It seems like every series has its black sheep. Doom has Doom 3. Serious Sam has Serious Sam 2. Devil May Cry has Devil May Cry 2. Final Fantasy has Final Fantasy 2, a game so radically different from the others a good chunk of its gameplay elements got used in another series by designer Akitoshi Kawazu, that series being SaGa. Anyway, read on to see while this is considered by many to be FF’s black sheep entry.
GENRE: Flawed Sequel to a Classic RPG
So, let’s get started with the fact while I may not like Final Fantasy 2, I don’t consider it bad per se? The funny thing is compared to the first game, it improves in a lot of areas. The problem is for every improvement, it has a design choice I find questionable at best that really hurts the overall feel of the game.
This one has a much stronger narrative focus, as your characters are a group of orphans from a town that has fallen to the advances of an evil empire. Said empire has summoned an army from hell to do its bidding, and is terrorizing the world, and of course somehow these four orphans are gonna be the ones to save it! …Except they die at the very start. But it’s okay because they get revived (although one goes missing) and thus the quest of now three orphans to save the world begins. …Unfortunately there’s a lot of ups and downs in this journey.
So, let’s talk about the good things first. The world of Final Fantasy 2 is a lot more interesting, for one. You have actual kingdoms and nations, as opposed to just a few towns and one kingdom like in the first game. The world also has far more variety to it, with forests, lakes, and even snowcapped mountains that make up its landscapes. You can actually travel quickly between them too via an airship taxi service if you have the gil, courtesy of engineer and pilot Cid.
There’s also a lot more importance to characters and story this time around. The orphans have actual dialogue, actual motivations and personalities. You have major supporting characters that you’ll be interacting with throughout the journey like Resistance Leader Hilda. You have a recurring antagonist in the form of the Empire’s mysterious Dark Knight, and of course The Emperor himself. And plenty of other supporting characters, some of which even join your party at various points.
All of this makes for a far more interesting story where we have actual people we learn to care about, as opposed to some random NPCs we talk to and get one dialogue box out of. Between the world, the war setting, and having characters with actual stories behind them, Final Fantasy 2 is a major step forward in the storytelling department.
Unfortunately for all the good presentation it has, the game falls apart horribly in the gameplay department. And boy does it fall apart!
First off, the combat is admittedly similar looking on the surface to FF1. Still turn based, order based on AGI/SPD rolls. What’s different this time around is that there’s no EXP or levels of any kind. Instead, you level up by doing. If you want to improve your Defenses, you need to get smacked. If you want to improve strength and weapons, you need to attack with weapons. If you want better magic, you have to cast magic. This sounds cool on the surface, until you realize that in some cases you may have to cast a spell hundreds of times to see significant gains on it. It also means spending a lot of time fighting for minimal rewards like a bit of weapon EXP, and HOPING you get stat ups as these are purely chance based with some manipulation based on the actions you take. With no steady, reliable form of character upgrading, getting better characters becomes a horrid chore that just isn’t fun.
Further complicating this are balance issues, and there’s a LOT of them. A lot of gear is just pointless to use. Daggers suck. Bows suck. Honestly, the best weapons are Swords, Axes, and Bare Hands. Yes, you heard me, Bare Hands. Also, shields because blocking is overpowered as hell and can completely negate damage when you get a high enough shield skill level. Magic for attacking purposes is almost useless aside from a few specific enemy types that have high physical Defense, meaning you’ll almost never get any good use out of magic when you can just do way more damage with a high weapon skill level.
Some encounters are also horribly balanced. One endgame encounter in particular, where getting hit means instant death, even if you take no damage. And you’ll have no way to mitigate the instant death either. So if you get 4+ of these instant death enemies in an ambush? Your game is basically over right then and there. It’s just frustrating to have encounters where you can literally do nothing except die because of an ambush you can do nothing about.
And the balance issues also result in very, VERY significant extremes. To quote ProJared, you’re either underpowered or overpowered. There is *NO* inbetween. You’re either doing insane damage with weapons and mopping the floor with everything, or you’re getting your ass kicked horribly.
And as if all that isn’t bad enough, we then have the dungeons. The dungeon design of 2 is some of the worst in existence. Lots of mazey corridors, no real interesting rooms or layouts. Just lots of mazes. And then there’s the Monster Closets. You’ll find lots of doors in dungeons, but many of them lead into rooms that have nothing in them. NOTHING! But they place you in the middle of the room, requiring you to walk back to the door: and these rooms have high encounter rates, meaning you’ll be fighting monsters as you try to leave. So yeah, literal monster closets that serve no purpose beyond wasting the player’s time.
It’s honestly a shame that Final Fantasy 2’s gameplay is what it is, because the world, the music, the story, everything in the game’s presentation is amazing. There’s just…Not a good game to play behind it all. If you absolutely want to see the full history of Final Fantasy, be warned this is one entry you’re probably not going to have fun with unless you’re okay with a LOT of grind. And even then? Bring a guide. And maps. For the love of all that is holy, USE MAPS.