This is the part of a long-term project to play and review/analyze all the Final Fantasy games. Whenever possible, I will play the original version, but in cases where it’s not available and/or there are time constraints, I’ll use a port and/or watch a Let’s Play, both of which contingencies will be indicated in the review. Ideally, I will attempt to play a portion so that I can remark more accurately on the gameplay experience. These will be long-form reviews with detailed plot analyses, so please be wary if you do not want spoilers.
Welcome to the second installment of Final Fantasy Fridays where I have undertaken the momentously arduous, albeit enjoyable and enlightening, task of reviewing ALL of the Final Fantasies. Now I’m aware it has been six months since I posted my review of Final Fantasy (I) (um…obviously not here since I just updated that, but,eh, see the foreword above), and at this pace it will take me five years to merely go from I to X, but I was busy with editing my FFVII fanfiction Northern Lights, so the time was not spent in vain. I will attempt to up my play/review rate, but I make no promises against distraction when writing needs to be done.
Like it says on the tin Final Fantasy II is the second installment of Final Fantasy, the unexpected series or the franchise that never should’ve been. It was released in 1988, but since neither it nor the following Final Fantasy III were initially released outside of Japan, FFIV was named FFII so as not to confuse the players…
…which makes no goddamn sense seeing as when we got to FFVI which was called FFIII so when FFVII dropped people were like “WTF is going on?” I guess initially it made sense to call FFIV FFII because it was the second the US had seen, but then the numbering system fell apart with FFVII. I think (and of course hindsight is 20/20) it would’ve made more sense to just call FFIV FFIV, explain that FFII and FFIII were Japanese releases only that way the numbering system wouldn’t be all jacked. I mean there was Mother 3, remember? And that was a sequel to Earthbound or was part of the Earthbound series. You know what? Now I’m super confused, but point is the numbering system in Final Fantasy messed with all of our heads in a similar way to the mental manipulation paradigm that permeates many of the games. It’s meta like that. Enough of the history lesson, let’s move on to…
You name your characters, you start the game and BOOM instant battle!
The sprites are pretty much the same as FFI (the top dude totally looks like Fighter).
Although THIS image of Fighter (by Deviant Artist McAshe would’ve been way more bad ass. Oh for that technology…
You have four characters (one of which is a woman *shock and awe!*) whose names and abilities I’ll discuss later. This particular fight you are destined to lose as those dark knights are way too advanced for your initial levels. While the battle system appears similar in many ways to FFI, there is a HUGE difference in the leveling *deep breath*
Alright, so the way the leveling system works in FFII is something they (thankfully) never repeated, and I’ve already given you my opinion of it before I’ve even explained what it is.
So you see the stats at the bottom under Skills? Yeah, so in order to level you have to get that particular attribute up to 100 before it moves up to Level 2 then Level 3 and so on and so forth. This is accomplished by using a particular piece of equipment. So the first one that looks like a hand would be leveled by using your fists in battle 100 times. The second one (shield) would be the same, but I believe a shield is used every time a weapon is. If I’m wrong, feel free to correct me. Not going to lie, the whole leveling system confused me quite a bit. I thought I understood it from the FAQS I read, but then I watched a video about it and I realized I know nothing.
The quick and dirty is those numbers go up depending on what type of weapon you’re using so it behooves you to have a particular character dedicated to a particular weapon so that they become an expert at it. It would take way too long and way too much effort to have one character become proficient at all things.
HP and MP leveling work in a wonky fashion, too. In order to gain more HP, you have to take enough damage to lose more than half of it. Then at the conclusion of the battle, you’re total HP will go up. I guess it’s like how if you pick a scab, your body will make a better scab so that you have a harder time scratching it off. MP is similar. Once you use more than half of it, it increases.
Those other stats have some bearing as well, but frankly and as I said before, I was really confused about it. Guess my intelligence stat isn’t all that high in this regard. If you’re interested/care, these videos by HCBailly explain it far better than I ever could.
So with that…
But at the end of each battle, your characters walk off the screen like, “Light Warriors be outie!” Check it out around 0:45.
