Review by The Ukemist
"An Interesting, But Barely Playable, Experiment"
Imagine you're Square. So you've just made the greatest RPG to date, blowing Dragon Warrior right out of the water with the reasonably well-balanced original formula for success of Final Fantasy. What do you do?
Why, change everything in the sequel, of course!
They certainly learned a lot from this one, but I'm afraid they mostly learned what not to do.
Let me contrast the gameplay of every other Final Fantasy with this FF2:
You get all the best equipment your characters can use, and all the best spells. When you fight, you kill everything as quickly as possible, while carefully preserving magic for when it is most needed; your mages will attack with hand weapons regularly, when they don't have spells to waste. Sometimes you have advanced too quickly and your characters are too weak to deal with a boss or the enemies in a certain area, so you have to spend a little time leveling up, by wandering around near a town or other recovery point, fighting the strongest enemies you can reliably beat. Usually you can beat a boss if you can survive to reach him in good shape without running from encounters.
You select your equipment carefully, because good armor will ruin your magic ability and will make it difficult to increase hit points. When you fight, you will attack your own characters, waste magic by healing the enemy, and generally act like an idiot; you will carefully restrain your mages from attacking lest they grow muscles where their brains should be. You will spend most of your time in such ridiculous battles; it is necessary to do so to move forward. If you haven't carefully trained to beat a boss, you'll effortlessly stomp all the enemies on the way to meet him, then watch him slaughter your men with a single strike each.
It's not so much the tedium as the stupidity that gets to me. This game practically requires you to attack your own men, yet you have to seek out an enemy to fight at the same time. Tactics Ogre has the same problem, but at least it's honest about what you're doing: you have a solo training mode. This kind of nonsense ruins the fun by rubbing it in your face that you're actually spending long unentertaining hours of your real life to change a few numbers in RAM. You might as well save yourself some time and do it directly. I strongly recommend cheating, if you have the tools for it (if you play by emulator, I believe there is a savestate floating around that starts you off with maxed out characters). Any useful method of training feels so much like cheating that it doesn't really make a difference -- there is no stat improvement quite so unsatisfying as the one you gain by ignoring a weak enemy and thrashing your characters within a hair of death.
The character development system sounds very interesting, but in practice is just screwed up. You are severely punished for avoiding damage and conserving spells. Misled efforts toward game balance mean that increasing strength reduces intelligence and vice-versa. You can kill a million monsters without increasing your HP by one point.
In short, the ''leveling'' system is based on the premise that getting severely wounded makes you stronger and carrying things makes you stupid.
Then there are simple balance issues that the developers seemed not to to have looked into: money is too hard to come by, most monsters are too wimpy, misses are too frequent, the monster packs are too large (and thus too time consuming; especially since you can only attack 2 ranks deep and there can be 4 ranks of monsters), monsters run away too often, there are far too many random encounters, and when the monsters aren't too wimpy they're far too strong (there isn't a smooth progression or any warning; you'll be stomping everything in sight, then suddenly meet a boss or wander into a new area and you'll strike for zero damage and be killed in one blow).
There is also the problem of getting around and following the story. The towns seem designed as mazes, often looking like there's a short path obscured by a wall or roof, but actually blocked off entirely. In more sensible FFs, just having heard or done something, or carrying a certain item, is enough for characters to respond to your new status; in this one, you must collect keywords from conversations as well as items and show them in every conversation to make sure you don't miss anything. Worse yet, there is often no indication of where you have to go, and who you have to talk to next, no signal of when someone will do something different when you talk to them. Just following the story can be as tricky as (and less rewarding than) finding all the hidden treasures in later FFs.
My biggest gripe, though, is the way they took away most of your direct control over the characters. Square seems to have oscillated on this issue:
FF1 - pick your classes
FF2 - no choice (classless)
FF3 - change classes whenever you've got enough points
FF4 - no choice (characters come complete with class and backstory)
FF5 - change jobs (classes) whenever you want
One might argue that you have a lot of control, but it is only through a lot of frustrating, tedious work. If you play the game normally (that is, exploring and trying to further your characters' stated goals) you will have little to no influence over character traits; they will develop mostly by random chance of what enemies are encountered. Furthermore, since there is only one opposition between the ability scores, there are really only 2 classes: fighters and black mages (both get white magic aplenty). Not much choice to start with, and then you're nudged toward the obvious option of having the men be fighters and the woman be a mage.
Speaking of control, the game controls are frustratingly bad, too. Changing targets doesn't always work the way you'd expect it, and I've ended up accidentally doubling up attacks or striking one of my own characters quite often. It happens every time I try to rush the process in a game where you want to rush through a hundred thousand tedious battles.
If you ask me, the monsters are pretty stupid compared to the cool ones in the original. Goblins look like stick figures compared to imps; hornets look like cartoon figures, ''leg eaters'' look like cow crap and neither makes any sense, as opposed to the decently drawn and totally sensible wolves. You don't really leave any bad designs behind either, you're in permanent palette-swapping hell. No, it doesn't get better. It's just ugly as hell. YMMV
To top it off, there is no replay value. Period. After the first play, you've seen everything. There's nothing to draw you back for a second play like the possibility of a 4 fighter party, or for a 12th play like the challenge of a 4 white mage party.
All that aside, the story is good. If you spend a couple of hours leveling up in the most efficient way (go read one of the gamefaqs strategy guides to learn the best way) at the start or (highly recommended!) use some sort of cheat, you can get through it. But it is more like some ultra-low-budget cartoon - there's no real game to it; either you'll max yourself out and breeze through, with battles being mere annoyances, or you'll have an experience uncannily similar to tunneling through a mountain by beating your head against the stone.
While any computer RPG requires a certain detachment from common sense, this one offends your common sense at every opportunity.
Definitely the worst FF.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/17/01, Updated 03/17/01
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