Review by nastynate3118
The Tale of Four Masochistic Warriors
Final Fantasy II sought to capitalize on the success of the original game by introducing revamped gameplay and a mature, dark storyline to the series. The game was released almost one full year after Final Fantasy and this rushed development really shows when you play the game. The NES version has never been released outside of Japan and for good reason; this game is a mess.
Similar to the rest of the series, Final Fantasy II is a turn-based RPG in which you control four characters and explore a world map and various dungeons. What makes this game unique is the unusual character growth system. Traditionally, a character would gain experience points and levels by defeating enemies which would make them stronger. FFII does something completely different by deploying a usage growth system in which your characters develop certain stats by actions they perform in battle. You gain HP by taking damage, MP by using spells, strength by attacking, etc. If you never use a magic spell, you will never gain any MP or Intelligence. Likewise, using a lot of magic will cause your magic statistics to power up and your strength to go down. The game aimed to be realistic and give the player more customization with their characters.
My biggest gripe with this is that the foundational concept was a bad idea to begin with. I understand why they introduced this system, but there was nothing wrong with the system in the original Final Fantasy of just leveling up. It was far less complicated and allowed you to focus on progressing through the game. This game boils down to either spending hours fighting monsters and allowing them to attack you, or being sensible about it and attacking your own characters so they get stronger. I have never played such a counterproductive RPG. Getting your characters to a certain statistic can take hours of tedious battles where you attack your own characters and use up all of your MP just to see very little results. Worse yet, some stats will randomly decrease or increase for no reason making the process even more frustrating.
In addition to statistics, you also power up your weapons and magic spells by repeatedly using them. If you use a weapon or spell 100 times, it will gain a level (generally speaking). Whereas most of the games in the series have three levels for spells (ex: Fire, Fira, Firaga), Final Fantasy II has a whopping sixteen levels (!) for spells and weapons. Most of the magic spells in this game are barely useful and the remaining ones that are useful need to be developed to at least level five for them to make any difference in battle. That means you need to cast a regular Fire spell at least 500 times before it can really be used to defeat monsters. Likewise with your weapons, they need to be at least level three before they can hit monsters consistently. Fortunately, there is a bug in the game that makes this process much easier. If you select a command and a target and then cancel your selection, the game still counts this as one point towards that commands development. So, if you select/cancel a monster 100 times in battle, you can level up your weapons/spells much faster. I am not sure where the fun value in this process is, but that is still an option.
Aside from the tedious development system, there are other issues with the battle system. Like the original game, if multiple characters target the same enemy and the first character defeats that enemy, the second characters attack will be ineffective. This was not a problem in the first game because it added another level of strategy, but in this game it is a major annoyance. If you fight a battle with at least five enemies (which happens frequently), you can only attack the first four enemies. So, if you defeat the enemies that are in front, you cannot target the enemies that are in the back until the next turn. This forces you to waste attacks and get pounded by enemies that were in the back row. Speaking of enemies, they are a headache in this game. They seem to be either far too weak or too strong at different intervals. It is a pain in the beginning of the game when they repeatedly run away from you as you are trying to build your characters up, and then you traverse to the next area and get crushed by the new set of enemies.
Final Fantasy II was the first game in the series to utilize the row system where you can place your characters either in the front row (more attack, less defense) or back row (less attack, more defense). If they are in the back row, their attacks are always ineffective unless they use magic or a long range weapon, such as a bow. The problem with this is that every time a character dies or is inflicted with a status effect, the game automatically moves them to the back row after the battle forcing you to reset their order (similar to how the original Final Fantasy jumbles your characters every time one dies). It is very asinine of the game and will make your scream in frustration.
Despite the multitude of problems with the game, it is not completely unplayable. Theoretically, the development system does offer a lot of customization for your characters and once you get past all of the grinding, the game is actually fun to play. The level design is much improved over the original game and once again there is a huge world to explore. I love the various modes of transportation available, such as the canoe, ship, Chocobo or airship. The airship is not available until the very end of the game rendering it moot, but it is still a welcome addition.
The game is barely playable with its awful development and battle systems. You know a game is bad when you have to rely on a glitch to make it tolerable.
The interface in this game truly crashes and burns in comparison to its predecessor. The biggest problem with the interface is that the game is very cryptic in terms of guiding you where to go next. NES games in this time period all had this problem but this game is truly horrendous at it. There is a password system where characters will give you hints on where to go if you say the right password to them. This is an unnecessary inclusion and just mystifies the process of trying to figure out where to go next.
The menus are a mess. Your inventory lists every single item you possess individually, taking up a lot of space in limited capacity. Worse yet, you acquire key items throughout the game that must always stay in your inventory and they also take up quite a bit of space. Everything looks very sloppy and unorganized.
I dont like how you can save only on the world map. This was not a problem in the first game because the dungeons in Final Fantasy were not long and could be easily navigated. This game has some very lengthy stages, especially the final dungeon (you have to go through a separate dungeon just to get to the final dungeon). This point is rendered moot if you are playing the game on an emulator and you use save states, but it still needs to be mentioned. I also dislike the world map itself, with it being a pixelated and slow-scrolling mess.
