Video Game Review: Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy Origins (1989, 2002)

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.

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Why does Gus look an emaciated hunchback?

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.

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Derpy Pirates.

[OVERVIEW]

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.

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Some of the best dialogue in the game.

[ANALYSIS]

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.

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Eight imps that all cast confusion? Completely fair fight.

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.

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And everyone enjoys poor inventory management.

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.

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Final Fantasy 2’s dungeons are made up of mostly empty rooms.

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.

[CONCLUSION]

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.

Rating: 

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.”

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy I, Fantasy Origins (1988, 2002)

Enjoyable But Drove Me Absolutely Crazy.

I hand-drew the world map for God’s sake!

Part 1 of my Final Fantasy Series Playthrough.

I threw out a beacon onto twitter: what should I play next? Out of all the suggestions, something about Final Fantasy Origins rang true to me. Per chance (or was it clairvoyance?), I started the entire convo with a gif from Final Fantasy I, so I felt it was a sign when someone suggested it.

[OVERVIEW]

I’m all about retrogames, but there comes a certain point where things just aren’t fun for me. Final Fantasy for the NES epitomizes that reality. Released in 1987, the game might have spawned a beloved franchise, but its grinding nature and glitches (particularly the one where if a monster dies, anyone who was targeting it still attacks it wasting a turn on an empty tile) made me weary.

A verdant landscape offset by the black earth and tiled menu options..

I was willing to give FFI a try on an updated port, however. Final Fantasy Origins was released for the PS1 in 2002. It was part of a wave of rereleases to capitalize on the major success of FF7-9 released in the late 90s. The American audience was oblivious to the Final Fantasy franchise until FF7, so a wave of repackaged NES and SNES games made their way to the PS1. Final Fantasy Origins contains FFI, previously released for the NES, and FF2, never released in the USA at all.

[ANALYSIS]

I think Tony Horton of P90x fame can sum up my feelings rather succinctly:

Wondering aimlessly is so frustrating….until it pays off <(“<)

There really isn’t a story or characters, so the game has to rely on the basics that brings everyone into the genre: exploration, battle system, and skills development.

The first town immediately sucks you in. The imagery and killer soundtrack make this Class A world building. The first town theme was such an ear worm that I immediately picked up my guitar and learned how to play it.

The picture is 90s webcam quality, but I wasn’t recording it again.

You get to build your own party consisting of specific classes. The usually tropes are here (Knight, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage, Monk, and Thief). This choice is where Final Fantasy I comes alive: who you pick dictates how you play the rest of the game.

Bear the Warrior, Lou the Monk, Dee the White Mage, and Bub the Red Mage.

Outside of that, it’s a pretty typical pre-90s RPG game meaning you are going to get angry. REALLY ANGRY.

Final Fantasy I boasts long dungeons without save options or many options for healing. There comes a point in every lair where you have to decide whether to bail and save your level progress or keep going in hopes of getting to the end. While this part of the game is really exhilarating (you can’t just meander around — there are consequences!), this game can wipe you out in a moment’s notice.

A flock of cockatrice my turn the entire party to stone. A gaggle of zombies may paralyze everyone for eternity until they are whittled down to sticks. A parliament of wizards might spam inferno-like spells until you die.

Staying true to the ethos of 80s gaming, no one ever really tells you where to go. When the world map opened up, I was immensely frustrated. I literally was stuck in the middle of the ocean.

After going round and round being lost at sea, I broke down and started to HAND DRAW my OWN MAP of the world.

This was all fine and dandy until someone told me that a freakin’ broomstick tells you how to look up the world map in game (2020 keeps getting worse). That didn’t slow me down, however, as I would mostly finish and flesh out the world.

I’m a Geographer!

As I oscillated between love and hate, I think I came down slightly on the positive side of the fence. Sure, there is plenty of things that are “throw your controller” worthy, but even in such a basic game, there is a lot of charm.

[CONCLUSION]

This is hard to recommend, but there is something edifying here for the die-hard Final Fantasy fan as you experience the roots of the franchise.

My Rating: star-1star-1star-1

Other People’s Takes:

  • Brink of Anything: “By the time you face the renegade knight Garland and rescue the Princess Sarah, your party will have slaughtered entire generations of these [goblins] pitiful creatures”
  • Lethargic Ramblings: “I obviously have my fair share of complaints, namely the random encounters, the lack of direction at times and the optional dungeons, but those really don’t matter all that much when, for the most part, there’s so much good in here.”
  • MoeGamer: “Unlike more modern narrative-centric role-playing games — particularly in the Final Fantasy series — the original Final Fantasy, in all its incarnations, is designed to feel like you and your party are exploring a vast world, seeking out adventures for yourself.”