THE ENTRANCE TO HELL LIES BEYOND THIS PATH

Final Fantasy II starts off with Frioniel and friends locked in a hopeless struggle against an imperial death squad and getting the earthly piss beaten out of them. This is fitting, inasmuch as it sets the mood for the rest of the game to come. Final Fantasy II will do everything in its power to beat you down. And when I write "you," I am not referring to Frioniel's party. I am referring to you, the player. Final Fantasy II is a pair of simultaneous battles on two separate planes. The first is the fictional struggle of Frioniel and the rebel forces against the might of the Paramekian Empire. The second is the very real battle between you, the player, and Final Fantasy II, in which the game attempts to foil your efforts and demoralize you from ever playing again. As you try to beat Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy II tries to beat you.

Most reviews and guides only cover the first aspect of this struggle. I, however, will be talking about the latter. To this end, I have pinpointed the five primary devices Final Fantasy II employs in its psychological battle against the player's will.


1.) Ludicrous Stat/Ability Progression System

This is the main culprit and Final Fantasy II's greatest weapon. Somebody in SquareSoft thought it might be a cool idea to discard experience points and leveling up in favor of an alternative system. This wasn't such a bad idea in spirit, and was quite progressive for an eight-bit RPG in 1988. However, the system they came up with is absolutely absurd and renders Final Fantasy II unplayable to the point where I honestly have a hard time believing it wasn't intentional.

Here's how it works: party members' statistics increase with use. If they use a lot of physical attacks in battle, their Attack and Weapon Skill increase. If they use a lot of magic, their Intelligence or Soul (depending on whether Black or White magic is used) increase. Losing a lot of HP means an increase in HP and Vitality increase, and consuming large amounts of magic points might lead to an increase in MP. (I say "might" because there's never any real guarantee that anyone will receive a stat increase after a battle.)

What this means is that the most efficient way of building up your party's HP, Attack, Vitality, and Weapon Skill levels is to seek out random battles and, instead of fighting the enemies, having your party members whale on themselves and each other with their equipped weapons while the monsters gaze on in horrified stupefaction. I will have Maria demonstrate:


STEP ONE: Maria targets self


STEP TWO: Maria clubs self over the head with staff


STEP THREE: Party defeats enemies


STEP FOUR: For clubbing herself in the head, Maria is rewarded with more HP

It gets worse. Final Fantasy II's Magic and Weapon Skill system works on the same basic principle. Regularly using a certain type of weapon increases a character's proficiency with that weapon, allowing them to score more hits and inflict greater damage. Similarly, casting the same spell enough times levels it up, making more effective. (A modified version of this system was later included in Secret of Mana.) The problem lies in the frequency with which you must use a weapon or spell to see a Skill Level increase. It isn't much of an issue with melee attacks, but using magic with any degree of effectiveness becomes a grueling ordeal. When you buy that "Fire" spellbook and give it one of your party members, it starts off at level 1. In order to level it up to 2, you must cast Fire in battle anywhere from 50-100 times. And that's another 50-100 uses to get it up to level 3 afterwards. And if you have any interest in using Ice or Bolt magic, you'd better get to leveling those up too. The Heal and Blink spells are useful as well: START LEVELING. Holy? Flare? Ultima? They all start off at level 1 as well, and you gotta get them up to at least level 5 before they become even remotely useful at the stage of the game in which you acquire them. That's 250-500 uses. Each.

But never fear! There is a shortcut to boosting your Magic ability. Due to a bug in the game, selecting a spell and choosing a target registers as a successful use of said spell. This allows you to increase spell levels by having a character pick a spell and choose a target, then pressing "B" to cancel it. Repeat 50-100 times for an increase in that spell's level. It's a lot like doing reps at the gym: tedious, repetitive, and time-consuming, but in this case, the results are a lot less...well, tangible. If your brain releases any endorphin during this process, I'd contact a neurologist immediately.

