For the second part of this series, we shall be taking a look at Final Fantasy II – and I mean the real Final Fantasy II. It’s not hard to get bewildered in the US, with the release of Final Fantasy Legend, Final Fantasy Legend 2, and Final Fantasy II (which was actually IV) for the SNES. The FF2 for the SNES was renamed so as not to confuse American gamers…now it’s just a mess. Yes, we are focusing on Final Fantasy II, the game most American gamers didn’t actually get to see until it was released on the PlayStation in the Final Fantasy Origins pack and then re-released on a ton of other platforms again and again.
This entry holds no connection to the previous one; it takes on a new life and stands on its own. Final Fantasy II makes improvements on the previous formula and tries some new things to set itself apart from its predecessor. While it’s not in the running to be the best entry in the series, it was received favorably by fans. Though the basic formula of the four youths on an adventure is the same, Final Fantasy II sets its sights on new horizons in game play, and in storytelling. Let’s dive in.
CH-CH-CH-Changes and Introductions
Final Fantasy II is the first series to introduce several things into Final Fantasy mythology. The cute and lovable Chocobo makes its first appearance as well as the reoccurring series character, Cid, and the Dragoon fighter class. This is also the first entry in the series to kill off characters permanently – no surprise come-backs, just straight up murdering characters left and right.
Final Fantasy II is also the first game of the series to swap characters out of the original party. While three of the main characters remain constant, the fourth party member changes periodically. In addition to the change in characters, the battle system takes a complete left turn. It stays true to turn-based combat, but alters the way characters level. In future entries, a few of these ideas become cannon, but none more-so than the constant tinkering with battle mechanics and how a Final Fantasy is played. No two entries will be the same in story or game play – but the series will contain recognizable tropes to connect gamers on a different wavelength. Each entry tries to improve on the previous – but it doesn’t always work.
Like the previous Final Fantasy, this adventure focuses on four main characters, but this time they are not cookie-cutter characters. In the very start, we are introduced to Firion, Maria, Guy(or Gus), and Leon as they flee from the invading Empire. Before our new heroes can even throw a punch, they are struck down by powerful black knights and left for dead.
Lucky for them, they are rescued by Princess Hilda and the resistance. Upon awaking, only Firion, Maria and Guy remain, but their resolve is strong as they yearn to join the rebellion and take down the evil Emperor of Palamecian (Or Paramekia. I don’t know. There are a lot of different translations!) Though initially the three warriors are denied, they manage to join with Princess Hilda to take down the Empire. Firion and friends must go on numerous fetch quests to retrieve the powerful metal, Mythril, find the mighty Sunfire to destroy the dreaded warship, and obtain Ultima – the bugged spell! They are joined by a prince, a pirate, a villager, and a mighty dragoon in their quest, losing many friends along the way. Together, Firion, Maria and Guy must search for their long lost friend Leon and finally bring an end to the devilish Emperor.
On Closer Inspection
Final Fantasy II‘s story is slightly darker than the previous entry; it is a time of war and rebellion resulting in many NPC and character deaths. While this story was way more intricate than most other games at the time, the story line still left something to be desired.
Yes, there were now characters with names and faces, but they were underdeveloped and didn’t necessarily have a voice of their own. They were more fleshed out than the choose-your-own characters of Final Fantasy 1, and it was an improvement overall. The constantly changing fourth character had a bit more intrigue; each had their own reason for joining and though sometimes their involvement seemed forced, I had much more interest in their background. Paul, the thief, was also a pretty cool character – thought he never officially joined the party.
SPOILER! This game also had a habit of killing off the fourth character. It was very clear that Firion, Maria, and Guy were main-stays, but the fourth character was never safe. In fact, most of the main NPCs, including Cid, managed to get killed off. Granted, this did solidify a kingdom-at-war feel, but the problem was caring. I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters well enough, but this was never done before. END SPOILER!
Regardless, the story was leaps and bounds from the first entry, and it was much more involved. Character interest drove the plot forward as these warriors searched for their lost comrade and eventually ended up walking straight through hell (literally) to face off with a demon. It was exciting and new for games to have a little character background and a story that was more involved.
Final Fantasy II had a number of different innovations when it comes to game play. Players are still able to freely roam the world and explore towns, castles, and dungeons. Spells are still purchased, items are disposable, and characters can upgrade equipment through purchase or exploration.
One feature new to the series was the concept of ‘word memory’ or password memorization. Key words pop up during important conversations and players can “memorize” them. In turn, players could use these words to unlock information about destinations and unlock new actions.
Another feature new to the series was the use of key items. Like key words, the key items were used to unlock pathways, discover new information, or to push the plot forward.
Focusing more on battle, one of the biggest criticisms came with the new battle system. Final Fantasy II took a radical turn away from experience stat growth and went for a more, ‘practiced’ approach. Much like the Elder Scrolls games, Final Fantasy II had players build their stats by using commands in battle. The idea: characters would have to practice spells, weapons, and wear armor to boost their stat growth over time. While good in theory, this new battle system was easy to exploit, and players could maximize their stat growth by attacking their own characters. The final new addition to the battle system was the ‘back’ row; characters in the back row were immune to most physical attacks, but not long range attacks from bows and magic.
The second of the series provided many firsts and the start of story telling for the franchise. While not without its annoyances in regards to numerous fetch quests, some resulting in a useless spell or item, and the broken system, Final Fantasy II was a step in the right direction following the first entry. The story had more depth and daring, the battle system was something new, and the world was introduced to Chocobos.
While not without its flaws, Final Fantasy II was a decent follow-up, though not as iconic, entry to the franchise. The replay value is not nearly as high as the original, though I suppose a player could have fun building up different abilities. Again, with the system being so easy to exploit, the game might not be as fun on a second play through.
As the series grows and improves, change is something that will never be final in Final Fantasy.
What do you all think? Were you a fan of Final Fantasy II? Where does it rank in your all time favorite Final Fantasy games? Please comment below! Want to read about FF1, well…click here!