Final Fantasy II Cover

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Hello and welcome! My name is Katosepe and I’ll be your host for today’s Video Game of the Day.

When discussing Final Fantasy games, people often talk about things that do or do not feel like a Final Fantasy. This has always been an interesting sentiment to me. If there is one constant regarding Final Fantasy, it is that it is always changing and evolving. No Final Fantasy is like the one before it. Sure there are recurring elements but many of those didn’t even come about until later in the series. Today, let’s talk about the game that started this culture of change. Today’s game is Final Fantasy 2, originally released on the Famicom in 1988.

Now let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: the numbering. A bit of gaming history for you here, localizing a game into a different language used to take significantly more time and was far less likely to occur right away back in the 80’s and 90’s. The first Final Fantasy took 3 years to bring over to the US and never made it to other regions at all. So when Final Fantasy was a success in the states and it came time to bring Final Fantasy 2 over, the Super Nintendo was well on its way and Final Fantasy 4 was well into development by this point. So, instead of bringing over Final Fantasy 2 and 3 to the NES, they started localizing Final Fantasy 4 for the Super Nintendo and called it Final Fantasy 2 instead, since we never got 2 or 3. So, the game we’re talking about today isn’t the Final Fantasy 2 we got in the United States, we’re talking about the original Japanese Final Fantasy 2.

Final Fantasy 2 is a fascinating game to look at. Not so much a great game to play but fascinating to explore. It was nothing if not ambitious but this ambition was maybe above and beyond what the Famicom hardware was capable of. Players start out with four player-named characters. There’s no choosing a character class for each character either, this time around. Instead, the characters all start off fighting a black knight of the Palamecian Empire who easily overpowers the characters. The first three characters are saved by Princess Hilda, the leader of a rebellion against the empire. With nowhere else to turn, the three join the rebellion and are sent on quests throughout the world to try and defeat the Empire and find out what happened to their fourth companion.

Final Fantasy 2 did cement a number of traditions for the Final Fantasy series. It was the first game in the series to include Chocobos, the yellow bird mounts common throughout the series, as well as the first part of the famous chocobo theme music. It also was the first to include a character named Cid which nearly all Final Fantasy’s since have had. Final Fantasy 2 also tried many things which would never make a return appearance in the series. Instead of gaining experience points and leveling up characters, each individual statistic is leveled up through use. If you end a fight with lower HP, that character has a chance of raising their HP stat or maybe their defense if they were hit enough. Want to level up magic? Use the spell over and over again. This is a similar system to what The Elder Scrolls would use in a few years. Final Fantasy 2 also used a word bank system to allow players decisions in their conversations. Whenever the player would hear about something important such as the Empire or Key, that would be added to their word bank. They could then talk to NPCs and ask them about the words they’ve learned to see if that NPC knows anything more.

Final Fantasy 2 tried many unique gameplay features but unfortunately, few of them wound up working out. While Final Fantasy 2 was well received for its time, it is often regarded as one of the worst Final Fantasy’s in retrospective reviews. The word bank system isn’t fleshed out enough to be fun and usually results in players simply clicking on every word until the NPC has something to say. Without any optional information or paths, it simply adds an extra step and doesn’t feel like additional player choice. The skill system is severely broken and almost requires players to game the system in order to increase their skills enough to keep up with the extremely high difficulty curve. The game was praised for including a character-based story and many critics compared it positively with Star Wars: A New Hope. Many of these systems would be later used by other games, particularly The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind which would use both the skill system and the word bank system to great acclaim but for 1988 on the 8-bit Famicom system, Final Fantasy 2 was simply too ambitious for its time.

Thank you so much for listening! To hear more about Final Fantasy 2 and the other games talked about on this show, follow me on Twitter @vg_oftheday. Make sure to leave a review on Amazon for us if you liked the show. It really helps us out a lot. Don’t forget to check back here tomorrow for another Video Game of the Day.

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Devin "Katosepe" Sloane is a long time gamer and host of the show Video Game of the Day. He firmly believes Darklands is the pinnacle of gaming achievement and this is a hill he will die upon. Where his nickname came from is a secret to everybody.