[personal profile] project2501
[Note: This review is part of my series on the Final Fantasy games. To read them all, click here.]

Time to defeat the final boss: 41.59. Time to 100% completion: 46.22. Again, the extra time was spent in hunting down a couple of missed monsters, but they were not as rare as the ones in FFI. The only one that eluded me for a little while was the Iron Giant.

Story and characters. The first two minutes of FFII are worth more, plot-wise, than the entirety of FFI. The game starts as four youths -- Firion, Maria, Gus, and Maria's brother Leon -- flee their burning village with the skeletal warriors of the Emperor on their heels. They are surrounded by soldiers, and you fight a couple of high-level knights, in the frustrating but effective gimmick of battle-you-cannot-win. The heroes -- minus Leon -- wake up in the rebel base, where they find they were rescued by the resistance forces, and have to prove their worth to Hilda, Queen-in-exile and leader of the resistance, so that they can join up and help defeat the tyrannical Emperor of Paramecia, who is trying to take over the world.

Gone are the innocent days of the Warriors of Light. The story of FFII is much darker, with allies sacrificing their lives, towns and villages being destroyed, and innocent people being slaughtered. Worse, our heroes often do their best, but find themselves unable to prevent these things from happening. I feel this makes for a much more interesting (and emotionally involving) story, even if the game does lay it on a bit thick sometimes. (There was this one village I could barely go back to, because everyone there was talking about how grief-stricken they were about the guy who had given his life to save me, and what was his small daughter going to do without him, and AUGH.) I thought the larger theme about the high cost of war was put forward very well, and it is that depth of story (and world, and history) that for me is one of the hallmarks of the Final Fantasy series.

Destroy the Dreadnought The cycle of violence.

Not only do the NPCs change what they say as events progress (something that was lacking in FFI), the whole world actually changes over the course of the game, even to the extent of certain villages getting destroyed by the empire.

The game features an interesting system whereby you can memorize keywords people mention to you, and then ask them (or anyone else) about those words. It's limited, but fun to feel like you have some control over the conversation. It is used in a number of different ways, from using a "password" to identify yourself to fellow members of the resistance to asking the town's resident thief how to access a hidden area in the castle. Mostly, it is a fun way to fill in background information about a plot point, as you can ask many people about it, and they will all give you different answers based on their own perspectives.

Me asking a book about stuff, in the library with books that know the answer to everything in the world. Convenient, that.
ever-advancing technology

There is more realism throughout, not just in the main story but in how people deal with each other. When the three survivors first ask Queen Hilda if they can join the rebel army and avenge their murdered parents, she says "Don't be silly, you'd only throw your lives away." When they insist, she gives them a little mission in order to test their worth without putting them into too much danger. When they need a canoe, or a snowmobile, or what-have-you, their owners come along too (obviously not willing to trust a group of random strangers with their valuable vehicles). They have to earn the trust of other NPCs in various ways -- people don't just say "Oh, you're the Heroes of Light! Please, come into my house and take my most prized possessions."

The Unlucky 4th. Instead of the four-person party of the previous game, the FFII party is comprised of three main characters -- Firion, Maria, and Gus -- with the fourth slot being filled by a variety of different characters as the story progresses. This is interesting in some ways, but more of a pain in others. You don't really want to spend any time leveling up the fourth person once you figure out that they could leave you at any time. You also want to strip them of any items or equipment when they do so, since otherwise they take it with them (the rotten thieves). I found it frustrating that, with one exception, they came to me as weaklings, and just as I had them leveled to a point that they were actually useful and not dying all the time, they would leave (or get themselves killed in an act of pointless heroics -- on which, more in a minute). The exception is Mingu, who joins the party early in the game and actually has a lot of high-level White magic. Since you can't really rely on the fourth character sticking around, you basically have to come up with a dynamic that works for the three permanents, and then if the fourth guy happens to contribute anything, that's cool too.

