, filled to the brim with monsters where our heroes must acquire the four crystals in order to vanquish the evil in the world. It was an admirable effort from Square, especially considering that it firmly established elements such as vehicles, surprising bosses (particularly super tough optional bosses), surprising near endgame plot twists, colorful towns and class upgrades. Perhaps it was lacking in some regards, but what it established and what it got right was enough to make up for its shortcomings. Overall, it's a game that's worth playing even today.
Final Fantasy 2? Nope, I cannot grant it the same liberty. The problems that the first game had were minor at best and myself being a picky asshole at worst. This game's problems are grander in scale... much like its improvements on the first game. Sadly, the only real improvements were on elements that weren't really worth a damn back in the late 80s while the problems would drive modern or even mid 90s gamers insane - never mind 80s gamers who didn't even like JRPGs due to the nature of those games back then (think of games that spend more time in one spot while you fight the same enemies over and over again to get stronger than actually progressing). But then, you would think that all of this would be irrelevant because this game didn't see an international release until it was released alongside the first game in the Origins Collection... quite some number of years later. Granted, it's hard to say for sure whether the Japanese liked this game or not, but I'd imagine that it wasn't quite as well received as the first game. It's the lowest selling game in the main series... and that's all that I know. Oh, and this game is a steaming turd.
Where Final Fantasy 2 improves over the first game is in its story. Instead of being a mere save the world plot with maybe a near endgame plot twist, there's actually quite a bit to it. For one thing, the story starts off with the main characters running from the Paramekian/Palamecia (depends on the translated version you're playing) Empire after raiding and destroying their home village, only for four of the Palamecian knights to knock them out and take one of the main characters away. Thankfully, the other three are found by Princess Hilda, who had established a nearby rebel base. From there, you'll be tasked with taking down the Palamecian Empire. It may not sound like much, but – and this is the second thing – the characters are what drive the game forward. Besides setting up most of the archetypes for future Final Fantasy characters to follow (the virtuous JRPG hero, the strong kind hearted girl, the gentle giant, and the good guy bad guy type to name a few), they're fairly well defined and, while character development isn't as prominent nor even as existent as what's found in later games, they're enough to work. Well, that's kind of a lie... while our main three characters don't experience much if any development, the game explores the motives and backstories of the other characters; from the other allies to the other good guys and even to the bad guys, there is a fair bit to learn. It's just a shame that our main characters aren't given as much development. All we know is that they're orphans. Cool. I'd rather not detail how the other characters are developed so instead, I'll just move on...
The third – and biggest – improvement is the dramatic events that follow you along your journey. You begin the game by getting destroyed and having one of your allies getting kidnapped and presumably brainwashed. People that you'll meet throughout your journey can and will die in dialogue segments. The overarching plot, in and of itself, is rather dramatic as you're essentially a rebel alliance in a war against an oppressive empire. Like I said, later Final Fantasy games add more to their stories and characters and Final Fantasy 2 serves more as an establishment of story elements to be found, but on its own terms, the story is surprisingly more captivating than one would think due to the exploration of and then the fates of various characters, culminating towards a dark experience. It isn't fantastic, but what it does well, it certainly does well, especially when one considers when it was released.
With some exceptions, this game looks an awful lot like the first game. I'm not just referring to the enemies and the overworld looking suspiciously similar; even the male main characters sport a very familiar look to the heroes from the first game and aside from a small background at the top of the screen, it still looks like you're fighting in a purgatorial abyss. If there are any improvements made to the graphics, it's that... well, only the menus are inside boxes instead of having everything inside boxes, so battles are more aesthetically pleasing. That's about it. Yes, for the most part, Final Fantasy 1 sported some good graphics with some simple yet effective looking sprites, but you would expect a tad more detail for the sprites in a sequel where there'd be a higher budget to build upon what's been started in the first game. Perhaps the colors between the sprites and the tiles contrast less, but if that's the best I can think of, then it's a rather lazy effort. It does still look good, but it only looks good because the first game looks good.
Okay, seriously, when doesn't Nobuo Uematsu compose a soundtrack that infects your body with a case of the boogie, or your head with the case of the nodding, or your heart with a case of the *puts fist in mouth whilst clearing throat* “feels”? The rebel army theme is one of my favorite 8 bit tracks as it instils an adventurous sort of feeling into your subconscious whilst being an overall memorable track. Mind you, after years of being spoiled by remixed tracks that you find on the internet, some of the songs such as the first battle theme and a couple of others don't seem quite as effective in their 8 bit form; however, when you block out the less chiptune-y renditions of these themes and focus on them as their own songs, they do manage to fit into the situation that they're played in. The dungeon theme is especially worth noting as there's this air of mystique throughout due to its usage of lower toned drawn out notes and its backing track having something of a galloping rhythm. But come on, that Rebel Army theme... it just oozes with excellence!
Sadly, Square failed to forge Final Fantasy 2 into a playable game.
