After the staggering success of Final Fantasy, Squaresoft tasked creator Hironobu Sakaguchi with developing a sequel. A second last tale from Square-- okay look, it’s Final Fantasy II. No more jokes about it, I swear.
So, if you read part 1, you’ll know exactly what to expect! This time, I’m turning my attention to the sequel to 1987’s enormous success. Welcome to the world of Final Fantasy II!
This is part of a continuous series. Please be sure to check out other entries in the Year of Final Fantasy!
Final Fantasy II - Dec 17, 1988 (NES, WonderSwan Color, PS1, GBA, PSP, iOS, Android)
Platform used for playthrough: PSP remake, 2007
Story“The world can only have one emperor, and I am he!”
Unlike the first Final Fantasy, its sequel focuses far more on story. In this entry, the nefarious Emperor Mateus has taken over the kingdom of Fynn. The king and princess escape to the small town of Altair to lead the rebellion. Meanwhile, four youths narrowly escape the monster-infested city before being beaten nearly to death by the emperor’s knights.
When the head of the group, Firion, awakes, he’s in Altair with his friends Maria and Guy. When they were attacked, Maria’s brother Leon was captured and taken back to Fynn. From here, Firion implores Princess Hilda to let them join the rebellion. Initially, she rejects them, claiming they’re much too young to fight. However, after the token “prove your worth” segment, she recognizes their strength and allows them to fight.
From there, the story turns into what can only be described as Star Wars Episode IV as a medieval fantasy game. It’s the down-but-not-out rebellion vs. the terrifying empire. The three youths team up with several people over the course of the game in their quest to stop the Palamecian Empire before they take over the world.
For the story, it’s your average underdog affair. Though, as I said, Final Fantasy II focuses much more on the narrative than the previous title. It’s one of the many drastic changes we’ll be covering in this article! I don’t mind the focus on story much, though some may find it to get in the way. However, it’s worth mentioning that although there is more focus on story in Final Fantasy II, the story itself is still very basic. It services the game fine but don’t expect any medieval epics here. It’s a straightforward plot and doesn’t have any surprises at all.
… Of course I’m just kidding! It’s Final Fantasy, it wouldn’t be right without some craziness tossed in for good measure!
Spoilers beyond this point! Skip this section if you don’t want to be spoiled!
Admittedly, there were a few surprises throughout the story. The main one is, well … don’t get attached to many of the people in the story. I may have been a little disingenuous calling Final Fantasy II a videogame version of Star Wars. It’s more akin to Game of Thrones in that so many people die. It’s so crazy that in the GBA release and in this one as well, there’s a sidestory you unlock upon beating the game.
This side game, Soul of Rebirth, takes place in the afterlife. You play as characters comprised of people that die in the main game, and you have a full party. Fair enough, one is an NPC in the main game but regardless. Of the six people that fill your fourth slot in the main game, three of them get iced. Statistically speaking, I wouldn’t join Firion’s party if I were you!
Perhaps even more surprising, when you defeat the Emperor and save the world, you don’t really save the world. As it turns out, it was all part of the plan for him to die! He tried to take over the world and killed people in the process so that if he died, he would go to Hell. From there, he ended up taking over as the lord of Hell so he could bring forth his undead army to ensure victory. So after his lieutenant, the Dark Knight, assumes the throne following his death, Firion goes after him. As it turns out, Maria’s brother Leon is the Dark Knight! Before he can take the throne, however, Mateus returns from Hell and starts wreaking havoc.
Of course, this leads to the party going through a hidden passage of the dead in order to reach Pandaemonium, the castle in which Hell’s leader resides. Naturally, Firion and friends defeat Mateus again on his new home turf, killing him for good. And the world is saved. For real this time!
Spoilers end here! You can continue reading!
It’s not nearly as bonkers as the crazy twist in the first game, but it certainly makes up for it in shock value over the course of the game. You’ll be surprised, I’m sure of it!
