maanantai 27. syyskuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy II (1988)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 1988
Available on: NES, Virtual Console
Developer(s): Square
Publisher(s): Square
Players: 1

The first Final Fantasy game's success was not planned or foreseen in any way by the game's creator and now Square's driving force Hironobu Sakaguchi. Therefore, no sequel was ever even perceived as a possibility. Sakaguchi and co-designer Akitoshi Kawazu worked together to create a whole new story totally unlinked to the previous game, and got Final Fantasy II on the shelves one day shy of a year since the first game's release... but only in Japan. By the time Final Fantasy II was ready for the North American and European markets, Final Fantasy IV had already been completed for the new Super Nintendo Entertainment System. That's where the confusion began to take shape; Final Fantasy IV was renamed Final Fantasy II in North America, and the real Final Fantasy II remained in Japan right up until 2002, when it was remade for the Sony PlayStation as a part of Final Fantasy Origins. A prototype of the North American version remained in circulation for years, and it's now available as a ROM on most sites focused on emulation. ...And guess what? It's a better game than the first one. It's far from perfect, but what's taking shape is visible in both story and gameplay.

The true start of a long road

After a failed attack resulting in the disappearance of their friend, three reckless teens grow desperate to prove their worth to a rebel princess to join her insurrection against the Dark Emperor.

Overall Final Fantasy II doesn't look much better than its predecessor, but certain graphical elements are taking shape which have remained in the series to this day, such as facial avatars and a generic, horizontal version of the menu. The sprites are a bit more refined and there's more variety to them. When it comes to composition, the music is awesome. The battle theme is downright legendary. However, in this 8-bit version its awesomeness is a bit lost in bad filtration. The most annoying sound effects are gone from the fray.

Guess I'm in the right place, since I'm really
agitated at the grammar right about now.
So... it's the second time around; the main emphasis as far as the storyline is concerned, is on character development and the central theme of rebellion against a political superpower. All that is today's standard is put together, piece by piece, and Final Fantasy II is quite an enjoyable game in itself. The game has one feature that makes it remarkably different from all other Final Fantasy titles: there are no levels at all. That's right, there's no experience-based development. Everything's based on what a certain character does and uses in battle. If he takes a great deal of damage, (s)he might see an increase in maximum HP once the battle's over. Using a lot of mana does similar wonders to maximum MP. Everyone can equip any type of weapon, and to learn to use one type of weapon proficiently, all one needs to do is to constantly equip one party member with those weapons. Of course, as some Einsteins have probably figured out, you can attack your own party members to increase their maximum HP, as well, so with an extensive bit of "cheating" and the mental capability of acting like a douche throughout the whole game, you shouldn't have much, if any problems beating Final Fantasy II. An easy Japanese game? On the NES? GTFO!

My assigned white mage passed out... and I
still have a lot of battles to go before I'll be
able to afford just one Revive.
The North American prototype never tells you the original names of the lead characters since two of them won't even fit the given space for letters, but they're called Frioniel, Maria, Guy and Leonhart. You need to rename the "nameless" characters in the beginning with six-letter names before you begin ("Cooock"?), but this time you have no classes to worry about. Every lead character's in the same boat and comes from a similar background. The first "battle" in the game's a dramatic intro, which already in itself shows that we're dealing with a much more story-based, personal game. Even though the remaining three characters - Leonhart disappears - are mirror images of each other in mind and spirit, they can immediately be connected with on a much deeper level than with the robotic Warriors of Light. The absolutely horrible grammar of the prototype makes the dialogue quite laughable, though. It's not Square's fault and it can't be used to criticize the game whatsoever, but I have to go over some of the nastiest errors to get them out of my system. Everything that should never be pluralized, is. For example: "Join the rebellions." "Destroy the Empires." Or pluralized wrong, such as "salesmans". The best parts are where the word "we" is replaced by "us", like "Us will travel to Deist." It's hilarious. Buts onces agains, its's nots thes games. It's just very incomplete translatory work. Don't take it too seriously. It's funny though, that they got a word like "obstinate" in the opening narrative absolutely right.

A new element not used in a Final Fantasy game since is a key word system. Upon taking note of certain words during conversations with NPC's, you can use them to trigger additional dialogue or events with other NPC's. It doesn't have much use to you in terms of keeping personal notes, but the system's inclusion on this capacity is quite impressive, and all the key words are important to making progress. Yep, the game's a bit linear - but if you want the whole story behind the key word system's worst qualities, refer to the Dawn of Souls review.

What brings a little more challenge into the game in contrast of what I said earlier about the unintended self-buff system, is the fact that you still can't afford decent shit. You start off with 400 gil once again, and you need to carefully consider what you buy. You get a decent amount of money from battles, but nothing in this game turns any cheaper. Simple items like Ether or Revive cost thousands, and there's no way to replenish mana or resurrect a fallen party member without them. Not even trying to sleep off an untimely case of K.O. helps. Even curative items are scarce to come by, and buying multiple spells for each party member to use and build up is expensive fun. The chance to put your weakest link in defense to the newly established back row - which prevents melee attacks on that particular character - helps a bit, but not much as the battles get tougher and long range attacks or spells become the enemies' standard offensive methods.

I've gots feelings weres nots in Kansas'
The battle screen has changed quite a bit. First of all, it's just one screen, that needless and ugly split screen is eliminated. You still have to enter each party member's command on each turn, which makes the enemy's turn feel like forever and prevents you from having a tense grip on the battle, but overall the battles progress at a MUCH faster tempo than those in the first game, and like the field menu, the battle menu ain't nearly the mess it was before. Overall, Final Fantasy II is a lot easier to get a hang of than its slow and tedious predecessor, from field work to battles.

As long as you can keep on fighting enemies every two steps you take on the world map - hey, at least there's something truly Japanese about it - and consequently play your cards on the item, equipment and spell market just right, Final Fantasy II shouldn't be much of a challenge to you, more of the playable story it was intended to be. It's relatively short, full of flaws and it's not nearly as fluid and comfortable to play as what the series would soon enough become, but it's definitely better than the first game. We had to wait for some years to get the true game on our hands instead of this lousy prototype on an emulator, but hey, better late than never, right? Once again, play the Game Boy Advance version for the true story.

Graphics : 6.8
Sound : 7.5
Playability : 7.0
Challenge : 7.3
Overall : 7.1


The game has been remade for the WonderSwan Color (2001), Sony PlayStation as part of Final Fantasy Origins (2002), Game Boy Advance as part of Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (2004), and Sony PSP as part of Final Fantasy - 20th Anniversary in 2007.

The game debuted in North America and Europe in 2003, when Final Fantasy Origins saw international release.

The debut of two recurring Final Fantasy elements: the Chocobos, and a character named Cid.

Frioniel (localized Firion, and voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch) and the Emperor (voiced by Christopher Corey Smith) are rivals in Square Enix's all-star anniversary game Dissidia - Final Fantasy, released on the PSP in 2008.

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