View Full Version : Even in times of struggle, a Wild Rose may bloom...

Wolf Kanno
06-13-2015, 06:02 AM

If there was ever a game I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to witness it's inception it would probably be Final Fantasy II. Well XIII as well but I feel II would be more interesting. In many ways Final Fantasy II could be considered to be the first real Final Fantasy; by which I mean it was the first entry in the series to really accomplish some of the things the series would later be known for. An interesting story focus, good characters, catchy music, a unique and experimental game design, but mostly it threw out the rule book established from the previous entry and tried to strike out on it's own as something different. FFII is not just a bigger and badder sequel to FFI (we'll get back to this idea with the next article ;) ) but instead a bold step into uncharted waters for both the series and the genre. If FFI could be described as Square's attempt to emulate and capture the fun of DQ and Wizandry on a console, then FFII was the title that tried to show that Square could create something that could stand on its own merits and be unique among the rest of the RPG pact.


Graphically the game is not much different from its predecessor, many of its graphical improvements are subtle such as the cleaned up battle menu system and the introduction of character portraits. There is more music and it has become more sophisticated than FFI but it still showing Uematsu growing into his role that will mark later entries. Sprites and tile sets are lifted whole sale from FFI, to the point where looking at screenshots of one over another will be difficult to discern which is which unless one was familiar with the games.


What will set the game apart the most for players is the presentation. FFI began like a typical game with the player starting with their characters on the map by a town and you could choose where to go. FFII begins with the player starting a battle with unknown forces, given a false sense of what to do. The player fights on, only to discover too quickly that they are horribly outmatched and then promptly killed. This simple intro will begin a long tradition of surprising the player with unconventional intros that grab the player's attention and quickly immerses them into the experience. In Pitchfork's lovely overview of the franchise (http://socksmakepeoplesexy.net/index.php?a=patff), he affectionately called this the "shock and awe" strategy. After the player experiences their humiliating defeat, the screen opens to find the party being revived by the rebel army and players are introduced to the idea that they are not controlling some faceless player avatars but actual characters with personalities and story relevance. They even lose one party member right off the bat, giving the player a sense of consequences to the war story they are about to embark on. In all honesty the intro to FFII is actually quite clever in drawing the player into the world and lending the conflict a certain level of weight that isn't really seen much in both the series and genre. The shift from the typical player avatar-style RPG to a more Phantasy Star story driven experience is also a nice change of pace for the player and shows an early commitment to break away from the mold of traditional RPGs into what would eventually be the defining trait of JRPGs that the series would spearhead.


The player wasn't just some random warrior, instead they take the role of Firion, a youth who lost his home when the Empire attacked and now helps the Wild Rose Rebels to defeat them. He is joined not by random companions with set roles a la Dragon Quest III but instead teamed up with his childhood friends Maria, her power hungry brother Leon, and their gentle giant friend Guy. The player can rename them all but their stories remain the same. Unlike other FF heroes, they have no classic roles, the player is left to build them into who they want. FFII is first and foremost, a story with actual characters, not a magical journey for the player to live through but instead a world and fantastic experience to immerse themselves in.


FFII's plot may not be the most original, like anyone starting out, they usually borrow from the things that inspire them and so FFII's plot sound vaguely similar to a certain famous Sci-Fi space opera series. Orphans join a rebel army led by a strong -willed princess who is fighting against an evil emperor, whose black armor clad servant with strange powers, is helping him build a powerful flying ship that can bombard cities from the sky... It's the plot of A New Hope but the setting and some of the little things within the story make it feel fresh and original. The original FFI had some interesting side characters but very few of them were ever given any real characterization beyond their role in the quest. FFII changes this aspect by creating a strong cast of supporting characters, many of whom spend time as the party's fourth recruit throughout the story. Characters like the Obi-Wan Kenobi inspired White Wizard Minwu, the retired monk Josef, the carefree pirate Leila, the gloomy and meek Gordon, and the fallen Dragoon Richard. FFII is filled with colorful characters, both from heroes to even the villains.

