RPG #2: Final Fantasy II

Released: Dec. 17, 1988
Developer: Squaresoft
Completed: Mar. 14, 2020

Final Fantasy II was a very innovative game. After the success of the first game in the series, they decided to come out with guns blazing. They got rid of classes entirely and replaced it with use based skills, even making health and mana increase as you took damage. They added in keywords in an attempt to make the story more interactive. Characters would come and go, and even die, as the story progressed. The story itself was much more involved and directed than the first game. They added new forms of transportation, new spells, better graphics, etc.

The result of all this innovation is a bit of a toss up. Halfway through the game, I was saying “Hey, I’m really liking this game, I really wasn’t expecting how much I liked it!” But by the end of the game… I was in a fair amount of hate for the game. Largely because of these innovative features. I give Square a ton of credit for trying. The features they put in were WAY ahead of their time, many of which aren’t used to this day very commonly, but to give them a shot in the days of the NES is unbelievable. Unfortunately the price of attempting something so ahead of the time this early is that they just don’t work quite right.

After much time spent grinding in the game, I was able to complete it. I did learn a few things about myself in the process. The result of which is that I probably won’t be doing youtube or streaming of these RPGs often, if at all going forward. I did get a number of videos for this game recorded and uploaded to Youtube but that will probably be the end unfortunately. It stresses me out too much to have a schedule and to try to be entertaining, in particular when I am grinding and have no one to sit and chat with. Instead, I am going forward by playing games on my couch on a small TV while watching TV on a big TV.

Story

Final Fantasy 1 was very much a product of the NES years, there wasn’t a ton of story to go with, and it was also one of the first RPGs on the NES on top of it. Even though it was the same console, FF2 changed that dramatically. While I wouldn’t consider the story deep by today’s standards… For the time, it was an eye opener that this sort of thing even happened (albeit mostly in Japan!).

The story itself is fairly basic… evil emperor is trying to take over the world. You defeat him. But bad stuff is still happening, the emperor returns from hell and you go to hell to defeat him once and for all. But, along the way, you meet up with several new characters, some fun, some bad, each with their own little subplots. And a few characters even die along the way. These were all great improvements to the game.

I would say negatives of the story are twofold. One… you start the game with Leon as a character that you name, but in a bad fight you lose connection with him and try to find him. That’s how the story begins, but after the first short chapter where you go off in search for him and save the local kingdom, he isn’t mentioned again in the game until near the end where he swoops in and shows to be a villain before you turn him back to good. It’s confusing exactly why he turned bad and it’s confusing why the party stopped caring about finding him. In fact, several times throughout the game I kept saying to myself “whatever happened to leon and why aren’t we looking for him??” This was a very bad aspect of the game and I feel more care should have been made to explain what happened to him and the main characters should have kept asking NPCs about him even if it got them nowhere, that was their motivation.

The second problem revolved around their keyword mechanic. At certain points in the story, you would learn about an artifact, a person or a race or something… and at that point you gained access to a keyword that you could randomly say to NPCs to learn more about it. Except, almost never did any NPC other than the one you needed to say it to ever know anything about it. And you often didn’t get any direction on who you needed to go to. I often ended up going back and forth between cities trying to figure out what I was missing only to find out after reading a guide that I had to go back 2 or 3 towns to an NPC I never interacted with and say the 5th keyword down (which was not the last one I had learned) in order to move on. It was really frustrating to deal with this and killed all flow to the story. I wish this scenario only happened once, but it was a continuous problem throughout the game.

I actually had a difficult time rating the story of this game, because of these last two issues were so bad to me. Yet, the story was far better than the first. Still, I’m going to end with giving it a meh. while overall it was leaps and bounds better than the first story, the bad parts of it were so distracting they were frustrating. I admit there were times I was lost in FF1 as well, but they purposely set you out in the world with little knowledge of what to do or where to go. This game tried to guide you and then spontaneously did a bad job of doing so and that is a bad thing to do. It does show that there is going to be gradation in my ratings here.

Characters

I think this was one of the real bright spots of FF2. There were 9 total playable characters, with 4 being in the party at any one time. Each character had their own character development. Though I will say, even though the 3 starting characters got the most play time by far, the side characters all felt like they had way more story going on with them. Think my favorite character in the whole game was Reila, for some reason. She was probably one of the weakest stories in the game but she was sassy and I like sassy girls. It’s no surprise that this idea of rotating characters became a staple of Final Fantasy. We also saw a number of NPCs that often had their own development as well which really helped flesh out the world. Include Cid in on this, showing his first incarnation in the Final Fantasy Universe.

Though there was little development on the starting three characters. The fact that there were so many characters, playable or not, that had some amount of character development in the days of NES made me give this a solid thumbs up!