Graphics“Look at you. Do you realize what you've done?”
Much like the previous game, Final Fantasy II was quite the good-looking game on the Famicom. Squaresoft wanted to make sure they kept the game looking as good as possible after the positive reception of the previous title. However, if you look at the dates, you’ll notice that Final Fantasy II released exactly one day before the first game’s anniversary. As such, the game had new content and art but plenty of reused assets as well.
However, much like the first game’s many remakes, Final Fantasy II was able to really get its own identity later on. The remakes helped distinguish the characters and enemies a lot better, which helped me appreciate it a little more. The character designs look decent, if not a little basic besides Firion. Also, I couldn’t help but notice that Kain clearly influenced the look of Ricard, the dragoon in this game. The remake is almost a direct copy of Kain’s sprite, but with a more washed-out lavender color instead of Kain’s vibrant purple one.
The enemies look absolutely fantastic, though. Although there are plenty of palette swaps in the game, the bosses and new enemies are great. They’re imposing and shouldn’t be taken lightly! Not much to say here, simply that it’s clear in the remakes that they wanted to do their best work. This being Square Enix by now, of course, it’s no surprise that the spritework looks gorgeous.
On top of that, the original Final Fantasy II was the first to have character portraits when people are speaking. The remake is no different, and the portraits are based directly off of Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork. Unsurprisingly, they look great!
As it stands, not too much to say here. Some of the designs are boring (Maria and Guy specifically) and the original clearly reused assets, but overall the quality is still top-notch!
Sound“Luckily, Paul doesn't know the meaning of the word. I've heard him bragging about breaking in.”
To be honest, I never really hear anyone discuss the soundtrack for Final Fantasy II. In fact, nobody seems to really notice it. When you have a composer as talented as Nobuo Uematsu, his music will essentially be competing with itself, especially after composing so many games in the same franchise. However, outside of one admittedly kind of average Black Mages cover, Final Fantasy II’s soundtrack has mainly fallen off the map. It’s not amazing, but it definitely deserves a little more love than it gets in my opinion.
Speaking of that average cover above, Final Fantasy II was the first game in the franchise to add a boss theme! In the original Final Fantasy, there was one rather famous battle theme and that was it. This time around, bosses got their own imposing musical number. There wasn’t any final boss theme, however; we’ll get to that soon enough …
The main theme of the game properly exudes the uneasiness throughout the entire story. It’s not upbeat and exciting like the first game’s overworld theme. Instead, it’s slower and offers an air of uncertainty. This complements the game’s story very well in my opinion. Nobuo Uematsu always knows when to play appropriate music and how to make it most effective.
Admittedly, though, Final Fantasy II doesn’t have the strongest soundtrack in the series. Some of the tracks, such as the theme when you (or more likely, the various characters you encounter) die doesn’t aptly convey the sorrow of the scene well.
Overall, the soundtrack is decent. Some of the tracks are great (I particularly like the Magician’s Tower theme), but others fall flat when they really shouldn’t.
Gameplay“I don't know how much more I can take.”
Fair warning: this is going to be one hell of a long section. Most people are aware that Final Fantasy II changed up the gameplay, but the sheer number of additions and changes is rather shocking. This is especially true when you realize that, again, this game came out less than a year after the original Final Fantasy.
Let’s get the major things out of the way right now. Yes, the traditional EXP system is absent in Final Fantasy II. Instead, the game adopts what I can only describe as a prototype Skyrim level system. The more you use certain stats, the more you earn in them. For instance, if you attack with swords, your strength and sword levels will rise. The same goes for lances, staves, axes and bows. If you get hit a lot, your HP and defense will rise as well. Dodge hits and your evasion will go up. If you use lots of magic, you’ll gain higher MP as well as spirit (for white magic) or intelligence (if using black magic).
