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  • Writer's pictureJosh

Final Fantasy II: Genocide and Razing the Countryside is No Way to Run an Empire

A bit of a warning, the initial notes I had on this were lost.  I replayed FFII as the Pixel Remaster and combined that experience with what I remembered from the first playthrough. 


Firing the game up, naming everyone, ready to dive back into a game that I really didn’t like the first time I played it nearly 20 years ago, I don’t know what to expect, I’m a bit nervous.  Do the memories I have of playing this before tainting my ability to be objective?  No, I’m good, I got this… here we go.


My first impression is shock and wonder.  My biggest frustration with the first game is wiped from my memory as the game starts off with world building, and character development.

And fucking hell, does it drop you into the shit. 


This asshole Emperor is overthrowing the peaceful kingdom.  The royalty is forced to hide, with a small group of surviving dedicated people in a small town south of the castle, that was once the heart of the kingdom. 


You, and four of your friends, lost your parents and got your ass handed to you by the might of the empire.


When you wake up, you’re missing one of your friends, ooooooo soooo ominous!  You go to the princess and ask to join the rebel army, which you’re told to fuck off back home, or stay… whatever, I’m not your boss.  Some dude in purple robes calls you a noob, and shits in your gysahl greens.


Already, this game is light years ahead of FFI. 


The adventure kicks off, and immediately you’re dropped in a world where all hope is lost, painted against a background of 256 bright 8 bit colors.


Thinking Back to My First Time

Back in 2002, I picked up Final Fantasy Origins, and was so excited to play an FF game that I didn’t have access to in the US until then.


I never finished it, because I couldn’t for the life of me wrap my head around the leveling system in the game.  I didn’t understand how two of the regular team members were sitting at 500 HP, but my magic user was still stuck down at 75.  More so, how am I supposed to level up all of the magic, when it takes so long to level up by one level, per magic spell.  Do you just choose one spell and focus on casting that over and over and over again?  What about the white mage?  Do I just cast cure over and over, until it gets to a respectable level?  What about the other white magic spells?  What ended up happening was the characters were either hyper specialized, and therefore useless, or so generic that they were equally useless. 


Knowing that I fell into this pitfall 20ish years ago, would I be able to avoid it this time through?


Experienced Earned Is Experience Gained

The answer is no, I was unable to avoid it the second and third time through.


The Magic System is Broken

Magic tomes everywhere, and only 13 slots to fill.  So, you’d think that you could have a white mage and a black mage, right?  Well… not quite.  You see, there are more magics than just 13 each, so you can have a white mage, a black mage, and then?...


How about a red mage?  You know, the dude they had in the first Final Fantasy that was basically the dude who could do a little of everything, but kind of sucked because of it?

Well, there isn’t a red mage, and odds are your mages are going to suck anyway, so might as well have a third dump all the extra magic character.


Unlike other FF games, where magic levels up independent of usage, here, magic only levels when it’s used, call it on the job experience. 


Ok, that’s fine.  It’s a new system, there’s going to be a learning curve.

The magic, weapon usage, everything, it’s all related, it will take some getting used to, I got this, I got it…. I….


I Didn’t Get It

It seemed like the better I did in game, the worse I did leveling up.


I consulted the damn wizards in the starting area multiple times to figure out how the hell this shit was supposed to work, but still… never understood it.


As far as I could tell, this was going to end up being Final Fantasy: The Big Grind.  I’ve learned to accept that level grinding is a core aspect of any RPG, but this took on a whole new level of frustration.  You see, no longer are you grinding to raise your level, you are grinding to raise proficiency, and because proficiency goes up based on specific occurrences in battle, you’re not just grinding by killing bad guys, you’re… I don’t even know what.


The one thing that I did understand was that if I wanted to avoid the endless toil of level grinding, I was going to have to be deliberate on how I played; this is fine.

Well, it was fine until I tried to figure out why Ultima was the shittiest spell in the game, even though it’s hyped as being this ancient spell reserved for when the world turns to shit.

You see… Ultima’s strength is a combination of several things, including the levels of other spells, and the levels in weapon usage (among other things, but I couldn’t find a single site that agreed with each other outside of the two I listed).  Because I spent so much time focusing on specific strengths, Ultima was the weakest spell in my entire fucking arsenal. 

But it gets more annoying.


The Wall of Monsters

The worst part of FFII, is that in early game, you are a fairy’s queef away from being one shot killed because you happened to stray outside of the safe area.


I can’t tell you the number of times in the first few hours of play I stumbled into a battle where half the party was wiped out before I was able to flee.  What happened was a case study in operant conditioning… B.F. Skinner would be fucking proud.  Exploration = Bad.

Just like in FF1, where exploration was needed to progress, the story and direction on where to go was at times cryptic.  This meant a lot of wandering into a no-no area, and dying, and dying, and fucking dying.


