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When Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy III were brought over stateside years after their initial releases, they were paraded as Japanese only Final Fantasy entries that were being brought over to the U.S. Finally, we would see the full glory of the entries that we missed! For some odd reason, when Final Fantasy II was remade and bundled with a remake of the original, its coming heralded considerably less fanfare. Upon further examination, the reasoning was quite apparent: it is a terrible game, forcing players to attack themselves in order to increase their stats and bombarding them with evil deities that could melt faces at the beginning of the game if they dared to accidentally wander too far. It wasn't even worth the half price of $15 when it was released in Final Fantasy Origins and Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls. However, Square Enix has deemed it fit to now release it on UMD and charge thier customers the full $30 admission fee for this disaster of a game for the 20 year anniversary of the franchise.
Am I the only one who sees a potential problem here? Apparently, Square Enix did also, so they added a little more than the usual superfluous bonus dungeon hastily tacked on.
Final Fantasy II has a story that is at least twice as good as the original Final Fantasy's, but considering that the original had a story of just finding some crystals to save the world, that's not saying too much. To be fair, I'm certain a narrative about an evil empire with four brave warriors standing against it was a wonderfully complex story back in the days of controllers with two buttons, no matter how much you try to dress it up (as Square Enix has done so here with extraneous dialogue and slightly modified character portraits where eyebrows move in accordance to their emotions) it's not exactly the most riveting of plots by today's standards. Still, judging a 1988 game's story by today's standards hardly seems right.
The graphics, like Final Fantasy Anniversary have been completely redone for the PSP, so it features larger, updated sprites that are quite detailed and colorful. In addition to this, the spells and effects have gotten complete makeovers as well, and they look quite breathtaking. If nothing else, the remake this time makes the previous incarnations of the game look washed out and drab. Similarly, the music has also been remixed and is quite pleasing to listen to, despite the fact that the soundtrack's composition is, by itself, not that great.
The place where Final Fantasy II Anniversary fails to meet expectations, however, is the same place where every one of its other incarnations has fallen short: the gameplay. Final Fantasy II Anniversary has all the norms of a traditional Final Fantasy battle system: turn based combat, spells and equipment, pretty much everything is about the same as it was in Final Fantasy - except for the growth system. If you're unfamiliar with the system, it encompasses a bizarre form of stat growth wherein actions in battle affect what stats you gain. On paper, it may not sound like a terrible idea, but in execution, or at least, Final Fantasy II's execution of it, horrific consequences are produced. The game increases each player's stats according to the player's choices in and out of battle. For example, if a character uses a sword and shield and casts white magic every so often, s/he'll be quite adept at swordsplay and can be competent enough in healing when in a pinch. The problem with this system, however, is that the amount of battling required to gain enough stats just to progress is rather daunting, not to mention that in order to gain HP, the characters have to take damage. As mentioned previously, however, normal gameplay provides stat growths so minimal that stat increases require a huge amount of time in order to build up. So what's the best solution? You guessed it - players will have to stand there in battle and let their combatants beat the ever-loving snot out of each other. The new remake for the PSP is more forgiving in this area than its predecessors were - every few battles your characters will gain a small amount of HP automatically- but all this means is that you'll spend less time smacking yourself around in battles.
The game itself is short - around 15 to 20 hours without much hurrying. The extra dungeons brought over from the Gameboy Advance version as well as the new one included for the PSP version add about 5 to 10 hours playing time, if the initial 20 hour torture isn't quite enough for some people. The game has also been scaled down in terms of difficulty compared to its previous releases, so the game has been brought down from "unplayable" status to just "frustrating."
Perhaps in the course of the nearly 30 hour romp I had through Final Fantasy II, I missed some mystical item that magically makes the game fun and so I was never able to actually appreciate the full worth of the game. But the possibility of anything of the sort is slightly below my chances of winning the lottery, so here's the bottom line: this game, despite its subtly added improvements and extras, is only barely more playable than its previous remakes. This coupled with the fact that Square Enix is now asking the full $30 entry fee to play a game that was offered for half that price (which it wasn't worth almost three years ago) makes the injury added to the insult all the more apparent. In sum: thanks for nothing, Square Enix.