"Surviving" Final Fantasy II - Part 2: This Is The MOST CURSED Video Game Square Has Ever Made!

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Author's Note: If you missed the previous episode, here's the link: "Surviving" Final Fantasy II - Part 1: The Kall Of Kawazu & Is This The Worst Final Fantasy Game Ever Made?

Part 11: You Never Know What The Fuck This Game Wants You To Do!

My friend, I am already in Hell!
My friend, I am already in Hell!

On the previous blog, I mentioned how I found the structure of Final Fantasy II to be "quaint." Now that I've played at least forty hours of the damn thing, I have no idea what I was thinking. Sure, connecting terms to items or characters reinforces the game's expectations of the player. Moreover, the game's flavor text injects some much-needed worldbuilding during its early phases. The unfortunate issue here stems from Final Fantasy II's lack of a mission log. Because vocabulary words and items stick with you from start to finish, it's incredibly easy to lose track of what magical trinket the game wants you to fetch. Furthermore, when you hit these inexplicable roadblocks, the game becomes an exercise of frustration.

Additionally, Final Fantasy II does a HORRIBLE job of properly pacing its dialogue system. Take, for example, your party's initial trip to Castle Diest, where they attempt to raise a baby dragon. While there, you'll need to transmit TWO proper nouns to their corresponding recipients AND collect THREE story essential items! To make matters worse, each of these trinkets is locked away in normal-ass looking treasure chests strewn about in serpentine dungeons. And as I mentioned in the previous episode, a slew of these treasure chests contain unannounced boss battles, which are profoundly harder than any of the mainline boss battles in the actual goddamn story. Think I'm fucking joking? When you attempt to destroy the Empire's dreadnought during chapter five, there's a random treasure chest that contains an "ice shield." Once you open the chest, the game forces you into an encounter against one to four giants, which are BEYOND FUCK if you are unprepared for them.

Trust me, I would know.
Trust me, I would know.

And this point returns us to the problem of never knowing what you need to do in Final Fantasy II. To illustrate, let's return to the matter of the Empire's dreadnought. After you finish your business in Kashuan Keep, there's a quick cutscene wherein you witness a massive airship raining destruction on the world. It's a lovely scene in terms of storytelling, as, should you revisit several of the game's previous environments, you'll find them in ruins. Talking to the remaining NPCs reveals a massive airship has been harassing cities not under the control of the Emperor. What is immediately frustrating is figuring out where the fuck this airship can be found. Most of the NPCs are useless and won't even direct you to a reliable source of information. Ultimately, when you harass someone with an idea of where this dreadnought is, they bluntly state "northwest of Fynn." Which, might I add, is USELESS information given the world of Final Fantasy II is a giant goddamn void of nothingness.

Even when you do manage to plop yourself in the correct location, that doesn't mean you'll immediately know what you need to do. Some of the game's worst levels leave you entirely in the dark as to how to progress the story. The worst example of this headache is when the game asks you to locate invisible walls in dungeons. For instance, during the game's midpoint, you spend a significant amount of time at Castle Fynn trying to discover its legendary treasure trove. The reason you need to do any of this nonsense is that you need to track down two masks, which will unlock the "Ultima Tome." It sounds like such a simple task, AND YET, the game manages to tack on four to five extra steps that make you want to question your human existence.

Do not worry my child, I will talk about Final Fantasy II's Ultima spell shortly.
Do not worry my child, I will talk about Final Fantasy II's Ultima spell shortly.

In this case, you start by asking Hilda about what she wants your adventurers to accomplish. She mentions in passing Minwu has not returned from his mission to Mysidia. When you inquire about Mysidia, she uses the term "Ekmet Teloess" on two occasions. Notwithstanding, when you prompt her for further details, she replies she knows nothing about what the word means. When you turn to Gordon, he weaves a tale about the "Ultima Tome," and also has NO IDEA where you need to go next. Nevertheless, you now need to juggle TWO proper nouns as you attempt to track down unmarked story-related NPCs! Eventually, you find out there's a false wall in the throne room of Fynn Castle. This magical wall of pure enlightenment is also unmarked and looks like any other wall texture you see in the level. Nonetheless, someone at Square thought it would be "fun" to force the player to run up and attempt to interact with every inch of a five-story tall castle.

Part 12: The Overworld Fucking Sucks!

To further add to my ordeal, Final Fantasy II's overworld is one of the worst in franchise history. The game's setting is MASSIVE, and only about ten percent of its floor plan is useful to the player. I'm not joking when I say one-third of the game's map is entirely unnavigable! Explorable locations and dungeons are miles apart from each other and usually tucked behind confusing and often disorienting environmental textures. Eventually, you'll gain access to an airship. However, dozens of towns and caves require you to park the airship MILES AWAY on random strips of grassland! Undoubtedly, this presents a problem as the game's encounter rate is insanely high!

It is always
It is always "fun" when an army of ghouls is scarier than any of the bosses in a game!

If you thought the random encounters in Final Fantasy I were oppressive, then you are up for a rude awakening in Final Fantasy II! In some environments, you'll often take three to four steps in-between battles. And I cannot preface enough how annoying it is to deal with these battles given the other limitations Final Fantasy II throws in your direction. First, given how THOROUGHLY FUCKED the inventory system is in this game, stocking up on Phoenix Downs or Potions isn't an option. Because ITEMS DO NOT STACK, you cannot "prep" for dungeons or random encounters like you would in any other RPG. Second, because your fourth character is a rotating party member, there are entire swaths where you play this game a "man down." Despite that, the game does not modify its encounter rate accordingly.

Conversely, much like Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy II has a "hidden" map you can access when navigating the overworld. Sadly, that's all the game gives you. What's worse, knowing the location of the next set piece can often be a red herring. The reason being, if you forget to collect essential items or use critical terms with the appropriate NPC, you can hit a roadblock halfway into a dungeon. Trust me; this issue happened to me on THREE OCCASIONS! To my defense, the game doesn't provide a handy reference guide or checklist to consult as you aimlessly wander its wastelands. Fuck, even a dictionary for the key terms, would have been a godsend. Lastly, because the game often separates each of its set pieces with hours of mindless grinding, it's incredibly easy to lose track of what you are trying to fetch.

