Monday, August 24, 2015

Game #45: Final Fantasy II (SNES) - Slipping Into Familiar Shoes

Game 45

Title: Final Fantasy II (IV JPN)
Released: November 1991 (July 1991 JPN)
Platform: SNES
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square Soft
Genre: RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Active Time Battle
Series - Final Fantasy



This intro is so good, but I never got that they were flying away from Mysidia
First of all, I'm amazed by the release schedule for this game: only a five month gap between regions. Granted the translation isn't great, but the amount of text to translate is a great task. Someone also decided it'd be less confusing to renumber the game since the actual II and III never made it to the US. For quick reference, simply multiply by 2 to get the actual number for the SNES Final Fantasy games.

The intro sequence sets the stage for Cecil, commander of the Red Wings, and his internal strife over the recent command to steal crystals away from helpless individuals. The kingdom of Baron created airships, and now the king was using them to eliminate any threats to his total control.
I'm sure he has his reasons; he's a complicated guy
Cecil didn't blink while carrying out the act, but he had plenty of time to think about it on the ride back to Baron. The crew shared in his doubts, but discussion was cut short when monsters suddenly attacked the flying ships. Still the intro, I watched as Cecil took out two groups of monsters using magic items that were removed from the game in this version. There are actually a number changes in the conversion, including the removal of a lot of items. As an example, status effects used to have an item associated to cure it (antidote for poison, soft for stone, etc.), but those all got replaced by the remedy item, which was renamed to Heal. Many of these changes made the game easier, but they weren't all that way. Cecil lost his Darkness ability, which deals damage to all enemies.
One time use combat background
Back in Baron, Cecil faithfully delivered the crystal, but he couldn't keep silent over his reservations towards stealing from helpless people. The king stripped him of his command, but decided there was a way to make up for his insolence. All Cecil had to do was deliver a package to the village of Mist, home to a people known as Callers. They had the power to summon monsters to battle. Kain, longtime friend of Cecil, came to his defense, but he only managed to get assigned to the same task. In the middle of a short dialog where Cecil apologized for getting Kain mixed up in his troubles, the game suddenly broke the fourth wall and started talking about controls (e.g. use the Control Pad and A-Button). It appeared as though Kain was saying those things.
*Plop*
Even the residents of the castle spoke in hushed tones about how the king had changed. It was the king who ordered Cecil to master the dark sword, but strangely Cecil thought it was for a good cause. On my way to Cecil's room, Rosa welcomed him back, but had no time to talk. Cid, master engineer, creator of the red wing airships, stopped me to ask how the ships were handling. When he heard what happened, he assured me he never intended them to be used as weapons. Still loyal to Baron, Cecil rested for the night hoping this task would reassure his king of that. In the middle of the night Rosa came calling. After hearing Cecil's tale, she berated him for being mopey. In the morning, Cecil met up with Kain, and headed to the city of Baron to gather more information.
Upon leaving the castle, the final scene of the introduction plays out
The story telling is beyond anything we've seen so far. Even with the reduced script lost in translation, there really isn't anything else to compare it to. Obviously this was possible by the increased space available, but even compared to other 16-bit titles I feel the story has more depth than any of the Phantasy Stars. Many of the guards commented on the state of the king, the Red Wing crew voiced uneasiness with the events that took place, and nearly everyone in town feared the Dark Knight of Baron (except for one kid that thought he was kind of cool). The music is outstanding, the locations large enough not to get lost, but not too small either. The pacing is well spaced, and one of the defining features is the number of unique boss-like fights that occur in nearly every dungeon.
These training rooms were added in the US version, and may also be the first in-game tutorial in an RPG
Most training rooms have a character called Namingway that allows the player to rename anyone in the current party. I chose not to rename them right away, but as the game went on I felt I should probably make use of him. While this is the only appearance of this character in the series, another makes its first appearance and becomes an iconic figure: the chocobo. Although first presented in Final Fantasy Adventure, this is the first in the main series (that made it to the US). Yellow chocobos can cross rivers with ease, and they easily dodge enemy encounters. White chocobos refill magic points, and black ones can even fly if you can catch them. Catching them involves chasing them down and talking to them, a reverse on the annoying NPC always in the way. Speaking of NPCs, when trying to move through them they'll move faster and usually out of the way unless they're cornered.
A big chocobo is hidden until it smells a carrot; it'll store items, but hardly necessary
Well, let's get into the thick of it. I remember this being a challenging game, so it may take a while to get through... no wait, I breezed by the Mist Cave where I fought a Mist Dragon controlled by a caller. In the village of Mist the package I was carrying sprang open. Fire creatures poured out, burning the village in their wake. Rydia, a small child, was the only caller to survive; however, when she learned that I was the one that killed the dragon, and her mother in the process (some kind of psychic link that never comes into play for Rydia), she summoned a titan that sealed off the valley. Cecil woke to find Kain missing, and Rydia unconscious. A vast desert lay before Cecil, and an oasis in the middle supplied the town of Kaipo with water. In the middle of the night, while resting at the inn, guards from Baron showed up to finish the job I started. I'm not sure how they got through the sealed pass (let alone how they knew one caller survived), but taking them out proved to Rydia that the man whole killed her mother wasn't all bad. Mistakes were made.
