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Final Fantasy II (SNES) artwork

Final Fantasy II (SNES) review


"It’s difficult to trash a game like “Final Fantasy II”, because you part with it on such a high note. The last dungeon is an awesome archive of treasures, guarded by some of the fiercest monsters you’ll ever find. These beasts can be very tricky, inflicting a magical death sentence on your whole team or countering your strongest magic with something even more devastating. One enemy even invites you to exploit its weakness, a trick I refused to fall for. On top of that, you’re in control of a hig..."



It’s difficult to trash a game like “Final Fantasy II”, because you part with it on such a high note. The last dungeon is an awesome archive of treasures, guarded by some of the fiercest monsters you’ll ever find. These beasts can be very tricky, inflicting a magical death sentence on your whole team or countering your strongest magic with something even more devastating. One enemy even invites you to exploit its weakness, a trick I refused to fall for. On top of that, you’re in control of a highly balanced and versatile team of five characters, each with at least one cool ability or weapon. And yet, what comes before is much less inspiring.

To start, before you end up with the balanced team, you have to endure a series of episodes in which you recruit and lose “guest star” party members. Since these characters are intended to be in your control for a very short period of time, they aren’t designed to be interesting. Most of them are boring melee specialists whose talent doesn’t extend beyond the “Fight” command, and their arsenal beyond three or four weapons. A couple are magic users that have a static spell list and a seemingly static magic point value. The most interesting of these “guest stars” happen to be in your control for the shortest period of time--you can see that this game goes to great lengths to undermine itself.

This needless character swapping is mandated to service a plot that--outside ‘video game’ standards--isn’t very outstanding or well written. The adventure is punctuated by many events: an airship fleet raids a helpless town, another hamlet is torched to the ground, a giant sea creature wrecks a ship, trap walls are stopped by a noble sacrifice, two characters blow themselves up, etc. etc. This is certainly sensational, but I could feel the writers straining in their effort to juggle and develop one-note characters. And I wouldn’t have cared, if these shenanigans didn’t handicap the gameplay by withholding all the fun team members.

“Final Fantasy II” does exhibit some clever ideas, such as its three maps: overworld, underworld, and a third that would be a crime to reveal. Each are a means to expand the world’s selection of dungeons, cultures, and vehicles; but most all, they exist to surprise. Just when you thought you’ve seen everything, a hole opens up and your airship plunges into a land of magma where dwarves reside. ("Lali-ho!") Such moments betray what little need there is for the mechanical plot and constant character swapping. Flying my ship over a subterranean sea of lava was more inspiring than learning that so-and-so was a traitor or that so-and-so has a long lost sibling. Who cares!? There’s a world beneath the ground! Why isn’t there more of it!?

This sense of adventure occasionally allows the game to transcend its sluggish combat engine. The menu-based battle sequences are conducted in real time, but the interface offers no indication of whose turn is coming next or if anyone is even getting a turn. During an ambush, the first few seconds are spent looking at a motionless screen as your characters stare at their ambushers. Some enemies are designed to mercilessly waste your time--there’s one monster formation that could never possibly kill you, but it will nevertheless incur your wrath by turning everyone into toads and back. I wouldn’t begrudge someone for giving up at that point.

When the One True Team is assembled, you do have interesting combat options. There’s a lance-wielding dragon knight who can leap into the air and land on enemies for double the usual attack power. The dual-wielding ninja can steal items and throw weapons, the latter attack ignoring the enemy’s defense attribute. Your healer can “Berserk” your melee fighters, allowing them to act efficiently and inflict higher damage. Then there’s little Rydia, who can summon creatures from another dimension or attack with conventional black magic like “Quake” and “Nuke”. How great it would've been to have these characters for the whole game, instead of commanding interchangeable heavies to “Fight!”.

Most of “Final Fantasy II” is easy. The most interesting bosses and dungeons are saved for the final lap of the adventure; the rest is spent pounding one wimpy enemy formation, taking a step or two, and then being launched into another random battle screen for an easy win. I used to think the lack of challenge was a quirk of the simplified American version, but then I played the Japanese version (“Final Fantasy IV”) and found it to be kind of easy for the most part, too. The previous game in the line, “Final Fantasy III” on the NES, was engaging from start to finish.

If I am to recommend “Final Fantasy II”, it will mostly have to be on the basis of that one dungeon I mentioned at the beginning. The entire adventure builds up to that moment, when the developers finally shrug off their silly restrictions and go for broke. The rest of the game is simply uneven.

