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Final Fantasy II – A (not so) Quick Review

I made a bet with my friends that I could play Final Fantasy 1 through 10 in a year (just the 10 main titles). I've frequently made similar absurd claims and I always gave up (1 new JRPG a month, replay all of Kingdom Hearts, etc) but now there are stakes, I feel compelled to finish. A link to my review for FF1.

For reference, I played the PSP port of the GBA port of the PS1 port of the Wonderswan port of the original NES version. My previous experience was as a young boy of ~12 playing on my GBA. Back then, I probably only got about 3/4 of the way through. It was rough but so were a lot of games and I just never went back to it. Years later I would buy into the false narrative that FF2 was weird and to be shunned.

Those liars couldn't be more wrong. FF2 is better than FF1 in almost every possible way.

So the biggest "issue" people have with this game is its unconventional leveling system. There are no character levels or experience points, rather, you grow stats by performing relevant functions (hitting things increases strength, getting hit raises HP, etc). Other than HP every few battles, no stat increase is guaranteed which can add a small amount of anxiety but the probability evens out eventually. Additionally, weapons and spells have their own skill level that increases with use. This increase is guaranteed/static

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So at the end of the day what you have is a game where you fight enemies with weapons and spells and get stronger as a result. It's really not that different. Yes, you CAN game the system, but that's just another form of grinding. What I will say is that the system and its underlying mechanics is obtuse, even in these more modern ports. Some things are obvious (str, magic, hp) while the relationship between evasion and agility is not, but this is true of many older games and not specific to FF2. What you're left with is the ability to craft characters however you want. In a day and age where choice is king, I can't see how this isn't lauded as a major selling point for the title. It's amazing how flexible and innovative this system was even all the way back on the NES (bugs/glitches aside).

Gone are the "faceless" characters and generic NPCs, replaced with named individuals with a backstory and reason to fight. Orphans, displaced from their homes by the evil, murderous Emperor Mateus. Firion, Maria, Guy (and eventually Leon) are not some boring heroes of light, but "regular" people who join the rebel cause to stop the Emperor and eventually the very forces of hell itself. NPCs come in and out of your party, the story, and even this mortal realm as many of them sacrifice their lives for the quest. There are (albeit teeny tiny) character arcs and motivations for good and bad guys alike. I found myself unexpectedly charmed by the entire cast lol at Zombie Borg dying almost instantly.

Making its debut, and to my knowledge never to be seen again, is the keyword system. Certain words spoken by NPCs will be highlighted, indicating they can be "learned". Once learned, these words can be spoken to plot relevant NPCs for additional dialogue. Much of this is mandatory/plot oriented, but often there are just fun tidbits to flesh out the world. Similarly, key items can showed/given to NPCs to progress the plot instead of just sitting passively in your inventory. It's very reminiscent of a point and click adventure without bogging down the game. It makes talking to everyone feel more rewarding and takes some of the burden off the player for having to remember every little detail in the hopes that it's important.

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Dungeons are long and sometimes dull, being little more than multi tiered mazes, but encounter rates just felt better this time around. No hard data on that, but it definitely seemed better than FF1. World map traversal is surprisingly easy going. The airship feels a little late to the party unfortunately, but you have (paid) limited access to it almost from the get go as well, so it evens out.

Among its many unique qualities, this is a game of firsts. Story, Chocobos, Cid and his strong tie with airships, Dragoons! Small inclusions that would become practically mandatory inclusions in future titles, changing and evolving in their own ways. So many new spells that would

TL'DR – What a fantastic sequel. An odd ball to be sure, as was common for many direct NES sequels for the time, but one that I think is ignored too often, and too easily. If you've skipped it based on negative talk, circle back around. If it's been a while, I urge you to pick up one of the modern ports (PSP was fantastic) and give it another chance.

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