Final Fantasy II
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The original Final Fantasy on the NES saved its developer, Square, from bankruptcy, and as such, it was natural for them to produce a sequel, Final Fantasy II, an ironic title in retrospect. The first Final Fantasy sequel was originally to see localization, although this attempt saw its termination since it came at the heels of the release of the Super NES, and thus, North American players would not see a legal version of the game until the Final Fantasy Origins compilation for the Sony PlayStation. The following year saw another port of the game, this time to the GameBoy Advance as part of the compilation Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls, with this version fixing some of the exploitable game mechanics that characterized prior incarnations, and consequentially being a solid experience.

Like its predecessor, Final Fantasy II features a fixed rate of random encounters, with the player’s party of up to four characters squaring off against several enemies, with an apparent maximum of eight foes. In the game menus, the player can set each character to the front or back row, with front row characters dealing yet taking more damage, and back row characters dealing less but taking less damage. Character commands include attacking with their equipped weapon, using MP-consuming magic, which the player can teach characters with consumable spell books outside battle, using an item, or attempting to escape, with the player having up to four attempts to do so, since all characters have this option, if they don’t wish to fight an enemy party.

Character and enemy turn order likely depends upon speed, with most fights flowing at a fluid pace, and the elemental weakness of some foes adding a degree of strategy. Unlike most other installments of the Final Fantasy franchise, the second does not feature a system of experience acquisition and occasional level-ups (although items are still occasional rewards for victory), but instead a system where the player’s characters may occasionally gain increased stats such as HP and strength, likely depending upon which commands they used in battle. The Dawn of Souls version apparently fixes the loophole where players could constantly input commands and cancel them constantly for faster weapon and magical power growth, thus having a greater degree of balance than prior incarnations, although some grinding is still necessary at times, and fights can drag out if the player has been neglecting certain spells throughout the game.

Control is okay, with easy menus and shopping, although there are some points that do a lousy job pointing the player in the right direction, leaving them to use a guide to find out how to advance the main storyline, along with occasional points of no return where the player can potentially find themselves stuck if they don’t save in a separate file.

The story was fairly decent for the original version’s time, focusing on a group of rebels attempting to overthrow an evil emperor, with the first Final Fantasy sequel being perhaps the first RPG to contain this plot element. The translation is largely spotless, although there are some oddities such as Guy speaking caveman-esque pidgin, but the plot ultimately helps the game more than hurts.

Nobuo Uematsu, as usual, does a nice job with the first sequel’s soundtrack, with plenty of catchy tracks that the GameBoy Advance’s weak audio fortunately don’t mar, although as has been the case with his other Final Fantasy soundtracks, he only includes one regular battle theme that can get repetitive.

The graphics more or less look the same as in its predecessor’s port, not that this is a bad thing as they still look nice, in spite of the miniature character sprites outside battle and the inanimation of enemies during combat.

Finally, the first sequel is longer than its predecessor, somewhere from fifteen to twenty-five hours depending upon whether the player needs to grind or not, with a new game plus and an extra dungeon potentially boosting this time.

In the end, the Dawn of Souls version of Final Fantasy II is perhaps the definite version of the second installment, what with the developers fixing some of the gameplay loopholes present in prior incarnations, although one could nonetheless consider it to be a dark horse in the long-running franchise, what especially with its unique mechanics that would start a series tradition where each new installment would attempt something radically different. The lack of an experience system would also influence another Square franchise, the SaGa series, the brainchild of one of the first sequel’s designers, Akitoshi Kawazu, with Final Fantasy II at times actually doing a bit better than some of that particular franchise’s installments with the lack of an experience system.

The Good:
+Solid combat with lots of customization.
+Decent story and localization.
+Great music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.

The Bottom Line:
A solid Final Fantasy unique even today.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 15-25 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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