Man oh man, where to begin. Final Fantasy II is an interesting game to review. First of all, it did not see an official release of this game in the US until sometime around 2001 or 2002. Up until that time, all we had were hacked, poorly-fan-translated ROMs. The first official version released in the US was in the form of Final Fantasy Origins. I remember how excited I was when that game came out… In fact, it was the main reason I bought a PS2. I had seen the game in its original 8-bit form during my time in Japan, but being unable to read Japanese, I knew little about the plot. All I knew is that there was a sequel to Final Fantasy that I was missing out on. Eventually, a game was released in North America bearing the title, Final Fantasy 2… Sadly, it knew right from the start it was NOT the same Final Fantasy II I had seen before.
(Note: Nintendo of America skipped over the second and third entries in the series and renamed Final Fantasy IV to Final Fantasy 2 for introduction to the western audience. It’s a long story…)
There have been two other versions of the game released in the US since the Origins bundle. The Dawn of Souls version for the GBA, and the Anniversary Edition for the PSP. It is important to note that the GBA and PSP versions have a much superior script. The names of the character names are more accurately translated. So, as far as translations go, the PSP version is by far the best. It is considered by almost everyone to be the definitive version due to the graphical updates and the polished script.
One difference to note is the adjustment to the difficulty level. While the PS version remains untouched from it’s 8-bit roots, the latter two have a reduced level of difficulty. They are cakewalk compared to the Famicom or Origins version. That being said, the introductions of the “Soul of Rebirth” scenario (from the GBA version) and additional optional content found in the PSP add a new level of challenge above that found in the main scenario.
This game in many ways is big improvement over the original Final Fantasy. The soundtrack is marvelous, albeit a little repetitive. Whereas the original game was weak on story, this game almost has too much going on. My big gripe is the character advancement system. There is no such thing as a “level”, instead characters improve in the abilities that they use the most, or the weapons they wield more often. I think Square had their thinking in the right direction, but it just didn’t turn out as good as they planned. Regardless, it was a very innovative idea at the time.
Despite my griping, I enjoyed the game immensely. I mean, after all, this is the game where the lovable Chocobos were debuted! The story line focuses on four main characters for most of the game: Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon. The game begins with the four youths being attacked by black knights from the evil kingdom of Palamecia. The are left for dead at the conclusion of the battle but three of them are rescued by a group of rebels. Leon was not discovered among them.
As the story progresses, the heroes are thrown into the ranks of the rebellion against the empire where the truth regarding the source of the Empire’s power is revealed. The heroes ultimately prevail against the demonic Emperor by confronting him in his palace located in the depths of hell itself!
In the later versions of the game, a short add-on scenario is unlocked upon the completion of the main title The Soul of Rebirth mission allows players to experience a new adventure featuring several of the fallen heroes from the main game. The difficulty of this scenario is greater than that of the main game, and is intended as a challenge for experienced players.
Difficulty: Medium – Much like the original game in the series, the modern day version is quite a bit easier that the original 8-bit release. However, again, the PSP version adds a new extremely challenging dungeon. And the Soul of Rebirth chapter is no walk in the park.
Story: The storyline here is much more in depth that the first entry in the series. The dialogue is engaging in a way that’s usual for more RPG. There is a bank of special keywords that you can mention during some NPC conversations that trigger events or allow you to obtain new information. I’ve heard some claim that the storyline is, on its surface, a blatant rip off of Star Wars (rebel alliance vs. an evil empire), but I found this is not so much the case.
Originality: This game took everything that was good about Final Fantasy and combined it with more in-depth storyline. The character advancement system, despite its flaws, was a bold step towards a more realistic system of character progression.
Soundtrack: Another classic soundtrack. The Rebel Theme alone is a masterpiece. If you remember any one thing about this game, it’s more than likely going to be the wonderful music included.
Fun: This game for me, is a quite an enjoyable experience. Sadly, due to its belated release in the US, it has been largely ignored by the masses. I personally find the game to bring a lot of enjoyment.
Graphics: Much like the original game, the graphics of this title have been improved upon with each subsequent release. The PS1 version of the game featured sprites that were on par with the SNES games in the series. The PSP remake beings the art up another notch. There’s a lot of beauty to be found in the modern versions.
Playcontrol : This is not really an issue with this type of game.
Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars – I am a firm supporter of this title. I think it’s an unrecognized masterpiece. Everything from the lush soundtrack to the engaging storyline is top notch in my book.
Original System: NES
Available today on: PSN (Origins), and PSP.
Other Reviews In This Series:
World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light
Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2
Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers