A Tale of Wild Roses And Imperial Corruption
Few RPG franchises have lasted as long as Final Fantasy, and none are able to compete with its thirteen-man roster. This long-running series holds a special place in the hearts of many, but few have played the entire series. Many gamers have played the Playstation-era Final Fantasies, and perhaps even the 16-bit titles, but most haven't touched the NES installments; especially the ugly duckling of the series, sometimes referred to as Final Fantasy 2.
Before you get confused about which FF2 this is (thanks to Square previously assigning incorrect numbers to FF series installments to bridge gaps in missed titles), the Final Fantasy 2 I'm talking about is the title that was released on the Famicom in Japan and later saw a U.S. release on the PlayStation, GBA, and PSP. This title has now been released in the U.S. twice, but many gamers (including Final Fantasy fans) have yet to play it. Perhaps this is due to Final Fantasy 2 being significantly different than the other FF games, or fear that it has aged poorly may be to blame. Whatever the case, I will help you determine whether or not this PSP remake of what was once a lost Final Fantasy is worth purchasing.
Like the remake of the original Final Fantasy for the PSP, Final Fantasy 2 is visually splendid. Instead of featuring basic character models that were hard to differentiate from that of the original Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy 2 for the PSP features visually distinct characters, which is a good thing considering that these characters actually had names and illustrations back in 1988. Final Fantasy 2's characters look great in sprite form -- whether in battle or on the field. This is evident from the simple example of the character Firion's conspicuous bandana, which is a vast improvement from his red hair and clothing in the original that made him no different from a Final Fantasy 1 Warrior.
Final Fantasy 2's environments are just as appealing as its characters, villains, and monsters. From the crystalline, underworld fortress of Pandaemonium to the bowels of a sea serpent, Final Fantasy 2 looks stunning. Its environments sport similar shadowing and weather effects to Final Fantasy PSP, which means it looks great, but that also makes FF2 indistinguishable from its PSP predecessor.
As with the other PSP Final Fantasy remake, Final Fantasy 2's remixed soundtrack sounds amazing. Final Fantasy 2 had a great soundtrack for a Famicom title, but it sounds leagues better on the PSP with nearly orchestral quality renditions. From the triumphant sounding rebels' theme to the world map theme that evokes a feeling of hopelessness, FF2's music sounds wonderful.
Final Fantasy 2's great visuals and sound will come as no surprise to those who've played Final Fantasy for PSP, but its gameplay and story will astound you, unless you've played it already. You'll soon discover that there's a reason no one can seem to agree on the quality of Final Fantasy 2 -- the reason being it's so much different from the other installments.
The original Final Fantasy was quite customizable -- with characters you could name and job classes, but it was nowhere near as deep as the system of Final Fantasy 2. In FF2, your characters are all given names, but you can mold your characters into whatever you desire (there are no standard job classes). This Final Fantasy is so customizable that it allows you to equip each of your four characters with any type of magic and weapons.
Let's say you want a powerful fighter of some sort -- you can choose to have her fight barehanded, you can equip her with a sword and shield, two swords, an axe and a sword, a bow, a spear, or pretty much any medieval weapon you can imagine. If you want her to be a particularly powerful fighter, it's important not to equip her with a shield as it decreases attack power, but other types of armor won't affect your strength. Also, if you desire, she can be equipped with various types of magic ranging from Cure to Ultima.
But wait, that's not the end of Final Fantasy 2's complex character-building system. In FF2, you don't gain standard levels. Instead, you'll gain levels for each type of weapon you equip (sword levels, barehanded levels, spear levels, etc.), and you'll gain levels for individual spells. These levels are gained through continual use of a particular type of weapon or spell in battle (and outside in the case of healing spells). But if these are the only levels that can be gained, how does a character improve his statistics?
Instead of gaining standard levels, your character will earn stats such as increased strength by attacking. He'll earn more HP in an unconventional manner -- by receiving damage and staying alive at the end of battle. A character can obtain more MP by using magic regularly, and defense can increase by being attacked. This system sounds quite complex, but basically, you want to receive blows and use spells and attacks that you'd like to improve.
Even though this system was quite innovative for 1988, it had some major flaws. Gaining HP was a major hassle, because being attacked by enemies rarely boosted your health stat. You usually had to be within critical damage, and even then you were lucky if you were awarded with a bonus. To gain HP, players often had to attack themselves for hundreds of battles to create a party that was capable of tackling Final Fantasy 2's numerous dungeons.
With the PSP remake, this painstaking process has mostly been remedied. I found it necessary to attack my characters for a few battles very early in the game, but I was usually awarded plenty of HP and rarely had to go out of my way to grind. Gaining spell levels and MP was still a hassle, however, so I mostly stuck with physical attacks and restorative magic.
I noticed that my characters' attack power steadily went up as I progressed through the game, but strangely enough, my bare-knuckled brawler was often far more powerful than my sword or axe wielding fighters. These other fighters did plenty of damage during the first half of the game, but my monk-styled character seemed to be the only one who could penetrate the defenses of powerful enemies. Despite this, I kept using my sword, since the final boss fight practically requires it.
Clearly, there are still some balancing issues with the battle system in the PSP version, but fortunately, most enemies and bosses are significantly easier than your opponents from the notoriously difficult Famicom original.
