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Final Fantasy II

The original Japanese (only) release in the Final Fantasy series (1988).

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(2.5/5): Perhaps Promising for It's Time, But Definitely Hasn't Aged Well

  • May 10, 2010
Final Fantasy turned out to be a raging success on the NES.  Especially in Japan.  Before Final Fantasy I even came to the United States, Final Fantasy II was already dropping down in Japan.  The game was a follow up to the original Final Fantasy, but it outdid the first Final Fantasy in just about everyway.  Except for one, and it ends up being the biggest detraction from Final Fantasy II. 

First, a little history.  Final Fantasy II actually didn't come to America until it was packaged with the first one in Final Fantasy Origins in 2003.  If you played Final Fantasy II on the SNES you actually played Final Fantasy IV.  This is because Final Fantasy IV was the second Final Fantasy to come to the United States.  

The original Final Fantasy II was a huge step forward for Final Fantasy.  The original game placed you in the role of four unnamed unknown characters who never talked or anything.  In fact, the first Final Fantasy didn't even have much of a narrative.  Final Fantasy II, on the other hand, does.  The story opens with four of our heroes running from the evil empire after escaping a village that was burned down.  Unable to escape the imperial knights our four heroes: Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon are KO'd in battle.  Firion, Maria and Guy awaken in the town of Fynn, but Leon is gone.  With their home destroyed and nothing else to do, they join Fynn's resistance to take on the evil empire and take down the Emperor who is releasing several monsters in the world in his conquest for domination.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the story in Final Fantasy II.  It's the area where Final Fantasy II goes well above and beyond the original Final Fantasy.  The characters have names, personalities and actually speak.  The story itself is also very dark and very mature.  This is saying a lot for a game that was released in 1988.  You might say that Final Fantasy II was ahead of its time in some respects.  The story doesn't have too many plot twists, but there's an extensive cast.  In terms of fleshing out its characters, though, Final Fantasy wouldn't actually get that far until Final Fantasy IV.  But at least when you play Final Fantasy II you're not feeling let down by the slow pacing like the first one.

It's the gameplay where Final Fantasy II begins to falter.  Final Fantasy VIII was not the first Final Fantasy to really experiment and start pushing for different things.  Final Fantasy II shows more than any other game in the series that Final Fantasy was ALWAYS striving to be different from other games.  But the experiment actually really doesn't work that well here.  If only because the leveling system is so horrifically unbalanced.

On paper the level up system in Final Fantasy II sounds fine.  You take your actions in battle and the actions you take determine how your stats rise.  Those who attack a lot will see their attack rise.  If you use a lot of magic your magic will rise.  Take a lot of damage and your HP will rise.  The idea sounds fine.  Almost like nothing can go wrong.  There are a couple of things about this approach that are hard to work perfectly.  The first is that you never actually know when your stats will go up.  That's one of the biggest annoyances.  The second is that you never have any idea of how powerful you're supposed to be to take on certain area.  No levels for you means not knowing just what constitutes being strong enough to take on a threat. 

Likewise, Final Fantasy II takes place in an area where you didn't have a world map and you didn't exactly know where you are supposed to go.  In most games that's not so bad, but in Final Fantasy II the only indication you have that you may have gone off the right path is that the enemies will be ridiculously powerful.  Even taking so much as a single step off the right path could lead to certain death.  Even without that, Final Fantasy II is still a tough game thanks to the fact that the grinding just isn't rewarding enough.

That's not just how you raise your stats.  Much of what you see in Final Fantasy II level ups.  Your weapons will level up the more you use them, giving you a chance to have more "hits" on an enemy, but the number of hits (especially from axes) is pretty random.  One moment you may hit an enemy 8 times (provided your weapon is at least at level 8) an another you might only hit twice.  Your magic levels up in the same way.  Whatever spell you use the most depends on how it levels.  There's nothing complex about learning spells.  You walk into a shop and buy one.  But there is a limit to how many spells a character can have.  But everyone is able to carry everything.  The higher level a shield is at the more likely it is to block attacks.

There's a bit of strategy to Final Fantasy II, at least.  A little bit.  Not a lot.  The row you put characters in makes a difference.  A huge difference in this one.  Not a small one.  Characters in the back row, for example, can ONLY use long range weapons (like a bow).  Any other weapon and they'll miss.  No exceptions.  Likewise, the game compensates by making sure they can't be attacked (except for by spells that target everyone) until everyone in the front row is dead.  But that also means their HP will rise at a slower pace.

In spite of Final Fantasy II's leveling system, you can take advantage of it in some ways.  For example, you can attack your own characters to game the system and level up your attacks.  In the 2003 PSX version you don't even have to attack.  Thanks to the lack of an ATB gauge there's a glitch in the system.  Battle progress by having you select everyone's actions and THEN watching as a round takes place.  In Final Fantasy II as long as you don't select the last characters action you can select your first three characters to do something... then cancel it all out.  The game still gives you credit for having select it.  It's a handy glitch, although at times it doesn't appear to make much of a difference in how difficult the game is.  It's good for leveling up spells really fast (select to use it, cancel, select to use it again) but Final Fantasy II makes no secret that you're going to have to grind for A LONG time to be able to take on some of its challenges.  Unfortunately, as I said, it doesn't do a good job of letting you know how strong is strong enough.