I just... I just can't even. WHO THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA?!
I just... I just can't even. WHO THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA?!

Alright, I want all of you to spend some time looking at the picture above. The game EXPECTS YOUto travel from Point A to Point B, six or seven times. I'm not joking. Now, I want you to look at how fucking spread out every point is on this map. Notice how maliciously the designers place the mountain tiles to maximize your journey during this specific sequence. It's fucking ridiculous! Of those four points, only TWO allow you to heal without the use of potions or magic. Should you need to punch out of the Kashuan Keep, which is Point B, you need to swing around miles upon miles of swamp and forest. Why? Because the design team made it their mission not to give you a straight vector to the nearest town!

Sooner or later, you'll encounter the first Chocobo in Final Fantasy history. This creature, as you'd expect, is adorable and provides a quick way to travel between the two points in the image above. Mercifully, using this Chocobo protects you from random encounters. Unfortunately, this is the only time when the game provides you a form of "fast travel." Yes, you read that right, Final Fantasy II's fast travel system is a one-time deal!THE DESIGNERS HAD A SOLUTION TO NAVIGATING THEIR GAME'S TERRIBLE OVERWORLD, AND THEY USED IT ONCE! By the way, the musical loop that plays when you ride the Chocobo is fucking dreadful!

Part 13: Have I Mentioned This Game Plays LIKE TRASH?!

In the previous episode, I mentioned how bugs and glitches plague the original release of Final Fantasy II. Some of these glitches, like the "Target-Cancel Glitch," allow the player to circumnavigate the game's traditional leveling system by spamming the same moves. Other glitches, such as the "Dispel" command not working, make specific battles harder than they have any right to be. Still, there are several nastier issues with the game worth addressing. For example, the central two characters are, for whatever reason, programmed to be attacked more often than the other two characters. This issue is especially problematic as the game places your dedicated Black Mage in one of the middle slots. And before you ask, no, you cannot change the position of your characters.

It is always fun when this game gives you a new character with half the health of the rest of your party!
It is always fun when this game gives you a new character with half the health of the rest of your party!

More importantly, there's an overflow glitch with several critical character stats. Evasion, HP, and MP all can overflow to 0 if you level them beyond Final Fantasy II's intended caps. In a game were power-leveling is a necessity and every conceivable part of the game encourages you to do it, these glitches are downright unacceptable. Doubly so when you consider specific pieces of equipment can buff your character's stats beyond those caps. For example, when I equipped Firion with an evasion boosting shield, I noticed he was getting annihilated in every random encounter in the game. It wasn't until much later when I realized the item in question bumped his evasion beyond 99% and looped him back to 2%. I was at the penultimate level in the game when this happened.

But let's say you don't mind any of these issues and consider them "par for the course" when playing a 1980s JRPG. Fair point, but when you compound the fact the game is arbitrarily long WITH whole swaths of it not functioning as designed, it is a miserable time even when given the benefit of the doubt. As a case study, let's return to your time at Castle Diest. Down below, I'll provide a map of the location below so you can get your bearings straight. At this point of the game, you move from the city of Bafsk (Point A) to Castle Diest (Point B), and finally to the Wyvern Cavern (Point C). The issue here is the only inn where you can heal your characters is at Bafsk. Even if punch out of the Wyvern Cavern successfully, you have to drag your ass FOR MILES just for healing! Furthermore, you keep doing this because several of the healing spells don't work in combat! Moreover, if you use them out of battle, you'll level the spells up without boosting your MP pool, which is a HUGE issue!

You've got to be fucking kidding me! FUCK THIS GAME!!!
You've got to be fucking kidding me! FUCK THIS GAME!!!

Don't forget, while all of these mechanics are combusting in front of your face, the game's random encounters pop off every three to four steps. On top of that, when you reach the portion of the game where trash mobs start inflicting status effects, you'll very often find your characters stun locked into oblivion. I'm not joking when I say Final Fantasy II has some of the WORST gameplay death spirals I have ever seen in my life. Much like its predecessor, status effects like "Paralyze" and "Stone" cause your character to miss their turns. Where things become a pain in the ass is Final Fantasy II's leveling system. Unless you've been power-leveling each character's suite of white magic spells, low-level restorative abilities miss more than half the time. On top of that, the late-game guest characters arrive with next to no skills.

Part 14: The Gameplay And Progression System Is FUCKING CURSED!

Which leads me to a critical point I glossed over previously. If you play Final Fantasy II like a conventional role-playing game, then you are going to have a bad time. That is why I must advise those who wish to play this game to do so with a guide. The issue here is while Final Fantasy II borrows the iconography of its predecessor, it does JACK SHIT to remind you it plays nothing like it. Worse, if you play this game as you did in Final Fantasy I, it's possible you'll have nothing to show for it, and instead, be stuck with unplayable characters.

I want to point out, I ended up getting a Hi-Potion from this treasure chest!
I want to point out, I ended up getting a Hi-Potion from this treasure chest!

Case in point, remember selecting your jobs in Final Fantasy I? Remember how fun it was getting your advanced classes? Do you recall how cool it was to see your characters don shiny new sets of robes and armor? Yeah, Final Fantasy II doesn't have moments like those. Generally speaking, while the game expects you to discern whatever utility you want out of your characters, it provides none of the tools in-game to make that happen. As if that weren't enough, different attributes have an inverse relationship with one another. For example, let's say you want to make Guy into a Paladin. Good luck with that because if you try to level up his physically-focused attributes, they atrophy his magic-focused ones.

On top of all of these issues, Final Fantasy II is dishonest to its players. It throws Byzantine algorithms at them, but at no point does it ever communicate an intended end goal. How does the game want you to approach each of its main characters? You have no idea, but luckily there isn't a "canonical" way to interact with them. Part of that is due to the game being broken by the last three to four levels. As long as you stick with the game for thirty plus hours, it's not a matter of "if" you'll finish the game, but when. But before that happens, you're stuck feeling like you are fathoms away from "turning the corner." What I mean by that is, typically, when you play a role-playing game, there comes a moment when you feel like your characters have finally turned a corner and are ready to handle anything that faces them. Because there are no levels, you go HOURS UPON HOURS of never having positive feedback that your choices are making a difference! And in a role-playing game, that is unconscionable.