How did Rosa get here from Baron?
Rumor around town was that a young woman had wondered in with a terrible fever. Turned out it was Rosa, and the only cure lay in an Antlion cave accessible only by Damcyan royalty. The passage through the only cave north was blocked by an old man that forced himself on my party. Tellah, the sage, told us how a wicked bard tricked his daughter, Anna, into running away with him to Damcyan. We might as well travel together. At the end of the watery passage was a giant octopus called Octomamm (no relation to Octodad). Another troublesome part from my memory was a cake walk. Just beyond the cave entrance was Damcyan, and steps away from walking in I was treated to a scene of the red wings bombarding the castle, completely destroying it. Inside, Anna was dead, and Tellah raged hard at the bard that stole her away.
and thus a meme is born
Well, Anna was mostly dead. Her last breath(s) stopped the fight between Tellah and Edward, the prince of Damcyan who only pretended to be a bard. She described the attack: someone named Golbez commanded the red wings, and stole the fire crystal. Tellah headed off to find Golbez, leaving the party. While Cecil was eager to figure out who was Golbez, Roas still lay ill. Edward bemoaned the loss of Anna. Rydia had to knock some sense into him, telling him he wasn't the only one to have lost a loved one, but he had a chance to save someone else by retrieving the Sand Ruby. He agreed, and provided a hovercraft that allowed the party to cross over shallow areas of the water.
Once again, Antlion easier than I remember
The Antlion Cave was easy, and the Antlion itself much easier than I remember. Mainly, I recall his counter move dealing more damage. He strikes back any normal attacks, but it wasn't a problem. Edward remarked before the fight that Antlion was tame, but times were changing. Monsters were becoming commonplace, and tame animals were turning wild. Sand Ruby retrieved, the party rushed back to Rosa. Once revived she joined the party, and explained the events that took place after Cecil had left. The king of Baron gave control of the Red Wings to Golbez, a mysterious man who seemed to control the king rather than the other way around. His intent was to collect all the crystals, obviously for some nefarious purpose.
Strangely, the only time a character joins without a job title
That night, while the party rested, Edward ventured out near the oasis to reflect on his lost love. From out of the watery depths a water hag appeared. A vision of Anna appeared, spurred him on, and he easily trounced the hag. Before disappearing, the ghostly vision told Edward to believe in himself, fight, and to prevent Golbez from obtaining the crystals. The next castle with a crystal was Fabul, across Mt. Hobs; however, the path was blocked by ice. To pass through, Rydia needed to overcome her fear of fire. As a caller, she has a natural talent for black magic as well as summons. Although, even though she'd called a titan to cause an earthquake, she can only manage a lowly chocobo at the moment (and an imp summon, which I found after a fight with imps). After some coaxing, and reassurances (mostly pleading), Rydia overcame her fear, and melted the ice.
Attack animations have a variety that make each character unique
At the top of the mountain we met a karate master from Fabul. Yang was ambushed by monsters, and while he took most out without problem the party jumped in to assist with the MomBomb. It exploded into six smaller bombs, but we wrapped up the fight cleanly after that. Yang explained that he was out on a training exercise when these monsters appeared. He was the only survivor. We explained the danger to the crystal of air at the castle, and the party surmised that the monsters here weren't meant as a distraction to weaken the castle. Cecil explained all their motivations for stopping Baron, and Golbez, from obtaining all the crystals even though he was a dark knight. Yang agreed to their assistance, and the party was now full at five members.
I ended the first night outside Fabul
In this short time the game has provided much more enjoyment than many titles I've already played through. Even so, the ease with which I've progressed makes the experience feel a bit shallow. I played through this game many times in my youth, grinded for hours to gain early levels, and find rare item drops without really knowing which enemy they might come from. The grinding I did while young felt necessary, but coming back to it years later I wonder why I felt that way at all. Obviously difficulty is subjective. With as much experience as I have now, I know what works and what doesn't. It's nice to experience something I loved so much, but it's not the same experience it once was. I think that's why when I look at the list I'm more eager to get to the games I've never played before.

Elapsed Time: 2h38m (Total Time: 2h38m)

17 comments:

  1. This was not one of my favourite Final Fantasies and, for me, the plot becomes quite convoluted and confusing later on.

    At least it doesn't require the grinding of the earlier titles in the series.

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    1. There are a few bits of the plot left unanswered that would probably help clear things up. Like, how did Cecil and his brother get separated in the first place? Who's their mother? Why couldn't they banish Zemos into the sun? Anyway, don't want to get into too many spoilers here.

