The Blacksheep of the Family
Much like Legend of Zelda II, Final Fantasy tried something different. Much like Legend of Zelda II, nobody really liked it.
Part 2 of my Final Fantasy Series playthrough.
Final Fantasy II is immediately different. It drops you into the middle of the action with your party running away from indefatigable dark knights. Your first battle against them is already determined: complete defeat. You wake up in a rebel base that’s reeling after the recent retreat from the front lines. Firion, Gus, and Maria must pick up the pieces of what happened.
Unlike Final Fantasy I which offers four place-holding party members that are interchangeable, FF2 promises characters that matter. Instead of a disconnected relationship between world, quests, and party members, the fight against the Empire ties everything together. It’s a very forward thinking game coming out of 1988.
The narrative framework isn’t the only thing that gets a complete reworking. Gone are experience points and leveling. Instead, skills and attributes improve depending on what happens during battle. Those meleeing imps to death receive bonuses to strength and weapon type while those blasting back row goblins with fire gain magic power and additional MP.
This jab-cross combo of actual characters with unique leveling system proffers something special. It just isn’t sustainable: everything crumbles by end of the game because, of course, it has to get “Nintendo” hard.
After Final Fantasy saved the company from bankruptcy, Square followed it up with a sequel. In what would become standard operating procedure, numbered Final Fantasy games did not share storylines, plots, or characters. Instead, they built on top of one another using motifs, themes, and game mechanics.
In this early iteration, FF2 keeps the idea of four youth saving the world with it’s classic turn-based fighting system. It also adds on many elements that would go on to be staples of the franchise (the airship-loving Cid, rideable birds called chocobos).
While released in 1988, it would not reach American shores en masse until 2002 when it was re-released as a port with updated graphics for the PS1 as part as the Final Fantasy Origins package that also included FF1.
Things started out with such high hopes.
The story is refreshing for a game made in the late 80s. These types of games relied on forced grinding for value due to not having enough memory space to expand on anything. If I’m going to have to grind, I like it to at least be for a purpose, and FF2 offers at least that. The grinding was also rewarding: I liked being able to carve out unique roles for my characters based on what actions I used for them in battle.
Then, it all collapses in on you the closer you get to end of game.
The activity-based progression is actually not the main culprit of this game’s demise. Instead, it is how NES games were so damn obscure. Beneath the veneer of the simple “what you do, you get better at” mantra, there is a complex interplay of coded variables that influence outcomes. None of this explained.
Take this excerpt from Gamer Corner Guides:
For your own spells, magic accuracy consists of three components. First is the base spell accuracy, which is specific to each spell. If the spell is white or black magic, you then add your spirit or intelligence, respectively, to that number. Special abilities that are not magic ignore this step. Note that items that use white or black magic do use the stats of the character using the item to determine accuracy and power. Finally, you subtract the sum of any magic penalties you have from gear. While items do use the character’s intelligence or spirit stats, they are not subject to magic penalties from gear. If spell accuracy is less than zero, it is set to zero. Unlike other percentages, though, spell accuracy is not capped at 99%. (This is because of how targeting affects accuracy—it is possible that any given spell roll has a 1% chance of failure when it is finally made, but I have no way to easily tell.)Gamer Corner Guides
Consider this: the game starts off with four characters as blank slates. Maria is already in the back row with a bow, so it is natural to infer that she should be a spellcaster (a la Rosa from FFIV). This is actually incorrect because weapons and armor incur magic penalties reducing the effectiveness of your spells. I hamstrung myself the entire game due to not realizing the secondary and tertiary effects of quotidian things like equipping a bow.
This isn’t a big deal until the end where unfair random encounters and boss fights make it impossible to progress. You will face some enemies that you mow down easily while others are completely impenetrable. Why did my power fighter with double axes go from doing 1000 damage per attack to only 50? I’m not sure, but it probably has to do with opaque algorithm where certain weapons are good against certain enemy class types and are funneled through several modifiers and multipliers before damage output is decided.
This game is very unpolished. We take for granted that RPGs have figured out how to smooth over difficulty spikes and rough patches to make a logically consistent game. We expect a steady linear progression of difficulty with some strategically chosen challenges. FF2 never masters that: the entire game is almost a cakewalk until it is impossibly hard.
It also punishes exploration. I had to restart my entire game in the beginning because I died in the opening minutes on the world map. Travel too far West and you will discover beasts you are not ready to face until mid game. Then, I had to restart my entire game AGAIN because I talked to a knight in a town that led to another impossible to win encounter.
I quickly learned to save my game at every corner due to the random nature of this game. However, you go through a 15 or 20 hour patch where this is completely unnecessary — instead of being brutally unfair, it becomes way too easy. But don’t worry, it flips again after you’ve been lulled to sleep.
There is a bunch of other things you could nit pick:
- your fourth party member is traded out for the entire game until the end which prevents you from really building a “team.”
- the inventory management caps at 63 items with enemies that drop items every fight leading to lots of anxiety over what to keep or discard.
- most chests in dungeons (even the last one!) contain potions and eye drops instead of worthwhile equipment.
- dungeons are mostly empty rooms with high encounter rates that punish you for exploration.
It just isn’t a smooth ride.
With the most vital parts of this game’s mechanics locked behind algorithms and codes, it is and immensely unfair march to the finish line.
Other People’s Takes:
- RPG’s Suck: “This game is more of a chore than an actual game. Unless you really really really love grinding. Trying to play this game legitimately is not recommended in the slightest.”
- Sigma’s Gaming Corner: “Personally, I enjoyed Final Fantasy 2. The PSP version anyway. It has some pretty interesting and cool concepts that I don’t quite think were fleshed out completely, but I’d say I generally like it (at least with a speed up button).”
- Renfa Reviews: “One of the main questions should be is it worth playing even though it’s old? Here’s my answer, it depends on your decision. I don’t really recommend playing old school games that are very frustrating and outdated nowadays but if you’re into RPG and traditional at that then maybe you could give this title a try.”