Talk is cheap, but no one bothered to tell the makers of this game that tidbit of knowledge.
Talk is cheap, but no one bothered to tell the makers of this game that tidbit of knowledge.

Part of this issue stems from Final Fantasy II's leveling system, wherein every spell and weapon can take literal HOURS before it becomes a practical tool in battle. While admittedly novel, this system defeats the whole appeal of role-playing games. Part of the reason why I find role-playing games appealing is that after I assume a role in the game, my hard work is rewarded with new toys and trinkets that make playing the game more fun. In Final Fantasy II, that NEVER HAPPENS!When the game does bother to give you a new weapon or spell, it's USELESS until you spend hours using it.

And before you ask, selling items is pointless because the in-game economy is broken within the story's second act. While you spend most of the first handful of hours strapped for cash, by the time you finish the third dungeon, you have nothing to spend your money on because there's NO POINT in buying new equipment or spells. You don't want to deck your characters with heavy armor because then they won't take damage, and if they don't take damage, you'll never level up their HP. Because all magic misses until it reaches levels seven to eight, there's no point in buying every spell in the game. As a result, the characters feel incredibly static as they do not change.

Part 15: The Mission Structure Is FUCKING CURSED!

Seriously needing to find invisible walls as a mechanic is such a bizarre design choice.
Seriously needing to find invisible walls as a mechanic is such a bizarre design choice.

We now need to have a long discussion about Final Fantasy II's mission structure. It's bad. It's so bad; I had to stop playing the game for a week because I thought I was getting anxiety while playing it. The first issue here is, again, the lack of traditional levels. As a consequence, it's next to impossible to know in-game if your characters are ready to progress to the following location. Unless you enjoy entering new environments and getting wasted, you are better off spending two to three hours grinding between each of the game's dungeons.

Speaking of the grinding, it fucking sucks. Yes, the battles pop off all the time, but even then, they play out at a snail's pace, and worse, there's never a guarantee you'll have something to show for your time. Because your characters' attributes level up depending on dozens of independent random number generators, it is challenging to keep all of your characters on the same page. This issue means you'll often be micromanaging your party more than you'd like even during the most straightforward battles. For me, by the game's final level, Guy had an absurd amount of health, whereas Maria always had issues with staying alive. In the case of Maria, I dropped her health to below 50% during the final level TWENTY FUCKING TIMES, and her HP only increased on FIVE occasions! How do you figure that one out?

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5
AND HAVE I MENTIONED THE LEVEL DESIGN IS AWFUL?!

In essence, I'm incredibly grateful the Final Fantasy franchise moved away from its dungeon crawler roots. The concern I have here is the same problem I had with Final Fantasy I. Every dungeon plays out the same, and the only thing differentiating each level is the enemies, which get harder and stronger as you progress. Part of the reason why this series will only be two episodes is that there's next to no storytelling to close read. Every time you enter a new set piece, you have to interact with a random assortment of NPCs, and eventually, one will direct you to where you need to go. Often, before you get to that location, you have to pick up some item or trinket to either open a door or navigate an impasse. After reaching your destination, the level culminates in a dungeon that is way too long and filled to the brim with party killing goons.

As a quick case study, let's return to the mission structure at Castle Deist. First, you need to board a ship and plot a course to a far off-island. Once there, you need to talk to the castle's citizens and discover you need to deliver a Wyvern egg to a magical babbling brook. However, before you can even consider doing that, you need to go to a cave and pick up a pendant. That pendant's sole purpose is opening the door to an invisible goddamned wall in the middle of an upcoming dungeon. After you pick up that pendant, you need to survive FIVE GODDAMN LEVELS of pure dungeon-based Hell! Finally, as you make your way to the brook, between one to four Chimeras confront you! You heard that right; some boss fights have their difficulty determined by PURE RNG!THIS VIDEO GAME IS FUCKING CURSED!

Luckily for me, the RNG goddess was merciful and only spawned one during my initial encounter.
Luckily for me, the RNG goddess was merciful and only spawned one during my initial encounter.

What's a damn shame is that Final Fantasy II's balls hard difficulty and broken ass gameplay hurt any sense of exploration you might have when playing it. Unlike any Final Fantasy game that comes after it, there's no real reason to explore Final Fantasy II's dungeons. Treasure chests often are traps, and as I reviewed last time, the optional routes usually spawn you in monster closets that can easily wipe out your party. Even when you reach cleverly designed levels like the Leviathan or Mysidia Tower, your first reaction is to get the fuck out of the level. Finally, as I suggested earlier, there comes a time when your party out-classes the game's bosses. When that happens, you're better off running away from encounters because the only thing impeding your progress is the atrocious level design.

Part 16: The Inventory System Is (STILL) FUCKING CURSED!

Remember how I said you have nothing to spend your Gil on in this game? Part of the reason for that is due to your limited number of inventory slots. For those who may have missed this rant from the previous episode, Final Fantasy II provides you with thirty-two inventory slots as the thirty-third slot is a "Delete Item" command that couldn't possibly have existed elsewhere. The issue with this number is that the game forces you to retain story items in those slots in perpetuity. For example, during the third dungeon, you need to use an ice sled to reach a specific story-related location. Once you finish this mission, this ice sled is useless but stays in your inventory nonetheless. In any event, here's a picture of my inventory right before the last boss battle.

What a clusterfuck of an inventory system.
What a clusterfuck of an inventory system.

At the mid-point of the game, the story starts dolling out these story critical items at a breakneck speed. Somewhat humorously, you even use these items during the story, and yet, they stay in your inventory regardless. Case in point, when you reach Mysidia, there is a statue where you place a White Mask on its face. However, even though you see THE ACTUAL MASK ON THE STATUE, that White Mask STAYS IN YOUR FUCKING INVENTORY! There's another scene when a magical rod breaks apart into dust but said magical rod is still there sucking up a goddamn inventory slot! A baby Wyvern that becomes redundant after you get an airship? IT STAYS WITH YOU FOR LIFE!

As if that weren't bad enough, items don't stack, meaning if you buy five Phoenix Downs, each of those items takes up separate slots in your inventory. So, the standard approach of stocking up on Hi-Potions and Ethers before adventuring into a dungeon does not fly in Final Fantasy II. On top of that, as I mentioned last time, the "Item" command in this game does not behave as it should. Each character can carry two items on their person into a battle. This frees up some space in your general inventory. However, it also leads to one significant headache throughout the game. When you want to use an item, you are limited to the items you equipped before going into a battle. That is to say; the item command does NOT open up a general list of everything you own.

