So, yeah, there was a discussion a little while ago on a group I follow on Facebook regarding conventions in video gaming that led to an article I posted a little while ago. What brought on that discussion was talk of a little game that goes by the name of Final Fantasy II – not the version that was sold here in the North America that actually goes by Final Fantasy IV in Japan at the time of release and in all re-releases, but the originally only sold in Japan version for the NES that saw a few re-releases itself – and the person who was talking about the game was not really impressed with the fact that you could not grind out levels to overpower yourself through a portion of the game. While this has always been the most conventional way to do a RPG, especially in Japan, Squaresoft really broke the mold when they made Final Fantasy II and I thought that I’d talk a little about it.
When I hit that magnificent first wave of emulation in my early high school days, I was playing all kinds of new games that had never been released on this side of the ocean. Final Fantasy II was among one of my favorites for one simple fact, something Final Fantasy VIII could have easily keyed in on and missed entirely: the game scaled and progressed based on how skilled you were. You couldn’t just sit in an area with trash fights to earn money and cheap experience until you could equip yourself and plow through a good majority of the game like that. No, you had to think: you leveled up certain attributes about yourself through how much they were used. If you wanted a character or a party with a high physical defense, for example, you needed to have everyone get hit with physical attacks and the skill went up based on how hard and how often you were hit. Same thing went for each individual spell, each weapon type, each stat, and so on: you really had complete control over how to tailor your characters and how well you did was intrinsically tied to how good you were at role playing games and how good you were at Final Fantasy. It was a game that tried to reward those who paid attention and those who were skilled. However, though, this game still gets a lot of crap because it’s too different – even though it was the second game in the franchise – and because it was too hard – a complaint often heard by those who “don’t get it” or simply suck at the game.
Another thing that I grew to love this game for was the fact that it began to expand on its class system by making classes that were unique to each character and really expand on the abilities available to each character based on their classes. You really had a good idea of what each character brought to the table and what you needed to focus on, so long as you were paying attention. While you didn’t really get the freedom to pick and choose your classes like you did in the first game, you still had enough freedom to develop your main party, essentially, in any way you wanted so you could build them like you would certain classes. Considering this was, pretty much, my third or fourth Final Fantasy title that I’d ever played, and I had not been introduced to the Job System quite yet – I had not played Final Fantasy III at the time and I don’t think I quite had my hands on Final Fantasy V yet – this feature was something incredibly fun for me as it was an RPG that gave me direct control over the stats and formation of the party.
Of course, we can’t forget that this was the first title in the franchise with the kind of epic story and character development we’ve grown to love – or hate, depending on what kind of fan you are, I guess – and the story is something I don’t think we’ve seen since, in quite the same way. There’s a story of royal intrigue here that starts to bleed into a kind of allegory for good and evil that’s taken in a more direct manner than a lot of games that came out after: the villain builds an empire, basically, to conquer the world and finds that the world is simply not enough and sets out to conquer both Heaven and Hell in the afterlife. While the emperor’s complete goals aren’t quite revealed in full until re-releases came out – it was originally plotted that Emperor Mateus simply sought to rule Hell – the plot for this game is extremely well-written for its time and stands as intriguing even today as most villains and protagonists in games in the franchise’s future aren’t quite written the same way.
I know I’ve been doing this a lot lately and I apologize somewhat – not everyone’s a fan of the man – but look at the above image; it wasn’t until I did a little research for this article that I found a few comparisons of Emperor Mateus to David Bowie; in particular, his role in Labyrinth as the Goblin King. It’s not a fluke, either, as the artist behind the original art of Emperor Mateus is quite familiar with David Bowie. Check out the following image:
I don’t know when these pieces were made but it’s very clear Amano was aware of the man and I can only assume he was a fan. It’s great when you find yourself discovering things like this about the games you love when you come back and revisit them.
That being said, there were a few later revisits to the game in the form of a remake of the game for the Wonderswan Color – or the Gameboy Advance, in North America – and a quasi-sequel in the form of Dawn of Souls, which packed in the first two games of the series and a follow-up to the second called Soul of Rebirth, expanding on the quest of those who died in Final Fantasy II to dethrone the Emperor in the afterlife from Heaven. That release later got another revisit on the PSP and, in that form, stands as one of the better RPGs of all time in my books.
What do you guys think? I really loved this game and I still do.