By Pat R, originally seen at SMPS dot net

Final Fantasy II - Famicom / Wonderswan Color / Playstation / Gameboy Advance / Playstation Portable (1988)


Famicom Cover

Artwork

American PSP Cover

(Screenshots taken from fan translation)

So. Anyone remember Mario 2? Sure you do. At the time, we all thought it was another "black sheep" NES sequel like Adventure of Link or Simon's Quest; but in actuality (for those of you who aren't in the know), Nintendo pulled a diabolical switcheroo on American gamers back in 1988. The Super Mario Bros. 2 with which most of us are familiar was originally an entirely different game called Doki Doki Panic. Nintendo simply made a few tweaks here and there, gave the characters Mario facelifts, and then shipped it off to American shores as the sequel to Super Mario Brothers. Why? Well, because the Nintendo higher-ups decided the real Super Mario Brothers 2 (later known as The Lost Levels in Super Mario All Stars) would be too difficult for American audiences. And honestly, it probably would have been. In all fairness, the "real" Super Mario Brothers 2 wasn't much of a loss at all: it's like the Nintendo execs gathered in their board room in '87 and said, "All right. We've just put out the biggest and best video game ever. Now we must get to work on the sequel, which naturally must use the same engine and graphics as the first game and be as maddeningly difficult and frustrating as our programmers' ones and zeros can allow. IT IS THE ONLY WAY." Enter poison mushrooms, backwards warp zones, and Piranha Plants that don't play by Piranha Plant rules. I'll take a doctored Doki Doki Panic almost any day.

Square pulled the same trick with its early Final Fantasy releases in America, and did so much more often. Mention Final Fantasy II to most casual gamers who owned an SNES, and they'll think "Oh! Cecil! Jumping guy! Spoony bard! SNES!" This is incorrect. The game they are thinking of is Final Fantasy IV. The real Final Fantasy II is an 8-bit Famicom game that only recently hit North American shores in the Final Fantasy Origins and Dawn of Souls collections on PSOne and GBA. Why didn't we ever get the NES version? Because the original Final Fantasy hit American shores in 1990: three years after its Japanese release and one year before the release of the SNES and Final Fantasy IV. It's straight business: localizing and releasing a new game for a new system makes a lot more sense than localizing and releasing an old game for an outdated system. That and the fact that Final Fantasy II is much like the original Super Mario Brothers 2 in that it is merciless and unforgiving to the point where it the gameplay becomes more agonizing than challenging. I'm seeing an almost identical board room meeting: "okay, so we have a runaway RPG hit on our hands and we need to make a sequel. I think our goal for Final Fantasy II should be to make as many people as unhappy as we can, and we should begin by revamping the experience and leveling up systems so that the most efficient way of increasing your characters' stats is to have your own guys beat the hell out of each other in battle. Sound good to you folks?"

But I may be getting ahead of myself here.

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

Final Fantasy II (FC)

CHARACTERS
To be fair, we should start with the good. Final Fantasy II is the first installment featuring player characters with dialogue and personalities, as opposed to the first game's mute Light Warriors. The cast isn't nearly as developed as later games', but compared to most other adventure and JRPG heroes from 1988, Final Fantasy II's heroes are quite the chatterboxes.


The Heroes

FRIONIEL
Your standard virtuous JRPG "Hero" archetype, and a precursor to characters like Butz/Bartz, Locke, Zidane, Tidus, etc. Unlike his later counterparts, Frioniel isn't an alien, a clone, a basket case, or a dream, and doesn't have any skeletons in his closet, because this was before gimmicks like that were necessary. "Frioniel" appears to be his actual name, but it was changed to "Firion" in the American releases because of space restrictions. I dubbed him "Freon," after the ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbon.

MARIA
The "kind-hearted, frail-of-body-yet-strong-of-will female lead" who reappears in later games as Rosa, Lenna, Terra, Celes, Aeris, Rinoa, Dagger, Yuna, etc. I don't think there's much else to be said about Maria other than that she boasts one of the most enticing 8-bit racks in existence, for whatever the hell that's worth.

GUY
The "gentle giant" archetype. See also: Sabin, Barrett, and Kimarhi. His special powers include retard strength and the ability to communicate with beavers.

LIONHEART
Maria's older brother is a double prototype. Lionheart is both the first instance of the Dark Knight class in Final Fantasy and the first "bad good guy" character, followed by the likes of Kain, Shadow, Vincent, Amarant, etc. He's the last of the four main characters, although he disappears after the first battle and doesn't the your party until the end of the game. He has been renamed "Leon" in the official American releases, which isn't nearly as striking as "Lionheart." I personally like to call him "RASTA."