Another improvement unique to the PSP (and GBA) versions of Final Fantasy 2 is the removal of an inventory limit. The Famicom version of FF2 only allowed you to carry 32 items (including key items) and the PSX version only allowed 64, which still wasn't enough. This limitation caused me to throw away a sword with a misleadingly low statistic that is practically necessary to defeat the final boss.
Fortunately, I had plenty of space with the PSP version's unlimited inventory, so I kept the Blood Sword this time and beat the ridiculously powerful final boss with ease. To avoid the pain of nearly completing a game and being unable to beat the final boss, I highly recommend keeping a Blood Sword (look up its location with a FAQ if necessary).
Final Fantasy 2's battle system is considerably different than the fighting of its predecessor, and that remains true with the rest of its gameplay to some extent. In Final Fantasy 2, you'll still traverse an entire world, and you'll eventually happen upon a canoe, ship, and airship, but you'll also discover two additional vehicles and a creature that eventually became the FF series' mascot. You'll also witness Cid's first appearance (he was merely a name in the first Final Fantasy), and get the chance to ride on his legendary airship.
Besides piloting an assortment of vehicles and traveling the world, you'll enter numerous dungeons and towns. Some of these would appear in later Final Fantasy titles, so it's great to see where they originated.
Besides noticing some familiar locales (if you've played other games in the series), you'll also find a keyword system that was used to a lesser degree (mainly to transfer items) in other Final Fantasies. FF2's keyword system is fairly simple -- basically, you engage in conversation with an important non-player character, and if you notice a highlighted word, you'll want to select the option 'learn'. This will enable you to learn a new term, and you can then ask that person (or other people) about that term, which will often clue you in on where to go next. Sometimes, you'll also exchange items with these important NPCs to advance your quest.
One of the other most interesting aspects of Final Fantasy 2 is its story. Have you ever joined a rebel organization whose goal was to end the tyranny of an evil empire? If you began playing the Final Fantasy series with FF6, you probably thought that storyline originated with that SNES classic, but it actually came from FF2.
During the beginning of Final Fantasy 2, you control a band of four teenagers: Firion, Maria, Guy, and Leon, whose town is torched by the empire. As you try to escape, you're ambushed by imperial soldiers who swiftly defeat you. Fortunately for you, three of your characters are picked up by a rebel organization, and your health is restored via a powerful healer. You ask to avenge your parents' deaths by joining the rebel army, but your request is refused. As a result of being rejected, your characters set out to prove themselves, and as you might guess, you eventually join the rebels.
Final Fantasy 2 doesn't have much for character development, but it has an engaging storyline full of plot twists, creative locales, and interesting side-characters. I don't want to spoil the plot surprises, but you'll be delighted to find themes that were previously thought to have been introduced to Final Fantasy with FF4.
To make up for your early lack of a fourth character, you'll fill that role with important people you encounter throughout the journey. You'll find characters that are quite similar to those in FF4 -- a sage-like character, a fighter who'll remind you of Yang, and a dragoon just to name a few. These characters aren't always the most useful since they sometimes start with low stats, but at least they keep things fresh.
Despite being such an innovative title, FF2 isn't flawless. I already mentioned some balancing issues with the battle system, but one other issue worth mentioning is the difficulty ramp-up in latter portions of the game. During early segments of the game, most enemies and bosses can be destroyed with any type of weapon, but later enemies are incredibly difficult.
Of course you'd expect a game to get harder as it progresses, but FF2 takes this to an unreasonable level. Certain enemies in the final two dungeons are so difficult that you'll want to save every two battles or so. These fights can be incredibly challenging if you're ambushed or are assaulted by six to eight creatures that all cast charm or stone. Fortunately, these status effects don't work quite as often as they did in previous iterations of FF2, but they're still annoying.
Also, your weapons don't have much of an effect on certain types of enemies, and unless you've found all the best weapons and/or have raised your spells to absurdly high levels, you may have a difficult time. To make it through to the end without much pain, it's best to save often and restart if you run into a battle that's too difficult (since fleeing is practically impossible). This final portion of the game could have been balanced a bit more, but at least the final boss is a joke if you managed to find (and keep) the Blood Sword.
Final Fantasy 2 may have some balancing issues at times, but fortunately, these flaws don't ruin the PSP remake. The game's visual overhaul, great soundtrack, enhanced battle system, and inventory limit removal only enhance what is arguably the most innovative Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy 2 was truly a pioneer with its complex battle system and plot twists, so it certainly deserves some credit for ingenuity, even if it was a bit too ambitious. It's a shame that certain battle system flaws weren't ironed out, but if you'd like to experience one of the most innovative installments of the Final Fantasy series and don't mind fighting hundreds (if not thousands) of battles, Final Fantasy 2 is worth your time and dollars.
· Includes one of the most innovative battle systems to grace an RPG
· The first console RPG to feature an interesting storyline full of plot twists
· Your characters are completely customizable
· The first appearance of Cid and chocobos
· Battles are too frequent
· Some bosses are far too easy while some enemies are insanely hard
· Status effect spamming enemies towards the end are incredibly cheap. The final boss is still ridiculous if you don't have the Blood Sword