The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy II, part 6

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

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

I realize that I’ve been pretty hard on Final Fantasy II up to this point, generally for good reason.  The game has a lot of ambition, but ambition is only commendable insofar as it leads you to reach upward, and this is a game that continually falls short of where it wants to be.  What was innovative more than twenty years ago is less so today, and even then I imagine these holes and weaknesses were visible to players; breaking the game’s mechanics is hardly a new thing, for instance.

That having been said, the Mysidian Tower is kind of thoroughly enjoyable.  It’s a dungeon where all of those well-designed dungeon elements that the game has sported can really get up and do a dance, and the enemies have tricks that feel like they’re at least meant to be interesting rather than annoying.  I couldn’t autopilot through these fights, but neither did I find myself painfully bored as I made my trek.

Just to make life a little easier, the Mysidian Tower hosts all of the elemental-themed dungeons in the game one after the other, complete with damage floors, themed enemies, and themed boss fights.  Normally a game would make me run through at least three of these, so praise to the Final Fantasy II team for putting these all in the same place.  It’s a shame I don’t quite like the Gigas sprite that gets reused for all of those boss fights, but you can’t win everything.  Every couple of floors you’ll be fighting another thematic boss, and by this point you should also have Osmose on your primary spellcaster, allowing you to keep up a string of casts instead of relying on weapon skills.  Maria benefits from this quite a bit, especially as bows start to creep down in usefulness.

Needless to say, the tower also features a fair number of treasures, but most of the ones here are actually useful instead of just padding.  And at ten floors it kind of has to pace itself, turning the whole thing into a slow climb against scaling challenges rather than a relentless assault on your senses.  I like it a lot, and I can’t help but think that the game would have held up a lot better over the years if it had used this more as a baseline experience.  You’d still have the terrible mechanics, but… well, maybe it’d still be the same after all.

Firion seems to have a moment of clarity wherein he realizes suddenly that the tenuous connection between what he's doing and his original goals has been thoroughly severed.

It looks more reminiscent of Final Fantasy I dungeons than it feels in this screenshot.

Your prize for reaching the top is watching yet another heroic sacrifice in a game that’s already clocked up several and will unleash several more before the ending, this time befalling Minwu.  It’s hard to feel much for Minwu, sadly – you get the vague glimpse of someone endlessly devoted to his duty, but you never really get an understanding of who he is beyond that duty.  He felt he died well, but there’s no explanation offered to players about why he felt that or why this mattered so much to him..  Sort of a missed opportunity.

As your party reverently jumps over Minwu’s cooling corpse, you pick up a few stat boosts along with the Ultima tome, which marks the spell’s first appearance in the series!  Unfortunately, it also takes the opportunity to be obnoxious to use by basing its damage on the number of other mastered spells you have, to be brief.  Far from being the ultimate spell, here it’s not worth using.  So sorry.  At least now the plot stuff is done and you can bring back the book you finally unlocked…

Only to find an enormous cyclone containing a floating fortress sitting right outside of Fynn, having destroyed most of the other towns in the game.  Yes, the Emperor is done fucking around, which raises the question of why he bothered with the Dreadnought and all the previous fucking around, but whatever.

What follows next is pretty awesome.  You have to summon that last wyvern you rescued, which then flies to your aid in a well-animated bit of cutscene and will fly you into the cyclone itself.  It doesn’t give Ricard any more motivation or purpose than he had before, but this did give the sense of all the game’s prior plot threads coming together. The remake animated this very nicely, to boot.

The Cyclone isn’t quite as awesome as the tower, but it’s still a pretty cool dungeon with nifty-ish enemies as you storm it.  The whole thing comes to an end with the Emperor himself, throwing waves of guards at the party before finally engaging himself.  He’s a dedicated spellcaster and can take a few rounds to put down, but he doesn’t have much in the way of attacks and his entourage proves to be a more active threat.

After a bit more swording and axing and so forth, the Emperor dies choking on a pool of his own blood.  So you’re done, right?

Of course not.  You head back to Fynn and get a little celebration before it’s revealed that Maria’s brother, Leon, has turned out to be the Dark Knight and has now declared himself to be Emperor.  It turns out your rival was really your missing ally all along!

On the plus side, this wasn't Energon.

Curse your sudden and poorly foreshadowed betrayal that makes no sense to the viewers!

This is what I like to call the Beast Machines twist.  It’s a twist where you can just see the writers shouting “ha!  Didn’t see that coming, did you?”  Which is true, but that’s mostly because the twist doesn’t make any damn sense.  Why is Leon working with the Empire?  Why did the Empire even take him in rather than leaving him to die?  How did it happen?  The game explains none of it.  This twist to give you a personal stake in the battle comes far too late to be emotionally affecting and only barely ties into a plot point that the game hasn’t addressed since the opening.

You also get your airship, with Cid dying along the way because we needed so many more people to die here.  Once on the ship you can take a quick trip down to Deist and get the closest thing Ricard can hope for in terms of character development, then it’s off to Palamecia proper.

If you were hoping that Palamecia might offer some much-needed insight into the Empire, what it stands for, why the Emperor has done these things, and so forth… you will be sorely disappointed.  If you were hoping that Palamecia would give you ample opportunity to punch more things and pick up some good equipment, then you’ll be quite pleased.  I realize I’m asking a lot of what was originally an NES game, but I don’t think a few throwaway lines here and there with even poor motivation would have overtaxed the game’s database.  Just give me something.

After you’ve climbed to the top, you meet Emperor Batman, and he’s quite adamant that he’s the new emperor and he’s not giving up the throne.  Before you get to have a fight, though, the old Emperor shows up again, glibly stating that he’s gained more forces in Hell.  Which I suppose is sort of cool, even if it puts one in mind of an arc from 8-Bit Theater.

Ricard has sensed a pattern, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to allow anyone to muscle in on his heroic sacrifice, so he holds off the Emperor long enough for Firion and company to run.  Why, exactly, Leon was worth rescuing over Ricard is never addressed.  Neither of them have much in the way of personality, and Ricard has the benefit of never screwing the rest of the party over, so my first thought is that Maria will just have to deal with a slightly smaller family reunion here.

Firion and his orchestra arrive back at Fynn, minus one dragoon and plus one traitor, and pleads to Hilda that Leon should be allowed to help the group fight the Emperor, skipping ahead to the conclusion of the redemption arc.  Very economical of him.  That means that the actual party is assembled at last after several hours of play, and we can get ready to enter the Very Real Final Dungeon (No, We Mean It This Time).

Oh, and you can go talk to the lady in Deist Castle as a reminder that no, the dragoons are very much dead after all.  She gives you a sword and resolves to leave.  Can’t say as I blame her.  Anyhow, on to the last fight!

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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