As I stated earlier, I hate how the game forces you to have at least one character in the back and front row and it will automatically place dead or poisoned characters in the back row. It is as if the game is intentionally trolling you.
I will say that on the surface more thought is put into the story of this game than most other RPGs of the time period. The game follows three rebels named Firion, Guy and Maria as they battle against an evil empire and seek Marias brother, Leon. The fourth party member rotates throughout the game and is never constant until the very end of the story. The story is very derivative of Star Wars and I have a hard time believing this is an accident, considering later games in the series reference Biggs and Wedge. Most of the story degenerates into go here and get this item and when you accomplish that task, it makes little difference to the story and something completely different happens. There is very little focus to the plot and it bounces around a lot. Far too many things happen with little or no explanation, especially at the end of the game and it becomes hard to follow. The ending is very straightforward and doesnt offer much to the experience.
In the games defense, I will say that the story does have a lot of maturity and darkness to it. Death is a major theme of the game as many characters whom you meet wind up dying as the story progresses. Character development is done very nicely as we learn about the various motivations and backstories of the people you meet on your adventure. My only gripe with this is that the three characters you control throughout the game have little to no development at all. There is also a major plot twist with a character that is incredibly obvious and can be seen coming very early on in the game, which was a big disappointment.
I thought that the graphics in Final Fantasy II severely regressed in comparison to the previous game. Starting with the battle screen, it is dominated by black and the only color is with the sprites and a little strip of background at the top of the screen. The sprites themselves are not colorful or detailed, usually being based on one or two colors. Some of the enemy sprites look okay, but they lack the detail the first game had. The most impressive part of the battle graphics comes with the spell animations. They change as you level up your spells and I thought that was a nice touch. Once again, it is impossible to tell which enemy is attacking you and the cursor used to target enemies tends to flicker a lot when selecting a monster. On a random note, I love the running away animation. The characters just non-chalantly back away from the monster and leave the screen. This was an unintentionally hilarious addition to the animation that I enjoyed.
On the field screens, I am puzzled as to why many sprites in the game wear all-white clothes. This happens quite a bit and seems to just be laziness on the designers part. There are many dungeons and towns that have hideous colors and textures that resemble vomit and diarrhea. The only area of the game that looks truly impressive is Pandemonium, the final stage of the game.
The audio is the only improvement over the original Final Fantasy. Nobuo Uematsus soundtrack is once again short and simple, but the music does pack an emotional punch that the first game lacked. The town theme and Pandemonium theme are both excellent tracks that stand out among his best work ever. This game was also the first in the series to include a boss theme, but it is played very sporadically throughout the game and you dont hear it for the first time until about 20 hours into the experience.
The sound effects are a mixed bag. On one hand, some of them are excellent. I love the sound effects when enemies are defeated and when magic spells are used. On the other hand, some sound effects make absolutely no sense or just sound really bad. The atrocious poison sound effect from Final Fantasy returns in this game and when you punch an enemy with your bare fists, it sounds like a machine gun.
All in all, the audio of this game is definitely a highlight and one of the few bright spots this game has to offer.
Play Time/Replayability - 5/10
I completed my playthrough of Final Fantasy II in 28 hours and 5 minutes. This time is heavily inflated due to the hours I spent grinding and building up my characters spells and levels. I also collected every treasure possible and defeated all of the optional bosses in Pandemonium. It is significantly longer than the first game.
I feel like any hint of replayability is wiped away by how much of a bore this game is. A glimmer of it remains in the sense that you can customize your characters differently on subsequent playthroughs but it takes so long that it is not even worth it.
+Huge world to explore with various modes of transportation
+Characters can be customized any way you want
+Ancillary characters are developed very well
+Story is thematic and dark
+Spell animations are impressive
+Uematsus soundtrack contains emotion
-Development system is heavily flawed and tedious
-Battle system has too many annoyances
-Leveling up your characters takes hours of repetitive tasks
-Item menu is sloppy and unorganized
-You can only save on the world map
-Clues on where to go next are very cryptic
-Many events in the plot lack focus
-Your playable characters have no development
-Ugly colors and textures plague the graphics
-Battle graphics look plain and underdeveloped
-Some sound effects are out of place
-Play time is heavily inflated by grinding
-Replay value is almost nonexistent
I strongly believe that Final Fantasy II would be far more enjoyable if it had mechanics that are more common in the series. This game is an absolute chore to play through and will test your patience and will as a gamer. I can only recommend this game to hardcore RPG enthusiasts and people who have played a lot of old RPGs and have built up a tolerance to them. Luckily, Square learned from the mistakes of this game and created a dynasty of excellent games in the 1990s. Play those instead.
Final Score: 5.125/10 rounded to 5/10
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Final Fantasy II (JP, 12/17/88)
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