Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition Reader Review
Back in the days before European gamers were allowed to even see the concept sketches of role-playing titles, Final Fantasy - a dungeons and dragons inspired foray into the realms of virtual storytelling had been quite successful in Japan. It wouldn't launch in America until 1990 and never in its original form in the PAL territories. The title had single-handedly averted crisis and saved the sinking Squaresoft and a sequel (Ironic of course, given the "final" in its name). It wasn't all good though because it fathered a child. This child was Final Fantasy II, dragged onto the Famicom after its doped parents left it in a ditch.
This game sets the tone from the start, it pulls no punches. After naming your characters "Farthead", "Twat", "Swordchucks" or "Brian" you are thrust into an epic battle. Armed with eighty collective HP spread across your collection of stock orphans and with low quality weapons you carefully choose your attack command. After much consideration over quite what to do with the four heavily-armoured horsemen bearing down upon your friends with their singular frame powers. The Horsemen advance and exhale - Twat falls to the ground in a pool of her own blood. Brian attempts to exact revenge but misses his mark completely and careens into a nearby pixel tree rendering himself amnesiac. The other two are culled similarly and the screen fades to black. The game should end here but it doesn't. Some Princess and a White mage have decided that they want some fun with you. Guess what passes for entertainment in Fynn? Torturing orphans by making them embark on a session of Final Fantasy II. This game kills you in the first five seconds and spends the rest of the game repeating the process inside your head.
The game is much like Final Fantasy in most elements. It has an overworld, dungeons and towns where the inhabitants attempt to say funny things and a series of vehicles. Though fans of the later episodes in the increasingly milked to near-death (Or even, limit break as one might say) Final Fantasy series will notice that this game contains the very first Cid who appears as the world's only airship-owning civilian and personal taxi service. It also contains Chocobo for the first time which allow you to travel around without enemy encounters.
In an attempt to one-up its gaming legacy this title accelerated the focus on the story from the off with an overly Star Wars inspired imperial power threatening a smaller kingdom with a giant metal ship. You spend most of the game as rebels who ultimately want to restore their homes. There are substantial peripheral characters and it introduces temporary characters to your party for the first time. This is the first Final Fantasy to employ proper dialogue and character backstories and details to a decent effect and it is generally good though quite clichéd in 2008.
The battle system is where things get a little shaky. Essentially what it asks is that you use abilities to skill them up. You may be thinking that Final Fantasy XI or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas worked well with that, how awesome. You'd be wrong. Its broken considerably, no, actually its so broken that after failing to get into the party it wandered home covered in tears and recorded a video to its few friends wherein it longwindedly described its internal monologue before blowing its brains across its parents carpet.
What all of this means is that you cannot progress by simply grinding. Your characters must lose HP/MP (usually under halfway in battle) in order to get a maximum increase. The easiest way to do this is to turn your characters blades on each other. This game lets you succeed by knocking seven-shades out of each other while a bewildered enemy party stands-by. In fact, weapons are about the only thing you can skill up properly by playing through and actively fighting encounters. You'd be surprised how awkward and annoying it is to kill yourself. Though despite this, the more determined could abuse this feature and build their statistics drastically on the easiest of foes. Changing the game from frustratingly hard to boringly easy after many hours of calculated self-harm that make attention seekers look like amateurs. Its like training Pokémon EV's only much, much worse. Its dirty but it makes you miss grinding.
Interestingly all of your characters can equip two weapons. Dual-wielding increases your attack power considerably and makes things easier. While this is an enticing concept you may come acropper if you intend to run away from battle at any stage in the game. Running away is calculated by your evasion and agility and with two weapons you barely evade anything. Unable to evade and thus skill up means that you will have to deal with every random encounter along the way, however awkward or close to the dungeon's end it is.
