Final Fantasy II – Re-Review

I know guys, I know. I’ve already reviewed Final Fantasy II, which I’ve already stated was a mediocre game. Though that was one of my first reviews written, so it was half-assed. Honestly more could be said about the game. So this is going to do justice to my original review.

Let’s go.

Released in 1988, Square decided that based on the popularity of Final Fantasy, they were going to make a sequel. This time, the development team decided to craft a story first, and then work on the gameplay.  This actually wasn’t a bad idea, and was kind of groundbreaking for the time. They also decided to be ambitious on the leveling up mechanics, while also groundbreaking, it didn’t work so well. More on that later.

Story:

You play as four young characters: Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon, their town was attacked by the soldiers from the evil Palamecia Empire. You barely escape with your necks attached, and you wake up in the town of Altair, home of the resistance fighters. Led by Princess Hilda of Flynn, she wants to restore the former glory of her kingdom, and also stop the evil Emperor of Palamecia. You want to join the resistance, but Hilda says you’re too young and inexperienced. So you go off to find your friend Leon, who went missing in the attack. You then meet Prince Scott of Kashuan, who informs that a rogue soldier from Flynn betrayed them and has joined the Empire, he then dies. You go back to Hilda and give her the news, she decides to have a change of heart, and you are now resistance members. Thus your quest begins!

While the plot has more going on than the original game, and other RPG’s at the time, it’s still a bit archaic. The game mostly consists of reporting back to Hilda several times, and her sending you on a giant scavenger hunt. Go here and find this item, cool, now go here and do this. Oh okay, now to this place and, yeah you get it by now. I get that you’re supposed to be helping out the resistance fighters, but holy hell is this tedious and mostly pointless.

Gameplay:

This is where the game royally fucks up. Gone are the traditional leveling up mechanics of turn based RPG’s, and now there’s a progression system. It makes sense on paper, and a lot of modern games still use it, to a significantly better degree. To increase your attack, you hit things more, to increase magic, you use more magic. So on and so forth.

The problem here, is that the execution of this mechanic just doesn’t work in an old school RPG. It also makes it tedious as all hell. The game wants you to grind like other RPG’s at the time, so you have to sit there and grind EVERYTHING.

Going through all the random encounters in the overworld, your attack will be the first thing to go up. This initially seems fine, as you can start one-shotting all of the enemies on the field, that is, until you get to a dungeon. Well these enemies are much stronger and take several more hits. Well since you’ve been one-shotting enemies until now, your defense is shit, as is the amount of HP you have. Well now you’re royally fucked.

Well how do you level up your defense and HP without going to an inn after every battle? Easy, by beating the shit out of yourselves. One of the most infamous mechanics in this game, is that the fastest way to level up your HP and defense, is by attacking your own party members. The developers put this mechanic in to wake up sleeping party members, but players soon realized that this is the fastest way to level up those stats. So now instead of actually fighting the enemies in the overworld, you spend your time beating the shit out of yourselves, and healing.

Now is a good time to talk about magic in this game, and it sucks. Just like your levels, you level up your spells. Well this game decided that it wanted to be even more tedious, by having each spell have its own separate levels. All your spells start at level 1, and if you want them to not be shit, you have to grind them to at least level 5. Even then, the spells do shit damage. Your regular attacks will do hundreds of damage, but spells, even at level 5 do about 30-50 at most. I just got tired of leveling up my spells because of how much time you spend grinding each spell.

To level up a spell, you have to cast it a bunch. How much you ask? 100 times. So when you get a spell like Ultima and Flare near the end of the game, you have to cast both about 500 times each, and they still only do about 100 damage at most. Luckily like your HP and defense, this is easily exploitable. Due to a glitch in the game, all you have to do is select a spell, then a target, then cancel it. This counts as casting the spell, so if you want to waste time, you can do this about 100 times in a single battle, and your spell will level up. Hurray!

So now your spells are leveled up, but now that they’re leveled up, they take more MP, so now your MP levels are shit. Well with luck doing the exploit, your MP will increase, so after leveling up multiple spells, just cross your fingers that you now have enough MP to cast heal enough times.