Speaking of magic, that is new in and of itself. You only buy spells as items called tomes. You can use these tomes to teach any character any spell you wish. When they equip it, that spell starts at Level 1. As you use the spell, it eventually levels up. That’s right: not only do your stats level up individually, but your magic does too. This system has its pros and cons, but overall I would call it a definite downside.
Unless you like grinding, magic is an absolute chore to level. The plus side is that you can level individual spells semi-quickly up to level 5 or 6, when it starts to take a lot more time so you focus on a few key spells. Therefore, with a max level of 16, you can get most spells to be at least partially useful. However, the issue comes when you start using magic later in the game toward the end. By then, such as when you get Ultima, it’s so late-game that it’s not even worth it to equip to anyone since all you really need are Haste, elemental spells, Berserk, and Cure. Seriously, that’s all I really used. I leveled Holy a little bit, but I was doing so much damage with other spells that it simply wasn’t worth the time to buff it further.
That wasn’t a joke, by the way. I went through a half-decent portion of the playthrough and lost a major party member on a quest to get the “ultimate magic” as the game dictated, only to literally never equip it to anyone. There was just no point. So their sacrifice was very much in vain, much to their dismay.
Anyway, it isn’t all bad here. Final Fantasy II also was the first game to introduce the front and back row in battles. When standing in the front row, you can hit with melee weapons, but you take full damage. In the back row, you take less damage but you can only use bows and magic to attack enemies. While Final Fantasy let you swap the order of your characters, Final Fantasy II began the trend of strategically placing characters in the front or back.
Now, let’s talk about that formation for a minute. I never changed Firion, Maria, or Guy’s positions. Through the entire game, they stayed as they were: Firion first in the front, Maria second in the back, and Guy third in the front. However, I don’t know if enemies are programmed to attack a certain spot more often or if Guy is just super unlucky, but this game absolutely incensed me quite a few times. For 90% of the game, it felt like Guy had an enormous “Kick Me” sign on his back, with a smaller sign underneath that said “And Then Kick Me Again, But With a Bladed Shoe."
Keep in mind that I did very minimal grinding except for about half an hour to get some gil in the beginning. By this, I mean I hardly ever punched myself as is one of the (shockingly viable) grinding strategies in Final Fantasy II. Now, recall how the leveling system works. Specifically, focus on HP. If you get hit a lot, you gain more HP, right? Well, I don’t even have a funny joke or anything about this. Just ... just look.
Can you take a wild guess how annoyed I was after the first several hours of Guy getting his teeth kicked in? Another major annoyance: despite having nearly the same defense as Firion or Maria, Guy would always get hit for absurd amounts of damage. One example are the Vampire Ladies. Firion once took a critical hit from one for about 1100 damage. Guy? 4000 damage. Yeah, it was “mildly annoying” we’ll say.
Sure, by the end he had so much HP he was able to tank it, but I still don’t understand how it would happen that way. Regardless, I can safely say that Guy quickly became the main character of my game, getting all the best armor and axes just to stay alive. It was to the point of utter insanity by the end.
Now, let me just relax and talk about happy things, like the targeting system for magic! Unlike Final Fantasy, the sequel lets you group-cast any spell right out of the gate. For white magic, this splits the healing ability of the spell so as not to overpower it, or for buffs and debuffs a group-cast splits the percentage chance of it working among the targets. For attack magic, then, the damage a spell does is split among targets as well. Once most buff and debuff spells get to a high enough level, the chance of them missing diminishes a great deal.
Another interesting change in Final Fantasy II is the inn system. Normally, staying at inns costs pennies at the beginning, but towns later on charge more and more. In Final Fantasy II, however, the system is completely overhauled. Yes, they even bothered to redo staying at an inn. Instead of simply paying more at later-game towns, your inn formula is set in stone from Altair. The game bases the cost to stay at an inn on how much HP and MP you need to heal up. The formula is as follows:
(Amount of HP to be restored x .25) + Amount of MP to be restored = Cost in gil
As annoying as that may seem, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Early on, it quickly becomes better to burn MP instead of healing HP and MP. Use your MP to cast Cure on your party as much as possible. Not only does this help level your Cure spell (ugh), but as your HP rises ,it becomes beneficial to pay the 1 gil per MP versus the 1 gil per 4HP. Trust me on this one!
