Retrogaming – Final Fantasy 2 (NES)

FF2

The second Final Fantasy released – but never shipped to North America.  We had to wait until the Super Ninento to receive a second installment.  Fortunately people have translated this gem and reproduced it for the North American market fully translated and playable.

Characters –

 

Four childhood friends caught up in a rebellion (Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon).  The evil empire is spreading, taking over independent towns and destroying everyone and everything that stands in their way.

The character development in this game is completely different than the previous.  There are no set classes or jobs, the characters are just themselves, each one basically the same other than their outside packaging.

After the first fight of the game (where you die to some pretty brutal horse warriors), three of the characters wake up being healed by the resistance and the fourth character is missing.  The fourth slot is filled by various secondary characters throughout the game, and eventually the fourth character (Leon) returns as a permanent member.

World –

Very similar to the first in the series.  The cities take a big graphic change, but the overall world looks mostly the same.  The map contains rivers, mountains, forests, glacier and Final%20Fantasy%20II%20(J)[1]ocean.  Rivers can be crossed with a canoe, and you can fly over the mountains when you eventually get the airship.  The glacier is crossed with an “ice sled” which looks like a ship with skis.  I think this game is unique in having this type of vehicle.

Most of the game you will have access to the canoe, and the ship (which can dock anywhere, not just at specific ports like in the first one).

I also discovered that while travelling by canoe you don’t seem to run in to any enemies.  Which is a change from the first installment.  Couldn’t be bothered to put in river creatures?  Maybe.

Chocobos are introduced in this game for the first time.  You can locate them in a hidden forest square, catching one lets you ride it on the world map until you dismount.  No random fights happen while riding a chocobo.

As with the first game, talk to everyone you meet.  Most of them will have helpful information, even the second or third time you come in contact with them.  There are also specific key words (marked in []) that you need to learn and then repeat to people to trigger specific dialogue sequences.  There was one point I was running around the world saying things to people trying to figure out what to do next, and I had missed speaking to the dying king and learning a key phrase which is what unlocked the next part of my journey.

I found the overworld somewhat boring, since you are stuck in the same general area for most of the game, then enemies are the same for the majority of the game and don’t post much of a challenge after the first hour or so.  Mostly they’re annoying, you don’t run in to 2 bees, you run in to 6 and most of them run away before the first round of combat is over.

Combat –

The concept of the game is a great one, but the execution leaves something to be desired.  There is no EXP, no levels, no job levels and you don’t advance just by killing things like you do in most RPGs.  Instead of level based advancement, your individual Final_Fantasy_II_(J)_[T+Eng1.03]-0skills advance as you use them.  To get more HP you have to lose a portion of your HP during a battle and survive at the end.  To raise your STR and ATK power, you have to physically attack.  To raise your spell power you have to use spells.  If you are affected by any status ailment (blind, silence, poison) at the end of combat, you don’t receive any stat/skill increases (this really sucks).

In concept, this lets you create any kind of party that you like.  In practice it’s much more complicated.  Some stats are tied, so raising one lowers the other (Raising int lowers str for example).  So you can’t make completely hybrid characters.  In addition, while any character can wear any piece of equipment, most of them have ridiculously high spell penalties (this is a hidden stat).  Wearing them makes your magic suck, which means your mages are going to be vulnerable.  Using most weapons has high spell penalty too, so your mages are most effective when naked and bear handed.

The concept of “Rows” was also introduced.  You have a front row, and a back row.  Your back row can’t be attacked by physical attacks until the front row dies – they also can’t attack physically unless they use a bow.  They can be targeted by special attacks and magic though.  Similarly, your enemies have front and back rows and follow the same rules.  That leads to some strategy – killing off back row enemies with magic before they can retaliate, leaving a single front row enemy alive so you are taking minimal damage – etc.

I decided early on to make a standard party – one fighter, one white mage, and one black mage.  My fighter ended up being more of a paladin with some basic white magic for healing purposes.  My white mage ended up being more “battlemage” since he was on the front line attacking the majority of the time.  He also was the one with the most HP at the end.  When I finally got the fourth permanent character I made him a dual wielding fighter to flesh out my versatility.

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The reason “Guy” gets so beefy, is because the game has a targeting glitch, where the second and third position in your battle line take the majority of the attacks.  I have no idea why, but it’s very apparent.  I had to put Guy in the back line so I could raise Firion’s agility and HP and so forth, since he rarely ever got targeted.

Interestingly, I found the best way to power up my characters, was to get in a fight with love level enemies, and beat the crap out of my own party.  Nothing stops you from casting spells, attacking, or otherwise messing with your own party.  You can even cast beneficial spells on the enemies to increase those levels.

There is also a cheat that I admit to making use of – if you select an action (attack, or cast spell) and select a target, then when the next character in the row steps forward you cancel and go back, it still registers that as a successful use of whatever you did.  So if you want to take the time to attack and cancel 100 times, you can raise a skill level without having to actually do the fighting.  There are some spells that it would take years to raise to usable levels without this little glitch, so don’t judge me too harshly.

As a last note of interest, characters can’t use items except ones that they have been Final_Fantasy_II_(J)_[T+Eng1.03]-2previously equipped with (2 slots).  Items can be used only on the character that triggers them – you can’t use a potion to cure another player.  Players can also swap equipped items on the fly – so having a secondary weapon in the item slot allows you to be a bit more versatile.  Where I found use for this, was after getting the blood sword, swapping that in for harder fights, then back to my regular weapon for regular combat.

