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Final Fantasy II

For: PSP   Also on: Mobile

But how good is it in reality?

Product: Final Fantasy II | Developer: In-house | Publisher: Square Enix | Format: PSP | Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
by Ed Fear
Final Fantasy II PSP, thumbnail 1
It's a common dilemma for many of us with elderly relatives – what do you do when they say something, um, politically incorrect? On the one hand, today's world is so different from the one that they grew up with that it's almost understandable that they can't keep up with the times. But on the other, living in modern society brings with it certain responsibilities. Which, somewhat tortuously, is a principle that can be applied to remakes of older games. No, really – bear with us.

But the first thing that will strike players here is the visuals. Like its PSP predecessor, this version of Final Fantasy II is easily one of the most impressive displays of 2D game art ever seen. The super high-res PSP screen allows the smallest detail or slightest highlight to be subtly and yet noticeably brought to light. In fact, it's enough to make you bemoan that such a screen is often only used for blurry, sludgy 3D when it has this much potential.

The graphics, however awe-inspiring, are merely there as a justification for remaking an RPG already available on five other platforms, though. What really makes Final Fantasy II interesting is its diversion from not only its predecessors but also its successors by totally doing away with the level-based advancement system. Sure, the game still largely consists of running around dungeons and towns, randomly getting into fights with oddly polite monsters that insist on taking turns in combat – but rather than earning points to level up, characters' individual attributes increase depending on the actions you take in battle.

If that doesn't make sense, it only requires a simple example to explain. If your character attacks often with a sword, his or her sword skill will increase. If they take a massive hit from a monster, their stamina will increase. If you finish a battle with very few hit points left, that character's total hit points will increase. The more you use a spell, the more powerful it gets.

In this way, rather than the progression of your characters being entirely determined by the game's designers, the party members here are yours to shape into the warriors you want them to be. It also means that, rather than each battle counting towards a big 'level up' where several of your character's attributes will be improved, every single battle now has the potential to contribute to the advancement of your party. It's a very empowering mechanic, and it's surprising that it was only when massively multiplayer online games emerged that it became more popular.

And yet, sadly, underneath the refreshing mechanics and polished facade, in a sense, games like Final Fantasy II prove that cosmetic remakes of old games can be misguided at best, stupid at worst. The fact is that games have grown up significantly in the last 20 years, and only in the past months has the importance of fairness and accessibility really lit the way for the games industry's future.

There's nothing wrong with old-fashioned mechanics, but wrapping them in ridiculous difficulty levels and what can feel like a deliberate dislike for the player is a baffling concept in this day and age. At times, that's how playing Final Fantasy II feels. For every innovation it pioneered back then – and, as a slight damnation of the JRPG genre, those innovations still feel fresh to this day – it takes away with a difficulty curve that features more ridiculous peaks than an average episode of Hollyoaks.

How can we criticise Final Fantasy II for not predicting the future? We can't. And we aren't. But re-releasing the game as a graphical update is little more than deceit by omission, because only updating appearances is a disservice to players.

Sure, there are some new dungeons and a few pre-rendered movies, but FF2 puts forward a strong argument that remakes shouldn't be about adding content, but instead about reworking the existing content and appraising it in the context of the contemporary market. And yet, being mean about Final Fantasy II isn't easy. The game shows astonishing foresight, and acutely identifies the lack of story in the original Final Fantasy as an area for improvement, and at least tries to give a motive skeleton to structure the adventure around.

But when all's said and done, this PSP remake is a real missed opportunity to bring a classic kicking and screaming into the modern age. Had equal amount been put into modernising the game's fairness and difficulty level as has been put into graphical polish, Final Fantasy II could have been an RPG to challenge even the most modern of Japanese role-playing games. But as it is, not unlike like your granny's inappropriate comments about immigrants, it's simply a reminder of how far things have progressed these past few decades.
Final Fantasy II
Reviewer photo
Ed Fear | 19 March 2008
Unquestionably visually and aurally stunning, but in the end Final Fantasy II manages to somehow be simultaneously forward-thinking and painfully anachronistic
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