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Patrick Gann
"Leave Final Fantasy II Alone!"
The iPhone release tips Patrick over the edge in our March editorial.
03.23.10 - 10:32 PM

When the tabloids and major news outlets got a little too aggressive and intrusive regarding the life of pop star Britney Spears, YouTuber Chris Crocker had a very passionate reaction. I'm sure you all remember that lovely episode.

Well I'm about to have a similar explosion. However, in my case, the people I'm addressing are not the media or the fans. I'm addressing the creators.

"Leave Final Fantasy II alone!" -- that's what I want to shout, while rolling around and crying on my bed. I won't stoop so low as to make my own parody video, but let me at least put it in writing.

For series fans, I'm not asking you to "leave it alone" in terms of picking on it. The game deserves to be put in its place. And in case you're thinking I'm attacking Cecil, Kain, Rosa and crew, you would be another of many victims of the early '90s renumbering localization fiasco. You're thinking of Final Fantasy IV.

No, I'm talking about Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon. I'm talking about the Famicom (NES) sequel to the game that started a revolution. And I have to point out one terribly annoying consistency on the part of Square Enix: for some reason, they love to pair Final Fantasy I & II as a singular release, or at least publish them at the same time.

After its first release on Nintendo's Famicom in 1988 (Japan-only), the game would be released, either in tandem with FFI or at the same time as a new FFI remake with similar graphical enhancements, for the following platforms: WonderSwan Color, PlayStation, Japanese mobile phones, Game Boy Advance, PSP, and most recently, the iPhone. With each new publication, they'd tweak the game in some form. The GBA version added post-endgame content, and the PSP / iPhone versions have strong graphical improvements. All of these statements, of course, also apply to FFI.

But here's the thing about FFII -- it sucks. I'm sorry, there's no two ways about it. This is the black sheep of the series. Anyone who says otherwise either hasn't played the game or hasn't played enough of it. The "leveling" system in the game was the predecessor to the SaGa series -- no generic "level-up" for characters: instead, individual stats and skills improved based on usage in battle. And though it may sound ironic, me damning this system in FFII since I happen to be a fan of many titles in the Saga series, the fact is that it was broken in the original Famicom version, and no subsequent tweaking has improved it. The only thing they really did was remove the "cancel" glitch which allowed you to increase skills as much as you want within a single battle encounter.

So why, exactly, does this game keep coming back? It's really not that great. If the argument is "well, we like reviving the classics," why not continually repackage the entire Famicom collection (including III)? WonderSwan Color got an FFIII, but after that, the only remake was the DS version, which was truly a remake; it was hardly the same game. But I digress. The point is, they don't continually make minor improvements to the oldschool, 2D, top-down FFIII. They just do it with I and II.

While one could argue that this is just a symptom of the disease that has taken Square Enix captive ("excessive remake syndrome," I hear it's going to be in the DSM V!), I can generally come to the defense of a variety of remakes. Among them, I would argue that FFI is a great game to release perennially. Each new generation that discovers this incredible series is going to want to see its origins. Well, that's FFI. It's not FFII. Furthermore, the improvements on I (the option to use MP instead of the slot-based spell system, for example) are much appreciated, whereas the changes to FFII are negligible and have not increased my enjoyment of the game yet.

Before I restate my plea to Square Enix, allow me to explain what I think FFII is, based on years of fanboy tribal knowledge and research. It was an experiment. In many ways, I can respect the people who created this game in 1988. They made huge waves with this "Final Fantasy" game, enough to make it a rival to Dragon Quest (ah, the glory days when Square and Enix were competitors instead of the same entity). But they didn't do the same thing again. They could have, you know. The story could've been about four orbs/crystals, one-dimensional characters with some fixed job classes running around and killing the elemental fiends. And it might have worked. Instead, they tried telling "Star Wars" in a fantasy medieval setting, put heavy emphasis on plot, added a string of guest characters to join your party, experimented with variety of world map transportation modes, and (of course) replaced "leveling up" with "skilling up." It was a bold move. I applaud the people of the day for the bold move.

But guess what? Some experiments don't work out so great. Square finally did get their bearings straight on plot-and-character-heavy RPGs when they gave us FFIV. But after II, they were smart to return to nameless/faceless dudes with jobs and abilities (which introduced the flexible job system, something I still love to see in any FF game).

FFII is of some historical interest, but it's not a fun game to play. No amount of revamping will make it a good game. So Square Enix, I say it again: "Leave Final Fantasy II alone!" Just let it rest, and if people want to experience the true "origin" of the franchise, give 'em what they want: the four warriors of light hijacking pirate ships and slaying monsters. Please let the iPhone port be the last time I see or hear from FFII for a long, long time. Pretty please?


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