"Final Fantasy II might be different, but it finally makes a strong case for itself with this 20th Anniversary Edition."

Strengths: Gorgeous 2D visuals in 16:9 Widescreen display; Includes the Soul of Rebirth dungeon from the GBA version, as well as a new dungeon called the Arcane Sanctuary; Updated musical score; Includes the opening CG cutscene from Final Fantasy Origins; Bonus music & art galleries with new artwork by Yoshitaka Amano; Split second menu loads from the FFI Anniversary Edition have been eliminated.

Weaknesses: Occasional need to grind certain spells can become a nuisance, especially on the ever-changing 4th member of your party.

Final Fantasy II could be adequately described as the middle child of the Final Fantasy franchise. It is by no means a bad game, but it is often neglected due to its strange ways. Due to the original Final Fantasy's popularity, Square decided that they would like to make a sequel. However, Final Fantasy's ending didn't exactly make it easy for a sequel to take place. Therefore, Square decided to make a sequel that was an entirely different breed from its predecessor.

Final Fantasy II takes place in a war torn world where a group of rebels are fighting against the evil Emperor Palamecia. The story begins with four teenagers, Firion, Maria, Guy, and Leon, whose hometown is attacked by the Emperor's forces. After they escape they are hunted down and left for dead. Firion, Maria, and Guy manage to survive, but Leon goes missing. Firion is the main protagonist of Final Fantasy II, and quickly becomes the leader of the group. He was orphaned at a young age and was adopted by Maria and Leon's family, who happen to be brother and sister. Guy is the childhood friend of the previous three and he seems to be lacking in intelligence, but makes up for it in his brute strength, as well as his ability to speak with animals.

The original Final Fantasy had a plot, but character development was completely non-existent. Final Fantasy II sets out to rectify this, and it does fairly well. Unfortunately since the game is 20 years old, the story can sometimes feel a little overdramatic and cliché at times. This is due to the fact, that a large portion of the main supporting playable and non-playable characters are killed throughout the story. Normally this wouldn't be much of an issue, but the majority of the deaths involve the said characters dying by saving the main party in an overdramatic fashion. Regardless of these matters, the storyline in Final Fantasy II is still very much enjoyable and the deaths are used as a main driving point in the narrative to justify the character's motives to put an end to Palamecia's reign of terror. It's just that at times the deaths can't help but feel a little tired by the end of the game.

The way in which you advance the storyline is completely unique to Final Fantasy II which has not been used in any of the other Final Fantasy games. During a conversation there will be keywords highlighted in which you will need to select and then 'learn'. You can then say these words to other characters to learn more information and advance the plot. This is something that you will have to do throughout most of the game, but fortunately is not as tedious as it may sound. Usually asking a word to another character will give you a hint on what you need to do next or even teach you a new keyword. Regardless of any quirks one may have with the storyline, Final Fantasy II still weaves an interesting tale of friendship, betrayal, and rebellion that should keep you interested until the end.

The battle system in Final Fantasy II is what either makes or breaks the game for most people. It works in the same turn-based style as Final Fantasy I, but the problem most people have is the way that your characters level up. Instead of leveling up by the conventional means of gaining experience and leveling up accordingly, each character's stats will level up individually according to the need for it. For instance, if Firion is attacked very frequently and loses a lot of health each battle, his HP will increase. This works both ways however, if Firion never uses a certain magic spell it will never increase in level, and if he never uses magic his MP will not increase. Basically, every stat levels up on the basis that it is needed to increase. Fortunately if you know how to properly play an RPG this will generally not be much of a problem. If you neglect certain skills the game can become very difficult, and tedious, because you will either get stuck, or have to go and level grind certain attributes of your characters. One of the biggest instances of this is if you never use your Esuna skill, which removes negative status effects. If an enemy uses a level 8 status effect and your Esuna spell is only level 4, then it will not be able to remove these status effects during battles.

