This review is focused on the Dawn of Souls version of Final Fantasy II, other versions contain different content
Square Enix is possibly one of the largest, if not the largest publisher for RPGs on the market, and are one of the most successful video game software businesses in industry. Early in their life cycle they weren’t as fortunate, after creating a few, for the most part, unsuccessful titles Square was on the edge of bankruptcy. What they thought to be their final title, Final Fantasy, was the sole reason they were able to continue creating games until today. They decided not to push their luck and did the most logical thing to do, and that is to create a second title under the Final Fantasy name. While appearing very similar to the original, Final Fantasy II contains many elements that are different from the original. Unfortunately the title never saw a release outside of Japan, until the Playstation Origins bundle of I and II. Does this RPG stand the test of time or does it crumble in the face of modern gaming
Firion, Mary, Guy and Leon are citizens of the Fynn nation, right as you start you see the empire attack their town, killing all of their parents. Firion, Mary and Guy escape and are rescued by the queen of Fynn. Worried about Leon who was lost during the confusion and spiteful toward the empire, they decide to do all they can to help Fynn in its time of need and search for Leon. Final Fantasy II had a great story… for 15 years ago. The story definitely hasn’t aged well as with many NES RPGs. It wouldn’t be all too surprising if there was more dialog in a single modern RPG cut scene then in Final Fantasy II’s entire story. It is a major improvement over the original Final Fantasy by giving your main characters personality and a goal, and providing many side characters that join and leave your party. Each with a purpose of their own. It’s all really bare bones though.
Most early RPG titles used turn based combat, and Final Fantasy II is no different. All the standard selections are here. Attack, Magic, Items and run for commands. Final Fantasy II is before real abilities were made in the Final Fantasy series so what you do is mainly dependent on character and enemy stats. You won’t find Jump or Soul Eater here. Many spells from the first title make a return along with the addition of some new ones. Spell limits are also still in effect limiting the number of spells a character can learn. Many types of weapons from Swords, Axes, Staffs and etc. are also available. Combat may feel a bit slow for those used to the Active Time Battle system that was introduced in Final Fantasy IV.
While turn based combat was common place in RPGs of its time, Final Fantasy II’s level up system is definitely not. Instead of gaining character levels or choosing stats to level up, Final Fantasy II has a more realistic system. For every action you use, you get experience points in a certain skill. Such as attacking with a sword will increase your skill with swords, attacking with fire magic will increase your fire magic skill, getting attacked will increase your max health and so forth. While its definitely a interesting system, it can be troublesome. Some times it doesn’t feel like some things are explained well and your not sure how to raise a certain stat. This system creates some issues early on the game with MP, causing you to have to manage your magic points extra carefully.
In the easy version of the title, skills level up much faster. This gets rid of a lot of grinding that would be needed. Unfortunately even in easy mode there are still some balancing issues. Some early dungeons seem to have a wide range of monster levels in them and when Magic points are so precious early in the game, it makes a lot of run away situations, for the most part you cant run for difficult fights though because if a monster agility is greater then yours then the harder it is to run, which feels almost impossible with some of the more difficult enemies, making the run command almost useless. If your having trouble getting through dungeon it feels like the best option is to save after every encounter and hope for favorable conditions and reload the save file when a incredibly difficult enemy appears. Overall, outside of these instances, easy mode on Final Fantasy II is incredibly easy. Dawn of Souls only contains the easy mode so I cannot compare to normal mode when it comes to difficulty.
Navigating is generally the same as most RPG titles. You cross the over world getting into battles and using transportation such as ships and airships to get from point A to B. Although at times the world can be confusing, and there is no map in Dawn of Souls version. I would highly recommend using a map from a outside source just because it can be very confusing navigating around the continents without getting the full picture of where you are. Also at times their not very specific about what you should do or where you should go, generally talking to NPCs solves this problem but at times you can get extremely lost on what exactly you should do next. You can ask NPCs about key terms, which is a neat addition and can get you some vital information for your quest. A quick save feature was added so you can save at any times while not in an encounter or dialog box, making the portable versions of these games great for on the run playing.
While the Dawn of Souls version of Final Fantasy II may not push the Game Boy Advanced like Game Boy Advanced titles do, it still looks great. Character sprites and backgrounds look very detailed and weapons have different effects on them depending on their elements and special attributes. The incredibly small over world character sprite returns, but this was most likely kept to be faithful to the original version of Final Fantasy II. There are many reused enemy battle sprites that are recolored, possibly too many. Instead of a diverse amount through the whole game, there are many alterations of the original ones it seems until much later in the game which introduces a large amount of new enemies.
Music is high quality and sounds great on GameBoy Advanced., sometimes on DS at max volume the sound may crack a little on higher notes. Some of the music is memorable but definitely not the best of the series. Sound effects for the most part sound great. Some times the sound of a boat sailing through the ocean or the an airship flying can get quite annoying if being used for long periods of time. For portable versions you definitely wont need head phones when on the go, but it might be nice to bring them to enhance the experience even if its just a little bit.
With minor assistance from some guides and a map, the main quest for Final Fantasy II should take around 20-25 hours. The Dawn of Souls Version also features a bonus side story called “Soul of Rebirth” that has extra story about some of the side characters in the title. After you beat Final Fantasy II and Soul of Rebirth, other then grinding to max stats and collecting all the items, theres not much incentive to play it again.
Final Fantasy II isn’t a terribly bad game, it just didn’t age well. It can overall be fun but depending on your preference , it may just be a bit too old for some players. If you have never played a Final Fantasy title, then Final Fantasy II is probably not the ideal place to start. If you’re just a final Fantasy fan who just really wants a final fantasy and have played all the other titles already, Final Fantasy II might feed your need. The person who probably should buy it is some one who is interested in the roots of the Final Fantasy Series and experiencing some of the features that are unique to this title. Most players can probably pass on Final Fantasy II. For around 10$ used on www.amazon.com for all versions of the game, anyone who is curious will probably not be putting too much on the line if they wish to give it a try.