The next review of the Pixel Remasters from the Final Fantasy franchise is here, and the game is much better than I remembered.
Title: Final Fantasy II – Pixel Remaster
Developer: Square Enix
System: iOS, Android, and Steam
Release Date: July 28, 2021 in this form. The original release was December 17, 1988.
Game Type: JRPG
An evil Emperor is determined to take over the world, and a group of youths join the Rebellion to stop him.
This probably has the strongest story of the first three games, originally released for the NES. It’s a dark story, too, long before Final Fantasy VI came out. Sacrifice and loss are a big part of it, from Maria’s missing brother, to the deaths of 6 significant characters (4 of whom are playable characters), to unleashing more powerful monsters across the entire world by breaking the seal on the most powerful magic in the game. Actions have consequences. Even the ending isn’t completely happy.
It can be extremely difficult to get your character skills to the highest level, and exceptionally difficult to win the final battle if you don’t.
Words on the Levelling System
The character development system here is unique within the franchise. Any character can equip any gear and learn any spell at any time. If you want a character to be your black mage, use them like a black mage, and their stats and skills will develop that way. In other entries in the franchise, you’ll have multiple fire spells, for example. (Fire, Fira, Firaga, Firaja, etc.) Here, there is only “Fire”, and it gets stronger as you use it. Each spell can be upgraded to level 16, as can skills with each weapon. The challenge is that the in-game tutorials intentionally leave out key details for the player to learn on their own. Here’s what I’ve figured out in that regard.
Every enemy has a rank, visible in the Bestiary after you defeat at least one of them. The ranks range from 1-7, and the lower the rank, the harder it is to get better when facing them. In other words, experience is not tracked by a point system, where a player can spend hours destroying the easiest monsters on the map to reach the highest level. Instead, you can reach the point where you have so much skill that there is nothing you can “learn” from defeating the easiest monsters on the map, and you have to face greater challenges to move forward. You also learn more from longer battles; the more you use your sword in a fight, the better you are with a sword in a fight. When you reach the point where everything dies in one hit, you get stuck, and can’t improve.
This was my second time finishing the game, and my first finishing honestly. I’ve tried to play it several times, but the rank system was unknown to me. I also admit I was playing with emulators while overseas with poor fan translations the first time I finished it, and I ended up using Game Genie-style emulator features to upgrade my characters. This time, it was all natural for iOS, and also entirely legal. I obtained every achievment, including those regarding upgrading magic and weapons to level 16. For those who want to give it a shot, here is what worked for me:
- Start grinding around the first town until your attack skills don’t seem to be improving much anymore.
- Once you reach the Semitt Falls cave, in basements 4 and 5 you’ll encounter Green Slimes. They are the first rank 2 monsters you’ll encounter. They are vulnerable to magic, especially fire and ice magic, but have extremely high defense and can attack in groups of up to 6. After completing the dungeon the first time, come back and grind here, defeating them with physical attacks, not magic. That will get your weapon skills up again.
- Head to the city of Fynn. The first time through, talking to the Captains was guaranteed death, but if you’ve been maxing out your physical and magic attacks, you can now survive a fight. These captains are rank 5. Grind here for a while, and your physical skills will climb again. When you can handle more than one rank 5 creature at a time, go to Fynn Castle and pace back and forth on the stairs. I was able to get my entire party up to level 13 attacks skills this way, and then I stalled.
- In the final dungeon, STILL at level 13 attack skills, I finally found an effective approach. I put a longsword in each of Firion’s hands. (Yes, that’s a terrible sword, available from the start of the game. That’s the point.) When I encounted a party of four Beast Demons, I had Firion attack, and only Firion attacked. The rest of the party healed and defended. Because Firion had to attack so many times, and the number of attacks in a single battle matters, I got him up to level 16 in about 15 minutes. It took one battle per level, and the battles were long. I did NOT risk this against Coerls, Death Riders, or anything else that can kill in one hit.
- In the final battle, with Firion at level 16 with Masamune in hand, he would average about 900 damage per round against the Emperor. Guy, on the other hand, had the strongest axe in the game at skill level 12, and was doing about 60 damage per round. The Emperor has 15,000 HP and can steal 3000-6000 per round from your party, making that a long fight. Had I not won the first time (barely), I’d have come back after getting the rest of the party up to level 16 attack skills the same way and tried again, possibly discarding shields to have a weapon in each hand.
This gets points for originality. Yeah, it’s Campbell’s hero’s journey, but this game has mechanics unlike anything that came before or after in the franchise. I give it 5 out of 6.
The story is solid. I’ve long put it in the top stories in the franchise (in second place, behind Final Fantasy IV and ahead of Final Fantasy X) and it only improves with this translation. I particularly like the avoidance of cliche with the character who defects to the evil side: there’s no mind control, no spell, no supernatural influence of any kind. The person was just tempted by the power available. For the capacity of a NES cartridge, this is deep. I give it 6 out of 6.
The graphics are in the style of the old consoles, but with today’s resolution, as with the other Pixel Remasters. I give it 4 out of 6.
The sound probably shows the most improvement with the remaster, but it’s still in the old style. I give it 4 out of 6.
The playability seems much higher now than it did in previous incarnations. (After the emulator, I bought and played this for PlayStation in Final Fantasy Origins, the Game Boy Advance version, and the original iOS release.) This is the first time I noticed Monster Rank as a stat in the bestiary, and the first time I’ve explored what it might mean. Understanding that element has been a huge asset for further enjoyment of the title. The tap mover is also a nice option on mobile, although it’s different than the tap mover in the Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster. In this game, the tap mover will find secret passages, unlike the one in FFIV. There were times I tapped on a treasure chest, expecting to walk half way across the dungeon floor in multiple taps, but instead one tap took me through a wall and I opened the chest immediately. The fact that the map also indicates how many treasure chests and items are available in that location is also a major asset to improving playability for those of us who hunt achievements. (Heads up for a subtle missable: there are 8 treasure chests in the city of Fynn that are hard to find. After you are told about the cyclone, but BEFORE you go through it, talk to Paul and provide the “Cyclone” key word. He’ll give you the stuff, and it’s good stuff. I admit I needed a walk through for that achievment because of those last 8 chests.) I give it 5 out of 6.
The immersion is all story and character driven, and it works well. I give it 5 out of 6.
Overall, this is a much better game than I remembered, and much better than its reputation. Had the in-game tutorial included more details about monster rank, this would have been far more enjoyable for pretty much everyone. I give it 4 out of 6.
In total, Final Fantasy II Pixel Remaster receives 33 out of 42.
The Next Review
This is the third review of the six Pixel Remaster games we can expect. The first five are already out, and Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster is due out in February 2022. My favourite game of all time is Final Fantasy V, so I intend to save that one for last. Thus, I’ll start Final Fantasy III Pixel Remaster next. If I finish that before FFVI comes out, I might play and review Proven: A Math RPG in between, since I just picked it up dirt cheap on the Steam sale.