One thing you should keep in mind, is that you can never escape a battle. To escape a battle, you luck and evade stats need to level up. Though don’t expect this to level up at all, as this is all based on luck, and it randomly appears. So even by the end of the game, your evade and luck will be obnoxiously low, so you will have to fight every single battle.

This wouldn’t be too bad, if this game didn’t have a ridiculous random encounter rate. I’m not sure if this was fixed in later versions of the game, but in the NES and PS1 version, you can get an encounter with only about 2-10 steps. This is exacerbated when many dungeons have multiple doors that lead you to an empty room. Thanks for wasting my time. It doesn’t help when you enter these empty rooms, you’re teleported to the middle, and you’re guaranteed a battle before you get to the door to leave. I’d recommend using a map to not waste your time.

Then there’s the final fight with the Emperor. Your attacks and defense are high enough to one-shot every enemy in the final dungeon, but once you face the Emperor, you only do 50-100 damage, because his defense is incredibly high. If you have the blood sword, it drains 1/16th of his health, and does a lot better than your other weapons. Just hope you didn’t get rid of it based on your limited inventory space, and it being weaker than the other weapons you’ve obtained. Luckily your defenses are really high, so he also does pretty piss poor damage to you. For me it was just an endurance run, that lasted an entire hour, and after all of my MP was finally drained, he died. Holy fuck was that a schlog.

One feature of the game that’s added, is that you have a rotating fourth member in your party. This isn’t exactly unusual in Final Fantasy games, but I really wished that most of your extra party members weren’t useless. Outside of Minwu, they’re all weak. So now you’re stuck leveling up those characters that are rotated in and out of your party. How much does this game want you to grind?

Music and visuals:

Not much needs to be restated, as nothing has really changed since the old review.

Verdict:

This game is more of a chore than an actual game. Unless you really really really love grinding. Trying to play this game legitimately is not recommended in the slightest. It’s not good game design where you’re pretty much required to abuse exploits in the game. Playing this legitimately would have all your characters incredibly lopsided. I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have you cast spells multiple times in a legitimate fashion to have it level up to a normal level? Are the spells that significantly weak to compensate for how many times it has to be casted to level up? Why Square why?

This game really only exists for curiosity’s sake, so only play it if you want to see where many of the Final Fantasy tropes got started.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song – Review

Released in 2015 as a sequel to Hollow Fragment on PS3 in Japan only, but was released on the Vita and PS4 outside. This game takes place in ALFheim Online, the second MMO in the anime franchise. Just like Hollow Fragment, this takes place in its own alternate timeline from the anime, and features characters that only exist in the game franchise, such as Phillia and Strea.

Story:

A new expansion to ALFheim Online, this means new areas to explore, and new challenges. Kirito and friends decide to go check it out. Prior to this, Kirito is interested in a professor who goes by the name Seven, and is interested in her studies regarding Virtual Reality. Seven happens to be a player in ALFheim Online, and is the head of the Shamrock guild, the biggest and strongest guilds in the game, especially with her bodyguard Sumeragi. As the game goes on, you meet a mysterious girl named Rain who is following you and Shamrock’s movements.

While the plot initially seems interesting, it’s like the floor clearing portions of Hollow Fragment where the plot is largely non-existant, outside of random parts here and there. Even then, you have no idea what the hell is going on in the story until literally the very end of the game. Right before the final boss fight, the entire plot is revealed. Sure some really great games have done that, and it worked, but the poor execution of the story really has you not caring, especially when it’s almost non-existent until the end. Kirito’s motivation for following Seven? “I’m interested in her experiment”. What does Seven do throughout the game? Nothing. Well she likes hiding from Sumeragi, and popping her head into Agil’s tavern to eat cake and flirt with Kirito.

Spoiler alert: Seven’s the final boss of the game. She becomes evil… kind of… at the very end of the game. Why does Kirito want to stop her when he finds out about her experiment? Because he wants to beat the game. Saving people? NOPE! Is the experiment bad? NOPE!