What am I even looking at right now?
What am I even looking at right now?

Be that as it may, this feature does introduce you to an essential component in Final Fantasy II. Similar to Final Fantasy I, there are several items and weapons that can be equipped to cast spells ad infinitum. Using an object to cast "Heal-5" or "Fira-3" does not deplete your character's MP pool. Correspondingly, these tools allow you to play around with Final Fantasy II's basic notion of multi-classing. Unfortunately, there are two massive limitations to this feature. First, the game does a terrible job of explaining which items or weapons do what. It's not like every piece of equipment has a "tell" or naming convention that clues you into what they can do.

Second, and this issue is the real kicker, because of how Final Fantasy II is designed, it's next to impossible to retain items that are useful to you. To highlight, let's say you find a magical set of gloves that allow you to cast a powerful fire spell. By the time you start a dungeon or are about to jump into a boss battle, you are going to need to unequip those gloves to make way for restorative potions, ethers, or Pheonix Downs. On top of that, because the game hits you with a total of THIRTEEN STORY ITEMS, you'll be lucky if you even have an open slot to save those gloves! In my case, after finding a useful trinket, I sold it because I didn't have space to keep it long-term!

THE ACTUAL GAME SAYS YOU THROW THE TORCH INTO AN EXPLODING ENGINE! AND YET, YOU CARRY THIS FUCKING THING UNTIL THE END!
THE ACTUAL GAME SAYS YOU THROW THE TORCH INTO AN EXPLODING ENGINE! AND YET, YOU CARRY THIS FUCKING THING UNTIL THE END!

Part 17: The Dungeons Are FUCKING CURSED!

At this point, I think I have made it abundantly clear playing Final Fantasy II is no fun. Dozens of its mechanics do not behave as intended, and overall it feels more like a job than an actual video game. It is with these two concessions that we need to talk about the game's dungeon design. For lack of a better word, it's terrible. I've already shared a good deal of screen captures showing the game's level design, and I hope you've come to realize everything in this game is too goddamn long for its own good. The fact the game's random encounter rate is oppressively high doesn't help either.

Nonetheless, each dungeon goes an extra step to make your experience ten times worse. You may recall, during the last episode, I reviewed Final Fantasy II's use of "monster closets." For those who may have missed that, each dungeon has upwards of twenty doors, and only one is needed to progress to the next level. Should you enter the incorrect entryway, the game teleports you to the middle of a room where it subjects you to a boss battle every step you take inside the room. Before you ask, it's not fun, and a total dick move as there is nothing in the game to distinguish which door is the "correct" one. As I have said before, it's something one can only solve through the use of a guide, and that is game design malfeasance.

Don't think I have forgotten about these fucking monster closets!
Don't think I have forgotten about these fucking monster closets!

Those monster closets, however, highlight something that defines the entirety of Final Fantasy II: it's fucking cheap. Obviously, when I say the word "cheap," I do not mean the game's production values are in the toilet or that it cuts corners. No, when I say Final Fantasy II is "fucking cheap," I mean the game programs its difficulty swings in the most bogus and pitiful manner. Do you want to open treasure chests that contain fresh new items for your characters? Whelp, half of them unleash entirely unearned boss encounters. Are you teaching your black mage a potent negative status effect? Just be aware, all of the late-game bosses are immune to useful negative statuses. Are you grinding away to make your characters stronger? Have fun with that, because the monsters in the final two dungeons do percentage damage rather than variable damage.

The worst example of all this nonsense coming to a head has to be the final "boss rush." Admittedly, boss rushes are a tried and true tradition in the Final Fantasy franchise. Nonetheless, Final Fantasy II's interpretation of the trope is especially heinous in several regards. For one thing, the game flat out destroys every town in the game during the final act and forces you to rely on one rinky-dink motel for the last three levels. Second, the boss rush in this game comprises of two distinct levels and EIGHT bosses! The first level, the Jade Passage, alone is six levels long and features three ten-minute long boss battles! It alone would be enough of a capstone to end this video game! Unfortunately, there's another level, and it is ten levels long and features five bosses! Speaking of which, the final level, Pandaemonium, is the game's point of no return. As such, if you initiate it while your characters are low on HP or MP, then you are shit out of luck.

Quick piece of advice for any would be game designers out there. Don't make your levels monochromatic if you are using pixel art.
Quick piece of advice for any would be game designers out there. Don't make your levels monochromatic if you are using pixel art.

And remember when I said most of the late-game bosses are immune to a majority of your status effects and magical spells? Despite that fact, the final two levels have trash mobs which the designers saw fit to inflict every practical status effect in the game! One of those enemy-types, the Coeurl, attempts to inflict "Paralysis" on your ENTIRE PARTY upon its opening attack! Similarly, an especially fucked up enemy encounter is the "Death Rider." This fuckface, for whatever reason, can break the game's damage limit, instakilling a character no matter what. THEY FUCKING MADE A RANDOM ENCOUNTER DO MORE THAN MAX DAMAGE!

THE GAME WILL EVEN PIT YOU UP AGAINST THREE OF THEM AT A TIME!
THE GAME WILL EVEN PIT YOU UP AGAINST THREE OF THEM AT A TIME!

Part 18: The Story Tries, But Not Enough

Admittedly, Final Fantasy II compares favorably to its predecessor in a handful of regards. In terms of worldbuilding and characterization, it's leaps and bounds better than Final Fantasy I. While its overriding story arc of an evil Emperor hell-bent on taking over the world is a "nothing burger," it has an assortment of more than decent character moments. The guest character system, for example, allows the game to lend a sense of "diversity" to its world. The best instance of this is Ricard, one of the last members of the "dragoon" society.

As you eventually discover, the Emperor, viewing the dragoons as a threat, massacred their population by poisoning their only source of water. All that remains of their once-mighty society is a young boy and his mother. Should you return to Castle Deist, with Ricard in tow, he promises to marry the mother and raise her child as his own "flesh and blood." Unfortunately, when you encounter the resurrected Emperor, Ricard sacrifices himself to save your party. When you break the news to the family at Castle Deist, they thank you and leave the tower stating, "this place has too many sad memories for us to stay here."