Falling in battle constitutes as being “dead,” and in the menu screen, a cross appears over your character’s avatar. You can revive them using life and I’m pretty sure this is a huge foundation of the FFVII’s Phoenix Downers’ fucking arguments. I know I am beating the deadest horse (or the deadest flower girl) with this rant, but even in FFII itself you have characters die who were in your party! There is a HUGE body count in terms of knowing their names, stories, and backgrounds. This qualifier is due to catastrophic events that occur in each game’s narrative that of course killed off tons of people, but since they were nameless and countless, they really don’t warrant argument. I’m not trying to come off as cold, but while hearing that 1 million people died is horrible, one is generally far more moved by actually seeing someone’s demise and/or knowing who they were. Either way, in FFII quite a few people kick it, but as I mention in the article I linked to above, I have yet to hear anyone insisting that the characters just cast Life, nor have I heard this gripe in VI with General Leo. While people were upset that he died because he was an awesome character (that Shock attack yo…), no one is going off on the game because you couldn’t bring him back. There are clearly rules to how and when you can use Life/Phoenix Down, and if you could just bring people back from the dead in any and all circumstances, that diminishes the danger and impact of any story. #endrant
Oh and the magic leveling system in FFII works exactly like the weapon leveling system. You need to use any spell 100 times before it moves up a level.
So I have to confess again. I started playing FFII as I did with FFI, but because of the (in my opinion) inane leveling system I just spent days grinding…and grinding…and grinding. I needed to grind mostly to get money to buy magic. Yeah you still have to do that, too in FF…uh II (too many twos!). I needed to grind to make the money to buy the magic so that I could grind some more in order to level up the magic. It…was…exhausting, so I decided to look up my old friend HCBailly and just watch him do it. This allowed me to see what I’d been doing wrong (HC didn’t bother with the level grinding; he just kind of allowed it to happen naturally) and just concentrate on the music and…
Like FFI I am not putting up spoilers for an almost 20 year old game. Final Fantasy II opens with four orphans fleeing the destruction of their home by the evil Paramekia Empire. I’m wondering if they were orphaned in this act or if they were orphans prior. Anyway, the four characters are Firion or Frioniel, the main hero (he’s the one whose sprite looks like Fighter from I).
Maria, an archer and the only woman in the party.
Guy or Gus, a monk who can communicate with animals. Hey! He’s the Fluttershy of the group!
For real though…
And finally Leonhart, Maria’s brother who is in absentia for the majority of the game.
The four are attacked by the Empire’s dark knights as they try to flee, who sorely wound and leave them for dead. They awaken in the rebel base established by Princess Hilda in Altea after her kingdom of Phin was invaded by the Empire; however, Leonhart is not with them. After Hilda denies their request to join the rebellion, citing their youth as the reason, the three return to Phin in search of Maria’s brother, but end up finding Prince Scott of Kashuon, Princess Hilda’s fiancé who has been mortally wounded. He informs the three that Borgen, a former knight of Phin, betrayed the rebellion and became a general of the Imperial army. Frioniel, Maria, and Gus return to Altea with this news, and it’s then that Hilda relents and allows them to join the cause. Their first task is to journey north in search of mythril, which can be used to create powerful weapons and give the rebellion some sort of edge. Unfortunately the Paramekians were one step ahead of the rebels in this regard and had already set up a slave mining operation in an occupied village, where the townspeople are too browbeaten to even speak to you. The three manage to free them of their forced servitude and retrieve the precious mythril.
After this Frioniel, Maria, and Gus go to the city of Bofsk to prevent the construction of the Empire’s War Machine (giant airship), but it takes off right as they arrive. They are able to obtain the Sun Flame, which can blow up the War Machine, but before this can occur, the airship that Hilda is on is boarded and the princess captured. The intrepid three though manage to sneak onboard when the War Machine is picking up supplies, rescue Hilda, and toss the Sun Flame into the War Machine’s engines, blowing the monstrosity up. Prior to escaping the destruction, the party encounters a dark knight whom Maria thinks may be her brother, Leonhart.
On his deathbed the king of Phin beseeches the party to seek the help of the dragoons of Dist, but there they find only a mother and her son whose husband was the last dragoon. He was killed by the Empire and all of the dragons, called Hiryuu in the story, have died from the Empire’s poison save one who is not long for this world. The three retrieve a pendant that allows them to speak to it (hey, I thought Guy could speak to animals!), and she gives them her last egg, which they then place in the Spring of Life (hmm, this sounds a lot like how one might hatch a dragon in ASOIAF, but I digress).
