Review by Arkrex
"No pain, no gain..."
Imperial soldiers have invaded the village! They are terrorising the locals and setting everything ablaze. Four brave souls decide to step up and thwart this merciless army, but alas, evil prevails and the would-be heroes are all struck with fatal blows.
It would seem that they are not dead, even after all that pwnage...
If Emperor Palamecia thinks he can rule the world by simply showing how much of a pyromaniac he is, he's got another thing coming. There's a resistance forming and it is this secretive collective that manages to rescue the four stricken warriors that bit off more than they could chew too soon. Welcome to Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition - a remake of the critically lambasted sequel to then Square's last hurrah. The frightful scene just described comes to life in a wonderful CG animation at the game's outset. Thereafter, the sinister and realistic look is replaced by cute little 2D sprites. Happy Anniversary!
Just like in Final Fantasy (I): Anniversary Edition, the PSP brings us yet another update of an early title in a legendary line of RPGs. Sure, the sprites are slickly drawn and when magic spells flood the widescreen estate, it can be simply dazzling. And sure, the soundtrack has been remixed and given some modern instrumentation that blare out of the portable speakers like a dream. But sure enough, Square-Enix's (count 'em) re-re-re-re-re-release has barely changed from the original NES stinker. As such, it's still a stinker.
To spice things up from the last instalment, which introduced fast-paced turn-based combat within an epic RPG framework (big bosses, an expansive overworld, a myriad of sidequests, and so on), Final Fantasy II takes things a step further by providing a more compelling narrative. But then it slips and falls into a thorny ravine as a result of drastically changing the well-received battle system. You no longer level up by the traditional means of experience points. Instead, depending on what actions your party members take during a random ruckus (don't be forgetting the "whooosh!" now), you'll individually increase the relevant attributes. You'll hit harder with an axe the more you use it and your healing abilities will improve as you consistently cure allies. Likewise, to raise your defence, you'll need to be hit many times by the enemy. Since 'grinding' is just as important as it is in nearly all RPGs, if you want to stand a chance against later adversaries (a cheap final boss awaits, yet again) you'll have to stand motionless during many battles and take every brutal hit as they come, just to raise your defence stats. Do you enjoy sitting back and watching your heroes being beaten to a pulp, bearing in mind that the sharp 2D visuals still drag some primitive battle animations along with them? If you're anything like me you'll want to smack your own characters around to vent some frustration. Here lies a beauty within a beast; self-infliction of pain will actually make you stronger!
The rest of the package is more of the same. A bestiary, some high quality artworks and a music player are unlocked upon completion. There's also a bonus dungeon replete with uber-tough monsters that net you some nifty items and equipables (a Catch-22 reward since by the time you gain them, you won't need them). Gameplay-wise, Final Fantasy II throws in more monster designs that look great in higher definition, but their lack of movement still bites. The battles are fun until you reach those (many) points where you must stop and grind for continued survival, and they are definitely much more challenging than the first Final Fantasy. I liked how there were (conveniently highlighted) keywords that you had to remember and recall to certain characters who would move the story forwards, as this added more depth to the usual point-to-point globe-trotting affair. It did lose me sometimes, though. Just like its prequel, Final Fantasy II doesn't always give you a clear indication of where your next goal is. This is great for players who like to take their time and indulge in some sidequests to further improve their characters - after all, this is what RPGs are about, right? Freedom.
Too bad. Since fighting forms a large chunk of this RPG (and any RPG really), the acceptable gameplay on the field simply isn't redeeming enough. I honestly wanted to like Final Fantasy II , but there wasn't much improved over the first one (which wasn't all that great) and the stuff that Square did change took a turn for the worst. A few unlockable extras as the icing on a tasteless cake don't mean much either. For me, the worst of it is the messed-up character development system that takes place over countless repetitive enemy encounters - this is just a critical 9999HP damage stab through the heart.
VERDICT 3.5/10 Suffers from Episode 2 Black Sheep Syndrome (E2BSS).
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 10/15/07
Game Release: Final Fantasy II (US, 07/24/07)
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