Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Final Fantasy II Pixel Remaster Review

Developer: Square Enix, Tose
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Steam PC, Android, iOS
Price: $11.99
Version Played: PC

I don’t hear a lot of people talk about Final Fantasy II. Probably because it was never released outside Japan on the NES. The first Final Fantasy II we got came many years later to the SNES, and it was actually Final Fantasy IV. Final Fantasy II has been released in English, though. It's been remade and ported almost as many times as FFI, and a lot of those revisions of the original WonderSwan Color remake were released in English on PS1, GBA, PSP, Android, and iOS. Final Fantasy II Pixel Remaster is based on those versions, but like with FFI Pixel Remaster, a lot of the sprites have been changed in some way and all the extra content added in the GBA version has been removed, leaving us with something closer to the original WSC remake than the PSP version.
Final Fantasy II Pixel Remaster has even more graphical changes than FFIPR. It looks like most, if not all, of the enemies have been redrawn using the original NES sprites as a base. That makes these the 4th version of these enemies. They all look like a downgrade from the PSP version’s to me. They’re a lot less detailed and use less colors. They look better than the GBA sprites, though.
The playable character sprites have also been completely redrawn. They basically look like they were made for some long lost SNES version of FFII. I like them much better than the characters in the other remakes, which had smaller heads, huge eyes, and weird halfway chibi proportions. They look totally out of place compared to the characters in the rest of the 2D Final Fantasy games. These look like FFIV and FFV characters. The NES version’s characters looked a lot like FFI’s, so I’m glad they didn’t go the NES nostalgia route here. Firion looked exactly like the Warrior from FFI in the original, so reusing that sprite here would have looked pretty bad because it looks nothing like Amano’s design.
A lot of the same technical issues from FFPR were present in this one when I started playing, but there was a patch that fixed some of them a while ago. The horrible screen tearing was fixed, so I don’t have to force VSync, and the game launches in the same screen setting you put it on now. The stuttery framerate is still an issue, but they say they’re working on a fix for that too. The ugly and hard to read font is still there, and I don’t think they’re working on a fix for that, but you can still easily mod it.
Final Fantasy's story was about as basic as RPG stories get, but that's not the case in this game. Final Fantasy II has unique characters with names, relationships, histories, and real ties to this world. The story follows a band of 3 rebels as they fight back against an evil Empire who’s building a massive airship weapon capable of destroying entire cities. Sounds familiar. Yeah, it’s basically Star Wars, but it's much more interesting than the first game's story. It’s a lot more serious than FFI’s too, but I liked it. It was one of the highlights of the game for me. As weird as this game seems now, I feel like this is where FF really starts finding its personality.
Final Fantasy II tried a lot of new things. Some worked and stuck around, like Chocobos and Cid, but most feel poorly implemented, like the way in which you move the story forward, for example. FFII uses a sort of primitive version of a dialogue tree system to trigger story events. Important NPCs around the world will sometimes have a “Key Term” that you can “Learn” and then “Ask” people about. For example, when you talk to the queen in the starting town, she teaches you the rebels’ password, Wild Rose. After you learn it, you can say Wild Rose to other rebels around the world to let them know that you’re part of the rebellion. There is also a Key Item system that works the same way, except that the items are under a different menu and you don’t always get them from NPCs.
This system sounds cool on paper, but it got more and more annoying as the game went on. Sometimes, I would finish a dungeon and nobody would say anything and nothing would happen, so I would end up running around the world looking for the right person to ask the right thing to. You collect many Key Terms and Items throughout the game, so asking about the right thing at the right time becomes a puzzle unto itself and the game isn't always great about pointing you in the right direction. There were quite a few frustrating moments thanks to this system.
The dungeons in FFII are some of the worst I've ever seen in an RPG. It feels like they wanted to make them harder than FFI's, but they couldn't come up with a better way to do that than by trolling the player. Every dungeon does the same thing, they bait you with doors leading to empty rooms and chests full of garbage placed as far away from the exit you’re supposed to use as possible. This makes exploration feel like a waste of time instead of something rewarding. They also love putting in walls with 4 doors across them, like in those game shows where contestants try to pick the door with the prize behind it. Three doors lead to empty rooms and one door leads to an exit or a treasure chest, and you’re lucky if that chest doesn’t have a monster in it. And of course, you have to go through these dungeons while fighting tons of random battles. At least you still get some very nice and detailed maps for every area, so you're not going in completely blind.
Final Fantasy II does something really weird with character progression. There is no leveling in this game. You can increase your stats by fighting monsters, but your characters don’t gain levels. Instead, your character’s stats grow as you use certain types of spells and attacks. For example, if you use magic with a character, their MP will go up and the spells they use will level up. FFI’s spell level groups and weird MP system is completely gone. Your 3 main characters come with stats which make them better suited for certain roles in the beginning, but you’re free to put any weapon or spell on any character and they will start to grow into the Warrior or Mage you want them to be if you have them use those skills.
This character progression system kind of works for melee, but it really sucks for magic. I wasn’t a fan of FFI’s magic system, but this is somehow even more annoying. Since you have to level spells up, you’re pretty much forced to grind. There are dungeons full of enemies that don’t take much melee damage, so you will probably want some magic on all characters. Also, since buffs and status healing spells require leveling up to work at higher levels, it gets harder and harder to have multiple characters that can effectively use those spells as the game goes on unless you make it a point to level up those spells. This spell leveling system also makes spells cost more MP as they level, and since you only have one level of each spell, you can’t use a lower level spell to save MP. That might not sound too bad by itself, but here’s the kicker, Ethers cost 1,000 Gil, only restore 20 MP, and you can only carry 99 of them. Magic is terrible in this game!
Final fantasy II’s soundtrack is amazing. I like it even better than FFI’s. The sound quality is just as good as FFIPR’s too. It has grand orchestral themes for the Empire, the quirky Chocobo theme, and beautiful town and castle themes. It’s full of personality and there's lots of great songs in it. The game also comes with an awesome music player, so you can experience the best part of the game without actually playing it.
Final Fantasy II has its moments, but it's a pretty bad game. It has a lopsided difficulty curve, trollish, repetitive, and unimaginative dungeon design, the character progression system is a mess, and the Key Term system is more annoying than it is interesting. I think the story and characters are alright, the character sprites turned out better than FFIPR’s, the music is amazing, and I liked seeing how Chocobos were introduced, but this game just isn’t fun to play. FFII feels like a collection of poorly implemented ideas.