Final Fantasy II came out in 1988. It tends to be classed with SaGa games, mostly because Akitoshi Kawazu is known for creating unusual games. SaGa games tend to have wide open worlds, and Final Fantasy II basically opens the entire world map a short way into the game. SaGa games tend to have customizable characters without conventual levelling system. Final Fantasy II has completely customizable characters and a complex leveling system. At the time, Final Fantasy II was different from almost all the games available. It didn’t reward that same game play compared to contemporary JRPGs. In fact, it punished more typical game play styles.
Let’s start with the plot. Much like other early RPGs, Final Fantasy II has a home base style of quest system. You always are returning back to Princess Hilda to get your next mission. There’s a keyword system, so you can use the password of the rebels to let other rebels know your affiliation. Unfortunately, it’s mostly just a plot token, and it’s not really used in an interesting way. The plot is fairly grim, since it’s mostly a long drawn out struggle against an incredibly powerful enemy. After a while, it’s almost ridiculous. You, for example, struggle to defeat the dreadnought and the Emperor just turns around and attacks with a tornado. You defeat the emperor, and another person tries to replace him.
On the other hand, the plot is unusual. It’s pretty unrelentingly grim. No matter how well you plan, it’s not until the late game that you start to make some serious progress against the enemy. Many many people in the game die, and there’s a lot of destroyed towns. Your missing party member seems to basically go power mad and only backs down when there’s an inconveniently more powerful enemy. The game ends with him heading off because he can’t work with your heroes.
The battle system is the thing that most people discuss. Basically, every weapon and every spell has a level. Use (or, thanks to a bug, selecting to use it) will level up the weapon or spell. HP goes up if you’re hit. Agility goes up if you have light armor, shields, and are hit in battle. Magic defense, thanks to a bug, only goes up if you’re hit by a single targetted spell. All remakes of the game tweak the battle system. As designed in the original NES game, you have to understand how it works to hand the late game challenges. A force of people in heavy armor with high HP will simply be destroyed due to the fact that late game attacks often hit on a percentage basis. You must have high evasion to evade the number of hits that are aimed at the party. Remakes remove a great deal of the danger, but you can still find the game difficult if you don’t play it the way it was intended.
Final Fantasy had bugs, but due to the high difficulty level and the complexity of Final Fantasy II the bugs seem much larger and more emblematic of some sort of twisted negligence. For example, the Ultima spell is a major plot point. You struggle to get keys to access it. You get a cut scene every time you enter the sealed tower where it’s stored. You are swallowed by a whale guarding the path to the tower. The spell itself? It’s useless due to a bug that doesn’t calculate the damage correctly. Shown below is one of the quickest ways to end your game. The very first mission has you heading north to check out a wounded soldier. About six steps off the path is end game enemies.
Graphically, the game is more ambitious than Final Fantasy. The world map, like Final Fantasy, is shown when you press B and select, though no one really mentions how to do it. It also kind of exemplifies the curious mess that is Final Fantasy II. It’s ambitious, since it tries to emulate the distortions of rotating a globe. It’s also almost unusable due to how much the NES struggles to display it. In the end, Final Fantasy II is an empty sad game, but one that has a compelling novelty. The remakes make it much more playable, but the NES original seems more a curiosity than a game.