Sunday, August 10, 2008

Final Fantasy II (94%) the Review

FF2 for the Super Nintendo was my introduction to Role Playing Games (RPGs) and, while FF3 is a reputable challenger, it remains the ultimate boss of RPGs.

There is nothing to compare the satisfaction of finding a hidden treasure chest, gaining a level of experience, or inflicting the fabled 9999 damage.

Timing and Circumstances
As the eldest of three brothers I held the controller and encouraged my brothers to compete for the role of "chief adviser". It was a tyrannical system for a one player game. But RPGs don't require fast reflexes. There's no carefully timed jumps or dodging bullets. It's a lot of walking around, talking to people, selecting battle orders from a list, and watching the story play out. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this game with my brothers. It was like a thirty hour movie. We were in a frenzy when we finally reached Golbez -we were even allowed to put the game on pause for the entire duration of dinner (that had never happened before).

I found the story captivating, I couldn't wait to defeat the next boss and watch the plot develop. Later, I would speak with someone who had a similar experience with Final Fantasy X -a game that I thought was terrible. Perhaps my appreciation was in my age. My understanding of cliches was also young. Everything in the game seemed so new and daring.

I've always had respect for composers of video game soundtracks. The prolific Nobuo Uematsu is the only rival to Capcom's Megaman series for creating consistently captivating music. An impressive feat considering game tunes are made with po tentially irritating bleeps and bloops and are played on relentless loop. It was the music of the underground world that made me hold a tape player to the television to record the sound. Of course, the music may mean nothing to someone who has never been there.

I was forever enamo ured with pixel art since admiring the quality of Tellah and Yang's sprite walking on the world map, a simple two frame animation. As video game systems began to strive for photo realism, I never lost my attachment to 16bit images. Like a Chuck Close portrait, a magnified look reveals abstract patterns that transform into breathtaking order as you step away.

There is a twist of betrayal in the game that had my brothers and I announce our shock and disappointment. This was the first game where the central char acter showed any sign of emotional growth. This was also the first video game that I played where characters sacrificed their lives. I'll always remember the twins, Palom and Parom, redeeming their lackluster characters by turning themselves to stone in order to save us. There was a certain dignity in their deaths that made it hard for us to continue ridiculing their outfits and lack of useful spells.

FF2 has a special place in my heart. I hate poetry. But I am impressed at how some classical poets demonstrate their mastery of language by making the strict form of iambic pentameter seem organic. The designers of FF2 responded to the restrictions of the SNES by crafting a work of art within the 16bit walls. It provided me with hours of entertainment and remains one of the few games that I consider emotionally resonant.

As a sidenote, Final Fantasy IV in Japan was released as Final Fantasy II in North America.


Eric Lyman said...

I also played FF2 quite a bit when it first came out. I was about 13 years old. It was also my first (and sadly, one of the only) role playings that I had ever played. One of the things I remember most is being surprise attacked by the trap door monster- he's a tough cookie and once he gets close enough, he just starts ticking your players off one by one!

I'm also a huge fan of the music, and I've got it now as an mp3 album in my itunes library. To anyone else it's pretty terrible, but to us, it brings back so many memories... :)

Nemo Dally said...

Ah yes, good old trap door (http://mikesrpgcenter.com/ffantasy2/bestiary/trapdoor.gif).

I think the most haunting part of the game for me was fighting "Asura". The boss that kept "Cure3"ing itself and hiding behind the "Wall" spell. That battle was such a jump in skill level that I was forced to realize:

It doesn't matter how many EXP points you have... there's always going to be a bigger monster out there in the scary world (map).

I have a collection of a lot of old vgame music. Sometimes I listen to the theme from Capcom's Gunsmoke on loop when I jog.