Review by TIDQ
"THE definitive version of the most-forgotten Final Fantasy"
If you have played Final Fantasy II before for the Famicom or PS1 or GBA most likely, you may have wondered whether it's worth the money to buy it all over again for the PSP. Or, if you have not played Final Fantasy II before, yet have an interest in the franchise, you may wonder if this seldom-celebrated entry in Fantasy lineage is worth checking out at all. I hope that I can answer some of these questions in my review, both by giving an overview of Final Fantasy II and talking about how it differs from the original, PS1, and the GBA versions.
First of all, it does need to be clarified which game in the series this is. Final Fantasy IV was originally released in America as Final Fantasy II, as many people know, and that has led to tons of confusion. This is not Final Fantasy IV. This is a game that was originally released over 20 years ago for the Famicom and didn't see an official English translation until it was packaged with Final Fantasy I in Final Fantasy Origins for the PS1 and later for the GBA as Dawn of Souls. That being the case, most English-speaking fans of Final Fantasy have not played the real FF2.
Even among people who have played and are familiar with Final Fantasy II, the original game was often thought to be the "black sheep" of Final Fantasy. This is largely because of the unique leveling system that made no appearances in any of the later FF games. The leveling system is, all at once, one of FF2's greatest assets and greatest weaknesses. You have a party of four characters who can excel in a number of different masteries, depending on how you treat them in battle. If your character casts a lot of black magic, for example, his MP and Intelligence will grow more, as will the skill levels of the spells he uses most often. Likewise, warriors who fight with weapons often will have their strength grow more in addition to the skill level of their particular weapon. Any character can use any spell or any kind of weapon (with a few exceptions), so you can customize your characters the way you like and raise a different kind of party on different playthroughs. In this sense, FF2 was way ahead of its time in regards to customizable characters in RPGs.
All of that sounds great on paper, but the stat-gaining system is sometimes broken. In the beginning, a person not knowing what they're doing could struggle with strong enemies. Worse though, a person who does know what they're doing can achieve dominant stats before even completing the first dungeon of the game. Attack your own party, level up spells to gaudy proficiency, it's almost too easy to take all challenge out of the game. If things couldn't get broken enough, there's even a sword that will make almost any boss in the game go down in a few swipes, including the boss of the game. Without even trying to level up much, I found that by halfway through the game, my agility and evasion were so high that enemies almost never hit me with physical attacks. The ability to abuse stats is unfortunate.
Stat-building aside, the story has to be mentioned. Although the story seems antiquated now by RPG standards, it was pretty damn good for the 1980s, better than FF1 or FF3. You control a group of youths who get caught up in a war between the nice Kingdom of Fynn and the evil Empire of Palamecia. Unlike in FF1 where your party is simply a group of heroes with no given names or dialogue or character traits, FF2 has memorable characters. You'll meet Gordon, the cowardly prince who must find courage to lead his nation during war time, Paul the kindly thief, Borghen the traitor, the evil Emperor, Leon the friend of the party with mysterious motivations, and many others. While it's not going to be quite the complicated soap opera that Final Fantasy 7 was, I was still able to get into the story.
One of the things that makes this PSP version of Final Fantasy II the best one is what they've done with the graphics. There's no way you can appreciate the beauty of this game from a screenshot. You need to play it on the PSP to see how they've redone all the graphics from the ground up with high-resolution crystal sharpness and new exquisite artwork. This is still purely 2D. If you like 2d sprites, this is as good as it gets. The enemy portraits now accurately reflect the original hand-drawn artwork and look just fantastic. Outside of battle, cutscenes have been redone with great beauty such as the Dreadnought's chase of Cid's airship. Many scenes will seem more impressive to those who have played older versions of the game. The sound and musical score is also of high quality and sounds distinctly "Final Fantasy."
Graphics aren't the only thing that keep this version of FF2 loaded though. Many added goodies make this like a gift to fans. The bestiary returns from Dawn of Souls, but adds the soundtrack, art gallery, and FMV opening not seen since the PS1 version. The "Soul of Rebirth" extra storyline returns from Dawn of Souls, which is still an excellent continuation of the story and a lot of fun to play. The biggest gift though is something that no other version of FF2 has, which is the all new Arcane Labyrinth. The Labyrinth is a set of new puzzle dungeons to explore and defeat. Go through the Labyrinth enough times, and you'll gain entrance to the Arcane Sanctuary, where you can meet Deumion and Phrekyros, two new ultimate bosses to the game. Deumion will grant you one character's ultimate weapon every time you meet him, or he can also give you one of two ultimate spells in the game, Revive or Destroy. Deumion has his own backstory that you will uncover as you go through the Labyrinth. There's really no way I can sum it up shortly, but the Arcane Labyrinth is some of the most fun I've had dungeon-crawling in a 2D RPG.
All in all, Final Fantasy II is far from a perfect game. The original game was flawed, and while some of those flaws were fixed over the years (like the infamous action-cancel bug), there have been far-better leveling systems made in the two decades since the original release. Likewise, the dated story, while fun, won't necessarily stack up with age to more modern RPG-fare. FF2 probably deserves its fate as one of the lesser Final Fantasies. but it is still a must-play game for any fan of the series. The amount of polish and love and fanservice put into this PSP version of the game makes it a pleasure to experience. A classic RPG has been fleshed out to its greatest potential, with extra dungeons, sharper graphics, and oodles of goodies to discover. I would recommend it to fans of the series, whether you've played another version of FF2 or not. The black sheep of the franchise has shined up its fleece to make itself a prize worth seeking.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 05/19/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy II (US, 07/24/07)
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