"Too little, too late" is the best way I can describe this game's story.

There's another fun location that allows you to learn more about the world surrounding Final Fantasy II. In the town of Mysidia, you'll encounter a building that serves as the world's library. Upon consulting a random bookshelf, you can inquire about each of the "key terms" you have learned throughout the game. Typically, these key terms are learned from one NPC and applied to another to initiate a new quest. Though, when you use these words to the bookshelf, the game weaves long tales and legends about the mythos encompassing the land of Final Fantasy II. In a lot of ways, these short stories reminded me of Lost Odyssey, as they featured some of the best writing in the game. On the flip side, this library is entirely optional and missable if you do not consult a guide.

Not doubling down on novel and decent ideas is a bit of a recurring theme in Final Fantasy II. To highlight, the game features some interesting early attempts at cinematic cutscenes. To demonstrate, upon destroying the Emperor's dreadnought, the game provides a highly cinematic and enthralling epilogue as you watch your party frantically navigate the exploding airship. Similarly, the game attempts to use its environments to reinforce its story. As an illustration, when you reach the final act, you discover the world in ruins as the evil Emperor returns from the literal depths of Hell. In this case, prior locations in the game are unnavigable, and when you attempt to enter specific towns, nothing happens.

The fact you can entirely miss this one bookshelf is pure insanity.
The fact you can entirely miss this one bookshelf is pure insanity.

Unfortunately, none of this narrative scaffolding signifies anything significant in Final Fantasy II. The most regretable of these missed opportunities is its character work. Here, the guest characters each have a handful of compelling set pieces, and the game does little with these vignettes. Three of these characters die during the game. These moments are each interesting in isolation of one another, but fail to establish the game's tone or mood beyond a scant few minutes. For example, after Minwu sacrifices himself at the Tower of Mysidia, the game promptly graces you with a giddy dance sequence. Much like the mechanics, Final Fantasy II's narrative is a mess of good and bad ideas and, at no point, comes together to form anything cohesive. It is, if anything, an aberration. Its characters are formless, but each has a current which impacts the course they take. Nonetheless, their choices are all zero-sum games in a mostly zero-sum experience best left forgotten.

What is even more bizarre is the game's antagonist, the Emperor. Credit where credit is due, Final Fantasy II does not have a moronic final boss, which arbitrarily pulls the rug from underneath you. Though, much like Garland, the Emperor dies prematurely and in Final Fantasy II's case, during the game's middle act. That might sound interesting on paper, but the Emperor is barely a character, and in a franchise where the villains are almost as iconic the heroes, that's a bummer. Likewise, the return of the Emperor undercuts an interesting side-plot wherein you discover a recurring villain was Maria's long-lost brother. Even when the game has something going in its favor, it has no idea how to take advantage of that potential.

Part 19: The Ultima Spell Is Completely CURSED!

Does he know the spell is fucking useless because of bad game design?
Does he know the spell is fucking useless because of bad game design?

As it stands, there may be a small percentage of you who wish to counter my title. A handful of you might still have nightmares from playing The Bouncer, Kingdom Hearts, or possibly even Chrono Cross. And as you furiously type away your angry replies, I sit here waiting to play my "trump card." Oh, my dear sweet summer child, you are not prepared for what I am about to unleash upon you. My cute sweet summer babe, you are about to get put in your place.

First, Final Fantasy II might well be the worst end-game experience I have ever had in my life. With the mechanics in constant conflict with one another on top of the game becoming tough as balls, I honestly questioned if I would be able to finish it. No matter, as we will review in the next chapter, I ended up finding a way to accomplish what I had initially declared "impossible." Even so, the game tried its damndest to impede me. For those curious, the game's final act is around the time I had two characters "overflow" their evasion stat, and, as a result, were entirely incapable of dodging even a brick wall. Likewise, several other nasty glitches reared their ugly heads.

I do appreciate the in-game lore basically saying hundreds of people have been suckered into trying to find the Ultima Tome and failed horribly.
I do appreciate the in-game lore basically saying hundreds of people have been suckered into trying to find the Ultima Tome and failed horribly.

Notably, you can dual-wield weapons in Final Fantasy II, but there's no point. Due to a glitch in the NES version, even though the game animates the second weapon, the game only calculates damage based on the first. The issue here is that many of the late-game weapons have active and passive buffs, which you will not get credit for unless they are your character's primary option. And even when the game behaves as intended, it is thoroughly shitty. Take, for example, what happens when you reach the top of Mysidia Tower. When you reach the final floor, there are a handful of orbs that will randomly boost the stats of one of your characters. However, which characters get these stat boosts is entirely up to RNG! In my case, my Black Mage got +10 strength, my Knight got the intelligence boost, and NO ONE got a spirit boost because that particular orb is broken and will occasionally give you JACK SHIT!

Be that as it may, nothing highlights how cursed Final Fantasy II is quite like the "Ultima Tome." Before you even pick up the tome and teach the spell to one of your characters, the game bills it as a supernatural ability that will bring the Emperor to his knees. Nevertheless, when you try to use the move, it does a paltry amount of damage. Part of this is due to the spell behaving unlike any ability in the game. In theory, Ultima's damage relies on the number of spells the caster knows and their level. If your magic caster has a dozen spells at max level, it performs an impressive 500 points of damage. On the other hand, if you've relied on physical attacks, then Ultima is practically useless.

Yet again, I have to warn all of you to avoid the DemiForce translation like the Black Plague!
Yet again, I have to warn all of you to avoid the DemiForce translation like the Black Plague!

Therefore, feeling as if the game had called me to action, I spent four hours maxing out my magic. And you know what? I feel like I was lied to by Final Fantasy II! 500 damage might sound impressive, but there are other ways to inflict double that amount. As it turns out, this was entirely intentional by the development team. That's right, spending hours trying to make a spell useful in combat, only to discover it was useless, is something Akitoshi Kawazu wanted me to experience. And before any of you counter that I'm making this shit up, here's what Hironobu Sakaguchi had to say about Final Fantasy II:

When Square tested the game and saw the bug, Sakaguchi asked for it to be fixed, but the person who programmed it replied that legendary stuff that dates back to an age before "proper techniques" would look inferior from present's point-of-view, explaining Ultima's weakness. He reasoned that the struggle to acquire it only to discover it's useless mirrors real life, and thus he was not going to fix the bug. Sakaguchi was irritated by the reply and tried to fix it himself, but the programmer had ciphered the source and Ultima was left the way it was.

