By Spencer . July 24, 2007 . 11:05pm
Final Fantasy II is sort of like the black sheep in the Final Fantasy linage with its awkward leveling up system. Square axed experience points and let characters “naturally” level up. If you use magic you gain intelligence, attacking builds up strength and you may get an HP boost if you take damage. At the time the concept was revolutionary, except with one fatal error you can hit your own characters to level them up. Later Final Fantasy games dropped this system, but the SaGa series is founded on a similar concept. However, many other Final Fantasy traditions: chocobos, Cid and a cohesive storyline originated in Final Fantasy II.
So what’s new in Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition? The leveling system is fixed so you can play the game without forcing Firion to knock himself in the head, but that was carried over from Final Fantasy I & II on the GBA. Then the visuals are the most striking difference in Final Fantasy II. Upgraded sprites, more detailed backgrounds with faux lighting effects and detailed character portraits pop up during dialogue. It looks fantastic compared to the old NES game and it is a huge step up from the GBA remake. There are seemingly minute details like how Hilda has multiple portraits to emphasize different emotions, little things that fans will love about Final Fantasy II’s fresh coat of paint.
The other major addition is a set of dungeons based on learned keywords. To make conversations more interactive Square included a key term system where you learn words and then say them to other characters. They shill out pre-set responses to each term, but back in the 8-bit days that was revolutionary. In Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition you take these key terms, walk up to a pink aura and shout them to make a new dungeon. When you use the “Wild Rose” term a castle dungeon appears where you have to protect noble troops from dark armored soldiers. Beat that dungeon and you unlock the “Tracking” term which opens up a dungeon with the undead. The neat thing about the Arcane Labyrinth is you don’t have to wait until the end of the game to experience it. In the first three hours of the game you will get to experience it. Right next to the town of Salamand is a cave with two black mages and the majestic pink light. Beating the new dungeons leads to ultimate weapons for all eight playable characters. All the way at the end of Final Fantasy II there is another dungeon, the Soul of Rebirth where you get to play as the four NPCs that switch in and out of your party. It’s been done before in Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls, but it’s still a nice addition.
Since Final Fantasy II probably hasn’t gotten as much play time as other entries in the series the story is worth mentioning. Black Knights attack the four main characters at the beginning of the game in a fight that you cannot win. Once Firion, Maria and Guy are knocked unconscious they are taken in by Hilda, the princess of Fynn who is leading a rebellion against the Empire, but Leon is lost in the scuffle. You meet new friends along the way. Minwu, a white mage, is one of your first allies. Paul the thief is a source of comic relief and Richard is the series first Dragoon. Most of them are bound for the Rebirth dungeon in the sky, but that’s part of the story. That’s right Final Fantasy II has a story that is more than just we’re the good guys saving the world. There is drama in it, character death and an obvious plot twist. While it isn’t as epic as say Final Fantasy XII, there is substance in it to make you want to play more.
Is this the best version of Final Fantasy II yet? Absolutely. Over the past few days I have been really enjoying playing Final Fantasy II again. That is playing it the right way and not using the cancel trick to buff up my magic spells. Like Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition, the price point is the issue. Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition costs $30, which is way more than the GBA game that contains two games. However, as a deluxe edition of a remake of a Wonderswan remake, Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition brings the goods that hardcore fans will dig.