The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy II, part 5

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

Despite the fact that Firion and the Attractions failed to pick up any allies, the rebel army presses forward with an assault on Fynn.  This is… well… it’s the end of the war, right?  Our goal here isn’t to now conquer the nation that invaded us as a result of some retaliatory principle, right?

Oh, who am I kidding.  The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil men is for good men to do nothing, so we’d better keep running this resistance force like an army until we’ve wiped everyone out.  I guess.

Anyhow, Hilda and Gordon have come up with a cunning plan to retake the castle.  First, the troops will distract the Empire’s troops, because a disciplined military unit is going to be adequately distracted by an ill-equipped resistance band.  Then, Firion and the E Street Band will go into the castle and kill the person in charge of the castle.  This will result in victory, because it’s not like the numerically superior force will stick around when the commander is gone.

I realize that I’m being pretty hard on the game’s plot, but honestly, I don’t have much else to work with. What am I going to do, rant about the mechanics again?  That horse is well and truly dead, I have no interest in flogging it further.

What this plan means in practice is that your team heads to Castle Fynn, walks up several flights of stairs, and then you fight an easy boss even by the ridiculously low standards already established by the game up to this point.  Also Leila shows up again for no adequately explained reason, but I’m glad to see her all the same, since I found her fun.

Retaking the castle leads to someone finally remembering that Minwu went out to retrieve a scroll and never came back, and rather than assuming he’s just stepped out for a smoke to dodge responsibility, the princess would like him found.  More accurately, you need to go where he went.  So it’s off to Mysidia, once you retrieve the White Mask from a hidden basement that Hilda doesn’t know how to access.

Apparently forgetting pertinent information regarding important artifacts is just a cottage industry in this world.

Dungeon on the lowest level of the castle, derpy derp, I have a mask.  Now it’s time to find Mysidia, which the game helpfully points to in no fashion whatsoever.  Mercifully, it’s also pretty much the last town on the map that hasn’t been visited, so it’s relatively easy to spot.  When the team arrives at the town, I’m quite happy, because the town includes stuff to finally spend money on!  Including equipment and the Holy spell!

Unfortunately, this is an opportune time to note a problem with the game’s mechanics that I hadn’t noted before.  See, at this point Holy is virtually useless unless you take the time to march around leveling it up, because it starts at level 1 unlike your weapon skills and attack spells which have been rising over the course of the game.  Raising spells requires you to use them over and over, and in many cases that’s not only impractical but actively detrimental to your future encounters.

Think about it: by the time you get to Mysidia, even if you haven’t been abusing the game mechanics relentlessly, your weapons are probably around level 8-9, and your spells aren’t far behind.  You can use them to wipe out encounters in a round or two.  In order to make Holy useful, you would need to go through a whole bunch of battles which you make intentionally harder on yourself by only using Holy, stretching out every fight.

The designers didn’t want you to just grind endlessly, but then they created a game which can only be played through endless grinding.

But let’s move on.  Mysidia reveals that my next objective is the Black Mask, which will allow me to get the Crysal Rod to enter Mysidia Tower to pick up the Ultima Tome and live in the house that Jack built.  How it was that Minwu got into the tower without the rod and so forth is a question best not asked, I suppose.  Point is, I’m off to the Tropical Island, which is (stunningly) yet another cave network.

Speaking Spells You Will Not Use...

It’s raining frogs! Hallelujah, it’s raining frogs! I guess.

Credit where credit is due – I found this dungeon far less irritating than some of the earlier installments.  Part of it came from knowing that nearly all of the treasures contained herein weren’t worth searching for, while part of it was just having slightly less obnoxious status effects to deal with.  The cave also features a nice little respite full of strangely-masked villagers that never get mentioned prior and are never addressed later, a peek into a world that’s a bit more fantastic than the one we actually get to see.

Really, it was at this point that I realized just how constrained the game feels.  You spend so much of your time going back and forth to the same handful of towns, forever focused on the very real needs of a war, and there’s not much time left over to just goof around on fantasy adventure.  There’s a certain joy that’s gone from the game, a sense of humor that’s lacking.  It feels a lot more cold, which may be part of why I find the plot so much more nitpick-worthy.  There’s no sense of the wide-open wonder of fantasy, just a series of fetch quests and a joyless tromp to get one thing or the next.  You don’t really have any motivation to continue your quest, you’ve already accomplished what seems to be your core objective, and at this point even your fourth party member is just sort of along for the ride.

At the bottom of the cave lies a group of rhinos who want to make sure you don’t get the Black Mask.  Why?  Who knows!  All you know is that these rhinos feel very strongly about this point, and rhinos are not to be fucked with when they get angry.  One round of beaten rhinos later, you can leave, go back to Mysidia, and then start trekking to Mysidia Cave to get the rod and so forth.

Mysidia Cave features a few irritating status effects, including several enemies that turn you to stone.  It’s fairly short, though, and it doesn’t sport any multi-floor weirdness.  There isn’t even a boss at the end.  Pick up the rod, then get in your ship and head on over toward the tower…

Then get eaten by a sea serpent.  The remake makes this look very neat, and the resulting environment is quite trippy.  It also marks the return of damage floors, something we first saw back in the first game.  This dungeon is also a short one, and there aren’t many chances to get lost, so hooray!

We lose Leila but gain Ricard, the Last Dragoon, whose entire motivation seems to be “I AM A DRAGOON.”  He joins you for very little reason, but it’s a chance to have a fourth member, even if he mostly just spears things.  Ironically, in the original his skills were tilted toward swords, not spears, but the conception of what a Dragoon was would change as the series went on.  So now he’s all about spears.  You pick up a few more treasures, kill a worm that hits hard (and killed Ricard in about half a second), and then you’re out on the open seas once again.

What lies beyond is the longest dungeon in the game, a ten-floor excursion to get a spell you can easily beat the game without using at all.  But, you know, plot.  So after a brief trip to heal up after the last dungeon, it’s time to breach the tower and see what lies within.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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