Returning to Altea, it appears as though our three young rebels did not rescue the Princess, but were rather taken in by an Imperial imposter who tries to seduce Frioniel, which is frankly hilarious. This is taken care of, then the dragon egg in the Spring of Life is retrieved as the Hiryuu is needed to enter the castle inside a cyclone summoned by the Emperor. Frioniel, Maria, and Gus hunt him down and kill him to Altea and the world’s premature rejoicing for a mortally wounded Phinish soldier arrives to tell them Leonhart has taken the throne and intends to destroy the rebels with the Imperial army. A confrontation with this new threat ensues, but before anything of import can occur, the Emperor returns from the Hell with the intention of destroying the entire world. The party reunites with Leonhart and they all escape the castle on the Hiryuu before it turns into Pandemonium, which is totally a Paradise Lost reference. Milton coined that phrase. Leonhart agrees to help seal the Emperor away (more on him in my after examination of the narrative). The party of now four travels through the Jade Passage, which is a pathway to the underworld, in order to enter Pandemonium and defeat the even more evil Emperor who one of the characters surmises must have “sold his soul to the Devil.”
Alright…I really liked the fact that this game had much more character development in the story than Final Fantasy I, and Sakaguchi had even decided that that would be the case as FFI focused more on gameplay. It was a good move that laid the foundation for other Final Fantasies. The four main characters definitely felt more like actual people rather than just empty shells for the player to put themselves into. They had dialogue, expressed emotion, and just generally felt more real. Final Fantasy II (as mentioned above) also had a very high body count with playable characters being temporary because they were going to be killed off in the narrative. So if you’re ever asked to be a temporary playable character in FFII turn that shit down. The evil empire causing problems is typical Final Fantasy fare, and is more than likely a nod to Star Wars, a franchise the creators absolutely love. You can see it in the reoccurring characters of Biggs and Wedge in the later installments. Also the version I watched, which I’m pretty sure was a re-translate, had cursing in it. I don’t believe this was in the original, and in fact I think the first FF to have cursing was FFVII. Hell…I think FFVII was the first game I played to have cursing. Cid was such a smoking foul mouth and Barrett was not much better. Ah, speaking of Cid, FFII was the first of the series to start the parade of Cids…
…and yeah, he dies, but leaves you his airship, so win?
FFII also introduced the ubiquitous chocobo…
…the function of which is the same as in the latter games. We also first hear the first renderings of the chocobo theme.
It gets better.
While I was not super impressed with Final Fantasy II’s story, I can definitely see the foundation for the other games. There’s the evil empire that’s repeated in VI and that is the precursor for the evil/corrupt corporation in VII and the evil/corrupt theocracy we see in X. I totally called Leonhart being the dark knight, and while that kind of thing normally doesn’t bother me, the way they went about revealing it was way too obvious. They had Maria blatantly comment that she thought he was her brother. I mean I figured out that same paradigm in Mother 3 and Frozen , too, but it wasn’t so obviously revealed. Also they never expounded on why Leonhart had become the dark knight nor did they say why he decided to renounce it. Someone mentioned the idea of mind control, but nothing was expanded on that. We have Leonhart being the remorseful atoner, but they never give a reason why he turned or why he decided to seek atonement in the first place. There was a whole lot of speculation, which I’m fine with, but the plotting of it was extremely weak. But again I’m going to see this as the foundation for later and greater games (FFIV with Cecil and FFVI with Celes) that pull off this paradigm extremely well. If Final Fantasy was them, well putting all their eggs in one basket and focusing on gameplay, then Final Fantasy II was the attempt to give a video game a more cohesive plot. I felt though that even with character development FFI did better with its time loop than FFII in terms of stronger story. It was a nice attempt though, and like I said, it was an experiment that created a foundation to a franchise that led gaming to a whole new level of story and of course…
Again we are treated and #blessed to have the brilliant Nobuo Uematsu compose the music for this installment. Again Uematsu-san manages to create compelling and provocative music using the medium of midi (how do you like them ‘M’s?). It’s like he was only warming up with the original Final Fantasy.
The Overworld Theme is better than the one in the original, but I may just think that because it’s in the minor key whereas FFI’s is a bit more bubbly and upbeat.
And then there’s this version that goes from midi to orchestration in beautiful progression.
The highlights to FFII’s music are featured in Symphonic Suite, which I mentioned in the first’s review.
