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Final Fantasy II (NES) artwork

Final Fantasy II (NES) review

"Whether or not the urban legends be true about Final Fantasy being aptly named for the future of Square, the fact was Square suddenly had a cash cow on their hands. And if there's anything 1980's Hollywood taught us, the best way to capitalize on fame is to quickly scratch out a sequel. Unfortunately, Square may have scratched this one out too quickly. 


Whether or not the urban legends be true about Final Fantasy being aptly named for the future of Square, the fact was Square suddenly had a cash cow on their hands. And if there's anything 1980's Hollywood taught us, the best way to capitalize on fame is to quickly scratch out a sequel. Unfortunately, Square may have scratched this one out too quickly. 

Final Fantasy II is the 1988 followup to the previous year's smash and one of two NES Final Fantasy titles to stay confined to Japan. Like virtually every other first sequel for the NES, Final Fantasy II abandons the successful game play of its predecessor to risk an experimental system. Did it work? Sort of, but not in the way planned. 

Like its predecessor, Final Fantasy II is a Japanese style role playing game where you gather clues from towns, walk between objectives on a vast overworld, and battle enemies in a close up view. However the similarities end there. 

You play the role of Frionel, Maria, Guy, and Leonhart, four young soldiers from the kingdom of Phin. The game opens with your team desperately parrying from the invading Paramekia army. You quickly lose and die only to be rescued and resurrected by other Phin refugees. However, this comes at a price as Leonhart, Maria's brother, was not found among your bodies. From there Princess Hilda, now leader of Phin's provisional government, reluctantly sends the party on a quest to investigate the town surrounding Phin castle after your insistence to go on a quest to find Leonhart. From there you travel across the world attempting to thwart Paramekia while trying to find any information about Leonhart's disappearance. During your quest you'll find numerous people willing to fill in that empty fourth slot and help you in your battle against the empire. 

In case you can't tell, there is more plot in the first two minutes of Final Fantasy II than in the entire game of its predecessor. The whole game is like this, too. There's not a whole lot of character development, but much of the cast is engaging and have personalities. This time you have a real foe, an emperor of a foreign nation, rather than abstract demons holding funky ''orbs'' hostage. The plot is the game's best aspect and is a stark contrast from the bland story of the first game. 

Unfortunately, the rosy praises end here. While rushing to release Final Fantasy II to the public as quickly as possible, Square in all its wisdom forgot to play test it. Literally. It's rather rare to play a game which seems to have received no play testing whatsoever, but Final Fantasy II has so many bugs, quirks, and unbalances that anybody could pick out in just five minutes of play. It's almost comical how awkward these systems are. 

Square abandoned the rigid class system that worked decently in the first game; instead, the entire game revolves around a ''gain what you use'' paradigm. Basically, swing an axe and gain and axe point. Cast the Cure spell and get a Cure spell point. Ideally this leads to a ''create your own class'' system, and the game even has penalties to prevent you from making a Herculean red mage. However, advancement is so ridiculously slow that you can spend hours refining your warriors just to the equivalent of gaining a level or two in a normal role playing game. After gaining a few levels in abilities, the game cripples you by giving less than a point per use. Since it takes one hundred points to gain a level, you can sit around forever just to gain fractions of levels. 

Spells are useless in general, even the highest leveled spells are no match for a blade. Making matters even worse are the deplorable algorithms behind the magic system. Many of the spells are completely ineffective due to buggy multipliers, and even at high levels the ''ultimate'' spells won't harm any more than bolt. 

So you have swords which can't pierce spider webs and ice spells which can't freeze water. How can this game possibly be fun? It just so happens that there is a balance in the game. To counter the sloppy programming that prevents you from advancing is more sloppy programming that allows you to circumvent these shortsights and quickly make your characters walking gods. And how is this possible? It happens there are easily discovered flaws in the adding system used to determine weapon and spell points which allow you to gain several levels in a short period of time. Additional study will show that some enemies give more ability points than others. So, while it does require intimate knowledge of the game, knowing these workarounds makes the game flow nicely. 

This fact is quite the red herring, but once you accept this rule and apply it the game becomes quite enjoyable. Otherwise Final Fantasy II is the most challenging title in the serious, without a doubt. The objectives are long, often painfully long. Even with souped-up warriors you may have trouble finishing some of the objectives, and even using the power-up tricks there's no way to rapidly gain levels for the fourth character, perpetually making him dead weight no matter who is in the spot. Bosses are especially tough and unforgiving with hit points aplenty. 

Yet another sign of rushed production is the recycled graphics. While the enemy designs are new and improved for the most part, many of the backgrounds and character sprites are recycled from the first game. The overworld design is unimaginative and contains hideous amounts of open space compared to actual objective entry points. The also recycled animations are restricted to stumpy ''townspeople'' sprites and your characters in battle walking forward and swinging weapons at empty air which somehow inflicts damage on the enemies. 

However, one element that still stands up is Final Fantasy II's excellent music. The tunes are darker and more urgent to match the game's menacing mood. Additionally there are more songs overall and a larger quantity of quality pieces. Make no mistake, Final Fantasy II's music is great. Sound effects are still limited as they were in the prequel though they are much more prevalent in battle. Weapons now make ''air swishing'' noises and weapon hits now sound more like slicing rather than a bag of frozen peas hitting the floor. 

To sum it up in a sentence, Final Fantasy II is a conglomeration of bugs and errors which somehow culminate into a playable game. It's fun by chance, not by design. However, fun is fun, and I had fun playing this. I even had enough fun to play through several times; the game's flexibility allows me to take different approaches each time. Final Fantasy II is the game you love or hate; you'll be hard pressed to find people claiming it's mediocre. While I like the game I certainly cannot fault those who call it garbage. Fortunately, it does not take long to decide, so play it for an hour and see how it fits.


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Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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