Final Fantasy II – NES
Release Date: December 7, 1988
Nerd Rating: 5/10
Reviewed by Paladin
Where to even begin with this one? For starters, I suppose I’d better do a quick disclaimer for those infuriating few who still see the title of this game and think, “Wait, where’s Cecil? What about Golbez? I thought Final Fantasy II was released on the SNES?” SMH…
Ok, wannabee RPG fans, the game you’re thinking of is actually Final Fantasy IV. It came out on the SNES as Final Fantasy II because it was the second game in the franchise that was brought to the United States. Various conflicts (the impending arrival of the Super Nintendo a big one) prevented FF’s II and III from an initial American release. So, really, this article should say that the original release platform was the Famicom, the Japanese equivalent to the NES, as the aforementioned games were never released Stateside in their original 8-Bit format. We didn’t see them for the first time until 2002 when Square released Final Fantasy Origins for the PlayStation, which featured updated 16-Bit versions of FF’s I and II and 2006, which saw a 3D remake of FF III for the Nintendo DS.
Any who wish to experience this game as it was originally intended will have to do what I did and use an emulator. A ROM for this game is very easy to find and I’ve never had a problem with any NES emulator that I’ve used. The one issue to be aware of is the shoddy translation. At times the English is so bad that it becomes equal parts amusing and frustrating. Luckily, the story isn’t too complicated.
Like any RPG, the protagonists find themselves swept up in an epic plot to save the world from evil doers. Nothing special about it. One thing that does set this game apart is that it’s the first Final Fantasy to have individualized main characters with their own personalities and traits. FF I’s six starting classes may have made for some great replay value as it was fun to experiment with the many different kinds parties that could be assembled, but for as enjoyable as that was, their lack of depth made it difficult to relate to them and therefore invest in them as characters. FF II has the opposite problem. The game begins with our heroes, whose default names are Firion, Maria and Guy, running for their lives from agents of the evil Palamecian Empire who have just taken over their village and killed their parents. After a futile struggle they get knocked out and reawaken in the hidden headquarters of the Rebel Army only to find that Maria’s brother, Leon, is missing and the capital city of Fynn has fallen. We’re drawn in right away.
However, we see the first problem just as quickly. After a conversation with Princess Hilda, who is leading the rebels in place of her ailing father, the king, she gives Firion and gang a password to help them communicate with others in the rebellion. When this special word appears on screen, we hear a chime jingle and a series of menu boxes open up asking if the player wants to Ask, Learn or use an Item. And everyone who hasn’t read the game manual goes, “…….What?”
This happens many times throughout the game. An non-playable character says a special word, you learn it and have to talk to people at random to see what you can accomplish with it. This wouldn’t be so bad except that sometimes you can only learn a new word by using one previously learned. At times the story itself can’t progress until you learn the right word and say it to the right person. Basically, you need to talk to every single person in the game every time you learn a new word in order to make sure you’re not missing anything. A unique idea, but it gets old quick.
Unfortunately for FF II, things don’t get much better from there. Upon entering the first battle players experience what most people agree to be the worst aspect of the game; the leveling system. Ok, quick review: how do characters get stronger in an RPG? They fight bad guys, gain experience points and level up, which increases their stats. Unless you’re playing this game.
Here, characters develop depending on what actions they take during battle. If you attack a lot, your attack increases, if you get hit a lot, your hit points increase. Wanna up your magic points? Use nothing but spells. Again, this idea seems ok on paper, but it makes for very inconsistent leveling, which is more than annoying considering you can wander into areas containing incredibly strong monsters early in the game. How to protect against this? Beat the crap out of your own characters.
I’m not joking. Gamers discovered pretty quickly that if you spend many (and I mean many) tedious hours attacking and using magic against your heroes, you can become a complete juggernaut before you even reach the first dungeon, effectively eliminating any challenge from the rest of the game. The idea behind this was to offer a higher degree of customization than in the first installment. 6 different classes is great, but once you pick them that’s what you’re stick with. In FF II, if you want someone to have extraordinary magic skills, you can choose whom and when. Need an extra brawler? Just beef up one of your characters’ attack stat. Instead, what it became was three main characters who were interchangeably adept at everything. The lack of diversity becomes boring.
It’s too bad because there are definitely some fun aspects to this game, such as all the firsts; many soon-to-be-classic monsters made their debut here, including the flan and the bomb. The first Cid in Final Fantasy history plays a major part and we even get to ride the first chocobo! For as simplistic as the plot is there are a couple of memorable moments; Firion being seduced by the Lamia will always stick in my head (what’s with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake playing in the background?) Let’s not forget the shocking reveal of the Dark Knight’s identity. Not too shabby for a game this old. There’s also a pretty high body count, including some unexpected goodbyes from a few main characters, making this game slightly darker than its predecessor. FF II even has a few advantages over the first one, like being able to save on the world map and Magic Points rather than the limited number of uses per spell level that I and III employed. And of course, Nobuo Uematsu’s incredible score highlights every second the game is in play.
Final Fantasy II suffers from what I call the “Adventure of Link” syndrome; it’s really not that bad of a game but it had the poor luck of coming second in a series that began with a bang. In both cases, there was no standard yet and so the developers did everything in their power not to copy the original. An admirable effort but one that fell short. People loved the first Final Fantasy just as they loved the first Legend of Zelda and subsequently wanted more of the same in the second installments. The formula hadn’t run dry yet, so when number 2 came out and it was completely different, the initial reaction was negative and that’s the impression that has lasted all these years. Is Final Fantasy II the worst in the series like so many claim? I don’t think so. But its new, yet frustrating leveling system brings the rest of the game crashing down to the point where it’s only worth one or two play throughs. FF II is one of the weaker entries for sure, but don’t let its jaded reputation scare you away from at least giving it a try. If nothing else, you have to admire Square for taking a chance on something new when it would have been so easy just to copy their first success over and over again. It shows that they weren’t afraid to branch out and be daring, a trait that would only help the franchise in the future.
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