Rating: 5/10

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Featured community review by joseph_valencia (March 24, 2010)

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randxian posted March 24, 2010:

I really like the angle you take here. One thing that really annoyed me too was the constant swapping of party members. I'm one of those people that likes to train my characters to the point where they can comfortably handle any situation. I'm so obsessive compulsive that I must always have the best equips.

I felt like all my hard work went down the toilet every time someone I spent time and money on suddenly left. What's worse, I remember buying better equips for Yang, yet he has lousy equips when he re-joins. What a waste.

As you said, the game is relatively easy, but at the same time it never lets you get a firm foothold until you get your true team right at the end.
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zippdementia posted March 25, 2010:

I rather liked the constant switching of FF4, and the game as a whole, but I appreciate a review from the other side of the coin!

I will agree that the final dungeon is epic. Every time I reach it, I place the game down for several months before getting up the courage to approach and beat it.

Have you tried the DS version of this game? The final dungeon is SO FUCKING HARD.

I never found FF4, or any of the FF's really, to be very easy but that's probably because I only play the games on non-wait mode, so that enemies attack even as you're browsing menus. I also set the battle speed, if available, at maximum. Doing this, some of the bosses, and even regular enemies, in FF4 become near impossible. You have to get your timing down perfect in order to beat them and set up your menus so that your best spells are all at the top and be prepared to cast haste and protect a lot.

It gets nuts inside Babel's Tower and positively insane in the final dungeon.
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joseph_valencia posted March 25, 2010:

Back in the day, I played every FF in Active Mode. Now, I'd rather have the option to take my time selecting spells and picking targets. Maybe I've become mellow.

Have you tried the DS version of this game? The final dungeon is SO FUCKING HARD.

I haven't played it yet, but I do hear it's hella' harder than the SNES versions. I might pick it up if it becomes cheaper.
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overdrive posted March 26, 2010:

That final dungeon is insane. When I played this version of FF IV back in the day, it was super-crazy for me. I rented the game, so I had it for a Thurs-Fri-Saturday combo. I'd made it a good ways in during those first two days, not really breaking a sweat. On Saturday, I realized I was making great progress and had nothing going on that day, so I essentially wound up playing from about noon until 4 a.m. non-stop except for a break to get something for dinner. Due to rushing through things, I was probably a bit unleveled for the final dungeon. It was amazing how few optional bosses I fought. I remember beating Ogopogo in what might have been the toughest fight I'd ever won. I remember giving up against Plague (or whatever Ahriman, General, etc. was called in this game) and being afraid to open treasure chests because it seemed many treasure chest fights were about as brutal as the ones in the ruins of that one castle are IF you go there the instant you get whatever mode of transportation you need to get there. The final boss fight was probably the easiest part of that dungeon...and my frickin' strategy for that was simply to have Cecil batter it, someone (Rosa, I think) heal him and the other three were expendable meat, as I didn't have the resources to keep everyone alive.
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wolfqueen001 posted January 26, 2011:

In some ways, this review is the opposite of Zipp's. This one is quite short and to the point without going into much detail about the story or anything else except those things that bring down the game's playability. I remember liking this review when I first read it, and I still like it now. The main antagonism with the game appears to be the party system, which, sounds pretty lousy until you actually get the permanent set.

At the same time, I felt like the lack of detail hurt in some ways, but I'm not the feeling isn't so overwhelming as to be particularly detrimental. I imagine you intentionally brushed over story details to prevent spoiling things for the general reader as well as to illustrate that you found other elements (like the dwarven underground thing) more important, so whether I would have liked to see maybe a little bit more of that doesn't really matter.

In any case, I have some thinking to do before I decide who'll win this. It'll be a close one either way, that's for sure.
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joseph_valencia posted January 26, 2011:

Whoa. I didn't know someone picked my review for the RoTY competition.

I generally try to discuss gameplay more than narrative in my reviews. Since Japanese RPGs are primarily dungeon crawlers, I approached "FFII" from that perspective. I wanted to make the point that "vibe" (like the feeling of entering a subterrenean world with seas of lava) and mechanics are more important to this genre than narrative twists, which I thought the game emphasized too much. It seems that point came across very well.

It's ironic that this review is being pit against one of Zipp's, as I recall he was the person who picked it for RoTW. 8-)
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zippdementia posted January 26, 2011:

Yeah. I really like this review. I wish I wasn't pitted against it because now I must view it with snide indifference.
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jerec posted January 26, 2011:

It got picked as a wildcard entry from the RotW winners from last year. Since you hadn't been nominated at all, I wanted to get one of your reviews in. Between this one and FFV, I liked this one better. It is a pretty damn good review, too.

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