Unfortunately, that fourth position in our little group of adventurers seems to be cursed. Of the six characters who fight with us over the course of the game, only two survive until the end of the game. And they're the most immoral two: Leila, the ex-pirate (who joins our party under duress, after she attempts to mug us and fails) and Leon (Maria's brother), who, since parting company with us, has become a Dark Knight and made a short-lived bid to be Emperor (before the real Emperor comes back from the grave, at which point we rather inexplicably invite Leon to join us, despite his clear willingness to kill his own sister and childhood friends if we stand in the way of his hunger for power... but I digress). The other party members sacrifice themselves for us in similarly dumb ways: "Quick, you guys get out of here! I'll throw myself mindlessly at this boulder/dimensional portal/evil emperor so that you have time to escape and can get on with saving the world!"

a creepy proposition

Creepy. Also a setup. (That's Gareth, one of my ill-fated fourth party members, making a sidelong proposition to the kid's mom. Of course, he won't be coming back. And I'll be the one to deliver the bad news to them, too.)

Leveling System, aka, Whatever Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger. What can you really say about the advancement system? It sounds good in theory, but in practice leads to some of the most obtuse leveling methods imaginable. The concept: instead of having a single level, and gaining experience which levels up all the character's skills, why not have a separate level for each skill? Then, just as in real life, you gain levels in the things you practice, and lose levels in those you neglect. How do you up your magic prowess? Cast a lot of spells! How do you improve your magic defense? Be targeted by lots of spells! What's the most effective way to improve your attack power and build up hit points? Hit yourself in the face. A lot.

Yes, the sad consequence of this system is that it encourages you to spend large parts of the game, especially early on, having your party members beat up on each other, while the monsters look on... and presumably have a good laugh. Or back away slowly. One or the other.

Add to this another unfortunate bug, which I didn't discover until late in the game: in order to earn points for casting a magic spell, you don't have to actually cast it. You just have to queue it up. Which makes sense, because sometimes you're up against a single monster, and you set three of your party to attack and one to cast a spell on it, so the attackers might go first and kill the monster before the mage has the chance to wreak flaming fiery doom. In that case, you'd want the mage to still get points for that spell, otherwise it might take too long to level up. Um. But it turns out, if you just tell the mage to cast the spell, choose a target... and then cancel, and do it again... over and over again... you get points as if the spell was actually cast however many times you queued it. I used this to get Ultima to max level near the end of the game (not that it did me very much good; see also Weakness of Magic). It's, well, cheap. But then again, so is the fact that Ultima 16 doesn't do 1/8 the damage that a skilled swordsman could do with Masamune. Sigh.

Giant Beaver, how do YOU feel about the FFII leveling system? Giant Beaver

It's a pity, because I feel like this system has the potential to be kind of cool if implemented well. There's something intuitive about it, since your characters, to some extent, wind up being good at what you use them for most often. (Of course, it's unclear how you increase secondary stats, like Hit % or Evasion or Agility. Sometimes the characters would level up in those after a battle in which they did nothing.) I also like that there's a dichotomy between brain and brawn -- leveling up in Strength loses points in Magic (Intelligence or Spirit) and vice versa.

It is also neat that there are no classes. I think the characters have certain proclivities, based on their starting stats, but it is easy to train them in different weapons or have them start casting spells or whatever. It's very flexible, and you can do things like have your mage be good at archery so (s)he can stand in the back row and cast spells or attack. I used Maria as a sort of Red Mage, knowing a good mix of White and Black magic but also being skilled with the spear and bow. Firion was a swordsman, which worked out well; though he didn't have the attack power of Gus, he was more agile and had a good chance of crits. Gus was the powerhouse tank with two axes and a lot of HP. Given that magic is overall not as useful as physical attacks, this is a good mix. (Some FAQs recommend using Firion as a Black Mage and Maria as a White Mage, but I think that would have been more difficult (though it would have allowed a wider variety of magic, since each person can only learn sixteen spells)).

Even without the "cheats", the whole system is a little needlessly complicated. For instance, characters are either left- or right-handed. Which matters because they can attack more strongly with their dominant hand, of course, so since Firion is right-handed you'd want to put his sword in his right hand and shield in his left. As a lefty, I'm glad to be represented in this system... however, the only left-handed character is Leon, who you don't even get until very, very late in the game. And actually, it's just silly, and doesn't matter at all. It adds to the overall impression that Square was trying to design a very realistic system, and lost some usability in the process.

