… or does it? Akitoshi Kawazu’s game design is unpleasant. But you can’t say he didn’t understand the NES well enough to make it challenging. In fact, I think this was the point. He understood it well enough for it to be frustrating. This is why I think…
Final Fantasy 2 (JP) has one of the best game design in the series!
Let me be clear, when I say it has the best design. I’m talking about the concept of “challenge” in the fullest extent of that word…not how fun it is. I don’t think it’s fun at all.
So why? Why would Akitoshi Kawazu’s design a game to be as frustrating as possible? First, since Sakaguchi hated sequels, what better way to make a sequel that more frustrating in contrast to the first? Second, the game’s extended to 30 hours. Third, it’s hiding things in inconspicuous places meant to frustrate player into buying for strategy guides. Fourth, Japanese players “wanted” a challenge.
Of course, maybe this went along with the theme of the game? We (and Sakaguchi) can’t forget the amount of programming that went into programming it. The game, unlike the first in the series, is extremely frustrating for the characters. Firion, Maria, and Gus are constantly taking a few steps back for every one step they take. But since they are flat, how else are we going to get the maximum empathic impact from their struggle? This is where the challenge comes in…
But it’s too much at times, it never lets up and seems devoid of common sense. Take, for example, the Chocobo Forest. There’s only “one in the whole game, not a single character ever mentions it, and it occupies a single inconspicuous forest tile that you probably won’t ever wander into.” Pitchfork Meaning, in order to use the Chocobo to avoid monsters, you’d have to go looking for it. Or, you’d have to be so deep in trouble you’d beg for relief. Even then, you’d have to aimlessly wander into the Chocobo without any expectations that it would contain the relief.
That’s madness. But of course, it doesn’t stop there:
- You start off the game running from imperial soldiers. You can’t win this battle and you get K.O.’d (which is what you must expect throughout this game). If you wander aimlessly into a high level area, the monsters will crush you. If you talk to imperial soldiers in Fynn, they’ll murder you. The enemies go for the weakest characters first. If you want to heal that character, pummel them to death. If you cast magic, an enemy will steal it from you using Osmose. You want to attack, and a stronger enemy will K.O. you. Or you will miss. This happens at the most inopportune times. There must be a trigger that’ll allow this to happen. The game has a vested interest in seeing you fail. And this is what keeps the game going longer than it should.
- The level designs show a mastery of hiding things from view. Secret passages exist with the basic premise that Firion can see them, but you can’t. So you have to walk aimlessly to find them, or look it up to find out where they are. And Kawazu understands that if the player wants to see further, he/she has to scroll down by walking. But walking means activating a square that will trigger a battle. So, Firion can see that nothing’s in front of him. But you walk for the expectation of a reward…only to find nothing at the end of the road. By the time you realize your mistake, it’s too late.
- Speaking of which, most doors lead to empty rooms (i.e. monster closets). Kawazu understands temptation. Most of these doors are tricks. But sometimes treasure chests and staircases aren’t visible at first glance. So on your first try, it’s best to simply look in all of them. This means more useless battles.
- Final Fantasy 2 (JP) boast a high encounter rate, with limited space in your inventory. In the first game, you had 99 items to dwindle your resources down from. But here, you only have 64 slots total. You might open a treasure chest that includes a unless simple knife, or a shirt. Thankfully, you can discard some items. But not the key items. Final Fantasy II taught the players resource management.
- The fetch quests in this game keep the players going back to the same few places. All of this will take about an hour even if you pay Cid to use his airship.
- You finally get to ride the airship, but by now there’s no where new to go. What a waste. Same with Ultima; the spell does ~120 damage at level 1. And you get it near the end of the game. Happy grinding lol!
- You have characters that need constant attention. Gareth, for example, tanks after a few hits. He dies, and then gets no stat progressions. You revive him, and the same thing happens.
- Everyone knows about the stat progression. But if you don’t try to game the system, you can roughly proceed as normal. That is, you can use your magic once your weapon skills increase to your satisfaction for example. If you take damage, your endurance and HP increase. The frustration comes with the boring battles themselves. The encounter rate is so high. Every fight becomes a tedious exercise in patience. If you want to grind magic, leveling up takes 1 point out of 100 (for offensive spells). If you just want to get through the dungeon because you have something else to do, you can’t here. You have to fight since running away has a low chance of triggering.
- You have to have one person in the front at all times. If your front party dies, your back row move to the front. After the battle, they remain at the front (which can throw you off). The game doesn’t heal you after boss battles. If you can’t cast Warp, you have to trek back through the dungeon with little HP. Final Fantasy 2 (JP) does not suffer fools.
- There seems to be a random damage count. Sometimes you’ll take for 33 damage. Other times you’ll take 256 damage…without a special attack or critical hit. A critical hit simply means the enemy will hit you for the unavoidable max damage. Same with healing. Everything seems to be a bit unbalanced and nothing seems consistent.
- The story is so bland, talking to NPCs feels like a waste of time. But if you don’t, you might not know where to go next. You may even miss out on some items.
- Are you looking for 100% completion? Some enemies and items are missable. Nothing points you in their direction, so like most things in the game it all comes down to luck.
All of these things together are not coincidence. Kawazu knew what he was doing. The game’s design stacks challenge against you. Kawazu probably laughed maniacally at some of the pitfalls. Almost as if he was imagining the best ways to laugh at one’s failures at this game. It was designed to be challenging for the sake of being challenging, all so that the player could lose. And he delivered.
Needless to say, Kawazu didn’t work on the Final Fantasy series until Final Fantasy XII. Even Sakaguchi couldn’t play more than 2 hours of the game. Squaresoft found a niche for these types of games. Other than that, no one wants to struggle on a video game:
Despite these high sales, the game had sold the least copies of any of the first ten main games in the Final Fantasy series.
But when it came to making the most frustrating Final Fantasy, Kawazu succeeded.
Final Fantasy 2 (JP) has great design because it was the worst.