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Finishing the Game – Final Fantasy II

This might just be my Final Fantasy! At long last I have crawled my way out of the living agony that is Final Fantasy II! It took just under thirty hours and a lot of tears and yelling in anger, but I have returned with a story to tell. So get yourself a snack, pull up a chair, and prepare to hear me of my pain. I am the Liam and this is Finishing the Game.

Image Credit: Square Enix

Image Credit: Square Enix

For those of you who have read the last article, you already know about how I came to own Dawn of Souls. So if you haven’t and are interested in hearing about it, then you can go and take a look at the last article on Final Fantasy I. Instead, why don’t we take a moment to appreciate the age of Final Fantasy II? Because it has been around only a little shorter time than Final Fantasy—thus, the II at the end of the title. This game came out on December 17, 1988 and that means it is older than I am by a couple of years. Back then, the game looked pretty much like its predecessor. Which is to say, it was pretty basic and there were some recycled character models, such as they were. So much so that I really grew to appreciate just how good both of the games on this cartridge looked. And if you have seen the game on the PSP and iOS then you will see that they have made another jump and are quite pretty.

My copy of Final Fantasy II has sprite based graphics, just like Final Fantasy, which means they age well and look pretty good. Especially if I play them on something with a backlight, like the DS or my laptop, where I can better see the color pallet. The attack and spell animations are pretty good, though sometimes it does feel like a spell takes too long to sit through. The sound effects and music for the game were also good, though the there were times where town and dungeon music got annoying after spending a lot of time in the same area. So I would suggest you just stick to an MP3 or have something going on in the background to help break up the monotony of the soundtrack in some of the longer dungeons. By the way, you will be hearing the word “long” a lot in this review. So fair warning.

Image Credit: Square Enix

The plot of Final Fantasy follows the story of three young heroes as they join the rebellion against the Empire. I swear, I am not rehashing the plot to Star Wars. Those characters are Firion, the leader of the group; Guy, the monosyllabic strong arm; and Maria, the sister of Leon (who disappears at the beginning of the game) and the implied archer of the group. The three of them travel across the land, trying to help the Resistance gain enough strength to topple the Empire. The story sounds fairly basic from this description, but I am trying to avoid spoilers. What I will say is that there is an excellent story to go with the game and I felt like there was a real purpose to my journey. Something that was sorely lacking from the original Final Fantasy. The characters grew and developed, they struggle through twists in the story, and the game makes you feel quite heroic in the scope of your actions. Which is great!

Gameplay is pretty much the same as the last game, but with a simple change to the battle mechanics. You can now put characters in either the front or back row, which affects which weapons they can attack with and how hard it is to get at them. It is an interesting mechanic, but largely wasted. Everywhere I looked, I saw the same advice: Stick to the front and get your characters stats leveled up. So that is the way I played the game and it seemed to work out all right. Otherwise, you are still traveling the overworld to get to various set pieces, like towns and dungeons, and exploring and interacting with whatever you come across. There was one other massive change, however, and that was to how your level up.

Leveling as changed dramatically in this version of the game, as you now level up your abilities by using them in combat (or out of combat in the case of some spells, like Cure). For weapon skills and for your stats (Strength, Dexterity, etc.), this seems capped by the power level of your opponent. So you can’t jack up your level in swords by beating up goblins for a few hours straight. Instead, you are going to have to keep finding stronger opponents. Spells didn’t share this same restriction, but your spells require an amount of mana equal to their level and that keeps them in check. I actually out-leveled my cure spell early on and it made things pretty difficult until I got my mana to a place where it could keep up.

Your character’s stats are going to level up by using the associated mechanic, so your strength goes up as you attack and your HP goes up as you take damage. This is difficult to control and the only option you really have to raise these abilities is to fight enemies a lot. Getting hit (whether by a spell or an attack) and hitting back are your only recourse to getting your stats up.

Since your characters level up their skills and their stats by using them, there are no traditional classes in this game. So I would recommend that you just go ahead and give all your characters the same spells and pick some weapons for each of them. By spreading out who is using what weapons, you can maximize your ability to use the more powerful magic gear that you find. I gave Firion swords, Maria got spears, and Guy took axes. Also, you can choose to use a shield or to wield two weapons at once, which really means you have to choose whether you want to do more damage or take more hits. I decided to double up on weapons. My thinking was that the sooner the battle was over, the better. So I was more prone to damage and didn’t do well against faster enemies, though I did better against big tough guys.

If I was going to do it again then I would be getting shields, because in the late game there are a lot of enemies that are resistant to weapon attacks. Having two weapons means very little when you have to rely on using magic. Speaking of which. When it came to spells, I specialized Firion and Maria for white magic and Guy for black magic—which was a mistake. By having them all use the same spells from both schools I could have maximized my ability to fight enemies with specific weaknesses and saved myself some trouble in many fights. It gave me a lot of trouble and certainly increased my frustration with the game.

Now if it sounds like all of this would take a lot of time then you are right. It takes a lot of grinding to get your powers up to snuff and keep them there. Worse, you really need to do it if you are going to keep your sanity in some of the other dungeons. I had so much trouble because I would get bored grinding and try to move on too early. You can make it, but it required a lot of reloading. Some fights are just unfair, or seems that way, and

Image Credit: Square Enix

I hated it. Near the end of the game I kept running into abyss worms and death riders, often being ambushed by them (so they get a free turn to attack me), and they were absurdly dangerous in groups of 3 or more. When they all struck before me I found my party devastated. Often, I just turned off the power and reloaded. This difficulty spikes really killed a lot of my enjoyment and there were times when I was ready to give up and just write about how the game was too much for me.