MINH
Princess Hilda's right hand man and White Mage extraordinaire. Minh is the first ally to join your party and, thanks to his extensive White Magic grimoire, the closest thing you get to a genuinely useful one. Hard to say which later characters in the series resemble him, since most (all) future White Mages are female. Also known as Minhwa in other translations.

JOSEF
The mayor of the wintry village of Salamando is both a "barehanded fighter" and a "middle-aged/geezer hardass" character, which makes him a prototype of Yang, Galuf, Sabin, Strago, Tifa, Zell, Amarant, Steiner, and a whole lot of Cids. He lends the party his Ice Sled, which they are then forced to lug around for the entire game because there's no Fat Chocobo to hold onto unneeded story items.

GORDON
A "spoony, weakling loser prince" kind of person; Gordon reappears as Edward in Final Fantasy IV and is then rarely seen again because nobody really likes this kind of character. Gordon is the former prince of the decimated kingdom of Kashuon, and eventually steps up to lead the rebellion at Hilda's side.

LAYLA
This free-spirited pirate chick is your "sassy beauty with a mean streak" character, who later appears in the guises of Faris, Yuffie, Lulu, and Paine. Like several of her descendents, she ends up joining after a failed attempt at kidnapping and robbing the party. Layla also sports 8-bit cleavage, but by the time you come across her the novelty has already worn off.

RICHARD
Even if he can't Jump, the last of the Dragoons in the world of Final Fantasy II is the very first Dragoon in a Final Fantasy game. How's that for some impressive credentials? Richard comes across as a "noble warrior with an air of tragedy" kind of person, like Cyan, Freya, and Auron. He has the ability to communicate with and ride the Hiryuu, a type of dragon that usually gets translated as "wyvern" or "wind drake" in American releases.


The Villains

IMPERIAL FORCES


The Paramekian Empire's infernal legions. They are humanoid in appearance, but their strength, durability, and mercilessness exceed human limits. Unless you have a death wish, it's usually a bad idea to try talking to them.


THE DARK KNIGHT


A mysterious and powerful warrior who shot upwards through the imperial ranks to become one of the Emperor's most trusted servants. Maria remarks that HIS VOICE...IT SOUNDS SO FAMILIAR!, so you can probably guess his real identity.


BORGAN


A treacherous coward who was instrumental in the imperial takeover of Phin, acting as the empire's man on the inside. Borgan is a complete wuss in battle. Hours after you kill him off, he reappears as a zombie in the final dungeon. It's equally funny and morbid.


GOTUS


The leader of the imperial forces occupying Phin. Another wimp.


THE EMPEROR



The ruler of Paramekia and the villain who began the Final Fantasy tradition of "evil power hungry ruler of a kingdom/empire/corporation attempts to harness an ancient/sealed/forbidden/esoteric force in order to control the world but then loses control of and is consumed/destroyed by said powers, etc. etc." that has become an ingredient of what seems like every JRPG to come out since. You know how it goes. At least this guy keeps it straightforward and just sells his soul to the devil.



Other Characters


HILDA


The exiled Princess of Phin who leads the rebellion out of the town of Altea. Most of Final Fantasy II's gameplay consists of following the orders she barks at you from her throne. "We need Mythril to compete with the Imperial Army! Go find some!" "The Empire's Warship will kill us all! Go deal with it!" "Now we need Ultima magic! Snap to it!" "AIIEE! Now the Emperor's summoned a tornado! Fix it!"


PAUL


Master thief and ninja dude. Paul is a recurring character, but he never actually joins your party -- which is a shame, because he's cooler than most of the losers who do.


CID


The very first Cid in Final Fantasy appears here as an airship engineer and pilot. Yup. As you can tell by the screenshot, he also dies at some point. Sorry about the spoiler, but it was the only capture I took of him and I'm not going back and taking more.


ELINA AND CHILD


The wife and son of a slain Dragoon. They're not really worth mentioning, except for the fact that that Final Fantasy Origins does some retconning and changes the unnamed child's name to "Kain." Richard, whose last name is "Highwind," adopts the boy later on in the game. This suggests that the boy will grow up to be Kain Highwind of Final Fantasy IV fame, which is Square Enix revisionary garbage and you shouldn't believe it.


LEVIATHAN


Yup. Leviathan makes his first appearance in Final Fantasy II. But before he became a summon spell, he was...well, a dungeon. The massive sea serpent swallows the party's ship whole on their way to the Mysidian Tower, and our heroes must escape from his belly in order to proceed any further.

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