Magic is done much the same with slight variance. Magic levels based entirely on the amount of times it is cast which is very good for things like cures that can be cast outside of battle but not for the nukes, buffs and debuffs. When initially learned, all magic costs a single point of MP (Which is good considering your characters 5 base MP) and with each level an extra point of mana cost is added. The game in general seems obsessed with this sort of thing with even Inn's charging you exorberent amounts of cash pending on the amount of health restored by the stay. This also leaves itself open to abuse with heavily discounted stays being available if you use the cure spell to maximise HP just before (MP doesn't seem to modify). High-tier spells also start at level one. This means that the usual big hitters like Holy and Flare will be measly by the time they are recieved. It'll take about 500 casts of each spell on each character that uses magic to even begin to catch up with yourself.
Battles aren't the only thing that are wrong. The storyline, especially early on has a nasty habit of making you wander. Usually take item/temporary party member/brain to a location via an unrelated location and then go back to Fynn before sending you back out to the place you just were to visit a room just next door to the ones you previously visited with said item/character/brain. Also the fourth characters awarded to you throughout the game are mostly a waste of space (with the exception of Mindu whom starts out much more powerful than you). They all start out basic and need to be built up like your other characters and due to their temporary status, can you be arsed?
It introduces a keyword system of story progression, which makes you feel like you are having more input than you actually are. Its quite fun if you always remember to memorise words that are bolded in a different colour. Which you should. Though words and items can both be used to get different responses, you have to go through both sometimes to incite the correct one to advance the story at the point you are. This can get overly fiddly but with the all the other things I'm going to call this a positive point, it sorely needs one. This is probably the most interesting change since Final Fantasy I.
Lastly, doors. You've likely heard the expression: "Too many cooks spoil the broth". Well here its doors. There are hundreds of them and if you play RPG's then you know that doors usually contain chests which contain treasure. Maybe a new hat? Or a fake beard? Well Final Fantasy II includes pointless doors to empty rooms and instead of placing you at the door when you enter, spawns you in the middle of the room. It also puts the encounter-rate on the square before the door you must pass over to 100% forcing you to battle. You soon learn to skip doors but that is where the terrible two strikes again by sometimes actually placing valuable equipment or storyline-related knick-nacks behind one of a million force-encounter trapped doors. Catch that throw.
More Final than Fantasy
Well I suppose there has been an update of sorts but seemingly not really where it matters. Theres an obvious graphical increase from the previous remakes which reminds you of the Playstation "Tales of..." episodes. The graphics are lovely and in widescreen but like a three-hundred-year old lady of the night, no amount of makeup can disguise the dying interior. They really should tweak the character growth system to make this playable. Releasing it seperately is slightly missing the point when you can get it packed-in accompanying the frankly superior original Final Fantasy on both the Playstation and Game Boy Advance. Both compilations are playable on the current generations via backwards compatability so why bother with this? Parallax make you hard? Frustrating characters create moistness? All Square-enix can hope for is that Final Fantasy I sells because II isn't worth the fifteen pounds really. After milking the first two Final Fantasies to hell and back it isn't looking likely. Or maybe you're one of those people that bought every re-iteration of Street Fighter 2 because they changed an animation every year. In that case you may give a crap.
If you have yet to play these old Final Fantasies, don't use this one to enter the series. It really is the annoying little brother. One that even manages to out-annoy Tidus by a large breach. If you want to do it for historical reasons then there are already better alternatives around. You could also be drawn to this title by the promise of new content. This conversion contains all the things that were present in the Dawn of souls remake, the second arc wherein you control the sacrificed secondary characters in a second adventure if you missed out on the Game Boy and features two new dungeons to play around in for brand new spells and armour. Then again, you'd have to tolerate the battle system first. Of course, certain hardcore RPG nut's will still love this even though its niggly.
While it is the weakest roman-numbered entry in the series it does introduce some of the series mainstays like Chocobo's so can't be ignored. It still gets invitations to parties but whether it shows up drunk or not is hard to predict. Its a shame really. Then again, in America some people still call Cecil's quest Final Fantasy II. So at least the ignorant can avoid this shady part.
3 / 10