At first, you may find yourself screaming at me for suggesting that Final Fantasy 2 is a bad game from a gameplay standpoint – after all, the dungeons appear to be competently laid out, the menus seem to function without a hitch and, outside of missing every other attack, battles go by very nicely. Now, you may be wondering what on earth I'm talking about, saying that the battles go by nicely despite your warriors missing every other attack. Well, that ties into the levelling system. Instead of simply acquiring an arbitrary amount of experience points to raise statistics, you instead have to perform actions in battle in order to raise your statistics. For instance, attacking will raise your attack, using a certain weapon will raise your skill with that weapon, using magic will raise your magic stats, using a spell will allow you to use a stronger version of said spell and getting hit will raise your defense. Mind you, it'll happen at certain intervals, depending on how often each thing happens. From an ideological standpoint, the levelling system works – after all, to get stronger, one must perform actions that'll make them stronger. A swordsman will start by having trouble wielding a sword, and even when he is adept at swordsmanship, he'll perform terribly with any other weapon; a magician will not be able to perform great spells without first mastering the basics. It's just how it goes in the real world, and these elements are often carried on into later JRPGs (the latter moreso than the former) so I'm not entirely sure where a lot of the complaints are coming from.
Actually, yes I do – it's the tedium that comes with the levelling system. Like its progenitor, it takes an awfully long time to level up. You'll need to do quite a lot of work just to level up your statistics, and given that levelling up defense and HP requires you to get hit... well, a low HP run sounds like a mighty challenge as long as you can keep raising your defense; sadly, you'll be in the first area for an incredibly long time if you want to make such a run a feasible prospect. Moreover, if you do it the way that the game had intended, prepare to give up some time just to level up this one statistic that you're lacking in. However, there are some tricks that you can try out – one, you can have the characters beat each other up and heal whenever possible, and when you think you've done enough, kill the enemies and watch the defense and/or HP stats raise for your characters! The other trick is the infamous select/cancel bug, where you select your magic spell, and then you press B on the next character's turn, and then rinse and repeat. This will speed up the process of acquiring higher level spells and better magic stats.
Oh, and word to the wise – if you want any chance of running from battle, raise your agility stat. How? By evading attacks. How? Equip a shield. Apparently, that lessens the chance of enemy attacks hitting. No, I do not understand the science behind this – what am I, a physicist? But if you don't level this up, you'll never be able to escape, and given that you'll find yourself in a number of random battles that you may not want, that'll be a problem. This is especially prevalent when you explore dungeons and find yourself stumbling into rooms, only to find that there's nothing there and run into about five or six random battles just trying to get out, and you don't even feel the need to grind! Oh... did I forget to mention that your fourth party slot is a rotating door of members? The first two and the last guy (to an extent) who'll occupy this space are great; the rest, including (or especially, if we're being realistic here) a precursor to that spoony bard we all know and love are terrible and require a lot of grinding just to get them to keep up with you. Word to the wise: forget them! Besides the last guy (I like to believe you could figure out who I'm referring to), they'll be out of your hair in due time and it's not as if they'll contribute anything to any given fight.
So on top of a tedious albeit logical sounding levelling system, there are dungeons that enjoy cramming random battles down your throat whilst having a lot of rooms full of nothing, and you'll be playing with mostly useless party members. Final Fantasy 2 sure loves to make your experience one that you'll never want to go through again, if you can even summon the patience to experience it in full the first time. That's if this next problem doesn't do your head in - the way that Final Fantasy 2 is structured early on is that it feels more like a wild goose chase rather than a war. “Quickly Firion, you must gather the crystals from this dungeon, find a person in a town who'll point you towards another person who is in a dungeon and defeat a small army out somewhere while carrying around useless items that'll no doubt fill up precious space in your small inventory”. If this isn't enough to drive you insane, then you'll be fine during the latter half of the game when the story picks up and the game actually starts to have an interesting structure of simply going through dungeons, defeating bosses and advancing the plot. However, when your first impression of a game is that of a glorified game of hide and go seek, there'll be no doubt in your mind that you'll hide this game and go seek a better one.
Whenever you read reviews where certain elements are heavily criticized, you can't help but wonder if said elements are as bad as people make them out to be. But curiosity killed the cat on this one – not only is the levelling element about as bad as people say, but the other issues Final Fantasy 2 has aid in making it a truly tedious experience. The first half feels like it wants nothing more than to waste your time by having you go on wild goose chases, like the last hundred or so episodes of the Naruto anime – you know the ones I'm talking about; the reason Toonami got cancelled back in 2008 because it was naught but a ceaseless barrage of episodes that accomplished nothing! That's how the first half of this game felt and frankly, I was ready to put the controller down and play something else... until I took note of what this game did right – the graphics, the soundtrack and most importantly, the story. I wanted to know what came next, even at the expense of my patience.
Even if you had the patience to reach the second half, it's not as if the game sheds away all of its tedium. You still have a tedious levelling system, fourth party members that were too far behind your main three party members to bother training up and dungeons that troll you with having a lot of rooms with nothing but a seemingly neverending barrage of random battles. But you just have to keep playing so that you can unravel more of the story and revel in a symphony of 8 bit songs. In reality, the game is a constant battle between the surprisingly excellent story for its time, and your patience to sift through a poorly structured game that does everything in its power to irritate you. Once the game ended, there's no satisfaction; only relief, like you've just ran an obnoxiously long obstacle course. There are no hot sexy cheerleaders to greet you upon your exit; your friends and family aren't there to congratulate you; it's as if the end of the obstacle course is an empty road, a passageway into purgatory.
And you can't turn back.
About the author
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