Beyond that, another thing—Dreadnought. Ahem, as I was saying, another—Oh my god the Dreadnought.
Okay, I need to get this off my chest. I was trying to figure out how best to segue into it, but no thanks. Just like this dungeon, I’m just going to blindside my readers with a little bit of a rant. So, the Dreadnought is the terrifying super-airship that the Palamecian Empire is going to use to crush all opposition. Your job about halfway through the game is to board and disable it.
Getting a way onto the ship is no problem. The difficulty of the game isn’t too bad so far. It doesn’t hold your hand at all, but it doesn’t exactly ruin your life, either. Until you board the Dreadnought. For some reason, the difficulty of the game follows a normal curve with the exception of this one dungeon, which spikes the curve like a thumbtack.
And make no mistake, getting prodded by a tack is exactly how it feels to go through this dungeon. I didn’t have to back out and grind, but if I hadn’t stocked up on potions and such to prepare, I would have never beaten that dungeon. It was awful. All of a sudden, you’re hit with enemies that can stun you, poison you, sleep you, and steal your HP in huge quantities. Not to mention, you almost always start at a disadvantage because for some reason all these shambling zombies are insanely fast and ambush you every chance they get.
Speaking of that, do you want to know how bad it was? Never in Final Fantasy history have I ever had a meltdown, but Final Fantasy II absolutely broke me for a day. After six straight ambushes, a non-ambush, then three more ambushes in a row, I was just so done. I had to stop playing for the rest of the day after I powered through that dungeon because I was legitimately getting upset. I know I sound calm discussing it now, but that’s because this is a semi-professional article. If you could see the Skype chat logs of me talking to my friends while I was suffering through that god-forsaken dungeon, you would probably laugh and/or wonder why Charles Manson was allowed to use a computer.
Now, after that fun little adventure, there are still a few little gameplay quirks that I found rather nice. First, and perhaps most helpful throughout the game, is the simple fact that the ship you get can land anywhere in Final Fantasy II. This is unlike the first game, where the ship could only land at ports littered around the land. It’s a nice little touch.
Another interesting, if underutilized, mechanic is the Key Term system. When you talk to certain people, an important word or phrase will highlight in red. Using the “Learn” command from your list of options, you can learn that word and then ask people about it for more information. This helps you figure out where you need to go or what you need to do next. If you see a green-highlighted term, that means you’re looking for a key item to use. It’s used a few times to advance the plot, but overall it’s mainly there to point you in the right direction. It was cool to see though, almost like a mechanic from a point-and-click adventure game.
One minor thing I thought was a really nice touch, however, is the handedness of your characters. When looking at the stats screen, the game tells you which hand is the dominant one for each person. This means that when you equip someone with a weapon, you should do so in their dominant hand for maximum damage output. If the person is dual-wielding, make sure to put the stronger weapon in their dominant hand (or press “Optimal” and let the game do so for you). This doesn’t really change gameplay at all, but I thought it was very cool that Square fleshed out the characters so much. There are only two left-handed people in the game, but they still added it anyway. That’s some dedication!
I admit that the gameplay is a very mixed bag. I have no qualms applauding Square for taking Final Fantasy II in such drastically new directions. However, despite the bold move, some very basic things fall completely flat. Honestly, I felt the stat leveling system isn’t that bad. As I mentioned, it’s a lot like Skyrim long, long before Skyrim was a thing. That being said, leveling individual magic spells is so asinine that it makes 95% of spells, including Ultima, totally obsolete.