There are two big problems, one in the early game and one in the mid-to-late game, that really exacerbate all of this. Early on, when I was wandering around looking for monsters to kill, I would constantly stray just a little too far and get axed by mobs of enemies that were way too powerful for my level. If you didn’t stay on the plot rails then you quickly got ganked by the enemy. This became less of an issue when I got to about the mid-point in the game and could actually face off with those enemies, which was a welcome relief, but I had a new problem replace it: The alternating fourth party member.

You see, you don’t have a party of four all the time like you did in the first game. Instead, your fourth party member will swap out at various times in the plot, sticking you with a character who is often much weaker than your current party. Suddenly, you have to spend time leveling up that character so that you don’t have a weak link in the party. Not to mention any gear that you lost when the old party member left or was killed. It is a real hassle. Much like the mechanic for having two ranks, it sounds cooler in theory than in practice. This would not have been near as much of an issue if the game provided you with new members that were scaled with your current power level. Sadly, that is not the case. They have a preset power level that is weaker than they need to be to keep up with the other members of the party and (usually) their gear is lackluster.

Even without all of the grinding that I had to go through, I still think this game was pretty long and this was both a good thing and a bad thing. Now that is a good quality in an RPG, where you are expecting an adventure that takes some serious time to complete. You really feel like you got the most for your money when you spend a week or two playing through the game. But some of the dungeons (particularly the Jade Passage and Pandemonium) took quite a while to get through. Combined with the way in which random encounters would wear away at your party, it was not uncommon for me to have to use the teleport spell to get out of the dungeon and go heal up before trying again. (Brief tangent: I hate that the teleport spell damages you and that it is such a weak combat spell, meaning that leveling it up so that you take less damage is really hard.) On the plus side, I usually had some extra levels and better gear when that happened, along with some clue as to where I was going, so it was a little easier the second time.

My only advice is that you be aware that some of these dungeons are going to be a real trial. Keep a large supply of potions or hi potions, ether is a must, and don’t skimp on the status curing items like gold needle and maiden’s kiss. You won’t need most of them very often (antidote is going to be your best friend) but it is nice to have them because you don’t have to waste your mana on Esuna or Basuna. Now if you are willing to level those spells up then you can quickly clear your whole party of those conditions, especially in combat, but I found it better to just use the items. By the end, I would routinely blow through all of my hi potions before using Cure to try and get some extra life out of it. This was made worse by the fact that the Hi Potions did not level up enough to keep pace with your health at the later levels, so you had to drink four or five after a fight just to get back within an acceptable range of hit points. Elixir is also excellent, but incredibly expensive, so keep a stock for some of the boss fights. If you are really hurting and your resources are thin, then retreat.

Another piece of advice for getting through lose long dungeons. If you are near the end of a dungeon then consider ignoring the chests that you could loot. Sometimes you get a nice item, but the better ones come with a monster in a box who jumps out and fights you. All too often these guys were mini-bosses and that really hurts. I didn’t open a single chest in the last two dungeons just because of the pounding I was taking from the random encounters. I would probably have had a better time of things if my party was more powerful, making use of all the same spells and spending more time leveling up. Starting this process early might save you some real pain later on. But I really don’t feel that I should have had to burn all that time just so that I could have a decent time in the end game. Perhaps the power curve in Final Fantasy spoiled me.

So I have been ragging a lot on this game, so I should say something nice. The key words system is amazingly useful and really helped to correct the plot progression problems that I ran into while playing Final Fantasy. Being able to ask important NPCs about specific words would lead me to my next objective and kept things moving along nicely. Plus, it helped to give me more sense of story because I felt like was actually interacting with other characters besides my party. So not only was there a great story, but there was good immersion too.

Image Credit: Square Enix

So why the hell didn’t I finish the game the first time I played it? Well I would say there are two reasons. The first is that I started my Final Fantasy II game after having beaten the Lich in Final Fantasy I. So I was interrupting my already started game to try out the other game on the cartridge. The second was that I was quickly discouraged because of the level up system and the fact that I kept stumbling too far out of the zone where I should have been. So I would get killed a bunch of times and then I would turn off the game in frustration.

Having replayed it, I can honestly say that I would probably have stopped playing the game if I wasn’t going to write an article about it. I was so frustrated with my fourth character being gimped compared to not only the main three, but also against the monsters that I was expected to fight. And after so much time spent just running around and killing things I wanted to give up oh so badly. I would say that this is one that you should stay away from unless you either love Final Fantasy or have already bought the Dawn of Souls cartridge. It has good graphics and story, but the music and gameplay is repetitive. One final note is that, after completing the game, I unlocked a new game in Final Fantasy II, called Souls of Rebirth. This is an entirely separate story that follows four of the characters who died in the course of the main game. It sounds interesting, but it is not part of the main game and I need a break from this system. So join me next time and we will take a look at a more two-dimensional RPG.

Title: Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Game Boy Advance

About the Author
___________________________________________

Liam “the Wildonion” Cassidy is doing something inappropriate right now. Or maybe he’s just napping. Or writing, yeah he’s writing. Totally on topic right there. You believe me right? Of course you do, for I am the ever-present and ever-faithful narrator! So believe me when I say that Liam is writing right this very moment. And saving the world! Or something. Oh and you can follow Liam on his Twitter as @Wildonion13.

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