First of all, apologies for missing my update last week; due to personal reasons, I didn’t quite get around to writing a new column. Fear not, though, because the project lives on! And yes, I am still mired in the depths of Final Fantasy II. My party, in fact, became quite literally mired in the depths, as they spent a great deal of time wandering around in the internal organs of a giant sea creature. I wish I could say that’s the only time in the past two weeks that I’ve encountered the digestive tract of a mythological being in a JRPG format, but it isn’t even that! (How many times does one get to write that sentence in a lifetime? I’m guessing it isn’t many, and that I’ve probably already used my life’s allocation.)
Now that I’ve triumphantly overcome the difficulty spike that has, in the past, prevented me from getting anywhere near finishing FFII, I feel that I’m able to step back a bit, put aside my self-imposed leveling paranoia, and take a slightly more objective look at whether or not this is a game worth playing—a “good” game.
There are negative factors to be considered, of course. The difficulty spike is one, as is the “bash your party in the face until they get BETTER at getting hit in the face” style of character progression, which I’ve previously discussed at length. However, there are also positives, which I’d virtually ignored toward the beginning of my playthrough, but may in fact contribute to why some people actually seem to like this title. The characters you control throughout the course of the story, unlike those in FFI, have personalities, back stories, and motivations beyond “MUST SAVE WORLD NOW BECAUSE AM CHOSEN ONE.” That particular motivation plays into things a bit, of course (as it does in so many JRPGs and other games in general), but there’s quite a bit more to it than that. Characters die. Important characters die, and their deaths actually manage to be affecting and meaningful (well, sometimes, anyway). This is something we can often take for granted in more modern games, but in this period, in this genre? It was rarely a concern.
Then there are the mechanics and factors that could potentially be considered positives OR negatives, depending on the individual player’s outlook. For example, as I discussed in my last update, guest characters feature heavily in FFII, and while I don’t particularly like how that’s implemented, someone else might enjoy the variety offered by the different party combinations. The same goes for the backtrack-or-marathon style of dungeon progression that I talked about a few weeks ago, and even the leveling system that I’ve bashed so heavily over the course of the game and these columns.
So, is FFII worth playing? I’m still not sure. When making the decision to play or not to play, I think the primary thing that I would note would be that it is, above perhaps all else, a very dated game. Most of us who grew up playing games decades ago have likely noticed (if we’ve ever gone back to check) that they could be hard back then. This isn’t to say that they can’t be now (DEMON’S SOULS!), but it seems that the proportion of games that are more forgiving or even, perhaps, attempt to hold your virtual hand just a little too much has increased markedly since the days when FFII was shiny and new.
This was driven home for me twice during the last two weeks; once was when I progressed steadily and without much danger into a dungeon for about an hour, and then lost everything to a random encounter that wiped out my entire party. I didn’t even see it coming. The other occasion was my own fault, but may speak to some things we have learned to take for granted in more modern games. Again, I was working my way through a dungeon, but this time, I made it all the way through, collected all of the loot I found scattered throughout the corridors (and on the bodies of my foes), and smashed the boss who was waiting for me at the end. This all happened over the course of perhaps two hours. Then, I teleported out of the dungeon, breathed a sigh of relief, and turned off my Vita. Without saving.
I can say for certain that I did not consciously think, as I quit the game, anything like “thank goodness that’s been auto-saved to my system so that I can continue playing later!” If anything, my thoughts were more along the lines of “okay, that’s over. I’ll come back to this tomorrow.” If I were currently more attuned to the mentality of the game’s era, though, would I have made this mistake? Did the fact that most of the games I play now incorporate automatic checkpoints unconsciously influence my actions, subtly telling me that it was okay not to bother with a manual save? I don’t know, honestly. I probably just messed up, but maybe not…
I think, after skipping ahead a bit in the walkthrough I’ve been using, that I’m getting to be within striking distance of finishing FFII, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to do that this week. I won’t promise anything, as I’ve recently discovered the joys of Redbox and have just picked up Tomb Raider, but I’ll give it my best. I’m sure no one would object to me moving off of this game, anyway.
WEEKS 8-9 PROGRESS: 27 hours 9 minutes into Final Fantasy II (although I DID have to go through two dungeons in their entirety twice, so maybe tack on an extra three hours to that!)