In an awfully nice way of putting it, Final Fantasy II has never been much of a series favorite. But at least in the past it was packaged with its superior predecessor – most recently 2004’s Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls for the GBA. With that option staring you in the face, why would anyone with a GBA or DS (roughly 98% of the Earth’s population, at last count) spring $30 for this 20th anniversary edition PSP stand-alone? Well, they’re not too overwhelming, but there are a few reasons.
Most of all, it looks fantastic. The completely re-done character and background art shown through the clarity of the PSP screen makes for some serious 2D heaven. On top of that, the in-game character headshots are based on Yoshitaka Amano’s always stunning original illustrations. The music is also good enough that you’ll want to use headphones whenever you can. So, in terms of presentation, this ranks as one of the best FF re-makes to date.
The gameplay is a slightly different story. In the past, what’s held II back in the eyes of most Final Fantasy fans is the less than spectacular experience system, which remains more or less intact. See, you only level up commands that are directly used in combat, while your HP is built up when you’re exposed to enemy attack. What that means is you’ll often have to avoid using your best attacks in favor of less effective ones that will become completely useless if totally neglected. It sounds intuitive on paper, but just winds up being a huge chore. But at least it’s not as much of an obstacle now that the game is more generous in doling out the level advancements.
Another knock against the original was its punishing difficulty, but to their credit Square Enix has made an effort to ease things up… in places. The difficulty can get pretty sporadic, with chunks of the game fishtailing between robotically simple and all-out frustrating. A lot of that’s because dungeon critters tend to be a whole lot more menacing than the world map pushovers you spend more time fighting, and are therefore more influential on your attributes. (See how that flawed experience system comes back to haunt you in all these fun ways?) But when the difficulty does settle into a comfortable middle ground, the game is pretty enjoyable, with a decent story to keep you chugging along.
If you’re a serious fan of Final Fantasy and have somehow yet to play the second installment, this is a fairly solid re-make that will at least bolster your appreciation for the series’ roots. Casual fans who don’t want to invest $30 in a history lesson will find much more value in the Dawn of Souls compilation. And as for anyone else, well, they do make RPGs these days that include modern features like the ability to actually move diagonally.