Part 20: The Late-Game Is BROKEN!

With all of this grousing in mind, you might think the last level of Final Fantasy II is impossibly hard. Still, you might be surprised to know that the opposite is true. For one thing, your ability to flee from random encounters is based on the highest evasion stat in your party. Unless you fucked up each of your characters, you should be able to run away from practically everything in the game. Furthermore, when you do decide to fight enemies in the final level, you'll discover they drop the best items in the game. In one instance, I beat two Death Knights and picked up two sets of "Ribbons." As a result, my party was entirely immune to status effects by the time I reached the final boss.

Hey asshole,
Hey asshole, "Somewhere near Kashuon" isn't exactly helpful!

There are also a handful of game-breaking weapons and abilities. The first of these is the "Ripper" dagger. This knife provides a base of 69 damage with an accuracy rating of 75%. That notwithstanding, what makes it especially broken is how it inflicts an additional 20 points of damage per hit. Another impressive ability is the "Osmose" spell, which completely breaks the game's magic system. With this spell, the caster can transfer MP from one or all enemies to themselves. At the end of the game, swapping a character with MP in the single digits to an enemy can ruin entire boss battles. Additionally, using the spell to bring your character to critical MP makes leveling up your magic points a breeze as the game counts that as bringing your characters to below 50%.

Comparatively, by the time you start the final level, the in-game economy is thoroughly busted. In my case, I was able to teach each of my characters every useful spell and still had plenty of Gil leftover. An unfortunate result of all of this is that my interest in exploring the final handful of levels hit an all-time low. Part of what motivates the player to explore environments in the early Final Fantasy games is the idea that you may have missed something useful. In the case of Final Fantasy II, that feeling is gone by the third level because re-jiggering your characters to use treasure is a pain in the ass. Also, when you discover a "winning formula," there's no reason for you to reconsider your strategy.

Beating the final boss in a video game within two turns is kind of hilarious in hindsight.
Beating the final boss in a video game within two turns is kind of hilarious in hindsight.

Yet, all of these items and spells PALE in comparison to the Blood Sword. Before I go any further, it is worth noting the NES and PS1 versions give you TWO of these goddamn things! With that in mind, the Blood Sword drains 1/16th of the target's HP with each hit. What makes this incredibly useful is that it performs this attack regardless of the victim's maximum HP. As if that weren't enough, the sword still does a base amount of damage determined by your character's sword stat independent from this buff. For example, the Emperor has 10,000 HP. Even before calculating the Blood Sword's base damage, its passive buff alone will do 8,125 damage with a character that hits thirteen times. I use thirteen in this example because that's how many hits Firion got by the time I reached the final level. As a result, Firion alone was able to beat everything in the game, including the final boss, within two attacks.

I mention all of this nonsense just to preface that what impedes your progress the most in Final Fantasy II's last dungeons is NOT its bosses. Instead, what is most likely to crush your spirit are trash mobs and awful level design! What should have been a climactic battle was over within two turns. When it was all said and done, I didn't feel especially great about beating Final Fantasy II. At the same time, I don't blame myself for cheesing the game. Yes, I deprived myself of an opportunity to have an empowering moment. But this game doesn't deserve more of my life force than what it has already drained.

Post-Mortem: Should You Play This Game?

no
no

Look, we live in a world where the forms of oppression are taking several different shapes. With a looming environmental catastrophe breathing down our collective necks, I want to say we all are working against a far more limiting clock than any of us would like to admit. That is why I cannot in good conscience recommend you play Final Fantasy II. It's a bad time. Even if you approach it as a weird experiment that didn't pan out, it's a tiresome and annoying experience from beginning to end. I jumped into the game with an open mind and felt thoroughly betrayed. Every hour I put into it would have been better spent elsewhere.

I have no idea if the mad man himself, Akitoshi Kawazu, is still working in Square-Enix. In my headcanon, he's toiling away in the basement of Square-Enix, scribbling away on a new blueprint of a video game that will have all the creative ambition in the world, and yet, none of the execution to make it worthwhile. I guess in that regard; I have to tip my hat to Kawazu. Of all of the figureheads that defined Square as a company, he's the one who survived the corporate purges and staff turnover from the last decade. And maybe, just maybe, he'll have another crack at the Final Fantasy franchise. On the other hand, looking at what he's accomplished with the Romancing SaGa franchise, maybe it's best if he stays in Square's basement working on his coloring books and D&D homebrew campaigns.

And it's not like this franchise finally got its act together in the next game...
And it's not like this franchise finally got its act together in the next game...

I have a squishy joyous love for the Final Fantasy franchise. It is a love not always reciprocated, but a love nonetheless. That said, grief, anger, and disappointment are inevitable in any fandom. To expect any creator to churn out one cultural landmark after another, as if robots can make these sorts of things on an assembly line, is unhealthy for everyone involved. And yet, precise lines and levels of tolerance must not be crossed when following a series or franchise through thick and thin. Final Fantasy II is a unique game that crosses that fine line and then mocks you as it jokingly hops back and forth on that line, all the while, blowing raspberries.

How the Final Fantasy franchise managed to survive Final Fantasy II and III is one of life's great mysteries. Yes, these games have novel ideas and mechanics that laid the groundwork for things to come. I get that. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy II is a wasted opportunity. Even the game's best ideas, such as its dialogue system or rotating guest slot, were immediately discarded. It is a game Square-Enix honestly wants you to forget about, and some, including myself, would argue for good reason. I want each of you to know; I could've lived my entire life without having played Final Fantasy II and been just fine. I would have continued to go about pursuing my career and attempting to carve a momentary sense of "fame" and "legacy" on a nanite of this planet's atomic timescale. But no. Now I have to do that while knowing I spent forty hours of my life playing Final Fantasy II.

Finally, I attempted to play the Romancing SaGa remake, but I felt like my brain was collapsing into itself as I played it.
Finally, I attempted to play the Romancing SaGa remake, but I felt like my brain was collapsing into itself as I played it.