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  2. With both Zen and Wingnut baggin' on this, my most relished of the childhood classics, I am apprehensive about my own playthough a few years from now. I am considering using a fan translation which could potentially solve Wingnut's plot concerns, but I may just decide to go full nostalgia and keep it real with the original. Until then, I'll enjoy the view through my rose-coloured glasses, thank you very much.

    P.S. Yang for president!

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    1. Not as good as I remember is all I'm trying to say. Maybe FF6 will be better than I remember.

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  3. Just FYI, the GBA version has a much more faithful translation, though they did keep "you spoony bard!" in for nostalgia's sake.

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    1. Different AnonymousAugust 26, 2015 at 2:56 PM

      "the GBA version has a much more faithful translation"

      So do the PSX and PSP. And DS. In fact, I think this game has more different official translations than any other FF game. And a few fan retranslations for the SNES one as well.

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    2. Stupid question from an outsider, what's a spoony bard?

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    3. It's not that different from how Miyamoto got Donkey Kong for the name of his stubborn ape. One of the japanese people translating the game (none of them were very fluent in english) mistakenly used the archaic term spoony because he found it in a dictionary as a synonym for whatever he was going for in an insult Tellah was flinging at Edward the Bard. The line was strange and goofy and for some reason resonated with players because of it's oddness, and thus became immortal.

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    4. Spoony = foolish, and holds a certain context to someone acting foolishly through love. Someone in the original English translation thought it was a good words for that scene.

      I don't have any of those other versions, so I played it on WiiVC instead.

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  4. Great game, even if it can be a bit shallow in the gameplay department. I feel like FF4 might actually be the most important of the 16-bit RPGs even if it isn't the absolute best. The combat system it perfected became the series standard up through 10, and, more importantly, its narrative approach would more or less become hegemonic.

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    1. Characters coming in and out of the main plot is definitely a first for the genre we've seen in the US. It's amazing to see how early this game was released for 16-bit, so I can forgive some of the limitations they must have faced.

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  5. I believe the developers deliberately released an easier version of this SNES game (called "Easytype") in North America. I also believe that some of the re-releases were of the original, more difficult version, but I'm too lazy to look up which ones.

    The remake with 3D graphics - currently available on the DS and the PC, I think - was tuned to be harder than ever, and complicated with a drastically unintuitive skill-inheritance system. If you're not reading a FAQ then you'll probably miss all the best endgame skills. So if you play this version (why?), then either study a guide or prepare to grind, grind, grind.

    The version of this game that I recommend to players today is "Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection" for PSP. It's 2D and doesn't have the wonky skill system of the 3D graphic remake. The Complete Collection has both the original game and all of "The After Years" episodic follow-up stories, which were created decades after the original.

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    1. Easytype is actually even easier than this version. It was a port back to the Super Famicom based on the changes made to North American release while also making equipment more powerful. From what I've read it looks like all the ports are based on the original game, but I don't know much about any of them.

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  6. Long time reader first time poster!

    I recently replayed FFs 1-4, 6, and 7, and while 4 blows 1-3 out of the water in terms of visuals, music (especially), and story, I really didn't enjoy my second time through it. The stuff that was cut out of the JPN release is generally useless- all those damage items just take up room, and none of the cut skills are really that effective, so I don't miss it. Even the JPN version doesn't really require any grinding (which is definitely a positive; but then again, no FF at least up through 7 requires grinding)... that is, until the final boss, where it seemed like gaining a couple levels brought the fight from literally impossible to comically easy.

    The problem I have with FF4 over much of the other games is its linearity combined with the fixed party. I can go back and enjoy FF1/3/5 because I can play around with the classes, and even 2/6/7 has some more leeway in building your characters.

    I am glad I replayed FF4, and a lot of stuff has aged very well in it. Again, the music is probably some of the best the SNES ever put out, not only in terms of compositions but sound quality as well. I really like a lot of the dungeon designs, though it would have been nice to find more useful equipment in them. The last dungeon is also amazing, with plenty of bosses to conquer to get the final equipment for your party.

    Anyway, I am looking forward to reading your thoughts as you go through this one!

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    1. Welcome to commenting, it's always nice to see a fresh name. The static party does have its limitations. At least with the lack of grinding means you're in no fear of building up characters that will later become unusable.

      By the way, I totally agree about the dungeon's chests. Most were rather useless cure and heal potions.

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  7. Final Fantasy for the NES was my first exposure to the genre, and I was super excited when this game came out. The enhanced graphics, gorgeous music (OCremix has a great remix album), and epic story line firmly cemented FF IV in my mind.

    I've played through it a number of times over the years, and I agree that it is pretty much a cakewalk, though I too remembered it as being much harder when I played it as a child.

    This game will always be close to my heart.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I'm curious how much more difficult the Japanese version is with its greater complexity.

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