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The Emperor is actually an interesting case for the series, unlike Chaos and the Fiends who represent physical manifestations of decay and discord for the original's world, FFII decided to focus on a more tangible and involved figure. His empire has a strong presence throughout the game but it is the fact the Emperor himself is not merely some figurehead to be toppled but someone to be feared. This is represented by the times he chooses to actually be involved, unlike the bitter and despicable Borghen or the mysterious Dark Knight, the Emperor shows he is far more intelligent and powerful for the party to really deal with him head on until they were ready. He can summon an army of monsters and demons to augment his forces, devises a clever trap that nearly gets the party killed and gives him time to conquer his foes. Even after he loses his powerful airship Dreadnaught, he simply conjures a cyclone to protect his fortress while smashing through cities. Even more surprising is the game's main two twists of the Emperor falling in battle halfway through the game, only for his conquest to be resumed by his trusted Dark Knight, revealed now to the the party's missing ally Leon. After coming to terms with the betrayal, the party takes the fight to Palamecian Castle and battles Leon only for the whole thing to be interrupted by the return of the Emperor, who has now taken over Hell itself and been reborn as a Demon King. Again, like Chaos before him, Square shows that Final Fantasy will not fall into the trappings of typical RPGs, no one-dimensional Demon Lords or the plot being hijacked by Ganon for them. The Emperor simply proves to be too good of a villain for even death to truly take him and for these reasons he steals the show and cements his status as one of the series most memorable villains.

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FFII did more than take the series into a more story-driven direction, it also made significant gameplay changes for better or for worse. When people speak about FFII, the topic will always focus on the game's infamous leveling system. Wishing to break away from normal RPG conventions which borrows the concept of Experience from D&D, FFII introduced a revolutionary concept of leveling skills which focused on the simple concept of leveling stats and abilities based on how much you use them. If the player attacks with weapons enough times, the character's strength will rise as well as their proficiency in the weapon. Use lots of magic? The character's MP, Intelligence and spells used will also rise in power. Of course to balance this all out, raising some stats lowers other stats. Getting hit in the face enough times to raise a character's defense and HP won't do much good for their intelligence and brain function. It's hard to focus on being gentle and knowing how to heal wounds if the character spends too much slaying monsters with blood lust. Most make sense and it helps to deter the player into building highly proficient Red Mages. Even the enemies encountered will throw curve balls by having abnormally high physical defense and can only be quickly felled if the player had the foresight to build a mage character. The game designer Akitoshi Kawazu remarks the system was built around a sense of nurture as opposed to the job class systems "nature" style mechanic. The main three characters are mostly blank slates for the player to personalize because the developers didn't want job roles to hinder the characters role in the plots. For this reason, only the side characters who join the party are ever given any kind of role and even those can be changed. (http://www.1up.com/features/deal-square-enix-akitoshi-kawazu)


What's clever about the system is how using certain weapons or magic will naturally throw the characters stats towards the job roles of the previous FF. Wearing armor to take more hits and using swords and axes will make the character gear towards a knight statistically. Using magic will make them powerful mages but weaken their defense enough to force them into the back row where their HP and defense will never get as strong as a warrior. Unless the player purposely tries to bork the stats to some omnipotent end a natural progression will have the player find the party easily settling into the classic job roles. It's an incredibly well thought out system in an age where most games just had you beat up monsters to earn arbitrary points until you level up. The game's only downfall was an oversight that became famous. Kawazu decided that besides using magic to restore a character put to sleep, it would also make sense for the character to be struck by a party member to force them awake. This combined with the games inability to discern friend from foe allowed it so savvy players could artificially grind their characters by having them beat up their own party. Ironically this kind of saved the original game, as its slow natural progression combined with the game's high encounter rate, made beating the game normally quite challenging for all but the most cautious and patient players. Still, the system remains a controversial talking point among fans who feel it was a refreshing change of pace, and others who see it as an unbalanced grind tool.


FFII did introduce more than just a funky leveling system and plot. Other features include the Memo system where the player could memorize certain key terms and phrases and then use them in conversations to unlock important information to help progress the story or even hints and secrets to rare loot. It gave the game a bit of a more Role-Play feel to it despite the party having pre-set personalities. The game also introduced several major staples to the series such as an airship pilot/mechanic named Cid, the series mascot chocobos, and even classic enemies like Bombs and Behemoths. The series even debuted the infamous Ultima spell even though a glitch in the game's code made it all but useless. The game even began the long tradition of having a major character killed in the plot, though FFII gets the reward for killing the most characters.


While FFII's plot is not the deepest or most original and the game is hampered by both a controversial gameplay mechanic and some unimaginative dungeon design, it's still quite a masterpiece in how daring it was for walking away from many of the safe conventions of the original FF and the genre itself at the time to try and forge ahead a new direction. While its success is still hotly debated among fans, no one would question the game did showcase the series spirit in trying to reinvent itself and by extension the genre itself. For fans, the game is an engaging chapter in the series foundation. For those who revile it, it's a black sheet entry chalked up to the wild imaginations of a young and inexperienced development team. For those who have only heard the stories, perhaps it is time to sit down and give this classic a spin to see where you stand. What you will find is an important building block in the series legacy.


