Final Fantasy II

If, for some strange reason, you're here to read a genuine review--the sort that tells you the strong points and weak points of a title, how it compares to similar games, and so on--I shall give it to you in one line: Stay away from this game.

That said, I shall now continue with my usual rambly digressive blather that passes for a review here on the Hub.

The game that I originally knew as Final Fantasy II was a Christmas gift, along with Final Fight and a Super Nintendo (with pack-in Super Mario World, of course!), the same year it was released here in the States. Google is informing me that that was 1991, which sounds about right--I remember going over strategies for FFII (really Final Fantasy IV) in middle school.

A couple of years later, after the advent of the Internet, I discovered--along with a couple million other RPG-hungry kids--that the game we received as Final Fantasy II was actually a much later game in the series. Two games were released for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, never brought to our shores, and promptly abandoned once the 16-bit era started.

I was distraught. It was a time in my life where things seemed to revolve around me; such self-importance is common in young people, but I had only recently become aware of it directly, as opposed to just acting like a normal kid. That didn't keep me from thinking that I should get everything I wanted, mind you, and the thought of two whole Final Fantasies that I'd never get to see was sacrilege. They should have brought those games over just for me, dammit!

At some point I dove into the then-tiny world of emulation, and of course I came across the ROMs for the two Lost NES Final Fantasies, along with the Lost SNES Final Fantasy (Final Fantasy V). I tried to play them, but my grasp of Japanese (none whatsoever) limited the play experience. In the days of 300MB hard drives, I'm sure I deleted those games, replacing them with ones I /could/ understand; I vaguely remember playing Final Fantasy Legend III--amusingly enough, another renamed-for-the-States game--in Virtual Game Boy for DOS, feeling a little naughty and a little excited as my poor computer chugged away at emulating a Z80 processor.

Fast forward a bit more, and I discover the world of fan translations. People with a grasp of Japanese translate the text from a game, other folks who know how to program 6502 assembly hack it into the ROM, and the end result is a playable version of a game never released here in the States. Some of the first fan translation projects were the NES Final Fantasies, no doubt for the same reason that I wanted to play them--they loomed on the gaming world as missed opportunities, experiences we should have had. Like most volunteer Internet projects, it took many starts, stops, independent efforts, and half-done releases before Neo Demiforce provided us with a 100% complete translation.

[Good ol' Google. I forgot who did the translation, and it pointed me to a Wikipedia article. That article had a note which said that Square made an English prototype of FFII but never finished the work; sure enough, some poking in my NES ROM collection gave me the prototype. The translation starts out bad and gets worse, and I stopped after about five minutes. Still, it shows that we really should have had the game.]

Over the years between when I found out about the real Final Fantasy II and when I began playing it in earnest, I had heard a large number of things about the game, most of them bad. There are no levels; to gain health you have to attack your party; the game is impossible without cheating; you will want to poke your eyes out before you beat it. I took those statements with a grain of salt--how could infidels understand the beauty that is a Square game? They can do no wrong!

Lo, was I mistaken.

Final Fantasy II is an exercise in tedium. There are no 'levels' in the traditional RPG sense; you gain statistics such as strength and MP by utilizing skills which "flex" those stats. If you want to boost your strength, you should attack lots; if you want to boost your HP, you need to lose a lot of health.

Read that last sentence again. Therein the problem lies. At the beginning of the game, you have to walk a dangerous line between taking enough damage to gain a HP boost and simply dying; this is alleviated as the game progresses, but then the problem becomes gaining any health at all, as enemies either do no damage to you or kill you with one blow.

The game has a number of bugs and easy exploits, of which many are considered "the only sane way" to beat the game. One of them is to beat up on your own characters during a fight with easy enemies; you can control how much damage you do, and stop when you've done enough to semi-guarantee a health boost. Another is to attack or cast a spell, cancel the action, and do it again; the game gives you the experience upon entering the action instead of doing it, and you can gain spell and weapon levels easily by exploiting this.

The purist gamer in me refused to use such tactics, of course, which made the experience harrowing. I played for a good ten or fifteen hours, got almost nowhere, and accidentally deleted my save state. Ah, well, I'm sure I thought; I didn't want to play that anyway.

Of course, I should have known better. My completist nature told me "You must beat Final Fantasy II before you can play the rest of your Final Fantasies!" The later PSX releases and Final Fantasy X were played for a couple of hours, then put down, since I felt "dirty" playing them out of sequence. Inwardly, I sighed. I knew that playing and beating FFII was going to be one hell of a task.

At some point, I started on it. I got close to the end of the game--invested probably forty or fifty hours of time into it; the game is from an era before RPGs clocked the hours you put into them like a badge of honor--and then stopped playing. I could never pick it back up, because I knew what was waiting for me. Even more pointless battling? My favourite! Inwardly, I sighed, and didn't play any Final Fantasies.

Then Final Fantasy Origins came along. A single disc with a rerelease of both Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II, the latter making its first official US appearance? Oh, joy! I bought it, of course, and quickly tore through the first title. It was easier, due to a slightly tweaked battle system, but still far from trivial; the game's short length kept the repetitive battling from getting on my nerves, and so a few weeks later I beat Final Fantasy for the second time ever.

And there was Final Fantasy II staring at me.

A couple of months ago I started on the PSX rerelease in earnest; Square made a couple of tweaks to the game to make it a little easier, and the pace was picked up enough to make the battles merely intolerable. I still refused to cheat, but I did manage to slog my way to Mysidia early enough in the game to pick up the Change spell; the return walk was the longest sequence of "reset the console" I've ever done, as I managed to survive three battles out of eighty or so in a deperate run for safety. Once I levelled the Change spell enough, the game became trivial; my main characters had 3000 hit points at a point where they should be at half that, and most of my time was spent getting the supporting characters up to a usable level.

This past Friday night, I tore through the last four dungeons of the game, bypassing my old emulated rut and finally beating the game, half-asleep, at 0300 Saturday morning.

The game dutifully unlocked 'Normal Mode,' which adds back the difficulty removed in the rerelease.

I dutifully turned the game off.

So, yeah. I beat Final Fantasy II. It was neat to see how one could take the core of something like the original Final Fantasy and change it a lot, getting rid of much of the underlying logic, while simultaneously managing to keep that consistent "feel" that all Final Fantasies share.

Would I do it again?

I'd almost say "Hell no," but I know just how much of a freak I am. When the GBA version is released, I may find myself slowly but surely slogging through the game Just. One. More. Time.

I just don't count on enjoying it.

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Last Updated: 2004.05.09