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SummaryI really wanted to like this game, but now I know it's terribly awful.
The GoodThis is the second game in the Final Fantasy series (from now on FF for short), and I'm a big fan of the series. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of this game. 2 seems to really be a cursed number when it comes to video games, especially on the NES. Just like the second game of quite a few other series (Zelda, Castlevania, ...), Final Fantasy 2 seems to be a title where the developers tried too much things in order to do everything different than in the original, ending with controversial results. There really isn't much to like about Final Fantasy II itself. The game is rather a stepping stone for the following entries of the series, which does use things that have been introduced in FF2 because lacking in the original Final Fantasy, but still this game in itself has few good points.
The music of the game is good, different from the music found in FF1, but that doesn't mean bad. The sound quality is definitely much better than in FF1. Just like in FF1, there is only one city theme and an overworld theme, both of them are very good by the way. On the plus side, there is a second battle theme, but you hear it only on a couple of bosses, and few are the people that will stand the game long enough to hear it (FF1 only had one single battle music all the way along). There is very few different instances themes in FF2, while there were much more different music in FF1. Music does no longer change in shops and menu, which is definitely a good thing, however the music seems to pause weirdly each time you open/close the menu. Also going up/down stairs and opening treasure chests doesn't cause the music to restart which is good. This is where the chocobo song can be heard for the first time, but only the first half of it is included here. For the second half you'll have to wait for FF3. The battle theme is quite good at first, but it's short, loops often and after hearing it again and again, it really becomes annoying. The whole FF2 soundtrack feels rather sad all the way along which fits the game well, while the soundtrack in FF1 was happy. Also the Final Fantasy theme is lacking, and it's the only FF game in the main series until FF10 which doesn't have it. So overall the music is great, but I'd like to see more different tunes especially in instances.
Finally the only true good point of the game is it's story. You control a bunch of inhabitant of the Phin city who forms the rebellion against the evil Paramekian empire who has invaded Phin (and about each city in the world), and you fight them all the way along. Unlike later Final Fantasy games, this story is not very exciting, and characters have absolutely no personalities nor do you get attached to them (whoever say the opposite says straight lies). However, when you consider that the game was released in 1988, this was in fact one of the first game to ever feature a large set of different characters, playable and not, with names and different looking sprites, and this is the first RPG to ever have story scenes. It's probably the first RPG to feature a changing party : You have your 3 constant characters while the fourth changes regularly when the story goes on. FF1, as well as Dragon Warrior 1, 2 and 3, all have simple stories and no story scenes at all, often the only particular character was the king and the princess of the main city of the game, and maybe a couple of other people, and that's all. FF1 added more originality, featuring time travel and is based on elements instead of being based on a princess, and while the story doesn't really advance much in FF1 before you complete the game, they rewarded you with an ending scene who actually told you something, which was very good. FF2 throws aways everything from FF1 goes much further, it really "invented" the story scene in RPGs, where characters actually talk, move around, and so on. There is few of them, and most characters only have one line to say per scene. Some characters block your way, and when you did the necessary to have them let you pass, they don't step forwards or anything, they just disappear ! Another weird thing is that keyword system. I didn't like it very much, when you talk to someone it will say something stupid but if you give them keywords they will talk about what you want. I'm pretty sure that is because the programmers were unable to have people automatically talking about the good subject like they do in modern RPGs, but so that they still say different things as the story advances.
The game is quite pathetic and predictable at times, but at least it does have a couple of plot twists, and in fact it is very probably the earliest video game to ever feature plot twists, even if those aren't exceptional. They tried to give you feelings by featuring the death of quite a few of good characters (I guess there is 5 or 6 of them) but in fact you're really not attached to them, but at least they tried and innovated, what we saw years later on modern FF games couldn't have been without something to trigger it. Back in 1988 it should have been a big surprise to see good people die other than the main character when you get game over. That's exactly why I consider FF2 to be a stepping stone for the series, while not exactly interesting by itself it innovated and this was needed for further games. The only memorable character of the game is Paul the thief, which speak a cool way. He may be the first "funky NPC" of video game history, and that's a good invention because there is quite a lot of funky NPC which really adds a lot to games released later than FF2.
