Saturday, 16 March 2013

Final Fantasy II (NES)

Final Fantasy II famicom nes title screen
Wow that's the title screen, seriously?

Today I'm playing the original Final Fantasy II on the NES, not to be confused with Final Fantasy II on the SNES which is an entirely different game (probably). I've got a problem here though, as Square seems to have neglected to release the original Famicom version in English and rule #3 over there on the right strictly forbids me from playing fan translations. So I can either run each line of text through Google Translate as I go, or play a remake. Or better still, I could do both!

PlayStation
In the first Final Fantasy I was able to choose a class for each of my characters, but my FF2 crew are already fairly defined, with names and portraits and everything. Though for some reason the PlayStation Final Fantasy Origins release has called this guy 'Gus' instead of his official name of... 'Guy'. My understanding of Japanese is absolutely abysmal, but even I know that ガイ doesn't have an 'S' sound it in, so I dunno how that happened.

Also 'Leon' is called something like 'Leonhart' in the Japanese game, but I can understand why he'd want to go with the short version.

WonderSwan Color
The first remake of the game came out on the WonderSwan Color handheld in 2001 and that didn't get an English language release either. Probably because the WonderSwan itself never escaped Japan.

This version added a new introduction cutscene to the game showing an evil Emperor leading an army of demons through peaceful villages, harassing the peaceful village folk with his laughing fireballs.

PlayStation
The PlayStation game released two years later one-up'd the WonderSwan version by adding an extra FMV intro cutscene on top of the other new cutscene, this time showing our heroes escaping from the imperial forces. At least I think they're supposed to be our heroes, though they don't exactly look like them. Plus Maria spends the entire scene cowering and squeaking like a... rodent that likes to squeak and it's really annoying.

But hey, at least this one got an English translation.

PlayStation
Meanwhile Leon and Firion get to jump into action and try to fight off the Empire's evil knights! Look at him, he's so eager to race to Maria's defence that he forgot to wear his portrait picture hat.

And then after this there's another pixelled cutscene of them running away from knights, but the original NES game had none of this. Instead it cut right to the chase, or the end of the chase anyway.

My heroic last stand isn't really going well. In my defence I don't exactly know what I'm doing, everything's all in Japanese!

I'm sure this probably isn't the first RPG to ever feature an unwinnable fight, but it must be one of the first to start with one. My poor heroes each got wiped out in a single hit.

Fortunately my team were saved (off camera) by the rebels, led by Princess Hilda. Well three of them were anyway, as Leon has gone missing. Damn, look at those graphics, I wouldn't be surprised if this art was taken straight from Final Fantasy 1.

There's one thing here you'd never see in the first game though: a conversation between party members. These guys have opinions, personality and motivations of their own, plus they actually say things.

You may be thinking, "Hey wait a minute, Firion looks identical to the fighter from FF1." But that's not actually true! In fact if you look really closely you'll notice that his hair has been flipped over on the field sprite and his battle sprite now has white lines on it. Totally different.

PlayStation
Princess Hilda isn't very keen on my team joining the rebellion against the Empire due to us being useless, but she does had a idea of where I could find Leon: back in the city we just escaped from. So now I've got a quest!

I tried selecting 'Memorize' here and it added "Wild Rose" to my list of keywords I can ask people about. Not many people though unfortunately as most NPCs just give me the standard line of semi-helpful text when I chat to them. I got my hopes up for a moment that this might be the first FF game that I can actually ask for directions in.

Crap, I think I just wandered out into Final Fantasy 1 by mistake.

The first thing I should probably do is get some weaponry. Annoyingly there's still no equipment stats displayed, or even a little arrow showing me it's better or worse than what I have already. Also it's a shame only the shield gets an icon, as they would've been a big help in figuring out what I'm looking at here.

Okay this hirogana says 'ka wa no bo u shi', which Google translates as... uh, 'kono prevention'. Or some kind of hat maybe? A few minutes of online research tells me it's a leather hat, which makes sense. See, I'll figure this out yet! Okay, onto the next line...


LATER, AFTER MY SUCCESSFUL SHOPPING TRIP.


Oh damn, I probably should've checked to see what I already had before I went on a spending spree. It turns out my people already had gear, so I just wasted my money. Now I need to go earn some cash so I can afford magic.

Whoa, deja-vu. Despite this being Final Fantasy 2 I'm pretty sure it isn't a direct sequel, but damn this overworld looks familiar. I could believe it was meant to be the same country, it's even got that bridge up on the top right that the King of Coneria had built in honour of my awesomeness. Though this time the water moves, which is nice. Adds a bit more life to it.

The overworld music is far more melancholy than the heroic FF1 overworld theme, but that makes sense seeing as we're the Survivors of Failure rather than the fabled Warriors of Light this time around.