Unfortunately this is where many of the problems people have with Final Fantasy II arise. There will never be much of a problem with leveling up attack spells because you will use them frequently. Unfortunately many healing spells such as 'Life' and 'Esuna' do not need to be used on a very frequent basis, so if you do not want to use healing items during battles there will be some level grinding with some of these magic spells, where you will have to randomly cast them during battles to get them to increase in level. The same leveling system applies to everything that your characters do, including weapons. If you equip someone with a sword and a shield, over the time of using these weapons, their effectiveness will increase dramatically.

Like Final Fantasy I, you teach characters magic by buying it from shops. However, unlike Final Fantasy I, each character in the game can learn any variety of spells, but they can only learn a maximum of 16. If you need room you can discard a spell and teach them a new one. Another large difference between Final Fantasy II and other Final Fantasy games is that instead of having 3 different levels of most magic, there are actually 16 levels of each magic spell in the entire game. That being said, it does take a long time to get incredibly powerful magic, but each spell will also become more powerful on a more regular basis than in the other games in the series. That being said, the customization and leveling is part of what makes Final Fantasy II so unique, and the fact that you can pretty much create your party any way you wish is a fantastic attribute, which also adds a lot to the replayability of the game. It is also worth noting that while playing the game, there was never an instance where it seemed necessary to abuse the leveling system by making the characters attack themselves to increase statistics. This is a common criticism that is completely invalid if one can apply logic and basic RPG knowledge to the playing of this game.

As with Final Fantasy I before it, Final Fantasy II also looks incredible on the PSP's large screen. The widescreen display is a treat, and the graphics are incredibly crisp and clear which breathes new life into an incredibly old game. The sprites have all been redrawn, but like all other 2D Final Fantasy games, the enemies you will encounter do not actually animate. Regardless, the game still looks incredibly good, and it's cool to see the effects of a spell change after it's reached a certain level. The soundtrack in Final Fantasy II is also notably superior to that of Final Fantasy I, and has also been updated and sounds wonderful on the PSP, especially while using high-quality headphones. There are some very memorable tunes in here, notably the world map theme and the regular battle theme, as well as the song 'Revival', which effectively captures the sense of wonder that the Final Fantasy series is all about.

This anniversary edition of Final Fantasy II includes all of the bonus features from Final Fantasy Origins, as well as Final Fantasy I + II: Dawn of Souls. The opening FMV from Origins is amazing, but is a little disappointing in the regard that the characters are not exactly modeled after their original character designs. The Soul of Rebirth bonus dungeon from Dawn of Souls is actually really neat; it has a side story where you play as four of the characters that died throughout the main story. These four characters wake up in what appears to be the afterlife, but soon follow their own story that ties into that of the original game. It's a really neat idea and is quite rewarding in its own right, but the difficulty level is incredibly high and anyone other than hardcore Final Fantasy fans will most likely not want to put up with the incredibly high difficulty level. That being said, hardcore Final Fantasy fans will most likely love the increased challenge that this dungeon offers. Also included, is the PSP-exclusive bonus dungeon called the Arcane Labyrinth, which is also another one of those difficult yet rewarding bonus dungeons that will probably only appeal to the hardcore.

Like all recent Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy II also features a fully fleshed-out bestiary which can be viewed in and out of the game. There is also a really nice art gallery featuring all of the original artwork by series veteran Yoshitaka Amano, which is a great addition for fans of his artwork. He has also done some new artwork as well which is a nice bonus. Like the other games, you can also unlock a bonus music player once you beat the game which is always a welcome addition to any game with a great soundtrack.

Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition is kind of in the same boat as Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition. It's certainly the definitive version of Final Fantasy II and is easily recommendable to anyone looking for a great 2D RPG. Surprisingly, this anniversary edition of Final Fantasy II actually feels much more polished overall than Final Fantasy I's anniversary edition. The split second menu load times have been annihilated, and the difficulty level feels much more balanced than in Final Fantasy I. That being said, if you already own one of the previous versions it really depends how much you like the game, and how important the bonus content is to you. Final Fantasy II may not have the most conventional battle system in the series, but that is a part of what makes it an interesting game. Despite its minor flaws, Final Fantasy II is still a highly enjoyable RPG that provides a compelling story of friendship and rebellion and should be able to satisfy anyone's portable RPG cravings.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/25/08

Game Release: Final Fantasy II (US, 07/24/07)

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