Combat Mechanics

Square really wanted to go for a realistic approach with this game and so they instituted a use based skill system. Which meant… instead of having to buy Fire II, you just bought Fire and kept using it in order to level it. On the surface, this was a great idea. In practice… it was grindy as heck. Depending on the spell/skill it took at least 50 uses of a spell to gain a level. I suspect that it slowly took more as you leveled it but wasn’t paying attention enough to really tell. The game had dozens of spells to learn, I think it capped you at around 24 per character and you couldn’t learn all of them on a single character. So in order to get a spell to 10, you needed 500 uses out of it (probably more). So if you wanted to raise just 5 spells to level 10, you are looking at 2500 uses. That’s a lot of fights. And what makes it worse is that the best spells aren’t even available until near the end. Which means you are on the last couple of dungeons and you have to specifically spend time on doing nothing but leveling these new spells. In the end I had one spell caster, she had a single level 9 spell, a level 7 spell, and a few level 5s. Unlike FF1, the buffs did generally work, but due to the difficulty of leveling, I decided not to bother, plus many spells at level 1 and 2 wouldn’t even cast for several attempts as their accuracy apparently was bad (I had this problem with Life as well).

If spells weren’t bad enough, you also had use-based systems for mana and health as well which was very problematic. It meant you had to get low mana and health pools in order to get more. This ultimately meant early in the game I would cast spells just to cast them. And I would attack people in my party just to lower their health. Later, i got access to a spell called Swap which had a very small chance of actually working, but if you cast it on say a goblin, would leave you with 5 health and 0 mana as it swapped your stats with his. Though this was harsh, and had a low chance of success, it was a far better way than attacking friends as there wasn’t a chance of accidental death.

I feel weird about this one, because I feel like I should reward the fact that Square shot for the stars on the mechanics… but they made the systems they made so incredibly frustrating that I have to give this a thumbs down. I can tell that they received a lot of similar feedback because they completely did away with these systems afterwards which is too bad. I would have liked to have seen them figure it out.

Magic & Items

I talked about magic a lot in the last section, but I do want to say there was a wide variety of magic in the game. Much of it was new. I think my favorite addition was Scourge, though poorly named, brought in Poison damage… although I almost never knew how it worked. For some reason Mythril creatures were weak to it? Items were also pretty well varied, Hi Potions and Elixers finally found a place in the game and they were very much welcomed, was nice not having to stock up on loads of potions just because they didn’t help a lot. And you could even buy multiples at a time! This game continued to not really describe things very well however… There were items in game like Blood Sword which performed weakly but did give you health back, but then some creatures (mostly bosses) were weak to it for some reason. I thought Defender gave you defense bonuses, but it really just raised your Dex (which helped you dodge) but it’s main purpose ended up to be running.

I’m inclined to give this a thumbs up overall. I want to give it a meh to be honest, but the reality is that for the days of the NES, the number spells and items and the variation of them was immense. They had some great ideas in spells like Toad and Minimize which weren’t overly used but still good. Their main deficit in this area is not properly telling the player what they are getting in any way shape or form. In some ways I am OK with this because there should be some stuff that isn’t said, but it felt deceptive when there actually was some things said.

Visuals & Audio

Weirdly enough, when it comes to visuals… I preferred the look of monsters in Final Fantasy 1 a little bit more than 2. I was actually surprised by it. I think this was generally true of the entire world, though there was far more variation in 2 than 1. No more did you see Wizard as a boss mob, only to see it as a fairly common mob later in the game. Bosses were Bosses, other mobs were just mobs. The world looked about as varied as FF1, although I will say that they did some very cool things in this game that you didn’t see in FF1. There were Waterfalls and some visual tricks happening as well that made me think it was cool. The one place I felt they did much better on was the character models of the 9 characters that you played. Instead of just somewhat generic models, they were far more detailed.

Music seemed very similar to one… just with a flourish. Though in some of the later dungeons there were some really cool tracks going on.

Overall I think it was a wash so we are sticking with the Meh we gave the last game. They did some cool new tricks here, but some of the art just didn’t look as good.

Skew

I am giving my personal Skew a thumbs down. I feel really disappointed by this as well because like I said earlier in this article, halfway through the game I was really enjoying the experience. I thought the story was decent, I thought a lot of the systems were decent, there were hiccups at that point but not a huge deal. But as the game went on, the curve on difficulty largely outpaced how much you were using your skills which caused grinding to increase exponentially. On top of that, the second half of the game was where most of the occasions where I had to search out where I had missed a keyword. I think I spent more than 3 times the effort in the second half of the game than in the first and that is really about the opposite of the curve. The beginning is generally slow in RPGs and they speed up as you get going. This game slowed down… a lot. And it became an unbearable game. I’d also like to note that this was my second attempt at this game. The first time I quit because I thought I had somehow missed or lost an item. I actually thought I had deleted it by accident (I now know you can’t delete key items). I am now 90% sure that I just missed telling someone a keyword and never realized it. This is frustrating. So thumbs down.

Overall Score

3.1 Average, rounded to 3 out 5 stars

AHHH! This game Actually got rated higher than Final Fantasy 1 according to my rating system. And honestly… I can’t even disagree with it. I went through and compared the two ratings by categories and I continue to agree with what I gave each, and why I gave it to them. The reason that FF2 got a higher rating largely came down to the fact that Final Fantasy II did for a fact have better characters and magic & items. Those two raised the rating enough. Yes I gave it a worse skew, but everything else kind of evened out. This game had 2 categories with a thumbs up… and I believe in those ratings. FF1, I didn’t give a thumbs up at all to. The skew is also my personal feelings for the game. And the disparity of the skew showing that I like this game less than FF1 goes along with my general unease that this game ends up with a higher score.

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