Version Reviewed: 1.0
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Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II hit the App Store today amid much clamoring from fans of the series. Originally meant as the "final" game for the near-bankrupt Squaresoft, Final Fantasy did much more than rescue its creators from ruin. Spin-offs and sequels galore have born the Final Fantasy name. Now, we've got both the original and the original sequel (you know...Final Fantasy II) on our iPhones. The port is a decent one, and the game will be much as you remember it.
This Isn't Final Fantasy IV
A quick explanatory note is in order before we begin. Final Fantasy was first released in North America in 1990, but we didn't get the true Final Fantasy II until 2003, because the English translation project was initially shelved. The second Final Fantasy game to be released in North America was actually FF IV. The latest PSP remakes of (the real) FF and FF II are what we have here...so you're not buying the game that was released to Americans as Final Fantasy II. That's actually IV. This is really, honest-to-goodness Number Two. Okay? Confused? Good. Let's move on.
Though Final Fantasy II is the sequel to the original title, it takes place in a different world with a few significant changes. This time, your band of heroes is the focus of the plot; they are unique characters with separate backgrounds and motivations instead of a flat band of "adventurers." The story opens with Firion, Maria, and Guy, a band of three orphans who are attacked by enemy soldiers and left for dead. This time, a princess rescues them: it's Princess Hilda, who has set up a rebel base in Altair. The resulting storyline is epic in its scope, but having actual characters makes it a bit more enjoyable (at least for me) than Final Fantasy I.
For those unfamiliar with the game, this is an old-school RPG experience. When outside of town, your party will be attacked at random by wandering monsters; you spend your time travelling from place to place as you complete quests and battle bosses. Magic spells, armor, items, and weapons can all be purchased in town.
Final Fantasy II introduced a leveling system that sounds reasonable but won many critics. Instead of "levelling up," your stat points grow based on your actions in battle. So, for example, a character that attacks often would see his Attack attribute rise. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, this means that in order to raise your HP, you have to let your characters take a ton of damage, and so on and so forth. It can be confusing at times, but my advice is simply to ignore it altogether and soldier on. You'll eventually earn enough stat gains if you just fight through the random battles. The difficulty levels have been tweaked from the original game (much like in other remakes), so dying isn't nearly as big of a problem as it once was.
The other "new" element of note is the conversation trees. Your characters can memorize key pieces of information and use them later in conversations with other characters. I enjoy dialogue, but the myriad conversation trees get confusing and tedious. I could do without them.
Oh, yeah. One more thing. This one has Chocobos. The birdilke creatures have become mainstays in the Final Fantasy titles, and they were first presented here.
As expected, though the game is obviously touchscreen-enabled, not much has changed. Perhaps the most important alteration is auto-save. No matter where you are, if you close the app or are interrupted, the game will automatically save your progress (just hit "resume" instead of "load" when you restart). This is a godsend for mobile users, even if it means that you can cheat your way out of random encounters.
The interface is slightly clunky, but workable. The game's virtual D-pad is big and a bit awkward, but you soon get used to it. The same can be said of the "dash" button that appears on the right-hand side when you're moving: initially awkward, but soon second nature. Tapping the stats box brings up the menu, which features tiny text in that strange font. It's navigable, especially because speed and precision aren't very important, but I do wish that they had reworked the interface just a bit. The battle menu is one example of such a reworking—now you tap on icons instead of menu items.
So, yes, it's a decent port. Quirks like small menu don't hinder the gameplay, and this is still Final Fantasy II. The controls work, auto-save works, and the game doesn't squabble with the iPhone's hardware.
Final Fantasy II is a blast from the past, and one that should have series fans cheering. It's a bit more confusing than its predecessor, though—the time spent wading through conversations and dealing with the bizarre levelling system isn't really fun. On the other hand, its story features actual characters, which is a nice change of pace. If you haven't played the series before, I recommend starting with the first one. Beginnings are beginnings, after all, and if you like the original you can always move on to its sequel. But both games are fine ports of true classics, and well deserving of their premium prices. Remember, these are currently selling on the PSP for $20 apiece. It's great that Square has chosen to bring the games over; now, we'll have to hope for more releases in the future.