The graphics of FF2 are based on FF1's graphics, and get a few improvements here and here which is a good thing. However, most dungeons looks the same while in FF1 all dungeons were very different. The character's sprites doesn't looks absolutely awesome (similar to FF1), but playable characters looks better in battle, and you get portraits of them in the menu. The already good looking world map has been improved, while looking similar to FF1, water is animated and mountains effectively look like mountains (in FF1 they looked like big chunks of snow). By pressing B+Select you can view a 3D overworld map which looks great for the NES, but be aware, moving it is damn slow as the NES wasn't designed to do 3D calculations (and the music is silenced too).
I was pretty happy to see battle animations improved from FF1. Each weapon in the game looks different, which is good considering there is Playstation 2 games today that does have all their weapon looking the same. Each spells also have it's own animation, and the animation becomes "larger" when the spells level ups (for example if you level up fire, the flame becomes bigger, and after this there is two, then three flames). This doesn't seems much, but previous NES RPGs (again, FF1 and Dragon Warrior 1, 2 and 3) has no spell animation so I guess this was nice to see spell animations for the first time back then. I still feel most dungeons lacks details, they just have that "wall", that "floor" and nothing else, and this again and again during the whole game, not even the colors changes, I'm pretty sure the NES is able to do much better than this. Some dungeons have more details like water pouring on the floor or cracked walls, but not all dungeons have such details. Most monsters are from FF1 but have improved looking, but I feel there is much more palette swaps and much less actual different monsters than in FF1. In FF1, monsters comes palette swapped but this was hidden by the fact you could see a green lizard in a forest, then a harder red lizard in a volcano, and a even harder blue lizard in an ice area. Here, monsters just come in all colors they can but are often non-elemental. There is no elemental dungeons at all in FF2 except one place, and you don't even get monsters of the good element in this particular place, only bosses are elemental, this was very disappointing especially after playing FF1. Overall the graphics does their job and looks alright, although the variety in the backgrounds leaves to be desired.
The BadI was really disappointed the four elements aren't a basis in this game, because I love things based on the four elements. I don't know if I love Final Fantasy because of the four elements or if it's the other way around, but at least this elemental formula worked extremely well in FF1, and that is, along with great monster design, what saved FF1 from begin just another average RPG back when it was released. A couple of non-Final Fantasy RPGs copied this thing and this can only be good (Golden Sun comes in mind). The game was kind of structured, you started your game doing simple but fun missions like waking up a price or restore the view of an old witch so that you are prepared for the real quest, then you got an earth dungeon, a fire dungeons, a water dungeon and an air dungeon (with other smaller instances too) and then the final dungeon which is also separated in 4 elemental sections. It's that kind of symmetry who keeps the game structured and overall pretty looking.