After a few steps I got dragged into the void to fight off some nasty looking giant wasps. The battle system seems pretty much identical to the first game. I get to choose between 'Fight', 'Run', 'Magic' and 'Item' for each of my characters, then I end my turn and watch all the actions get carried out, in whatever order they feel like.

Like in FF1, if an enemy is defeated, characters still waiting to hit it during that round won't automatically target a different enemy instead. So some of the strategy comes from trying to avoid wasting moves.


A BIT OF WANDERING AND A FEW FIGHTS LATER.


This is interesting, it seems that the game doesn't have character levels. Instead a character's individual stats are improved by making use of them in combat. So using a sword a lot will make someone stronger, using magic makes them smarter, and getting hit makes them healthier. Which is kind of dumb as it means I have to allow them to take damage in order to make them tougher, but whatever, I'm sure getting hit will just come naturally to me.

According to this grid of hiragana symbols I'm using to decode the text, that message at the bottom says "Chiseiga Sagatta" which means... 'Terrain drops'? Dammit Google Translate, you're not making any sense!

Ah, a quick look at the stats page reveals what's happened here. See that number next to 'ちせい' used to be 15 but now it's 14, and I'm pretty sure that's her intelligence. Yep, hitting things in this makes you dumber, which is kind of a problem as she was supposed to be my mage.

Well okay, I know a solution to this. All I have to do is never hit things, but there's no defend or skip turn option, so every round I'll have to use magic. Fortunately the game uses an MP pool now instead of each group of spells having a certain number of uses, and casting spells makes my max MP increase, so after a bit of grinding I should theoretically have a big enough tank of mana to last a few battles.

In true Final Fantasy tradition I had to talk to NPCs in town until I found that one that gave me directions to the next village. Then when I reached that village I rested up at the inn to recover health and MP, then went hunting for the next NPC to give me my next set of directions. Fortunately my home city of Fynn is just a couple of bridges away now.

They weren't joking when they said this place had been taken over by the Empire. There are enemy knights on patrol, random monster encounters in the streets, and the shops are all abandoned.The only instruction I've been given is to 'search for Leon', so I guess I'll have to check every empty building anyway. Fortunately the knights are too lazy to actually chase me or acknowledge my existence, so exploring the place isn't much trouble.

Though I can't figure out how to get to that pub. It seems that some idiot has built it on the wrong side of the city wall and forgot to add a back door.


EVENTUALLY.


PlayStation
No sign of Leon, but in the pub basement I found a dying prince who handed me a Ring before passing away. No idea what it does, but it seems like the kind of thing I should tell Princess Hilda about. But first I'm going to raid all his chests.

Then I boldly marched upstairs again and picked a fight with one of the knights in town just to see if I could win. Which was kind of a dumb move as he wiped the floor with my whole squad in three hits and I hadn't saved since the overworld.

Oh that reminds me, unlike in FF1 I can't use the inns to save my game any more, but I can save on the overworld as much as I want without using a tent. Which is cool. Still no save points though.


LATER, BACK AT THE REBEL BASE.


PlayStation
The rebel leaders are far more impressed with my skills now and I've been recruited to do an official mission: to meet with a contact in the town of Salamand and discover a source of mythril ore. I even get to bring the rebellion's most badass white mage to fill up my fourth character slot. Sure he might not be much of a fighter, but he's got a thousand different spells plus he carries his own Canoe. He's carrying it right now in fact, because he's a wizard and he can do things like that.

The canoe got me across a lake blocking my path and now I'm free to carry on with my journey north. At first I thought I'd be able to stroll into town, beat up some pirates, then claim their boat. But sadly the boat is just a ferry to take me to the next town up (if I go inside the town to hire it) and the sailors all seem to be decent blokes so I can't even attack them and take it.

Anyway this town wasn't Salamand, so I carried on up the coast and found another town. That wasn't Salamand either...


MUCH LATER.


I eventually found Salamand in the end, spent my grinding money on some better weapons and then unequipped all my armour. It seems to me that if I get HP for losing health, then I'd actually be better off having lowest defence possible. I've given a few characters cure magic as well now, so I can avoid falling into an FF1-style potion nightmare, where the only way I can heal is potions and I have to buy them one at a time.

I'm in a mine by the way, looking for mythril. It's a bit of a maze, there's treasure chests lying around for no reason, and every few steps I have to fight another group of monsters. Oh, also they've put doors around to add a bit of mystery. One door will lead to the next floor, the rest lead to... nowhere much. Basically just another regular fight, which isn't great when I've got a limited amounts of shots with my mage before I have to run back to town to refill my MP. But I gotta try them all until I find the one that lets me make progress.

PlayStation
Crap, I opened up a perfectly normal average looking chest and inside... was SPIKETOISE. He doesn't look so tough but he's far more powerful than anything else I've faced down here.