Lastly, Agility and Evade are two very important stats because they're what determine whether you are able to run away from battle. They are increased when a character successfully dodges a physical attack, which itself is a roll of the dice based on a few percentages. During this playthough, my party members had exceptionally bad luck dodging attacks because I didn't give them shields (because shields decrease the potency of attacks, both physical and magical). As a result, their Agility and Evade stats rarely increased -- and that meant I was never able to run from any battles, ever. Every time -- I cannot possibly stress the word EVERY enough -- a random battle came up, I had to deal with it. If the battle between myself and Final Fantasy II were a boxing match, this would be the equivalent of getting kicked repeatedly in the balls with a steel-toed boot.


2.) Doors to Nothing

The dungeons in the first Final Fantasy have doors. Behind those doors are rooms. Often, these rooms contain stuff. It is usually a good idea to check behind doors in Final Fantasy.

Final Fantasy II's dungeons have doors. Lots of doors. More doors than Final Fantasy's dungeons. But behind these doors, about 90% of the time, is nothing. Totally empty rooms. Neat, huh? It gets better: when enter the empty room and the screen changes, your character is positioned several paces inside the room instead of in the doorway. In a game where every step is a potential enemy encounter, and fleeing from battle can be anywhere from difficult to downright impossible (side note: you cannot retreat from undead foes, which dungeons are full of), this can be much more of a pain than it sounds. The obvious solution is to just never go through any doors, but Final Fantasy II throws curveballs by sometimes hiding an extremely crucial and rare piece of equipment behind a single nondescript door among fifteen others, or placing the staircase to the next floor behind a door. The only thing that could possibly make dungeon exploration in Final Fantasy II more painful would be if stepping into an empty room caused the voice of George W. Bush to cackle over the speakers: "HEH HEH! NO WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION IN HERE!"


3.) Useless Allies

So you have three primary party members: Frioniel, Maria, and Guy. They remain with you for the entire game and are worth building up as much as possible. The fourth party member slot is filled and vacated as the progression of the plot demands. The first ally you get is Minh, who knows almost every White Magic spell in the game and at fairly high levels to boot. Minh is a helpful addition, and does a good job helping your inexperienced party members stay afloat during the first stages of the game.

Then you get Josef. Josef doesn't know any magic, but has a decent amount of HP and attack power, so he's pretty good to have around.

And then you get Gordon. Gordon is useless. His stats are pitiful, he's unskilled with weapons, and he knows no spells. Making him useful even to the smallest degree requires much time and effort. When Gordon he leaves your party, he's replaced by Layla, who has low HP, a Level 2 skill level with few different weapons, and only knows one spell. Gotta power her up, too. Several hours later, you get Richard, who has lousy HP, so-so attack power, and no spells. Get the gist yet?

Sure, Final Fantasy II is the first game in the series featuring characters with backgrounds and personalities, but what difference does it make if most of them can't pull their weight in battle? Jerks.


4.) Limited Inventory Space

This is nothing new. The original Final Fantasy's inventory was severely limited. But what Final Fantasy II likes to thrust a ton of story-related "key" items at you that have no practical purpose and are impossible to throw away or hand off. By the time you're at the final dungeon, half of your inventory -- space you could be using to store Elixirs, Ethers, Phoenix Downs, and other stuff you might actually use -- consists of worthless garbage the game won't let you throw away. It even drops the Hiryuu (a flying, presumably fire-breathing dragon) into your party's backpack as a totally useless weight, apparently only to taunt you.


5.) Wild Goose Chases

Okay. Here's how an early chunk of Final Fantasy II plays out:

STEP ONE: Talk to Hilda in Altea. "WE NEED MYTHRIL! GO TO THE SEMITE CAVE NEAR SALAMANDO AND GET SOME!"

STEP TWO: Leave Altea. Take the canoe across the lake. Enter Palm. Pay the man in Palm to take you to Poft on his ship. Pay Cid in Poft to take you to Salamando in his airship.

STEP THREE: Enter Salamando. Talk to Josef. Exit Salamando. Walk to the Semite Cave. Enter Semite Cave, fight your way to the bottom, acquire the Mythril.