FF2 has no structure and no soul, you just hurt the empire then it hurts you harder, so then you go ahead and hurt it even harder and so on. In the end you'll end up fighting a big villain who seat on his throne all the day on the 10th floor of a big tower full of evil monsters without eating or sleeping for days, he does nothing nor does he have anyone to speaks to, he just awaits you to come (no wonder why they are so nasty). Then you beat him and suddenly a lot of things happen at the exact same time. FF1 actually featured different towns with different people in, and this make FF1's world feel alive. You had a town with only dwarfs, one with only elves, and so on. In FF2 all towns have 3 regular human NPCs in them at most and they all say the same uninteresting thing (one single town which is full of mages saves this however, but you only see it late in the game). The total world population of FF2 (not counting monsters or emeror's soldiers) should start around 25 and end with a number that is so low that I won't put it here to avoid spoilers (let's say you should have largley enough fingers to count the final FF2's world population). However, there is quite a few of emperors soldiers which are only here to fight you and give you a game over if you speak to them. FF1's total population is maybe around 80 or so, which is nothing exceptional but it feels "natural". There were quite a few unimportant NPCs that I still remember, even after not playing this game for years, because they said crazy things. In FF2, it seems the world just have one million monsters, and so few humans that the situation is without hope. Sad music doesn't help. So in summary I really miss the structure and fantasy of FF1, which is replaced by a more linear and plain world of sorrow in FF2. Also I'm pretty sure FF2's world map is significantly smaller than FF1's. All towns are *very* nearby in FF2, then there is an immense space with absolutely nothing in it, this is really bad since you'll never have to visit this unused space of desert grass and forests. There is only 2 islands, which isn't much (I love islands in Final Fantasy games). You'd think dungeons would be more interesting, but they are not, they all are very confusing and boring. It's easy to get lost, and there is several doors that leads to an empty room where a hard battle triggers on EVERY floor in EVERY instance of the game. There were often a series of doors, only one leading to the next floor, and the others being trap doors. This would have been good if they put this one time in the game and didn't overuse this that much. Chances that you get lost in dungeons are very good, as they are designed complicatedly. This would have been good if battles would be less frequent. I remember recently having fun getting lost in Breath of Fire, but here you're not going to have fun. A good thing about dungeons is that they introduced the secret passage thing (you can pass through walls that looks normal), that may be the only good thing they did. In the end the whole world of FF2 isn't very attractive, and there is quite a few things that it does worse than its predecessor. That is for my small complaint.
However I have a much much bigger complaint about the game. To say things straight, the gameplay in Final Fantasy 2 for the NES is downright awful. I don't know about it's remakes, because I only played the NES game, but one thing is sure, you probably never seen ANY RPG in the world with so terrible mechanics all the way around. When you first play FF2, pressing a direction effectively make the character move that direction, pressing A will effectively make him talking to people, and in a fight select "attack" effectively make the character attack. So you may really wonder what I'm talking about when I say the game isn't playable. And you would be right, on the first view the game mechanics seems to works alright, and this is a Final Fantasy game, so the game SHOULD be good in all logic. I really wanted to like this game. I tried hard, very hard, again and again in the hope of being a FF2 fan. On the start everything worked fine, you can defeat monsters and progress in the story. If you go the wrong way you may found very difficult monsters that whip you out, and in fact I liked how they made some parts of the world map inaccessible at low level by placing impossible to beat random encounters on them. This give a sense of realism to the game. However, as you'll be playing, you'll be figuring that this game may be just too realistic, or maybe just too crappy, or both.
You'll probably notice that your characters doesn't have levels, but who cares, because after several battles you get a few messages about the strenght or HP of your character going up after battle, so that shouldn't be too bad as long as something is going up. However, this is wrong, because after a while, you won't get much of these message any more. You probably don't have enough gils to purchase magic, and you will get quite a few of "intelligent down" messages. What the...? Your stats can go DOWN ? Okay I'll try to spend all my precious money on a very expensive ice spell and try it out on one character. Only to figure out it does pathetic damage. Then I just continue playing, using occasionally cure magic, and have the "intelligent" stat of all my 3 main characters down to 1, after all who cares, muscles are needed to save the world, and there should be a way to brute force your way even through monsters vulnerable to magic. So I was able to continue playing "naturally" for a while without much trouble, but after a while I was screwed because monsters suddenly become stronger and hit my party really hard. I'd think I could fix this by fighting weaker monsters, but this didn't really works, stats wouldn't increase anymore for some reason. I searched the net and found out a couple of things about FF2's battle system I dindn't know at all when playing before, and that the game didn't told me either. The character's stats increase in function of what they do. They got defense points by being attacked, attack points by attacking, intelligence points by casting magic, and so on. I think "okay okay, let's start a new game and try another strategy now that I know this it's going to be alright".