Now that you’ve learned exploration is bad, and wandering off the dedicated path equals death, guess what, you have to blindly wander.


You see, in the game, you learn words, you ask people about the words you learn, and then they give you a vague idea of what you are supposed to do.  You travel somewhere else, ask them about the same thing you asked someone else about, wander, rinse, repeat. 


What you end up doing is hub and spoking your way out of Altair (and later Fynn).   Picking up guest stars to fill out your foursome because, what the fuck happened to the fourth member!?


No One Was Surprised

Your fourth is actually the evil dark knight that everyone is afraid of… surprise, surprise.

Seriously, within the first moments of the game, when your playable characters decide to fuck searching for your friend and plan on bringing down the empire, it’s obvious… he’s turned evil.


And it leads me to wonder, how is he this feared dark knight, when the three you’re controlling were “just kids” and no one had faith that they could make it back after their game of touch the butt, where Fynn castle was the butt, and the party of three was Nemo.

No, somehow your fallen friend was bad ass enough to rank up in the empire’s army.


A bigger issue though… let’s talk about what it takes to be an empire.  In this world, the “empire” is based out of this castle on a mountain top, and every city seems to be either self-governed, or part of the kingdom of Fynn.  So, you can’t just call yourself an empire, and then invade places.  Where the fuck are your resources coming from? 


You can’t just move your little pretend Empire from Palamecia to Fynn, declare yourself Emperor, and not expect some fucking defenestration.  Does no one read fucking Czech history?


Why are the former nobility and their army called rebels?  They aren’t rebelling against anything other than being dethroned.  Why wasn’t Hilda named Queen after her father died?  This might seem nitpicky, but they made a point to establish the world within the first moments of the game, and then fucking ignore it for the next 10 hours.


They Were All in Love with Dying, They Were Drinking from a Fountain

“Everyone’s dead.”  Get used to reading that because you will read it a lot in this game.  It’s fucking dark.  Entire cities will be wiped out.  Towns once thriving with people will be reduced to a couple of people slowly walking through the destroyed city saying, “everyone is dead.”


It doesn’t stop at the NPCs, though.  In the world of FFII, if you are a guest star/featured party member, you’re going to die.  Maybe not right away, but you will fucking die at some point in the story.


It’s a bit macabre to say, but I think that this is where FFII is at its strongest.  War fucking sucks, and the emperor doesn’t seem to be too put off when it comes to killing everyone who opposes him. 


You remember earlier in this essay, when I said that it kicks off with all hope lost.  The game starts with no hope of winning and is a slow slide into deeper hopelessness.  Every win is met with a fiercer attack.  Culminating in suddenly realizing that cities have disappeared from the mini map. 


The game is saying something, and it’s being aggressively forceful about it. 


And this makes the game fun to play, in a gross dark way.  The world is full of despair, and you (the player) are expected to provide your own hope.  Even though there is a lot of back and forth, that back and forth is really engaging.  Every time a featured character dies, the game grabs you and pushes you to finish… do it for Ricard, and Kain. 


Final Thoughts

FFII was a hell of a lot better than FFI.  It was fun to play, the story was well developed, and the characters were motivated.  It’s hard not to see the improvement over FFI.


The biggest strength of the game, however, is how depressing it is, and how it engages the player in a way that makes your persistence and desire to beat the empire and bring about peace in the land a part of the plot in a weird vicarious way.  It’s something that the best story tellers strive for leveraging millions of dollars of budget and technology that couldn’t even be dreamed up when FFII was made.  The fact that they pulled this off using the 8-bit Famicom is quite a feat.


That said, the leveling was frustrating to master, the ask/learn stuff was inventive, but poorly executed (seriously, I’d like to see this done well), and the build your own party/specialty core mechanic made it impossible to build a team that could function well together, especially considering your fourth member was guaranteed to die early and die quickly.


Current Standings:

  1. Final Fantasy II

  2. Final Fantasy I

 

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Guest
Jun 03

I actually liked the leveling system, but it's not terribly intuitive. I can see how you can get stuck under leveled in one stat, but over leveled in another which would break the game.

I appreciate calling out the body count. Whenever I hear a FFVII fanboy say Aerith was the first time they killed off a player character, I want to ask if they've even heard of FFII. Every guest star dies, joining the party is a guaranteed death sentence!

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Astutely Obtuse Staff Writer
Astutely Obtuse Staff Writer
Jun 04
Replying to

Before writing this, I was doing a little preliminary reading of other articles, Reddit comments, YouTube videos, etc. I was really surprised to see how many people thought that it was largely forgettable, as in "oh yeah, I played that once didn't I?"

Personally, I didn't like it, but I can see that it definitely established some groundwork that future FF games built off of. I think that as far as the games go, it's probably the most underrated.

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