Can “4x growth rates” actually make Final Fantasy II (Famicom)’s stat progression logical?
As recently as Monday, I have referred to the collection of Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters now available as “five JRPG classics and the worst game I've ever played”. This is largely due to my previous experience with the game now known as Final Fantasy II being the 2007 PSP re-release which ranks as the only game I have ever completed out of pure spite. (My three word review on the forums back when I was a regular was simply “Healing ITEMS missed”.) Of course, because karma is apparently only real for me when it’s damaging, I drew the straw to play Final Fantasy II in its Pixel Remaster form.
However, I also drew the straw that let me play the OTHER Final Fantasy II - the one that I beat on the Super Nintendo in the first part of the 2000s and still consider my favorite game in the series, which we now know as Final Fantasy IV. So how do the ridiculous and the sublime fare in their new, remastered packaging on Switch?
As it turns out, FFIV is still as good as I remember it being, and this version of FFII might actually be playable for reasons beyond not wanting to let Akitoshi Kawazu win.
Final Fantasy II (Famicom)
The soon-to-be-35 year old Famicom game is the originator of a lot of tropes in the Final Fantasy franchise - this is the first Final Fantasy to have a transport enthusiast named Cid, the first to feature a two-row setup in battle, the Dragoons who jump and use spears, and chocobos. However, the biggest point of contention has always been the “learn by doing” concept of character growth; the meme of “beat your own characters up to gain stats” existed for a reason. Thankfully, the Pixel Remaster version alleviates this with its boost mode, which manifests as up to 4x multipliers for gil (money), weapon and magic proficiency, and other attributes; HP is controlled by a binary selection labeled “Compensatory HP” which if activated gives the characters max HP boosts every few battles without punching your teammate in the face. This doesn’t boost the current HP; FFII is essentially a Saga game in all but name, after all. But it does mean you can have your healer boost the proficiency of Cure quickly as well.
One item that hasn’t come back in later games is the “Key Word” system: it’s necessary to “learn” certain words (like “Mythril” or “Airship”) so they can be used to prompt NPCs in the world and push the story forward. It’s an interesting concept but the game is still maddeningly vague about where the party has to go to complete objectives or making sure they won’t be led into no-win situations. My sole death thus far involved going a little bit south and west of the starting town and running into an enemy that was doing 300-400 damage per hit when I was barely in the three digits.
The new character portraits for the remastered version are great and make the three permanent party members stand out. The translations are still as good as expected, though I still don’t agree with the decision to make one of the party members (Guy) talk like Moose Mason even if they can talk to animals. I’m not as intimately familiar with II’s soundtrack as I am with the SNES soundtracks, so I’ve stuck to the arranged versions and had no complaints. And yes, the default font is still squished to the left, and I’m glad the “Classic” font option exists here. There are a couple of instances of load times present in II; about ten seconds at first boot and 3-5 seconds when switching fonts or loading, but getting into a battle takes about a second to go through the animation.
One commonality with the Pixel Remasters on PC and in their mobile iteration is that previously included additions in re-releases - such as the Dawn of Souls in FFII or the option to switch out of the final five in FFIV - were not present; they were literally remakes of the games as they were on the Famicom or Super Famicom. This hurts FFII which killed off characters before Aerith made it cool, but I haven’t been able to confirm if the same restrictions are in play for the Switch versions.
Final Fantasy II (SNES)
I only got up to the first full dungeon of FFIV in Pixel Remaster form thus far, but FFIV is still what I remember - and though I was basically speedrunning the tutorial cave, it still let me see quite a few of the set pieces the game sets up. Notably, the first boss went into its hibernating form at least three times; most every time I’ve played this fight it’s only shifted in and out once before I was able to bring it down. The difficulty definitely felt like it was based on an original Japanese version.
The orchestrated soundtrack makes iconic songs (like the main series anthem that plays over the opening exposition crawl or the “Theme of Love”) hit a little different - and I may have actually saluted during the opening crawl. Seeing Cecil, Kain, and the rest of the party in Baron makes it clear; this is the best they’ve ever looked on a console.
The boosts didn’t really come into play until it came time to get a new party member up to snuff, however. I was playing with just gold up (because I wanted to be ready for a large purchase later on) but when my decently-leveled colleague was swapped out for a level 1 kid with no magic - cranking the experience up to 4x meant they were essentially good to go after a single fight. Since there’s a lot of cycling of party members in my future, it’s nice to know that what I’d normally have to stop for an hour so can be knocked down to 5-10 minutes depending on the enemy composition.
Look for full reviews of Final Fantasy IV (and II, I suppose) as soon as humanly possible.
Codes for both games were provided by Square Enix.