My Famicom version crew managed to take him down easy enough because they were massively overpowered due excessive grinding as I tried to increase my max MP to a point where it'd last a whole dungeon. But it seems that the PlayStation version doesn't take away intelligence as you gain strength, so there was no need for Team PS to grind magic. So Team PlayStation were totally unprepared for the wrath of the Spiketoise as it took them apart in a handful of turns. Not even the mighty 'swap' spell that exchanges a character's health and mana with an enemy could save them.


LATER, AT THE END OF THE MINE.


WonderSwan Color
So I carried on through the mines, level by level, until I eventually found the mythril guarded by a boss. Team Famicom was massively overpowered so they steamrolled him, Team PlayStation went on a gruelling training regime after their defeat to Spiketoise and were fairly formidable by this point too.

But Team WonderSwan Color have done no grinding at all. So is it even possible for a player to make progress in this game without hours of stat building? I dunno, but it's definitely possible to beat this guy. Minu's life spell let me resurrect my fallen characters and keep them in the game, while they brought the hurt.

So okay now I have the mythril and I can warp out of the dungeon. But now what? Do I just walk all the way back home now, past all those towns?


LATER, DURING THE LONG WALK BACK HOME.


This is basically the screen I get whenever I try going anywhere on the overworld. Every few steps it's another bloody screen full of wasps or something similar. They're not even a threat to me, they're just annoying because I have to select Maria -> Magic -> Fire -> Target all every single time, then wait for them all to explode.

Actually I have figured out a way to skip my mage's turn without using up MP, an item, or hitting someone and losing intelligence: tell her to run. Sometimes it screws up and the team actually escapes from battle, but that's so rare that it's not even worth worrying about. The game really wants me to sit through every single one of these bloody fights.

PlayStation
Hooray, I made it back to home base at last and gave the rebels their mythril so I get to equip my team with badass weapons. The remakes are even nice enough to give me arrows telling me if they're better than what I have, though the stats are still a secret.

By the way it seems that I can equip any character with any weapon or magic and they'll get better with it over time, no class restrictions, no classes at all in fact. I like the idea, but it's not really implemented all that well. For one thing I have to cast something like 'life' 50 times to level it up even once and I just don't get my people killed that often.

Final Fantasy 2 nes famicom world map globe
Okay, mission two from Princess Hilda: We have to go to Bafsk and destroy the Empire's Dreadnought before it launches. We've achieved exactly one thing for her so we're apparently the only ones tough enough for the job. First though I've got to find the damn place and my map's unmarked.

It took me a while to even figure out how to get this world map to display (and it sure takes a while to turn the map around as well, it must be really taxing the NES processor). It turns out that I was pressing the right button all along, but it only works after you get the ring from the dying soldier in the inn in Fynn. Maybe an NPC somewhere explains this, who knows?


A BILLION RANDOM BATTLES LATER.


Game Boy Advance
Oh no, I arrived in Bafsk and found the secret sewer passage, but I was just too late to stop the Dreadnought from being launched! Also I've met my arch-rival at last: the Dark Knight, agent of the Empire. His identity is a secret, or at least it would've been if the GBA version didn't have portrait pictures in the dialogue boxes.

Yeah, I think I have an idea who this might be. Fortunately he isn't interested in a fight, so we just kind of watch him walk away.

Final Fantasy 2 playstation dreadnought airship cutscene
PlayStation
C'mon guys, the ship's right there, you can still catch it! It's not going to take off until Leon's on board and he only has the slightest headstart! Oh fine, just stand there and watch it take off then, see if I care. Well I guess now we walk all the way back home to rebel HQ then. Again.

This cutscene isn't actually in the Famicom game by the way, I'm sure you'll be shocked to hear.

PlayStation
Well good work team. You totally failed to blow up the dreadnought and now it's bombed the shit out of the rebel towns. So many NPCs dead, so much destruction.

Still, it does look cool.

Game Boy Advance
Disaster! That bastard white mage of mine has left the party to care for the sick king! Now I'm down to a three man team, with a dreadnought to destroy and no idea how to do it. The King seems to think that a man called Cid might know its weakpoint, so I guess now I've got to wander the land, searching for the NPC who knows where Cid is.


EVENTUALLY.


I'm starting to wish I'd counted just how many random encounters it took to get here so I could back up my whining with numbers. Anyway, here he is at last in his badass suit of bright pink armour: the Final Fantasy franchise's very first Cid. He does in fact know how to take down an airship, though he says I'll first need to find some sunfire to blow up the engine.

So I guess I go back to rebel HQ again now then? Alright then.


SEVERAL TEDIOUS RANDOM ENCOUNTERS LATER.


PlayStation
Oh you have got to be shitting me. Where do you think I JUST CAME FROM?

Okay okay fine, I'll go walk all the way back to Cid, then pay for a ride to Kas'ion (wherever that is). All I can say is that this had better be leading to one awesome explosion.