Overall, the gameplay is … average. It’s not stellar, but it’s not as bad as people make it out to be either. For every good thing, there’s a bad thing to balance it out. If Square refined it, the gameplay could work a lot better, in my opinion.
Extras/Replay Value“Nobly fought! Now let us give you your just reward!”
Final Fantasy II, much like its predecessor, doesn’t have much in the ways of extra content on the Famicom. However, remakes of the game added more and more as time went on.
For starters, the GBA version of Final Fantasy II in Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls added a bonus quest called Soul of Rebirth. This is the previously-mentioned mode from the story spoiler section so I won’t elaborate much, but it’s only unlocked after you beat the game. It’s not a super long quest, but its addition is nice in extending the length of the game.
In the PSP Anniversary Edition of the game, you get Soul of Rebirth as well as the three Arcane Labyrinths. These three labyrinths are player-generated dungeons where you can get some very good loot. Players create these dungeons anew each time because the floors you go to are based on Key Terms you know. To enter a floor, you must speak a Key Term to a torch on that floor. The term you use will determine what floor you go to.
You can traverse each labyrinth as much as you want, while doing them all contributes to fighting a superboss. You can fight this superboss repeatedly, as you must fight him at least four times to get each character’s super-ultimate weapon. On top of this, depending on what words you use over the course of the labyrinths, you can then open up to an even harder superboss. You learn new Key Terms specifically for use in the Arcane Labyrinth, and two of these words will determine what super-magic you get. Choose one, and the superboss will simply give you the Revive tome. This spell requires no leveling and revives all allies and enemies on the field to full HP and MP.
However, choose another Key Term and you will have to fight the superboss himself. Defeat him, and you will get the Destroy tome. Destroy is like Death on steroids. It also requires no leveling but you need 999MP to use it. Destroy hits all allies and enemies for 9999 damage, with the exception of the caster. It leaves the caster with 1HP an 0MP, so it’s essentially a super-nuke and you should only use it in extreme circumstances.
You can only get one of these spells per playthrough, but I think Revive is infinitely more useful than Destroy to be honest. I recommend if you go for the extra goodies, get that one. Of course, if you want to challenge the superboss, then by all means do that instead! Unlike being able to refight the superboss leading to this one, however, once you get either magic tome you can’t get the other. Choose wisely!
I never utilized the bonus stuff in my playthrough, and I imagine playing the same dungeons over and over for new equipment would get boring, but I appreciate that the option is there for those who want it. Can’t complain about the extras on offer here!
The Final Word"If you'll excuse me, I... I just need to rest. Just for a little while..."
Final Fantasy II is something of an enigma to me. Square was in a tight spot and made Final Fantasy out of pure desperation, and it turned out to be a huge success. Now, a company in dire need of funds would want to stick to that formula at least a few times to ensure sales before experimenting. Not Square, though. They dared to send their new IP onto the Corkscrew a few times at the amusement park right after their company was saved to see what would happen.
Admittedly, it’s hard not to admire the ambition of Final Fantasy II. The stronger focus on story, the brand new level system, and extreme detail-oriented afterthoughts such as character handedness show that the team really did care about the game. The developers do it well enough that it seems like everything is going to be okay with the game. However, it doesn’t all come up smelling like Wild Roses.
The magic system is, quite frankly, abhorrent. Square never should have implemented it the way they did. It’s an absolute nightmare that discourages variety unless you enjoy hours of pointless grinding. This is especially true considering the overall difficulty of the main game, in which you only need a handful of spells to carry you to the end.
On top of that, the music in the game is decent but not sensational. Some tracks do stand out, but on the whole it’s just good. Not great like Final Fantasy’s, but good.
All in all, I would recommend Final Fantasy II if only because I would want players to see all the changes to the Final Fantasy formula. It’s worth a playthrough since the game isn’t very long, but I guarantee you that you will not enjoy every minute of it. Which is a shame, as with some gameplay refinement, Final Fantasy II could be a stellar, unique game instead of just a unique one.