But my absolute favorite song in the entire game is the Mysidia Tower Theme. It doesn’t have an orchestrated version, which is an utter and complete sin, because it is one of the most complex pieces of Final Fantasy music I’ve ever heard. I am highly impressed this was able to be rendered in midi music. It sounds good even through that limitation, and I’d love to hear what it would sound like in a concert setting.
It kind of sounds like the Castle Theme in Dragon Warrior.
You guys have no idea how much I was wracking my memory for THAT one. I’m happy I watched an LP of it only a few months ago, so it was fresh in my mind.
FFII has a faster and more complicated melody, but if you slowed it down, the two songs would sound very much alike. I’m not entirely good at this, but I think they’re in different keys. Mysidian Tower sounds higher, but they are both definitely minor.
Since so many people die, I’m glad that the Death Scene music literally plays its part. The video is not from the original NES game, but the remake; however, I suppose it sounds better for being better quality music.
So the three parts have come to fruition. Now it’s time for some…
Gameplay: 7 – No spell or stat bugging in this one (or none that I heard about), but the whole leveling system just pisses me off. I understand they were trying to do something new, but I’d much rather just grind for experience and have my levels go up accordingly. I suppose in the way they did it in II, you are more in control of what you learn, but I felt that was better accomplished in games like X with the sphere grid. You were in control of the path you took, but you didn’t have to do something 100 times in order to gain a level. Nice try Square, but I’m glad you scrapped this idea in later iterations.
Graphics: 9 – Same as Final Fantasy I before it. I’m half thinking of cutting the graphics rating seeing as I really don’t care, and it’s not really relevant for today. At the time the graphics were perfectly on par with other games.
Difficulty: 8 – From what I played and watched FFII was just as difficult as its predecessor.
Story: 7 – As mentioned above FFII did have character development, but there were a few things (as mentioned above) that bugged me. They were more lack of explanation or reasonable evidence than plot holes.
Overall Music: 9 – There are many good songs on FFII’s soundtrack and far less mediocre/bad ones than FFI. While I definitely had some great music (The Temple of the Fiends), there were some that were sorely lacking (Airship Theme). II suffered from this much less.
Town Theme: 8
Airship Theme: 6
Battle Theme: 7
Dungeon Theme 1 (e.g. Semite Cave): 8
Dungeon Theme 2 (e.g. Bofsk Sewers): 5
Boss Theme: 8.5
Final Boss Theme: N/A – same as the boss theme. No special boss music yet *tears*
Ending Theme: 9 – Really, really good song. It was redone into a vocal version called Love Will Grow a few decades later, but even here in midi version it gets a solid rating.
Most Beautiful Song: The Overworld Theme – it was a toss up between this and the Rebel Army Theme, but the Overworld music captures the sense of forlorn felt by a people browbeaten by oppression. The Rebel Army Theme is more heart stirring like what would be played to show a peoples’ ascension to freedom.
Saddest Song: Death Music – I know right? Fitting song is fitting. Uematsu-san needed to make death music sad and he made death music sad. He’s very good at this…as we’ll see much later, as well.
Best Character Leitmotif: N/A – no leitmotifs yet
Best Song: Mysidian Tower
Best Male Character: N/A – I still didn’t have enough characterizations to make a call on this.
Best Female Character: N/A – well there’s only one so…
Best Character Overall: Gus – he was the most easily customizable to be a tank. Until we get into actual personality characterizations, I have to go with these shallow assessments hehe
Favorite Character: Leonhart – he was the biggest enigma. Why did he join the empire? Why did he become a dark knight? I’m a sucker for an atoner/redemption story
Least Favorite Character: Frioniel – I didn’t have a problem with him really (honestly clutching at straws here), but if anyone had the biggest chance to become whiny for no reason it was probably Fri.
Best Town Music: N/A – it’s all the same
Favorite Town: Salamando – it’s the wintry village that every Final Fantasy has. I have a romantic attraction to snow, because as we all know winter is coming.
So there you have my review of Final Fantasy II. I didn’t really have any strong emotions towards this game or any strong connections to any characters. A lot of people were killed off, but the only one who spent any substantial amount of time in your party who I could’ve felt something for was Minh-wu, and since they’d already established a precedence for piling bodies, I wasn’t overly surprised. It’s like ASOIAF/GOT! You just get so used to seeing people bumped off that it just doesn’t faze you anymore.
I look forward to playing Final Fantasy III. Hopefully I’ll actually be able to “play” this one instead of resorting to LP land, but it’s still always nice to have that resource available.