PlayStation
The PlayStation version breaks out the Mode 7 style effects for airship travel. Sadly this is a bit beyond the NES's capabilities.

Right now I'm in Kas'ion, what do I do? I can't seem to open the doors and I can't pick up the sunflame. I'm totally stuck here, with nothing left to try but going back to the towns and talking to NPCs.


LATER.


PlayStation
I decided to go talk to my buddy Josef in the town of Salamand to see if he knew anything about the sunfire and it turns out that he's totally clueless. He's so baffled by the concept that all I get out of him is question marks. Obviously the guy is not going to be any help on this particular quest.

So I hiked all the way back to base and spoke with the ill king. He mentioned that I'll need the Goddess's Bell to get to to the sunfire and the Princess knew just who to talk to about that. Yep it turns out that my old friend Josef in Salamand is the expert on the Goddess Bell and knows just where to find it. How can this man know all about this bloody bell, but not a clue about what it unlocks?

Game Boy Advance
Deep in the icy caves of the north, my team (with Josef tagging along) fought through a maze of unspeakable evil to find the dark secret at its core: beavers. Fortunately Guy can speak beaver apparently (not any other animal languages, just beaver) so we were able to get directions to the Goddess's Bell! Finally something's going right.

Game Boy Advance
And then Josef was crushed to death saving us from an Indiana Jones style boulder trap on the way out by slamming into it with his bare hands, Resident Evil 5 style. Damn man!

So that must be the first party member death in a Final Fantasy game then. It's a bit surprising that it happened as early as FF2 I think. No time to hang around and mope though, I've got a dreadnought to blow up. Just as soon as I get back to civilisation.

Game Boy Advance
Alright, Kas'ion take two. This time I made it past the front door using the Bell and found Prince Gordon waiting inside. Yep, this guy could have just opened the door for me at any time and spared Josef from getting boulder dash'd, but he was too busy moping. He joins the team, but he's pretty useless at the moment so now I have to leave and go hiking back near a town for some intensive training (grinding).

Actually I know a place to the west where higher level enemies spawn, who can cut through Gordon's entire HP in a couple of hits. It's a bit of a walk from here though. The game likes to block off areas of the map with tough enemies as much as it does with physical obstacles, which I think's a fair enough idea, I just wish the run button worked for those times when I accidentally cross that invisible line and find myself facing a battle I can't win.

Anyway this particular maze was a lot like all the others I've done. I'd turn a corner or two, get dragged into a fight, select Fight, Magic -> Fire, Fight, Fight, until the monsters were dead, heal up in the menu as required and then go down the next corridor. Repeat.

I got the sunflame! Yay. But now poor Cid's airship is being chased by the Dreadnought!

Game Boy Advance
Damn that thing's ridiculously huge. You know, this reminds me of a movie somehow. You know, the one where the evil Empire goes snatching up rebel transports with their giant ship commanded by a mysterious Dark Lord who later turned out to be related to one of the heroes because he knows they have the plan to destroy his superweapon.

And I thought Final Fantasy XII was supposed to be the one inspired by Star Wars.

Well I could go off back to rebel HQ to learn what my next move is, but heading straight south from Kas'ion lead me to a chocobo I can ride around the overworld so as far as I'm concerned I've seen all I need to see of the game. It's even playing the proper chocobo theme, well the first part of it at least. I keep waiting for it to change but it never does. Just like this game!


You know, Final Fantasy II isn't actually as bad as I was worried it might be. I've heard so many bad things about the stat levelling and how you need to hit your own characters to get them tough enough to fight bosses, but I've been doing well enough without that. Especially on the GBA version where it seems you can just walk through the game with the button held down and win every fight without looking at the screen. Don't get me wrong, I agree the system is a little... broken, but my main issue with the game is the constant tedious backtracking. When I have to walk past two or three towns back and forth for every step of a quest, then something ain't right.

On the other hand, it's nice to be encouraged to use magic this time around. In Final Fantasy 1 I found myself saving my mage's limited spell uses for tough enemies or boss fights, but in this I was firing off my most powerful magic every other battle and being rewarded for it with more mana. Being able to give the whole team cure magic definitely saves on potions as well. I liked how FF1 just let me get on with things without tying me down with cutscenes, but I thought the story in this worked to the game's benefit. Except for the bit where characters kept telling me to go to places. Plus despite the game art looking near identical to FF1, those two tile tall walls make a surprising amount of difference to the look of the interiors.

I can't actually stand playing this damn game one minute more, but it's got me wanting to try the next game at least. So that's kind of a win for FF2, I suppose.

If you want to talk about Final Fantasy 2, the Final Fantasy series or JRPGs in general, that endless sea of words you just waded through to get down here, or just my humble site in general, feel free to leave a comment!

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