Final Fantasy II - Reader Re-Retroview  

Evil Empire
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

15-20+ Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The emperor of Palamecia has called forth monsters from the underworld to begin his campaign for world conquest, and a rebel army from the kingdom of Fynn has arisen to thwart his plans. Though the rebellion has suffered many setbacks, four orphans from Fynn may be able to turn the tide of the war against the Empire. Final Fantasy II never saw its release in North America for over a decade until the Playstation collection Final Fantasy Origins, with the game afterward receiving a few more ports, such as that in Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls, the version this review covers. The second installment features significant gameplay changes from its predecessor, though these changes aren't exactly for the better.

   Battles in Final Fantasy II are randomly encountered and turn-based, with the player inputting the party's commands and letting them and the enemy beat each other up in a round. Turn order, as usual, can vary, and the escape option for each character isn't foolproof. This time, there is no system of gaining experience and leveling up from battle; instead, characters gain various stats after battle, alongside money, based largely on the commands they performed in battle, how much damage they took, how much MP they used, and so forth. All types of weapons and magic have levels that gradually increase as the player uses them in battle, with all characters able to equip any kind of weapon and use any kind of magic.

E-M-P-I-R-E! We're gonna crush your insurgency! Imperial Cheerleading Squad

   The battle system shows promise, though its execution leaves something to desire. Magic, for instance, tends to be fairly useless at low levels (alongside the large number of magic spells that are inherently useless) unless the player constantly builds it up throughout the game, and the damage of physical attacks, too, can vary wildly (especially late in the game), sometimes dealing large damage and other times dealing no damage at all. The battle system, moreover, can be easy to exploit at times, since the player can have his or her characters attack themselves to increase their HP. It's not a bad battle system, but it could've been better implemented and more balanced.

   The interface is clean for the most part, with easily-navigable menus, controls, and so forth. Final Fantasy II also features a unique keyword system where the player memorizes keywords occasionally found in speech and can repeat them to certain NPCs for extended dialogue. The Dawn of Souls port, moreover, dumps the limit on inventory space in the original, and allows the player to save anywhere, although there are a few dreaded points of no return where the player can't back out at all to return to towns for healing and shopping, and there are maybe a few moments where advancing the game can be impossible without a guide. Overall, the interface is decent, but has some points that could've easily been better.

   Final Fantasy II, even today, remains a unique entry into the fabled franchise, with its character development system standing apart well from its predecessor and numerous successors, and in a way influencing that in the SaGa franchise. Granted, its story isn't exactly the most inventive, but the second installment is distinctive nonetheless.

How about some frozen honey? Ice-bee

   There's an empire. There's a rebellion. There are spirited youths destined to save the day. And so forth. Check your friendly neighborhood Star Wars for more details on the plot. The story might not have been that inventive even in the original version's time, but it was certainly an improvement over that in the first installment, though the game largely neglects character development in favor of the conflict between the rebels and the empire, with the empire certainly showing signs of atrocities at times. The addition of an extra mode accessed upon completing the game puts an interesting perspective on some of the minor characters, as well. The translation is adequate, too, although there are some incongruities such as Guy's caveman-esque dialogue. Still, the plot isn't bad, but would've easily benefited from more character development.

   The music is one of the game's high points, with many decent tracks sprinkled throughout the game, even if there are a few unusual ones such as the normal boss battle theme, and the quality isn't nearly as great as in Final Fantasy Origins. The sound is more than acceptable, as well, and in the end, the aurals leave little room for improvement.

   The graphics are largely the same as in the Dawn of Souls version of the original Final Fantasy, save for the addition of portraits for many story characters. The scenery is nice and colorful, though the character sprites outside of battle are somewhat small, and enemies in battle are still inanimate, though the player's character sprites there are larger and have a bit more detail. All in all, Final Fantasy II doesn't have the best visuals on the Gameboy Advance nor does it have the worst.

   Finally, the second Final Fantasy ranges somewhere from fifteen to twenty hours, with the extra mode accessed after beating the game chiefly adding to playing time. All in all, given its stark differences when compared to the rest of the franchise, one can understand why the original Final Fantasy II didn't originally see a release in North America, although it is certainly playable and not without redeeming aspects. Even so, however, it is, without a doubt, the weaker link of the Dawn of Souls collection.

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