This Review: PlayStation Portable (2007)
Game Length: 25-30 hours
Critic Rating: 63% aggregateThe aggregate critic rating is based on independent review scores from several other websites.
Story, Setting & Characters — 6/10
The story in Final Fantasy II is leaps and bounds ahead of the fairly simplistic narrative of the first game, and while fairly thin by today’s standards, it’s still moderately salvageable. The game begins with four youths — Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon — fleeing from their home city of Fynn, which is under siege from the forces of the evil Palamecian Empire. Left for dead after an ambush, three of the survivors are rescued by rebel forces and brought back from the brink of death, while Leon is nowhere to be found.
The trio joins forces with the rebel army and begins a quest across the world to acquire magical artifacts and equipment to battle the Emperor’s forces and restore peace to the war-ravaged world. It’s pretty standard magical-fantasy RPG faire, though was a great deal more original when the NES original of the game was released, compared to today with a similar plot being re-used ad nauseum by less inspired games.
The world’s setting is fairly generic high-fantasy with the unsurprising twist of the Empire being more technologically advanced than the rest of the kingdoms. While fairly varied, the game world is really nothing to write home about, nor are the characters who tend to be little more than set-pieces who barely (if at all) change throughout the course of the game.
Graphics, Look & Feel — 7/10
One of the stronger points of the game are the graphics — the PSP version of the game looks fantastic, with well-detailed and colourful characters, varied and attractive locations, and overall a top-notch job on updating the look and feel of the original to something more modern and palatable. The enemy sprites in battles are similarly excellent; large, colourful and well-made art that really brings the game world to life.
Unfortunately, while the art assets themselves are stellar, there are a few points which bring this score down significantly. First and foremost, the overworld map looks terrible. While the graphics may be solid, the world is simply far larger than it reasonably needs to be, consisting almost entirely of pointlessly empty wilderness with few variations. Similarly, dungeon layouts are uninspired and often fairly predictable in their design, and you’ll be facing recolours of the same enemy sprites over and over again — this can be forgiven to an extent, given that it’s a remake of a NES game, but that doesn’t excuse the poor use of such fantastic art.
The major exceptions to this rule are two of the last areas in the game — the Jade Passage and Pandemoneum, the latter of which especially is a visual treat and a stunningly bizarre experience.
Sound & Music — 8/10
While somewhat of a mixed bag, the musical score of Final Fantasy II is largely pretty solid, as one would expect from a Final Fantasy title. Some of the tracks from the small soundtrack are fairly mediocre and forgettable, while others — such as Castle Pandemoneum — are every bit as epic and inspired as one could hope for. For the most part, though, it’s about on par with what anyone would expect from an early Final Fantasy — above-average, but not quite up to the sheer epic levels that later games in the series achieved.
The sound effects in the game are purely adequate and, honestly, entirely forgettable in their adequacy. They do the job well enough and there’s no real complaints to be had, but it’s hard to think of any particular praise to offer.
Content & Sidequests — 5/10
I’m sorry to say, but disappointment is the name of the game when it comes to the actual content of Final Fantasy II. The huge game world is largely barren and populated only by a handful of towns, castles and caves, and the gameplay consists almost entirely of visiting a town, talking to some people, then delving into a nearby dungeon to collect an item. Rinse, lather, repeat — it’s the very core of JRPG gameplay with none of the extra fluff that makes the experience worthwhile, and after exploring yet another maze-like dungeon filled with the exact same kind of dead-ends and trap-rooms, it all starts to blur together into a tedious mess.
Side-quest content does exist for the PSP version, though it’s barely worth the effort — a few optional dungeons and the like, which offer exactly nothing special compared to the already boring experience of the existing storyline dungeons.
I hope you enjoy dungeons, because that’s pretty much all this game is about.
Gameplay & Pacing — 7/10
A thoroughly mediocre score for a thoroughly unremarkable experience — the gameplay of Final Fantasy II is competent enough, though largely lacking in depth and variety. It’s a fairly standard side-view, party-based battle system that any RPG aficionado will have seen a hundred times before. Your heroes can equip a variety of armour and weapons — some of which offers some tangible benefit beyond its stats, but for the most part, there’s little of interest beyond Generic Sword A being slightly stronger than Generic Axe B.
One curiosity about the game is the fact that there are no levels. Instead, characters improve their stats by doing — casting spells will increase a character’s intellect and mana pool, fighting in melee combat will increase strength, being hit by enemies will boost agility and hit points, and so on. It’s a much-maligned system that many find annoying and unwanted, but I found it to be quite flexible and easy to use, albeit uninteresting. Despite their initial allocation of stats, any of your heroes can be trained to perform just about any role, but this results in a muddy mess of homogeneity.
Moreover, the lack of predefined classes means that nobody has any interesting special abilities — anyone can cast a spell if they want, but there’s no Steal, there’s no Jump, nor any other special ability you may come to expect from a Final Fantasy title.
Overall Experience — 6/10
The best way to describe Final Fantasy II would be like a Fabergé egg; it’s pretty enough on the outside, but there’s no real substance or depth to it. While it’s interesting from a purely historical perspective, and entirely playable for those of us crazy enough to want to complete all of the main-series Final Fantasy games, there’s just really nothing here that I’d actually recommend to anyone.
The story is thin and largely uncompelling, the characters are set pieces at best (convenient tools at worst), the gameplay is thoroughly stale and medicocre, the gameplay mechanics are easily broken and abused (not to mention atrociously poorly-balanced), and I think I’ve laid into this game quite enough already and it’s time to stop beating the dead horse and agree with what most other people on the internet tend to say — that Final Fantasy II is one of the worst, if not the weakest entry in the series, and of interest only to die-hard fans and completionists.