Citation Needed So, uh... I guess you would know, then.

Oh, I should mention that there are a few more sophisticated additions to the battle system. The concept of front row / back row, where the back row can only attack or be attacked using spells or range weapons (at least while the characters in the front row are alive) makes its debut here. FFII also sees the addition of some of the more fun status ailments, such as Mini and Toad. Also, unlike the last game, this one allows you to target all (enemies or allies) with a spell. It costs the same amount, but divides damage (or HP) among the targets. Super useful.

There are some good puzzle aspects, too; the introduction of occasional walls you can walk through means that dungeons aren't quite as straightforward as before. There are a few things you have to figure out through hints dropped by different people, or asking certain things (using the memory system). And early in the game, the party has to "sneak" through occupied Fynn to meet up with an agent in a pub outside its walls. (Okay, so you just have to not talk to any of the soldiers, because they are high-level and they kill you. It would've been better if you had to avoid being "seen" by them. But it's definitely better than just solving all problems by leveling up and then killing everything.)

Item woes. Though healing items are more accessible and useful than in the original FF, there are weird limits on the inventory size. The main inventory can hold a maximum of 63 items, and this number gets whittled down as the game progresses, because you have to store all the key items (ones that were acquired as part of the plot) in your main inventory. Also, as in FFI, you can't access the entire inventory during battle; each character has two item slots, into which you can "equip" an item such as a Potion or Phoenix Down, and they are then able to use them in battle.

Weakness of Magic. A lot better than FFI, but mages are still underpowered compared to fighters. It takes a long time to level magic and gain MP compared to how quickly the warriors become skilled in their weapon of choice. Even the fabled "Ultima" magic, which you seek out as part of the storyline and is hyped as being the most powerful magic in the world... kind of sucks. At max level (16), Maria was doing around 350 damage with it... while Gus and Firion were hitting for ~1100, and could wield a weapon in each hand, easily doubling that amount. Granted, in my game Maria was not a dedicated Black Mage, but even when monsters had level 16 magic, it was not that spectacular. Still a notable lack of summons.

Final Fantasy World. Airship again, this time with Cid, too! (Although he does die, leaving the heroes the airship in his will. ;_; What did I tell you? Grim.) Also, Chocobos! Well, one Chocobo. In a Chocobo Forest! And also as a graphic for the Muddle (Confuse) spell.

Just like in FFI, we get the (sea) ship by being attacked by pirates, beating the snot out of them, and taking their ship when they surrender. This time, we get the pirate captain (Leila) as a member of our party for a while.

Leila contributes some much-needed wisdom to the party.Scary Things

Plenty of familiar FF monsters, such as Malboro (complete with horrible every-status-effect-in-the-book attacks, though not as bad as in later games), Coeurl, Bomb (w/self destruct!). Spells starting to sound familiar too, though I guess some of them were renamed for the PS re-release. But we've got Aura, Flare, Holy, Esuna, Ultima, and so on.

Overall, I was amazed at how sophisticated this game is. I actually had to double-check that it really was the second one, and not actually Japanese FFIV or something, because it's really leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. I would call this one the first true Final Fantasy game.

So, anyone got a copy of FF3 they want to lend me? I think it was released for the DS. :)

Date: 2009-01-19 05:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] xaiax.livejournal.com
It was indeed released for the DS. I bought it. I suppose I could lend it to you if you can't find a local copy. I bought a crap ton of games lately and have only played ... uh ... you could probably borrow it.

How did I not remember you were left handed. o_O

Bah. Handedness is a sign of weakness, anyway. ;p

/me goes to play Rock Band drums in left mode . . .

Date: 2009-01-30 09:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_wirehead_/
I suppose I could lend it to you if you can't find a local copy.

seems no one else i know has it. wanna mail it to me? :)

if not that's okay too, i don't want to keep you from playing it if you haven't gotten the chance yet.

Date: 2009-01-19 07:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] djsparkydog.livejournal.com
Bitchin' review kitten.

Date: 2009-01-19 09:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aisa0.livejournal.com
I enjoy reading these ridiculously much.



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