The last thing about it's system that doens't work to your advantage is that as other stats increase, others are apt to decrease.  If you're trying to have a balanced character, it isn't going to happen.  Every so often when one stat increases, another will decrease.  Raise your strength and the game will make sure that character won't be much of a mage.  Raise magic and it's the same deal.  Stats such as HP and MP won't decrease. 

Final Fantasy II can be fun to play, but it takes grinding to new levels.  It isn't that the system is bad.  It's that it isn't executed well.  It would be a fantastic system it worked well.  It's uneven in the sense that you never know how powerful is powerful enough and that the increase... and decrease in your stats feels random.  What it amounts to is that there's a lot of grinding in Final Fantasy II that doesn't work out quite as well as it would in other RPGs.  In other RPGs doing things such as learning an ability or mastering an ability is rewarding.  It's enough to make you want to keep going.  In Final Fantasy II you're not grinding for the sake of abilities.  You're grinding because not only are you not sure just how much your stats are increasing, but because the game makes sure that for each encounter that comes up you have to be ridiculously overpowered instead of just being "powerful enough."

Much like Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II has been released several times.  In America it has been released three times.  In Japan it's around six or so.  You've got two different versions released on the NES in Japan and the Wonderswan Color.  Final Fantasy II was released in 2003 in Final Fantasy Origins along with the first FInal Fantasy.  It was released again in the Gameboy Advance as Final Fantasy Dawn of Souls along with Final Fantasy I again.  Lastly it had a release by itself on the PSP.  If you really want to play Final Fantasy II that badly, the Gameboy Advance version is the one you want to get.  The PSP version may look better, but you're paying a ridiculous price for just one game.  With the GBA version you're also getting Final Fantasy I in turn.

Musically, Final Fantasy II has an amazing soundtrack.  The NES version sounds good as it is, but playing it on Origins or the PSP you'll get the best sound quality.  It's an amazing soundtrack.  Likewise, on each medium it doesn't look bad.  It might look a little pixelated on the GBA, and it might not be 32 bits on the Playstation, but it's still got some nice art design.  The PSP version looks the best, obviously, although it's not in 3D, the artwork just looks better. 

For the Final Fantasy purist who wants to know everything they can about the series, Final Fantasy II is worth a look.  Like many of the NES installments, though, the NES limitations haven't made the game age well.  It's ridiculously hard, for one thing... but the biggest hit to Final Fantasy II is the incredibly unbalanced leveling system.  It makes Final Fantasy II one of the least rewarding.  That's actually rather sad considering it has one of the most rewarding stories of all the early Final Fantasy titles.  It's no where near as good as what you'll get on the SNES or Playstation, but for it's time the story was ground breaking.  That part of Final Fantasy II has aged well.  It's just a shame the gameplay did.

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September 26, 2010
Nice write up about this game. It's not bad but the unevenness of the game, being able to be destroyed by a boss if you don't have a certain weapon skill or weapon learned and leveling up in a weird way made this one cold for me. The leveling up makes sense in context but it's odd for a game. Spamming spells for no reason and beating up your own guys to make them tougher so on and so forth.
May 12, 2010
Been awhile...a long while since I played this game. You are making me feel nostalgic.
More Final Fantasy II reviews
review by . September 27, 2010
posted in The Gaming Hub
The great adventure of 93 was the quest of a lifetime.
Final Fantasy II came out on the SNES in America in the early 90's not too long after the first Final Fantasy game on the NES.  More Final Fantasy games came out in Japan in the interim and it threw off the numbering scheme here in the states since those games weren't released here.  We in the US didn't see the "real" Final Fantasy IV (This was the second in the states, 4th in Japan) until the early 2000's on the PlayStation and there were some differences.  …
Quick Tip by . September 26, 2010
posted in The Gaming Hub
The second home console release in the states for Final Fantasy brought a lot to the table and not ALL good but the game and it's time spent playing it made for great memories.
Quick Tip by . September 26, 2010
posted in The Gaming Hub
Going by the PS1 redux, this is an assbackwards game when it comes to building your team. Realistic yes, but still assbackwards. Had some moments here and there.
review by . July 02, 2001
posted in The Gaming Hub
Lets get something strate first: This game is REALLY Final Fantasy IV!!! The ONLY reason it's called Final Fantasy II is because Final Fantasy II & III for Nintendo never came to the US! So Nintendo decided to just skip those numbers so no one would feel like their missing out on something! With that said Final Fantasy II way a good addition to the SNES library! Although there was some cencoring done to the language, and even though some questionable sceans were cut, it was one of Super Nintendo's …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #1
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Final Fantasy II is a console role-playing game developed and published by Square (now Square Enix) in 1988 for the Family Computer as a part of the Final Fantasy series. The game was only released on this system in Japan, although enhanced remakes for the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance were released in North America and the PAL region. Other remakes were released on the WonderSwan Color and mobile phones. The most recent remakes were for the PlayStation Portable in 2007 and the Wii Virtual Console in Japan on June 16, 2009.

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