While the game was the second numbered Final Fantasy when it was released in North America back in 1991, it's actually the fourth entry in the series due to the second and third 8-bit releases remaining in Japan at the time. It marked the series debut on Nintendo's 16-bit console and added quite a few new gameplay elements to the mix, namely Square's new Active-Time Battle system, that would greatly increase the game's playability and sense of strategy. Over the years. the game has seen re-releases and remakes on many of the more modern game consoles, including a release on the Nintendo DS system under its correct numerical name Final Fantasy IV, but it's this original Super Nintendo release that still holds a special place in many RPG fans' hearts. So how exactly does this classic hold up?
The gameplay in Final Fantasy II never strays too far from the usual core concepts used in many of the earlier console RPGs of the time period. Most of your travels will take you across a world map where you'll encounter numerous random enemy battles along the way. These become a very integral part of the game as you need them in order to earn money and gain experience for your characters so that they can level up and become more powerful. You'll also spend a lot of time speaking to the many townspeople throughout the game gaining valuable insight as to what your next move in the game will ultimately be. Of course you'll also be able to purchase better armor, weapons, and specialty items in these towns as well.
One interesting new touch in Final Fantasy II is the Active-Time Battle system. This basically allows the fights to play out in real time, but forcing your characters to wait a brief period of time in between battle selections. It also makes combating enemies a bit trickier as some enemies can only be successfully attacked at specific intervals of time throughout the battle. This means there will be times when you need to back off of your attacks. This does, however, provide a good opportunity to manage your party and perform any restorations or healing that might be needed at the time. Toss in the ability to now control five characters in your party instead of the previously available four, and what you have is a much more well-rounded and strategic battle system altogether.
Playing Final Fantasy II is made increasingly more enjoyable due to its smooth and intuitive control scheme. Controlling characters and selecting menu commands is fast and easy and even purchasing, selling, and upgrading items in the game is quite simple to do, even in a pinch. It's clear from playing the game that Square wanted to tighten things up and it really makes an already playable game that much easier to navigate and control. The game's overall progression speed might be a bit slow by today's standards, but it remains a very playable classic RPG experience for those willing to invest the time in it.
Final Fantasy II might not have quite the visual flair of its sequel, but it's still a nice step up from the 8-bit releases. The areas in the game are all quite varied and some show a surprising amount of detail in their construction and vivid color schemes. The enemies you take on in battle are all very detailed and well-drawn, albeit a bit stiff from a lack of any type of movement, and the menus are well presented and very clear and legible to read. And much like many other Super Nintendo releases, there's some good old Mode 7 scaling and rotation tossed in to further liven things up a bit from time to time.
When it comes to RPG soundtracks, few can hold a candle to the majesty of the great Square. Nobuo Uematsu, who's composed some of the greatest soundtracks in video game history, did a perfect job of conveying the many moods and themes taking place throughout the game using the often moody soundtrack tunes strung throughout the game. It's a classic example of putting in the extra time and effort to get the job done right and it ends up paying big dividends in the finished musical product. There's a reason it's become a big seller in the game soundtrack market and it won't take you long to find out why that is.
Yes, Final Fantasy II is beginning to show its age, which is understandable given that the game is approaching 20 years old, not to mention the fact that console RPGs have come a long way in that time. There's still something quite charming and engaging about the classic, a testament to its staying power, and any RPG fan who might have missed out on this legendary title need only give the game a try to see what all the fuss is about. At only 800 Wii Points, you're getting a lot of RPG bang for your buck, not to mention one of the all-time great role-playing games of our time.