STEP FOUR: Exit the Semite Cave. Walk to Salamando. Talk to Josef. Exit Salamando. Walk to Poft. Pay the man in Poft to talk you to Palm on his ship. Exit Palm. Take the canoe across the lake. Enter Altea. Talk to Hilda.

STEP FIVE: Hilda: "NOW GO TO BOFSK AND STOP THE EMPIRE'S WARSHIP!"

STEP SIX: Exit Altea. Take the canoe across the lake. Enter Palm. Pay the man in Palm to take you to Poft on his ship. Pay Cid in Poft to take you to Bofsk in his airship.

STEP SEVEN: Enter Bofsk. Fight many battles.

STEP EIGHT: Exit Bofsk. Walk to Poft. Pay the man in Poft to take you to Palm on his ship. Exit Palm. Take the canoe across the lake. Enter Altea. Talk to Hilda.

STEP NINE: Hilda: "TALK TO CID! MAYBE HE KNOWS HOW TO STOP THE WARSHIP!"

STEP TEN: Exit Altea. Take the canoe across the lake. Enter Palm. Pay the man in Palm to take you to Poft on his ship. Talk to Cid in Poft.

STEP NINE: Pay the man in Poft to take you to Palm on his ship. Exit Palm. Take the canoe across the lake. Enter Altea. Tell Hilda what Cid told you.

STEP TEN: Hilda: "BUT IN ORDER TO ENTER KASHUON CASTLE AND ACQUIRE THE SUN FLAME, YOU'LL NEED THE GODDESS BELL! GO TALK TO JOSEF IN SALAMANDO!"

STEP ELEVEN: Exit Altea. Take the canoe across the lake. Enter Palm. Pay the man in Palm to take you to Poft on his ship. Pay Cid in Poft to take you to Salamando in his airship. Enter Salamando. Talk to Josef.

STEP TWELVE: Josef: "YOU'LL NEED AN ICE SLED TO REACH THE DUNGEON WHERE THE GODDESS BELL IS KEPT! BUT AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT, I'VE HIDDEN AN ICE SLED IN A SECRET CAVERN IN THE SEMITE CAVE!"

STEP THIRTEEN: If your will somehow remains unbroken at this point and the game is still turned on, Final Fantasy II will begin administering electrical shocks through the controller.


OTHER VERSIONS

With the exception of the MSX port, Final Fantasy II has followed suit every time the first game has been remade or ported. The sixteen bit reconstruction for the Wonderswan Color is, to the best of my knowledge, exactly the same as the Famicom original aside from the improved visuals, sounds, and interface. This version was slightly modified and released as a standalone PSOne title in Japan, and then included in Final Fantasy Origins. The compliation pack was the first time the game saw a stateside release, and not even the cool opening FMV with Firion and co. escaping from the burning Finn was enough to convince the majority of first-time American players that Final Fantasy II was anything more than a fluke in the series. The GBA Dawn of Souls version has an exclusive post-game sidequest in which a few of the dead good guys trapse around the afterlife and fight recolors of previously-battled enemies and bosses. Finally, Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition for the PSP is little more than a slightly more beautified version of the Dawn of Souls port.

MP3s Download here (Includes NES, GBA, and PSOne)

Main Theme
Battle
Battle 2

VERDICT

Somehow -- god only knows why -- I'm uncertain how to judge this game. Even if it's tedious, brutal, and probably the weakest entry in the series, the number of mainstay Final Fantasy concepts it introduces is staggering. Final Fantasy II's far-reaching influence is reason enough to give it the benefit of the doubt to some extent, but I cannot in good conscience recommend an RPG that encourages its players to club themselves in the face.

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (GBA)

Final Fantasy II (GBA)

Final Fantasy II (GBA)

Final Fantasy II (GBA)

Final Fantasy II (GBA)

Final Fantasy II (GBA)

Final Fantasy II (GBA)

Final Fantasy II (GBA)

Next: Final Fantasy III - Enter The Onion

Back to Final Fantasy II - Page 1

Back to the index