And before anyone chimes in that I should have played the Dawn of Souls version, I want you to know I could not imagine playing that port. Being able to cheese this game was the only way I could imagine completing it. The idea of playing a version of Final Fantasy II that functions as God intended, is entirely repulsive to me. Also, I understand there's a compelling New Game+ feature with that version, but as someone who wasn't impressed with the game the first time around, I just wanted to be done and over with it. Seriously, don't fucking play this game. It's bad.

Final note, here's a link to a podcast I recorded in which I talk about Final Fantasy II in more depth with my fellow Giant Bomb users @thatpinguino and @jeffrud!

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DevourerOfTime

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#1  Edited By DevourerOfTime

I just feel so bad for you for putting yourself through that.

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theuprightman

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Another very enjoyable read, thank you for taking all that punishment and suffering

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mikachops

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ZombiePie do so we don't.

I recently booted up 13 again after 10 years to see if time would give it a new perspective and it's aged in a way I didn't expect: it's as bad is it was back then. Like, no worse or better. It's a weirdly timeless game in that respect.

It also made me realise: Final Fantasy as a series has one of the worst legacies in gaming. 4, maybe 5 games I would even approach to call good (with a few greats and classics in there, of course) out of what... 20+ mainline games now? 16 feels like the last straw for me personally - a handful of games 15+ years ago can't possibly maintain the level of devotion this series and its creators scream out for.

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ArbitraryWater

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One way of looking at this is that it’s nothing but uphill from here, right? Even the XIII sequels are at least messy in a fun way.

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BigSocrates

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Well, ummm...thanks? You've convinced me never to give this game a shot. You've also convinced me that sometimes the decision not to localize a game was actually a good one. Speaking of which...

@mikachops: One of the reasons Final Fantasy still has a reputation is that the worst of the early games weren't localized. The West got FF 1, which was a really good RPG for the time even if it's primitive by modern standards, and then FF IV and then VI, 7, 8, 9, X. While I personally dislike FF 8, and some people dislike 10, neither is a total trainwreck like FF II, and each has their defenders. I will go on the record as saying that I really enjoyed FF X when it came out. So if you look at that record, it's pretty good! After that there was X-2, which is not a mainline sequel, XI, which a lot of people loved, XII, which a lot of people loved, XIII and its sequels, which aren't well liked, and then XIV, which started bad but has been fixed in most people's opinions.

So mainline FF games that were brought west have a pretty good track record overall.

As for Japanese gamers? They are, and especially were in the NES era, much more tolerant of bullshit than western gamers. So many Japanese games are intentionally obscure or weird or broken. I am not sure why this difference exists, and obviously the greatest console games of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s were made in Japan (As was my current favorite game of all time, Breath of the Wild), but there's just a tolerance for bullshit over there that I don't personally get.

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RobertForster

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Wow. FF2. You must be really scraping the barrel. Huh?

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TheRealTurk

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May I ask what's next on tap (after they let you out of the padded room, of course)? Are you ever going to let yourself play one of the good classic Final Fantasies like IV or VI?

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Onemanarmyy

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This game sounds truly awful. I bet you could write a fun plot in which the ancient power everyone is hunting for ends up not being all that impressive compared to modern tech, but that's something you actually need to handle within the game. Not in an interview after people have been frustrated with that aspect. Just comes across as them trying to spin a bad thing into something that should be celebrated.

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Lajiaya

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I played and completed Morrowind for the first time last year, which is also a game that involves asking npcs about proper nouns in order to progress the story. I've only played a couple hours of the WonderSwan version of this game a long time ago, but your description of it makes it seem like Morrowind without the journal.

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jeffrud

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ZombiePie

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#11 ZombiePie  Moderator

I just feel so bad for you for putting yourself through that.

If @jeffrud's testimony is to be believed, then this game isn't even the tip of the Kawazu iceberg. I know Unlimited SaGa exists. Part of me wants to jump into the SaGa franchise, or, at the very least, check out the Final Fantasy Legend games with maybe a few one-off blogs.

Another very enjoyable read, thank you for taking all that punishment and suffering

I am a man of the people and that means giving the people what they want!

Loading Video...

One way of looking at this is that it’s nothing but uphill from here, right? Even the XIII sequels are at least messy in a fun way.

Rorie and Jeffrud have said they consider Final Fantasy XV an all-time low in the franchise and that does not bode well for me. Likewise, we still need to play OG Final Fantasy III. From what I have been told by multiple sources, that game is actually harder than Final Fantasy II, but without the broken-ass gameplay you can exploit to your advantage.

ZombiePie do so we don't.

I recently booted up 13 again after 10 years to see if time would give it a new perspective and it's aged in a way I didn't expect: it's as bad is it was back then. Like, no worse or better. It's a weirdly timeless game in that respect.

Yeah, I think @thatpinguino made a strong case as to why Final Fantasy 13 is probably the "worst" Final Fantasy game. That game is a whole lot of the same copy-paste linear corridor level-design for forty freaking hours. How Square-Enix thought they could get away with that is one of life's great mysteries. On top of that, the story of Final Fantasy XIII is downright incomprehensible and the characters, while occasionally charming, held back by one of the worst scripts I have ever seen in a AAA video game.

As I have said before whenever challenged by FF13 defenders, name a single NPC in FF13 without describing what they look like or repeating what they say during cutscenes. Most can't do it, and those that can rely on 13-2 or Lightning Returns to help themselves out.

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beforet

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#12  Edited By beforet

@zombiepie: With regards to Final Fantasy XV, it's fine. Just that, fine. When you divorce the game from it's decade of baggage, it's a middle of the road action RPG. I can list of a whole host of issues I had with the game, from it's mutli-media approach to story telling to its lackluster back half, but three years after I played it I mostly remember the pretty okay open world road trip that makes up the first two thirds of that game. It is far, far from being the low point, and I'd go as far as to say it's better than 13, and definitely better than 2. Worst I can warn you is that you'll get bored of that road trip eventually, and the story really does go in some dumb directions.

Edit: the worst I can say about XV is that it frequently reminds you of better Final Fantasy games with its throwbacks and homages.