Electroshock Therapy
06-14-2015, 04:21 AM
I am really enjoying these articles/reviews! They are very detailed and make me hyped to play them again even if I'm already playing them. I've also been looking forward to you reviewing FF II for a while now because it's no underrated.

I really love this game! In fact, I'm currently playing it again!

I can understand the frustration people have with this game. This game can either be a nightmare, or it can be a cakewalk. And it's only easy if you know what spells are most useful (luckily, FF II actually decided to make status spells useful this time around), and you have to know which armor to keep and which to ignore. I find those two factors, while they might seem arbitrary to some, really do make a difference. The problem is that the game isn't very helpful in that regard. You just have to pick stuff and hope if helps rather than hinders you. A lot of people unfortunately seem to choose set-ups that hinder. I started out with HCBailly's suggested playing style and I've been adapting it to see if anything works better or worse.

And there's just something charming about NES era Final Fantasy games even if I've only played the remakes (Origins and 3D remake of III). There's a simplistic charm that I like, even if some of the gameplay machanics in II and III can be a little complicated. They are good games with fun worlds to explore.

There's just one thing that truly disappoints me about FF II: What? Only one Chocobo Forest? For Shame! :p

Wolf Kanno
06-14-2015, 05:51 AM
It's easy to miss that forest too.

Yeah FFII has some interesting mechanics and frankly, I've come to appreciate them as I played through it. The only really negative thing about the game I dislike I didn't really go into, and that was the game's rather lackluster dungeon design and it's wonderful "encounter rooms" as ReloadPsi affectionately called them. Even with a high level party knocking heads easily, the games boring dungeons and high encounter rate didn't make it feel any less of a chore but hey, I'm willing to overlook things like that if I can get some real enjoyment out of the rest of it. The music, story, characters, and gameplay made this oen pretty cool. I'm hoping to finally sit down and play through the original Famicom version soon, as I found doing so with FFI and III really changed my outlook on the two games for the better.

Thank you for the kind words and hopefully I won't wait as long to get to the next few.

06-19-2015, 10:35 PM
i think this game is awesome because. Mateus becomes God AND Devil. ( is you believe in the bonus thing with the remakes) besides having the best White mage ever. Mindu/Minwu. and ofcourse the stupid way of leveling magic!. and who could forget Guy. the only GUY! to talk less than Ward. im only familiar with the PS1 and GBA versions. but its still a good game. however i fear in my recent games its getting over thrown by, 12 and 8 now. but hey anything is better than X-2 so guess thats good. also better than 1 which is good... im getting carried away sorry. Point is. Minwu is awesome and so is Guy. bye.

06-22-2015, 06:19 AM
When you play through the NES version prepare for a hardcore experience. It's the version I played through first, back in my prime as a hardcore RPG player, and I was pushing the limits of what you could do in the game without guides and prior knowledge to make it easy. But man, that last boss fight. It was an intense blow for blow with only one character alive for several rounds, hoping I killed it before it killed me. It's my most memorable final battle in a Final Fantasy game. Years later, when I played other versions of the game, it was like a sigh of relief that they were easier and I could enjoy the finer aspects of the game.

Wolf Kanno
06-23-2015, 03:08 AM
When you play through the NES version prepare for a hardcore experience. It's the version I played through first, back in my prime as a hardcore RPG player, and I was pushing the limits of what you could do in the game without guides and prior knowledge to make it easy. But man, that last boss fight. It was an intense blow for blow with only one character alive for several rounds, hoping I killed it before it killed me. It's my most memorable final battle in a Final Fantasy game. Years later, when I played other versions of the game, it was like a sigh of relief that they were easier and I could enjoy the finer aspects of the game.

I'm looking forward to it. I got a serious wake up call from playing FFIII original as opposed to the DS remake as well, so I imagine this will be just as intense.

06-23-2015, 08:10 AM
Again, very well written. These are very fun to read!

Ffamran mied Bunansa
06-23-2015, 09:23 AM
I was surprised when I played FFII for the first time and found it very fun. I'd heard so many bad things about it that I was expecting something next to unplayable. I love the keyword system, that's one thing I would love to see make a come back.

Nice write up by the way!

06-23-2015, 09:35 AM
I was surprised when I played FFII for the first time and found it very fun. I'd heard so many bad things about it that I was expecting something next to unplayable. I love the keyword system, that's one thing I would love to see make a come back.

Nice write up by the way!

It took me a bit to get into this one, I'll admit. I played a fan translated emulation for a bit before any official version came to the US. I also toyed around with the PS1 version. I finally committed to the game when the GBA version came out because it had a better game feel to me and minor stuff like item prices were much more fair.