Approximate Release Date: November 23, 1991
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Final Fantasy II is the first modern Final Fantasy game.
If you look at the three Final Fantasy games on the NES that preceded it, there are attempts at epic stories and full-fledged characters, but none really hit the mark. The NES was just too limited in terms of graphics or memory to make a game of the necessary scope. So when Final Fantasy II (called Final Fantasy IV in Japan) was able to have characters do something as simple as emoting during scenes, it opened the genre up to realizing drama in a way that was impossible in the past with static pixels.
You play as Cecil, commander of the royal air force of Baron, tasked with taking the four crystals scattered around the world by force. After stealing the water crystal from defenseless mages, he begins to question the orders he has been carrying out. Final Fantasy II touches on themes like loyalty and betrayal, which are well worn today but novel at the time. Also, party members will die over the course of the 30- or 40-hour story, making the time spent leveling them up or cash outfitting them with gear useless in retrospect. It also makes their sacrifices mean a little bit more to the player.
Final Fantasy II is the first Final Fantasy to eschew a totally turn-based battle system and instead uses an active-time battle system. Enemies can attack while you go through the battle menus, making acting quickly very important for success. This made battles feel more dynamic and less deterministic. Good play was suddenly important in a menu-based game!
My favorite aspect of Final Fantasy II is the music. Square consistently has some of the best music on the Super Nintendo, and though later games would overshadow it, Final Fantasy II doesn’t disappoint. Check out the song that’s used in the first dungeon (about 47 seconds in):
How is music that good on the same system that gave us The Chessmaster‘s “soundtrack”?
There have been various remakes and re-releases of Final Fantasy II, and they tend to have a better translation, more challenging gameplay, and even bonus dungeons. For that reason alone, you should probably pick up the Nintendo DS or PlayStation Portable remakes over the original SNES cart. But even then, this is a high-quality Japanese RPG, and one well worth playing.
Tomorrow: The only thing “super” about Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is the difficulty.