Magic –

Unlike the first installment, this game introduces Magic Points (MP) that you can use on spells.  Spells level up as you use them, a level 1 spell costs 1 MP, level 2 costs 2MP etc.   Spells can level up to 13 ( maybe 16?) but I don’t think any of mine were over level 8 at the end of the game.  If I spent time on them, sure we could have gotten higher, but it’s not necessary.

Magic spells used out of combat gain 2 points per use, spells used in combat follow a formula based on how difficult the battle is and how high the spell level is.  If you’re curious there are analysis out there that go through all the nitty gritty details.

Anyone can use any magic spells, white magic relies on the Faith attribute, and black magic on the Intelligence attribute.  While it would be possible to create a single spell user, they would only be able to learn 40 total spells (there are more than 80 spells combined).

Bugs –

One of the cool things about playing an old style NES game, is that there are bugs in it, that are well known, but will never be fixed.  So instead of being a bug, they just become a challenge of gameplay, or something to use to do something differently in the game.

My wife and I discussed this phenomenon – she was asking why they were never fixed.  I asked her how she would patch a physical cartridge after it had been sold to a user before the internet was invented.  Not having a reasonable answer, you can see why the bugs were never fixed.

Weapon Bugs –

The Healing staff heals players when you attack them.  Healing kills undead creatures, and the staff is no exception – but it still heals the undead even while it does damage.

The RIpper knife – displays it’s damage 20 points higher than what it actually does to the enemy.  Unclear if this was on purpose, or the weapon was supposed to do more damage than it does.

11856-final-fantasy-ii[1]Magic Bugs –

Aura and barrier use the level of the spell to determine the outcome.  At level 8 they don’t grant the proper bonuses.

Dispel does nothing.

Protect only works on the caster, you can cast it on others but it doesn’t give them any benefit.

The Sap spell is supposed to do MP damange to enemies, but it only affects the first 256 MP, so enemies with more MP than that hardly feel any effects.  This is because the calculation only affects the first 8 bytes and doesn’t modify the full register.

Ultima (the most powerful magic in the game) was originally designed to increase in power relative to the other spells in your possession.  It doesn’t, which makes it do lackluster damage even at very high levels.

Wall was designed to block spells up to it’s casted level.  However, if you cast it on an enemy, then cast toad, break or death on an enemy – even if the spell is blocked, the animation persists and kills the enemy.

Toad/Mini – It’s unclear if these were designed to be automatic kill spells when used on monsters, but they function that way.  They are more accurate than other instant death spells (toad in particular is very useful).  Which essentially makes other death spells superfluous.

General Bugs –

Dual wielding – while the animation plays for both weapons performing attack animations – the damage is only calculated from the main hand weapon.  Skill ups are calculated as though both weapons were used.

Wizard staff – casts Scourge, but uses a random byte targeting method which can target enemies that aren’t on the screen, or amusingly the final boss (even though he isn’t in combat).

Middle attack bug – discussed previously.  Enemies target the middle two character slots far more frequently than any other.

Plot Summary – (Spoilers)

The game begins as the heroes are attacked by Black knights and “killed”.  Three of them are saved by the rebels and introduced to the princess Hilda who has established a base of operations in Altair.  After a short trip looking for the forth member of their group and learning some important information the princess allows the young heroes to join the rebellion and sends them on a quest to retrieve Mithril, that will allow the rebels to create weapons and fight back against the empire (who already uses mithril).

After a successful journey the heroes are sent to stop the creation of the Dreadnought (a huge crazy airship) that the empire is building.  They are too late, and the Dreadnought begins terrorizing the free cities, destroying them and killing rebels.  After learning of a way to defeat the airship, the heroes see Cid’s airship being captured with the princess on board.

Then to rescue the princess and destroy the flying fortress.  Always rescuing the princess.  After a successful mission it’s time to find the legendary Dragoons who might be able to fight back against the empire.  Too bad they’re all dead before you find them.  Though you are in time to save the last wyvern egg.

After another search for a magic artifact the party returns to find the empire using a whirlwind (how does that work?) to terrorize the rebels.  So, in to the cyclone you go to defeat the Emperor – and tada! you do it.  Only to find out at the victory party that your best friend is the new emperor and even worse than the first one.

Then you have to beat your new friend, but not kill him our course, because he joins you and finally the party is complete.  Then the four heroes together invade the underworld to kill the new, old, dead emperor who isn’t dead anymore.

I was disappointed with how easy the emperor was to kill in the last battle.  With two blood swords it barely lasted 3 rounds.

Final Thoughts –

This was an interesting play through.  I thought long and hard about my party composition before getting in to the game, and it paid off at the end.  My black mage didn’t use a weapon the whole game, since she sat in the back row for 90% of it.

The skill-up system, while effective wasn’t well thought out.  Beating on your own party wasn’t how I’d prefer to level up.  I also would have had a really hard time with the system in general if I hadn’t researched it pretty thoroughly before getting started.  The magic penalties and such aren’t explained anywhere in the game which makes having and using the right equipment pretty important.

The game seemed shorter than many of the others in the series, but it was a lot of fun to play through.  It was nicely linear, and I generally didn’t have a problem figuring out where I needed to be.  I also liked the key phrases and having to learn them, then speak to the right people.

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The Final Boss battle

What did you think?