Thursday, November 18, 2010

Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition

Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Sony Playstation
Credits: 2007 Square Enix. Battle screenshot courtesy of Amazon.Com, while the rest are taken with Skysenshi's Lumix ZS3.

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Everything Final Fantasy Product Description:
In Final Fantasy II a malevolent emperor ends what could have been an eternal period of peace. He has called upon monsters from a demonic realm to take over the world. Thousands of lives succumb to their attacks, leaving many children orphaned. From the destruction rise four young survivors who will take it upon themselves to stop the merciless ruler and avenge the death of their parents.

When Final Fantasy II was released in 1989, it was seen as a triumph in gaming. One of the first games to be appeciated for both its incredible graphics and immersive gameplay, Final Fantasy II was a fully-developed game world, one that surpassed even the amazing Final Fantasy I. Now this remastered new version comes to your PSP, with updated graphics and new content.

Backtracking to the good ol' days. >>> by skysenshi
In 1989 I was still playing Super Mario Brothers on the Nintendo Family Computer. After that, I owned a Sega Mega Drive and became a fighting game fanatic. It wasn't until 21 years later that I would be introduced to Final Fantasy II's protagonist, Firion, through Final Fantasy Dissidia.

Um. I thought he was Square's token gay hero. I kid you not. Blame Dissidia for this perception. Only yaoi fans can imagine my delight when I received the Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition UMD as a birthday gift -- sent straight from Canada by my BFF Cris. After my initial disappointment at seeing that Firion might actually be straight, I plunged headlong into the game and enjoyed myself for the next 56 hours.

Prior to playing the game, I had read various reviews and ratings and most people consider FFII's gameplay to be clunky and too old fashioned despite the reworkings. I initially agreed, since it seemed I needed to hack my own characters to death if I wanted to level them up. There are no numerical levels here to speak of. You only increase your characters' stats, which include their weapon skills. As I progressed through the game I began to understand that this was an idea that was way ahead of its time. Though the method of strengthening your characters are barbaric -- you can actually level them up by just enduring one enemy encounter then continuously slash-heal-slash-heal-slash-heal your party members -- this was one of the earlier games that didn't need the monotonous level-grinding that had become typical of Japanese RPGs.

See, your enemies eventually get too weak for the party and your party's skills will stop leveling up at some point. But since your team members are of more or less the same level, they can level off each other. I know this sounds strange, but I just pretended that my characters were sparring against each other.

What I wasn't quite used to are the countless dead ends and rooms that are completely empty. The 90s RPGs are characterized by shorter dungeons that have more puzzles. 80s games, it seems, were all about explorations and accidentally discovering least, that was how I understood Shigeru Miyamoto's earlier game designs when he created The Legend of Zelda. I guess I really am a 90s to early 2000s kid, because I believe those were the Golden Years of Japanese RPGs.

I highly appreciated the extras available for this anniversary edition, especially Yoshitaka Amano's character sketches. I just have a minor nitpick for the 3D full motion video sequences. I wouldn't call the pictures above as screenshots because I had to take them with my digicam (sorry for the poor quality -- you can even see my reflection in some of them -- that resulted in this endeavor!!!!) but I had to include them here for comparison purposes. The first panel shows Amano's sketch, while the next two panels show the 3D versions. The in-game sprites are consistent with Amano's character design, even if the art style is completely different, but the 3D FMVs do not capture the feel of the game. None of the characters in the FMV look anything remotely like the characters you will use in the game. I just find it disconcerting.

Other than that, I love the improved graphics. I'm not too happy with the sounds -- gosh, even Final Fantasy I had more variety in its BGMs than this one -- but I could live with them. Sorry Nobuo Uematsu! The story is typical of Final Fantasy so I wasn't really expecting much of it, although I could be happier if Firion did turn out to have a boyfriend stashed somewhere...

Overall, I enjoyed this blast from the past. I hope Squeenix ports more of its old games into the PSP. Ohhh! And if you're playing this game, don't skip the epilogue, Soul of Rebirth. It's definitely worth all the effort.

DIFFICULTY: Easy - Moderate
COMPLETION TIME: 38:49 hours for Main Game, 16:20 for Soul of Rebirth
RATINGS: Gameplay 9; Battle 9; Story 8; Visuals 8; Characters 8; Sounds 5; Replay Value 9

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