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@beforet: Yeah 15 is not great, but it's got some redeeming qualities. Much like 2, at the very least it's interesting as a curiosity in that you can literally see the years of troubled development in every corner. 13 is buffered to such a sheen so it doesn't even have that going for it.

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#14 ZombiePie  Moderator

One way of looking at this is that it’s nothing but uphill from here, right? Even the XIII sequels are at least messy in a fun way.

Real talk, and I know this will upset @jeffrud and @thatpinguino, but I think XIII-2 is the direction they should have taken with the 13 franchise and if that was the game they started with, people's perception with FF13 would be largely positive.

Of the games we have left there are two that really concern me. The first being III, which for all intents and purposes is a rough-ass video game that hates the fact you have a life and do not want to play it for fifty-plus hours. The other game I am dread is 11. How I play that game, or even create an account for it is beyond my comprehension. And the fact I would likely be one of the first "new" accounts that would be entering whatever/whichever legacy server is still running the damn thing in the last five years, has me worried.

As for Japanese gamers? They are, and especially were in the NES era, much more tolerant of bullshit than western gamers. So many Japanese games are intentionally obscure or weird or broken. I am not sure why this difference exists, and obviously the greatest console games of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s were made in Japan (As was my current favorite game of all time, Breath of the Wild), but there's just a tolerance for bullshit over there that I don't personally get.

I have always imagined this scenario where there's a Japanese gamer who is super into the Xbox and thinks Western-styled FPS and CRPGs are better than what is readily available in Japan. There have to be people in Japan who are bragging about their Raspberry Pis like they are a status symbol or even sub-groups of people bragging about how 16 GBs of RAM is the only way to truly appreciate PC games.

Tropes, idioms, and colloquialisms are deeply cultural. A lot of what defines the Final Fantasy franchise throughout the years very obviously taps into the cultural zeitgeists in Japan at the times of their releases. The initial antagonist of Final Fantasy VII being an evil monolithic corporation? That sure sounds like the Japanese Zaibatsus of yesteryear! Needing to travel the world of Final Fantasy VIII by train? Yeah, trains are popular with young boys in Japan. Yuna being a Shrine Maiden in Final Fantasy X? That was a metaphor for the cultural shift Japan was facing in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

Wow. FF2. You must be really scraping the barrel. Huh?

To quote Roger Ebert's review of Freddy Got Fingered:

This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.

And to borrow another sentence from that review; there may come a day when Final Fantasy II is seen as a critique of Japanese work cultural, but there will never come a day when Final Fantasy II is seen as "fun."

May I ask what's next on tap (after they let you out of the padded room, of course)? Are you ever going to let yourself play one of the good classic Final Fantasies like IV or VI?

The plan is for @thatpinguino, @jeffrud, and myself to play OG Final Fantasy V. The guiding theme of the blog series, after I finish the game that is, will likely be me continually wondering why Final Fantasy V doesn't get the credit it deserves in moving the series forward.

If you have not played Final Fantasy V, do yourself a favor and play that game. It's fun.

This game sounds truly awful. I bet you could write a fun plot in which the ancient power everyone is hunting for ends up not being all that impressive compared to modern tech, but that's something you actually need to handle within the game. Not in an interview after people have been frustrated with that aspect. Just comes across as them trying to spin a bad thing into something that should be celebrated.

I think the only game from the Final Fantasy series that took longer was 13. In the case of 13, that game overstays its welcome and is the same shit over and over again. Final Fantasy II's problem is that it does not work. Should you play it, and I hope I have made the case you shouldn't, you are constantly at war with the game. Everything that should be even remotely appealing about the game does not work and is in constant conflict with other mechanics.

In other words, the game is a dumpster fire.

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wollywoo

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#15  Edited By wollywoo

This whole thing was amazing and fascinating. Thanks so much for going through all this pain so that I can experience it vicariously through you instead of in real life. It's like the designers were consumed with big ideas and had no idea what actually made games fun to play. The basic rules of game design were completely unwritten.

That's interesting, care to explain?

@zombiepie said:

When Square tested the game and saw the bug, Sakaguchi asked for it to be fixed, but the person who programmed it replied that legendary stuff that dates back to an age before "proper techniques" would look inferior from present's point-of-view, explaining Ultima's weakness. He reasoned that the struggle to acquire it only to discover it's useless mirrors real life, and thus he was not going to fix the bug. Sakaguchi was irritated by the reply and tried to fix it himself, but the programmer had ciphered the source and Ultima was left the way it was.

That is hilarious. Where does this quote come from?

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Mamba219

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I actually really like it. Though, to be fair, I've only played the Origins and Dawn of Souls versions.

Still, my favorite NES FF.

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redwing42

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FFV is a really fun game that walks the line between serious and goofy very well. I actually enjoyed it more than FFIV, but I came to all of the SNES games well after the fact.

As for this game... I've played the emulated and translated NES version, the Dawn of Souls GBA version, and the PSX FF Origins version. I just could not make it through the NES version, I did complete the PSX version, and only glanced at the GBA version. I fully agree that this game is terrible and certainly the worst FF game I've ever played.

I did not play FF3 until the DS remake, and that game is actually pretty good until you get to the sections where you are basically locked in to certain job classes. Then it is almost unbearable.

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MonkeyKing1969

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FFII is why I am wary...not scratch that which is why I simply avoid...old games. The developers were tring back then. There were programming at a time when game with any depth or length length were a new concept. The people programming them certainly didn't have a long history of making game (they were the pioneers) let alone playing longs ones to know how they felt to be played.

We take it for granted now that MOST games work and have the sharpest corners sanded down. Most games don't have bugs the kill them or paths that close if you miss grabbing an item. Oh, sure idiots put out broken games today, but today it is just idiots. In the late 80s and early 90s it was the GOOD programmers and the good producers who made some of the bad games that were a real grind - a hammers your head against a concrete wall- drag.

So, I raise my cup to you ZombiePie, for playing games that save my own forehead from damage!

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Hasemo

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Uh, FFII. I feel your pain, a few years ago when I was clearing all the FF games I never finished, this one was hands down the worst one.

Iirc I ended up playing the PS1 version on the Vita and I'm just glad that they kept in the bug where your stats would go up just by selecting certain skills during fights and backing up (without the need to execute them, so you could get sick gains in 1 fight). I probably wouldn't have finished II without this trick, it was just so bad.