Instead of saving money for better weapons like I did the first time I try to learn everyone magic as soon as possible, and to vary attacks and magic in the hope to get more well rounded characters than before. I was again assailed with "intelligent down" messages, but sometimes there were also "intelligent up" and there were still some upgrade on strenght, so I guess that should have worked. It didn't, my party eventually fell flat on it's face. I searched a bit more around the net, and found that well rounded characters don't work in FF2, that the best is to make them either "fighter" or "black mage". So I think "well, I guess I'll make the two guys fighter and the girl a black mage, this sound cool and I'll start a new game for good this time".
So did I, and I learned the girl black magic as soon as I could and give only cure magic to the guys. I also read about the "select-cancel" trick (see cheats section for more), and I did it so that my magic eventually became worth casting (= more powerful than a physical attack by a fighter). I was really thinking this time I could eventually enjoy FF2 to it's fullest. I could kick the ass of monsters with both attacks and magic, and I also learned cure to the guys, continuing this proper training I was invincible. But I was wrong, slightly later in the game than usual, I got owned by those monsters. I figured out they just did no damage in easy areas, and way too much damage in hard areas. The only way to fix it is to go to a hard area but close to an easy one on the world map, beat a hard monsters, get you HP and defense stats increase (they'll never increase until you have your ass kicked), return to the easy area, sleep save and repeat. This worked for a while, and I was able to get better characters. I could eventually continue my game.
Unfortunately, dungeons are LONG and encounters are REALLY frequent. So even if I was able to beat strong monsters with no problem in short terms, eventually my magic points will run out, and I couldn't have enough stamina to actually go through the whole instance. Since you cannot save in any instance, this means more training on the world map again. This time I have to waste MP and cure magic in order to get them better, to use them a lot in dungeon. Wrong ! When you level your cure magic up, it also consume more MP, so no matter how much you level it up, your mana will always run out before you want it to do. So I again searched the net, and eventually read about the strategy to attack your own characters in order to increase their HP/MP, and so need less curing, and the curing last for longer. I did it and it worked very well. This time I should be safe and beat that stupid dungeon who keep me angry all this time. Yes, it finally worked for this dungeon. Yippee !
Well, let's continue the quest then. I wasn't even thinking that my troubles were far from being finished. The next dungeon featured harder monsters. Well I now know how to level up efficiently thanks to the internet, so it should be no problem. Thanks god I'm not playing this in 1988 when there was no internet. But there is still one problem. Those stronger monsters had special attacks that could cause blind to the whole party, while their colleagues have 1/2 chances to poison your character when they do normal attacks. That's quite bothersome, because not only being blind makes you miss often, or hit much less hard if you hit. Poison make you constantly loose life in and outside of the battle, which is annoying. In addition to this, the characters cannot gain ANY stats in this state. So I decided to buy a huge stock of antidotes and eye-drops to fix this problem, and let's try this dungeon again. However, the item inventory is limited to 32 items, and you have about 6 key items already very early in the game, who eats this space, leaving room for 26 items (there is no esuna spell here). I also want a couple of potions, potions heal about ~50 HP when monsters usually hit you a couple of time for the same amount of damage in each battle, which is pathetic.
