Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: July 24, 2007
Once again I find myself with the opportunity to review a piece of gaming history which has been polished up for presentation on today's hardware. It is always difficult to review re-releases since the standards by which the game was originally produced are no longer in sync with those of today. Too many changes to improve the gameplay of the original product move the title outside of the realm of being a re-release, so many shortcomings or flaws are naturally perpetuated. Upon further refection, I guess it could be easily reasoned that these flaws are very much a part of what makes a particularly loved title or series truly nostalgic.
The storyline for Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition once again follows the adventures of four young heroes as they set out to rid their world of an evil emperor whose army has killed their parents and now seeks to conquer the world using his numerous minions. This 20th anniversary remake of the 1988 classic has been enhanced to take advantage of the PSP's advanced sound and graphics features. Similar to the anniversary release of the original Final Fantasy, FF2:AE includes a bestiary encyclopedia, a widescreen display, additional content, enhanced cut scenes and a reworked soundtrack. Although you will have up to four heroes to control at a time, the game remains a single-player adventure.
Similar to the first FF title, there are no direct tutorials to assist with the features and concepts. Instead, you can consult with 10 oracles in the beginning that will provide explanations of the various elements of gameplay. Control of the heroes is accomplished by using the PSP's direction buttons, and the other command and action buttons are consistent with the FF re-release for the PSP. Unfortunately, the clumsy two-button action to access the world map is present in this release as well. As would be expected, you're able to save your progress at most locations during the game.
FF2 begins with an entire village being burned down as the emperor continues to take over the world. The four heroes manage to flee the inferno and barely escape death at the hands of the emperor's knights. They're given the chance to help a rebel army that's determined to stop the emperor. Although the fairly simple premise of orphaned children fighting against an evil empire has a decidedly old school flavor, it still manages to hold up today by offering fun, imaginative characters who develop nicely over the course of the game. The main heroes — Firion, Maria and Guy — are joined by various characters throughout their journey, including Minwu, Josef, Ricard and Gordon. Leon (Maria's brother) disappears after the prologue, later re-emerging under mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately, as good as the storyline is in FF2:AE, it can often be difficult to figure out what you should be doing next. Sometimes tasks are not clearly defined, or you might miss an important clue in a conversation. The lack of a quest or conversation log to help get you back on track should be considered as a serious flaw for this type of game.
FF2 introduces a new keyword system. Terms will appear occasionally during conversations, and you can "learn" and then "ask" others about them. This feature works reasonably well, although it can be somewhat disconcerting to ask a character about a term which they've freely talked about in the past, only to get a "?" in response, as if they had short-term memory problems. One of the FF2:AE additions is the Arcane Labyrinth, which utilizes the keyword system to adjust the gaming experience inside the dungeon. The game also features magic portals that will take you to places when you say a keyword. Without establishing a point of reference using the world map prior to utilizing the portals, a great amount of confusion will be created as you wonder where you've been transported.
Despite its appearances, FF2:AE is a fairly linear game. If you try to stray too far from your current quest area, you'll discover that you can quickly become overwhelmed by the higher-level monsters that you encounter. Similar to the original Final Fantasy, you'll find it necessary to build up your character's stats by fighting in a ridiculously large number of random battles that you encounter as you move around the map.
One of the more noticeable upgrades to the FF2:AE is the improved 2D graphics. The improved top-down perspective is more visually pleasing, while the higher-resolution graphics are noticeably a notch above those contained in even the enhanced Final Fantasy I game. The full use of the PSP's widescreen display improves the playability of the title immeasurably, the GUI is clean and easy to use, and the anniversary edition's re-worked cut scenes are brilliant. The inventory management features of FF2:AE are a strong selling point of the series and have stood the test of time. The ability to carry a large amount of inventory is essential for the proper progression of the characters through the increasingly difficult areas.
The improvements to the music in FF2:AE significantly enhances gameplay. The often haunting melodies are peaceful in the calmest of times, and quick and bouncy when the action heats up. The sound effects are more true to the original effects and help to distinguish the title as true Final Fantasy fare. Other than the improved sound quality, there is little new or surprising here. There are no voice-overs, which is consistent with other titles produced during the same time period.
The most outspoken criticism of FF2 centers on the battle and leveling systems. One of the first uses of skill-based leveling of weapon and magic classes occurred in FF2. The skill-based leveling system allows improvements to both weapons and spells based on their recurring usage, but unfortunately, this system is a bit mediocre in design and can be exploited fairly easily. The original Final Fantasy had players choosing classes at the beginning of the game, but FF2 lets your use of the skill-based leveling system shape your class for you. This creates a fairly substantial level of disparity between characters, especially when combined with the awkward character leveling system and formation feature.
Combat also suffers from a fairly maddening element of randomness that causes the same character to inflict wildly variable damage to the same enemy from turn to turn. The character leveling system will actually increase stats based on both causing and receiving damage, which will occasionally cause the player grief as he attempts to increase certain stats without causing unwanted effects to others. On a more positive note, the ability to dual-wield weapons (one weapon in each hand) during battle is a nice feature. Additionally, the strategic importance of the formation feature should not be overlooked; you can easily eliminate most potential battle damage to characters by selecting the optimal formation placement.
Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition, like its predecessor, is showing its age even with the 20th anniversary enhancements in place. Despite the interesting storyline, the title is still lacking in depth and offers little beyond the scope of a generic Dungeons and Dragons module. You'll most likely find that your level of interest in this game will be based more on your love for the Final Fantasy franchise than the quality of the product.