Some may sit back and wonder at times just how many episodes there are likely to be in the Final Fantasy series. But in all honesty, as long as it continues to hold the mantel of 'greatest selling RPG franchise of all time, worldwide' then Square Enix is likely to churn them out for many years to come. However, prior to another retro remake this Christmas, let us jump backwards to take a look at the second game included in the Final Fantasy I & II pack that hit the streets one year ago...
Rather than the usual fare of one main hero starting from a lowly level to become a legend never to be forgotten, Final Fantasy II takes a slightly different approach. The story begins far, far away in a sleepy, little, peace-loving Kingdom called Fynn that has unfortunately been plagued by an evil reign of terror brought on by the emperor of the Palamecian Kingdom. Three lucky individuals survive the mass slaughter that ensues – Guy, Firion and Maria, all of whom had a Knight in shining armour (well, technically a White Mage…) called Minwu of Altair to thank for the reprieve. But the story does not end there, in fact it is just commencing, as the three join forces to inflict revenge upon the purveyor of doom…
Harking back to the grand old days for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System can be quite painful for many mainly due to the sub-standard level of graphics found in the majority of titles from that period. Thankfully, though, Squaresoft never seemed to have too much trouble in these stakes. That, however, does not stop this GBA port from giving your eyes a wonderful treat. Square revamped the game initially for the now defunct Bandai WonderSwan handheld that was only released in Japan. But now it looks that much better on the GBA’s impressive screen. Now you would be hard-pushed to find many differences between the quality found in the latter FF games on the SNES and this. Rich, highly detailed characters, spectacular spell effects and stunning (for the format) animations leave a resounding feeling of pleasure.
The same can most definitely be attributed to the audio side of matters. The Game Boy Advance is, sometimes unfairly, criticised for not being anywhere near as powerful in terms of sound as other systems on the market. However, there have been several splendidly orchestrated titles appearing on the tiny handheld, one of which was the first half of the FF I & II package! Therefore, we can all breathe a sigh of relief as the same attention and skilled craftsmanship has been plastered all over Final Fantasy II. The audio matches those of the Super Nintendo iterations and only falls behind the Final Fantasy VII-onward versions due to the use of MIDI music as opposed to a full range of instruments via the medium of CD storage discs. Stick your headphones in and you will find yourself sucked into the game even more than before!
Final Fantasy is somewhat of a staple in the role-playing field, with the main series being focused on the idea of turn-based fighting. You start with your team, of which you can have a maximum of four characters at any one time, and move around in two various modes – overworld and village / cave locations. On the overworld you are plagued by random battles after every few steps, whereas in other situations you are safe to wander around to your heart’s content (made even easier by the new addition of a ‘dash’ button not found in the NES original). Whilst random encounters are one of the main annoyances in this particular genre, they do help to lengthen the experience, as well as build up levels to a sufficient standard.
Thankfully the gameplay has been modified for this new version, with a save-anywhere option being introduced, rather than forcing the player to constantly buy tents or cabins, helping to fit the game into a handheld form far better. In addition, the difficulty level has been moderated to allow entry-level role players into the adventure without fear of dying within seconds; also you no longer have to resort to attacking your own team members to quickly increase your levels (a nice little shortcut trick many used in the NES version, which CAN still be used in this if necessary). Finally, the inclusion of new enemies from later Final Fantasy games and dungeons to keep things fresh for those that may have played this game in its original Japanese format, or via Final Fantasy Origins on the PSone.
It is important to know that your team can be upgraded by means of killing enough enemies to gain funds for shopping at Rune, Weapon, Defence and / or Item stores, purchasing the latest magical Tomes, swords, axes, shields, body armour, potions, remedies, and so on and so forth. Beware, though, as you must remain spend-thrifty due to high costs. Once you have made your way to a new town, be sure to check out the local stores to get your hands on the next level of wares that will be the difference between life and death in the trials that face you on the journey.
In terms of battling, once you have been drawn into either a random fight of obligatory battle, each team member and foe takes it in turns to make a move. Should you wish to simply fight your way through an encounter, then so be it, just hold down the A button and your characters will all take their respective pops at who- or whatever is in front of them (thankfully when an enemy is killed, if you chose to hit that same creature your next player will not have wasted a turn as their move will be placed onto another beast standing up against you – unlike some other frustrating RPGs!). However, this will not always work to your advantage. Patience and tactics are the key at times, choosing various spells, healing at the right time, or even just defending or choosing to scarper at the appropriate time. Final Fantasy is about skill, and benefits from being so…
As for how long you will be playing through, just have a think about the time it took for me to get round to reviewing the second half of this wonderful GBA double-pack. Yes that is right, nigh on a year! For as with all Final Fantasy titles, the game is absolutely massive beyond extremes, what with all the levelling up required, locations to visit, people to quiz and numerous side-quests to complete. Some of the main bosses that must be overcome to proceed take such rigorous action to defeat that you could take hours alone just to pass them by! But should you require more, there is a Bestiary, where you can view details on the enemies in the game, and the extra inclusion of an extra storyline at the end of the game that extends it by around 20% - more than you could really expect.
The tried-and-tested Final Fantasy gameplay holds strong after all these years, mainly thanks to a few timely tweaks from the clever folk at Square Enix. RPG fans will fall in love all over again.
Sprucing up the graphics to a level that almost puts the 16-bit SNES games to shame is quite an achievement from their humble NES beginnings. FFII is certainly one of the finer looking GBA titles on the market.
The tiny handheld may be knocked for having poor sound capabilities, but FFII sure goes to show that in the rights hands a sonorous treat can be achieved. Get those headphones ready now...
With enough adventuring to last an average gamer nearly half a year on-and-off, plus an extra storyline to boot, your GBA could die long before you complete this!
Square Enix triumphs once more, except with a blast from the past. Final Fantasy II shows that with just a few minor updates the game remains the classic gamers originally thought it was all those years ago. Joined with the sublime Final Fantasy I port, FF I & II becomes the ultimate RPG package for the Game Boy Advance.