In a very similar fashion to the previous game, when you complete certain dungeons or events in the game, you are “rewarded”, with random non-story related cutscenes. These cutscenes are really just fanservice to see Kirito dealing with his ever-growing harem. You are treated to scenes like, Kirito hiding a porn mag from Asuna. Strea making Asuna try on underwear, and a swimsuit scene complete with giant tentacle action. Riveting.

Gameplay:

The game feels more like an action RPG than Hollow Fragment. You have a choice between weaker melee attacks, or a stronger melee attack. They give you a limit on your stronger attacks by having it take up stamina. You also have a special attack that takes up SP, and most of these are significantly more powerful than your strong melee. You also have a choice of using magic spells, and in typical RPG fashion, they’re either attacks, or support. In regards to gaining new abilities, this is one of those games where you learn them by using your specials or spells more and more.

Venturing out with a party is significantly upgraded from Hollow Fragment. In that game, you really felt like a one man show, you really only went out with a partner, because you either have to, or you might not want to feel lonely. Here, you get to go out with two party members, and it actually feels like your party members make a difference in gameplay experience. Having two long range attackers, like Asuna and Sinon, can whittle down an enemy from a distance before you go in for the kill. You also have a choice of not even playing as Kirito, or having him in your party at all. This can help change up your gameplay experience, as many of the characters play differently than Kirito, as they have different spells and weapon abilities. Sure you can just have Kirito equip a two handed sword like Strea, but what’s the fun in that?

As this game takes place in ALFheim, the game introduced flying. This will most likely become your preferred method of travel, as flying is significantly faster than walking. Flying has its hit and misses. Aerial combat is a fun gimmick at first, but as the game goes on, it actually starts losing its fun pretty quickly. Especially when enemies start knocking you down from the air. This gets annoying when you’re near a hoard of enemies that you’re trying to kill to complete a hunt, and even more annoying during aerial boss fights. Particularly during the boss fights, there are times where you get knocked down, then you fly back up, and it hits you down again.

Gone are the dating mechanics of the previous game. This is actually a good thing, as it really didn’t add anything to the game, besides saying you banged your favorite girl, and all the trophies you get from it. Instead, at certain points in the game, you’ll see glowing dots in the central hub, and that’ll trigger an event with a girl.

Visuals:

Unlike Hollow Fragment, which was a remake of a PSP game, this one is made from the ground up on the PS3. Thus the graphics do justice to the anime artstyle of the series. Outside of a relatively few FMV cutscenes, much of the story scenes are told through a visual novel style, where the characters are displayed in a cutout style, where you see them talk.

One of the biggest disappointments, is the lack of enemy diversity. The majority of the enemies you see in the first area, are recycled in every single area, but with different color pallets. While a lot of RPG’s like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest recycle do this practice, they at least have a large cast of enemies. In Lost Song, there’s really about 20 or so enemies, and they’re recycled in every single area and dungeon. The overall area maps look different, but all of the caves and dungeons look almost exactly the same, so it does feel pretty redundant after awhile.

Comparing the two non-Japanese releases, the PS4 version is clearly the better of the two. While the character models aren’t a vast improvement, the overall textures and visual effects look better. Caves have fog on the ground, and there’s blades of grass and more enemies on screen. That’s not to say that you’re getting a poor man’s version on the Vita, as it’s still visually impressive on the handheld.

Music:

The music is pretty decent, yet not very memorable. It’s in a similar style to the anime, and to Hollow Fragment.

 

Verdict:

Lost Song is a pretty decent game. Though unless you’re a fan of SAO, or just looking for a decent length RPG on the PS4 or Vita, you’re most likely not going to get inspired to go and pick up a copy of the game. The game expects you to know who the main cast are, and that will off-put a lot of newcomers.

While combat and lack of dating mechanics make it a step up from Hollow Fragment, it does feel like a significantly shorter game, due to the large amount of things to do in Hollow Fragment.

Music: 6/10.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 7/10.
Story: 5/10.
Content: 7/10.

Conclusion: 6/10