For the longest time, when someone in the Americas referred to Final Fantasy II, they were referring to the SNES game that was actually Final Fantasy IV. The game I am going to throw us back to is not that one, but rather the actual Final Fantasy II, that was originally released on the Famicom in Japan and had to wait over a decade before we got an official translated version.
My first experience with Final Fantasy II was with a fan translated hacked ROM. I never got past the opening battle in the game because I didn’t realize that you were supposed to die and thus, I kept resetting the ROM and trying again until I quit. Mind you, I have also done this with the original Silent Hill. Anyway, eventually I would get the game through an official release on the original Playstation as part of the Final Fantasy Origins bundle. I played the original but only gave II a cursory pass over time and again.
This year, I finally decided I was going to delve in to it hardcore. And I did. For about 11 hours. I’m done now. I did not finish it but the game has frustrated me to the point that I have quit the game without a shred of regret.
How can someone that actively enjoys the slogging grind of the original Final Fantasy fall off another ancient gaming experience in the same vein so fast?
Let me tell you the ways.
For whatever reason, Final Fantasy II chose to completely change everything about the previous game from its core. As a long time Final Fantasy fan, this comes as no surprise. Almost every Final Fantasy is different in some way from its predecessor and each time they do this, it is a huge risk. As a business you don’t want to alienate your fans with your iterative entry. This strategy has been hit or miss for Square over the years and has made the series ranking a hugely divisive conversation, albeit a fun one.
However, in my mind Final Fantasy II is a huge miss.
Gone is the traditional leveling system, where fighting enemies grants you experience which eventually will allow your party to level up and become stronger warriors. Final Fantasy II utilizes a usage leveling system. For a more modern reference think of something like The Elder Scrolls where the more you utilize a skill the better you get at it. This isn’t bad in theory but Final Fantasy II applies it to everything. To have your hit points upgrade you need to be attacked and consistently loose HP. This creates a huge early game slog where you need to attack yourself to gain the damage experience to get more HP.
That’s right, the strategy to upgrade your HP in the early game is to attack yourself. That is stupid.
And if you don’t do it, you will be under-powered to face off against the dungeon bosses that are significantly stronger than the standard dungeon enemy fodder. So… no win either way.
This leveling system does gave an interesting give and take mechanic though. The more magic that is utilized by a party member the more MP they will gain but the weaker they will be in the physical attack category. And likewise for the reverse. It is an interesting balancing system that doesn’t allow you to overpower all your characters in all the skills. Provided of course you had the time and patience to do it.
Each skill has its own leveling mechanic, so using a sword levels up sword fighting but a great sword fighter with a spear will be less effective because their spear level will be a 1. I don’t inherently have a problem with this type of system but it just doesn’t feel thought out. For instance, as a magic user the more you use a spell the stronger that spell gets but each time a spell levels up, so does the amount of MP that it costs to cast it. So you could go from a battle where you were spending 3 MP for a Cure spell to the next battle it eating 4 MP and draining your already depleted MP even faster.
Some of this would be alleviated by having an inventory system that allowed you to stack potions but in Final Fantasy II that is another no go. Now the party has a set amount of individual slots to store their gear, treasure, story items, and consumables. So one potion takes up the same amount of space as a piece of armor or a story item that you can’t discard. It is kind of infuriating and I’m sure there are those that love both the leveling system and the inventory but I’m not it. It just makes me really frustrated.
That frustration is a huge sore point for me as Final Fantasy II obviously attempts to be more ambitious in its narrative (as in it actually has one) and I am interested in seeing where it goes. But I just can’t bring myself to spend any more time in a game that is actively frustrating me to the point I am not having any fun playing it. There are too many good games to waste on ones that aren’t bringing you something fulfilling.