Review by roadtosalvation
FFII can be an enjoyable experience, but it's still extremely flawed
Once one of the "forbidden treasures" never launched outside of its port of origin, Final Fantasy II - the real Final Fantasy II - first saw daylight in the west with the 2003 Origins package on the Playstation. That version - which is technically closer to the original than what's presented here - showed everyone (outside those who hadn't been lured into checking out fan translated ROM images of it years prior) why it was probably skipped over: busted mechanics. The tangled web the vast majority of changes in Final Fantasy II find themselves within more or less come from another, less acclaimed, series - the SaGa series.
Much like SaGa Frontier, gone is the concept of experience points, and levels for that manner. This alone doesn't make the game bad. Despite the bashing SaGa Frontier took (and continues to take) the general fact is that its character development really wasn't "broken" per say, or as broken as some other things in that game were. The problem with Final Fantasy II, while employing a very similar scheme, is broken, and couldn't be fixed unless you rebuilt the game from the ground up.
As many know, in the original version - and the "faithful" PS1 remaster - there where many tricks the player could employ to fool the computer into giving their characters dramatic stat boosts. There was the "select/cancel" trick that, due to poor/selective programming, could rack up massive spell usage and weapon levels. That particular loophole was abolished in Dawn of Souls port on the GBA and beyond, but there are those that remain. The classic, "smack myself around for HP" trick still works, as does the old "spam magic on myself for MP cause my characters are more durable targets than the enemies are" trick. The loss and retention of these glitches throughout the various versions has made for an interesting story, but once one realizes that many of Final Fantasy II's gameplay systems still rely on the employment of these shortcuts, new flags are eventually raised.
While the abolishment of the select/cancel trick disallows one to cheaply power level their weapon levels, it also raises questions on when and how these levels rise. For example, lets say Firion's skill with a sword is currently at two, and it stays at a two (no increases on the meter) even though your attacking wave after wave of enemies. All of a sudden you enter a new area and it starts to rise again. Wha? What unseeable force governs the growth of this particular statistic? Change in environment, given events? Granted, it's always in balance and there never really a point where you're underpowered in this respect but why is there an invisible wall here? Compounding this are issues with some characters (Guy) have with having adequately powered weapons available.
While the weapon leveling system has been - mysteriously - reigned in, the spell casting system is still as short-sighted as ever. First of all, we ditched the lame item limit (somewhat) so why can't we ditch the sixteen spell limit as well considering every version of FFII since Dawn of Souls has been less strict than the last. Okay, so you don't exactly need every spell. You don't even need half of them. Not even one fourth? It's this that makes my next argument seem kind of fickle, but without the select/cancel trick, getting spells to level sixteen is a rough trek. And quite honestly, there is no way a casting of Bolt should cost as much as a casting of Ultima at the same level. Don't even get me started on the boneheaded way the damage for this aforementioned "ultimate spell" is calculated - you need a truly ultimate character to make it even worth casting, which is downright silly when the game's story places such a huge emphasis on obtaining it. In other words, just use the "legendary" Blood Sword on the bosses again.
However, Final Fantasy II starts to look much better once you look beyond its ever-flawed mechanics. Generally speaking, while the story isn't of a blockbuster nature, the fight against a malevolent empire is a nice, primitive precursor to the multifaceted conundrums in Final Fantasy VI's narrative. It's also nice to see that the players characters have lines this time around and don't really fit into the "silent protagonist" mold the four warriors of light did in the original. Sonically, Nobuo Uematsu score taps into the game's overarching militaristic theme, the contrast between the "Rebel Army Theme" and the "Imperial Army Theme" being the crowning achievement that pulls everything together.
As for extras, Final Fantasy II outdoes the original Final Fantasy by a mile. The clever (yet somewhat flawed and ill-explained premise of) Rebirth of Souls reappears from the GBA, and the Arcane Labyrinth puts the games password/ask system to clever use even though it's still just another lame excuse to extend replay value.
Despite all the complaints in the first five paragraphs, I think I enjoyed playing through Final Fantasy II more this time around than I did in 2003 on the Origins package. This doesn't exactly translate into a ringing endorsement, as the game requires a bit of finesse until you get your party on their feet and make peace with the games various flaws, but you could certainly do worse. There is always something worse....
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Final Fantasy II (US, 07/24/07)
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