So I carefully managed to calculate each single step of the hero so that it's always the shortest path to the end of the dungeon, by downloading maps from the net (again I have pity for people who played this in 1988), carefully avoid treasures chests because often the battles you'll have on the way are more bothersome than loosing it's content, and those with good content are guarded by very strong monsters. By doing this I was barely able to do 1/2 of the dungeon before running out of eye drops and antidotes, even with my inventory full of them before the start of the dungeon. I tried a couple of times, then decided to continue even with my WHOLE party poisoned AND blind, because that was the only solution, I did enough level up like this. But monsters takes really long to defeat because your guys often misses (or hit less hard) and enemies hit very hard on characters who additionally are poisoned, so even with ridiculously high HP, they lost them very quickly. I can heal, and use magic to defeat monsters more quickly. Unfortunately, MP is limited especially when your spells become powerful and eat lot of them, and MP are very hard to increase due to the fact the game lack levels. I could never be able to do the second half of this dungeon like this so this is frustrating, and eventually got even and smashed my cartridge so hard that it would never work again and bother anyone else in the world this much. Note that this is the first time I ever destroyed any video game material intentionally out of frustration, before playing FF2 I didn't think I would be able to do such a stupid thing. Now I do. FF2 is THAT frustrating.
So I decided to start the game again, but in different conditions. This time, I'm gonna to use an emulator, and to get cheat codes to have all 3 main characters with maxed out HP, MP and stats, best weapons, and to have the airship straight from the start. I could also use frame skipping, which is very useful, because FF2 is incredibly SLOW both on the field and in battle (the fact that I was playing a NTSC game on a PAL console, which is 6/5 slower, didn't help). And I FINALLY was able to kick the ass of those monsters in a matter of seconds, and was glad to do so. I beat the game in about 4-5 hours that way, and I have a good pissed laugh seeing how the dungeon that got me mad was ridiculously easy as opposed to those to come. Later dungeons would be 3 times bigger AND have a couple of bosses that I need to hit 3 times for 3000 damage to kill, I couldn't imagine what they could be without cheating when you hit them to maybe 100 damage. Not only that monsters could cast mini or frog spell on you on a 7 floor dungeon where you enter in battle each 5 steps, here I could dodge everything, but without cheating at least 60 maiden kisses would have been needed, when the game would barely allow you to take 10 along (among with other needed items). Rare and expensive X-Potions heals for 100 HP instead of 50 when monsters do a few hundred of damage to characters who have a defense of 99, all of this got me pissed. Not only this, but most later dungeons are labyrinths, and have a TON of "doors that leads to an empty room with hard monsters inside" which is a stupid idea. The last dungeon was so insane that I just couldn't believe it. Without a doubt even if I managed to beat the dungeon I was stuck in, I would certainly have been owned just later, no matter which level up technique I adopt. Final Fantasy II is a stupid game which is simply unbeatable without cheating and have ridiculous game mechanics, don't even think about playing this game and having fun at the same time, this just is not possible.
By the way I didn't mention a couple of other bothersome problems with the game, such as spells doing ridiculous damage or missing always until you level them up a ridiculous lot. Run didn't work a single time on all my play-through. I never has been able to run one single time in FF2, while this is often a key command when you encounter monsters who are too strong. When using an antidote or eye drop in battle it's possible for it to miss ! Incredible, considering they are expensive and needed ! I think I mentioned it, but potions does barely heal anything and the limited inventory is the stupidest idea in the world. Not only it disallows you to collect all weapon and armor of the game (something I love to do), but also it limits your healing items which is horrible. In FF1 potions also healed ridiculously, but at least you could have 99 of them, even if you drink 20 of them at one single time in the end of the game you could at least do this. When a fourth-member quit your party, it does so without warning and without giving you his equipment back, so if you know when he's going to leave you have to manually remove everything he has equipped if you want to keep/sell them. Money in the game is gotten more or less randomly after each battle, and is not fixed. It's not rare to gain 0 gil, or 30 gils after a battle when the next spell you want to have cost 2000. And each time you equip a new (better) weapon, you'll miss a lot before got it working because this is more realistic (even if the character is good with that type of weapon). FF2 really tried to be realistic with its battle system. However, games aren't supposed to be realistic, they are supposed to be entertaining. FF2 is by far the least fun and most frustrating RPG I have ever played, and it the only video game that leads me to destroy hardware although I'm rather the calm type usually.
