Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Final Fantasy II


Dark Shadow Over Palamecia

Squaresoft, now Square-Enix’s, ironically-named 
Final Fantasy on the Famicom / Nintendo Entertainment System saved the developer from financial ruin, naturally encouraging them to turn it into a franchise with its first sequel on the Famicom. The Big N’s North American branch had initial plans to translate the game with the subtitle Dark Shadow Over Palakia, although this was towards the end of the NES’s lifespan, and the localization was canned. It wouldn’t be until Final Fantasy Origins for the Sony PlayStation that Final Fantasy II would receive a legal English version, and given the changes in the sequel, it’s understandable why it wasn’t translated in the first place.

There’s an evil empire. There’s a rebellion. There’s a character with questionable allegiances. Check your friendly neighborhood Star Wars for details on how the plot will turn out, with the three initial playable protagonists, Firion, Maria, and Guy, having scant development, and the party’s fourth member subject to frequent change until the endgame. One scene where a giant airship pursues a smaller one directly rips off A New Hope, and it’s fairly obvious that the scenario writer watched a little too much of the science-fiction franchise. The translation isn’t bad, aside from Guy’s pidgin caveman speech, but the storyline is easily the game’s nadir.

As would be the trend in future sequels for the Final Fantasy series, the second entry eschews its predecessor’s mechanics in favor of revamped gameplay, with no experience system and instead a character development system that would influence Square’s oddball SaGa series. Actions performed during combat, and damage taken, affects how characters develop after randomly-encountered turn-based battles, with each character able to attack with their equipped weapon, use MP-consuming magic, use a consumable item, defend, or attempt to escape, with the last option at times rarely working, but luckily, the save-anywhere (outside battle, that is) feature minimizes wasted playtime.

The player faces a maximum of eight enemies, the first two two-character rows able to execute melee attacks, although the remaining enemies in rows behind may cast ranged magic, some of which can be somewhat annoying, such as confusing your characters, and regardless of how much the player has grinded their characters or what equipment they have, some foes can still do massive damage at times. The damage that the player’s party can deal in return is also heavily subject to the random number gods, although one spell, Berserk, when cast repeatedly, can increase damage threshold.

However, most stat-buffing magic is useless at lower levels, and spells reaching genuine effectiveness takes a lot of grinding. The player teaches any character a magic spell by using its respective book, although much magic is useless, and finding the ones that are truly helpful such as Osmose, which siphons MP from enemies, can be difficult without a guide. There is, however, an occasional bit of strategy where certain enemies are vulnerable to specific elements, although there is no scan magic available, necessitating the player memorize what they’re strong and weak against.

The player’s characters also gain physical prowess with weapons through repeatedly attacking, with different ones available such as swords, bows, axes, staves/maces, and the like, although there is again the wild unpredictability of how much damage they’ll deal against certain foes. One constant, however, is the acquisition of money from all successful battles, and the high threshold of how many consumable items the player can have available in battle, an improvement over the Famicom and PlayStation versions that restricted them, with the player not needing to worry about running out of inventory space. Overall, the battle system does have some bright spots and exploits, but doesn’t always work.

Aside from the save-anywhere feature, control doesn’t fare much better. While the menu system is easy, direction on how to advance the central storyline is often poor, and the keyword mechanic during dialogues with certain characters doesn’t help. Maps for dungeons, some of which are labyrinthine, in addition to that which exists for the overworld, would have been welcome as well, and Final Fantasy II has an odd mechanic regarding doors leading the player’s sprite to the center of an empty room with an astronomical encounter rate. Ultimately, the game doesn’t always interact well with players.

Inarguably the high point of the game is composer Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack, with plentiful standout tracks such as the rebels’ theme, the battle music, dungeon themes, town music, and so forth. There are some weak tracks such as the boss battle theme, and more diversity in the standard combat music would have been welcome, with the further issue that it often loops, given the length of some battles. The sound effects are good, though, and in the end, the aurals serve the game well.

The visuals, however, don’t show any marked improvement over those in the rerelease of the first Final Fantasy, although it does have strong points such as the color scheme and character artwork. Regardless, the chibi character sprites don’t show much emotion, the enemies in battle are inanimate and just flash when executing commands, the player’s characters don’t contact their adversaries when performing melee attacks, and so forth. All in all, the graphics could have easily used improvement.

Finally, a straightforward playthrough can take players a little less than a day’s worth of playtime, and while there are features to enhance lasting appeal such as bonus dungeons, the sequel isn’t enjoyable enough to warrant supplemental play.

In summation, one can easily understand why Final Fantasy II initially didn’t receive translation outside Japan, given its offbeat and occasionally-frustrating game mechanics, hackneyed storyline, middling graphics, and general lack of lasting appeal. Regardless, it does have its redeeming aspects such as the decent ideas behind the battle system, the save-anywhere feature (a major improvement over the Famicom and PlayStation versions that the Game Boy Advance version had as well), the competent translation, and enjoyable soundtrack. Regardless, the first Final Fantasy sequel certainly isn’t a bucket list game, and players definitely aren’t missing much by skipping it.

This review is based on a playthrough of the iOS version on an iPad Pro.

The Good:
+Some good ideas.
+Save-anywhere feature.
+Competent localization.
+Good soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Gameplay can be tedious.
-Hackneyed storyline.
-Middling visuals.
-Not fun enough to replay.

The Bottom Line:
You aren’t missing much.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: iOS
Game Mechanics: 2.0/10
Controls: 3.5/10
Story: 0.5/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 3.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 3.5/10
Difficulty: Unbalanced
Playing Time: < 1 Day

Overall: 3.5/10

No comments:

Post a Comment