The Bottom LineFinal Fantasy II is an interesting game as it invented the "story scene" in a RPG, which is a great invention, but the gameplay is rotten to the bone. And a game with rotten gameplay is doomed, no matter how good the story, graphics and music are and how you may love or not love FF2's world. So yeah, FF2 is completely doomed to fall into the category of terrible sequels. Thanks god Square managed to release quite a couple of awesome games following this one, and partially thanks to some elements FF2 introduced (story scenes, an actual introduction and a chocobo are the most notable) and thanks to what Square learned from their errors, they won't do it again, and that's a good thing.
I really don't know how a person was supposed to play this in 1988. Final Fantasy 2 not only is a bad game, but it's vicious, at first the person who play it will think this is a good game. Play this game "naturally" will make you have a fighter-only party, which shouldn't be too bad but you'll get owned by monsters before long, won't be able to level up with weaker monsters and be screwed. Even if you somehow knew to abuse the game mechanics (read cheat section for info) in order to get exactly what you want, your magic will be powerful but waste way too much MP and you'll get owned just as much because of the infamous "status aliments - limited inventory" combo, who is your worst enemy, and that's even worse because you didn't expect it. Even today with the internet and everything this game is completely unbeatable unless you spend about 95% of your playtime leveling up on the world map, and due to how the game works, pressing the A button will absolutely not work, you'll have to do complicated things in each battle, so you cannot just fall asleep with your finger on the A button like you can in some other RPGs (Dragon Warrior series or FF1). This make leveling up not only time-wasting, but extremely tedious.
So I highly recommend staying away of this game, you've heard pretty much anything about it in this review, and if you still want to know more because you are a fan of the series (for example if you want to know the story of each Final Fantasy game ever released) I recommend getting savestates with all your stats maxed out and everything. The story in itself was rather original and innovative for it's time, but not really this interesting, you won't be missing anything if you don't play the game. To get really great stories in the Final Fantasy series, you will have to wait until FF4. However, what happens in FF4 could probably not have been this good without FF2, so that's the only reason to be any interested in FF2.
This game is extremely challenging, I guess beating it without cheating could go over 50 hours (10 times the time it takes with straight cheating) but I doubt the nerves of a normal human would support this, and after all games are made to keep the player entertained. Sure some games will have you play them more because you are addicted than to just have fun, for example later Final Fantasy games tends to have you sad or make you think about life and this kind of things, which is different (and in my own opinion way better) than the standard "have fun" found in most games. However, FF2 have neither the addictiveness of modern RPGs nor the charm of older RPGs, and you are guaranteed to not have a single bit of fun playing this game with a dark depressing story and incredibly horrible battle system. Most bad games are fun to look at because they are terrible. For example I never laughed more than when I tried to play the horrible Heroes of the Lance on the NES, because I expected the game to be bad and see those badly drawn tiny character jump in a pit whatever I told them to do was fun. Final Fantasy II isn't even fun that way, even if you know the game was terrible before playing it, I doubt you will be laughing when the game says "intelligent down" at the end of each battle where you select "attack" for everyone saying "haha this game is so stupid lol".
In the end, my opinion is that Final Fantasy VIII had a bad salary system and monsters level ups, but overall the game has quite a few good points and has its moments, even if the game is flawed I can see why people enjoy it. Even the original Final Fantasy, which can get tedious and boring at times, money and experience gaining is too slow, but it is an overall a playable game and it has it's own charm. Final Fantasy II has nothing but an uninteresting world that you don't even care about saving and a horribly frustrating play system.
Overall, I hope I made it clear enough, avoid this game. If you get a remade version (FF Origins or something) I don't know if the flaws of FF2 were fixed because I didn't try, but this is at your own risk. Don't pay a high amount of money to get the uncommon Japanese cartridge, it's NOT worth the trouble even if you are a hardcore Final Fantasy fan. The only good use to a Japanese FF2 cartridge is to throw it out the window, and you don't want to buy it just for this.