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By: Paul Koehler
One of the more peculiar consequences of Squaresoft's success in gaining the loyalty of a whole new generation of gamers was that they felt it necessary to introduce them to the company's earlier classics. Two of those titles were released for the PlayStation console, and while they re-introduced some of the most well-known console RPGs in history, they also butchered the execution of the games in the process. To make a long story short, Squaresoft finally got things right on their third try with Final Fantasy Origins. Despite various problems with Final Fantasy II, this collection successfully and affordably packages the first two Final Fantasy titles with some welcome add-ons. As one of the last titles to be released for the venerable PlayStation, it proves that the console still has some life left in it.
Despite its status as a remake, Origins features battle systems from Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II; titles that were originally released for the Famicom in the 1980's. These are old-school turn-based battling systems, and purists will be happy to know that characters that target empty spaces in the original will come up with ineffective attacks. In a nod to these games' difficulty, there are several options that can be set in battle that make life easier. Some of these include the ability to de-stone or revive characters in battle, as well as auto-targeting.
Many of the flaws in both games' respective battle systems are related to the different ways they handle statistics. While Final Fantasy has a traditional level-up system based on experience points and levels, characters in Final Fantasy II gain strength by leveling specific statistics. The thinking behind this system is practical in an ideal setting: characters gain strength according to what statistics they use. Those who use more MP gain more MP, and those who lose a lot of HP gain HP, and so on. In practice this method of character-building is horrendous if practiced honestly. A number of bugs throughout the game (the select-cancel method being one of the foremost) allow for this system to be abused horribly, but at the same time these bugs also allow for some interesting strategies as far as gameplay is concerned.
Interface nitpicks aside, Origins' special add-on games is the Collections feature, which allows RPGamers to view monster statistics, item lists from each dungeon, and a smorgasbord of artwork from Yoshitaka Amano. It's a kleptomaniac's dream, although like most aspects of Origins, the quality of the Collections slides with its implementation in Final Fantasy II, where load times take an enormous hit thanks to the simultaneous loading of separate music tracks. One minor gripe about the interface concerns the unnecessary amount of quick-access buttons, but this couldn't be avoided because of the difference between the PSX and NES/Famicom controllers.
What was improved vastly in both titles were the graphics. Although ports of the first two Final Fantasies were done for the WonderSwan Color, it is obvious that some work was done in revamping the graphics for the PlayStation. Some will be pleased to see Square's trademark FMV work in the introductions for both games, but it's unnecessary to the say the least.
This isn't to say that grandstanding is unacceptable in some circumstances, and this is evident with some wonderful MIDI remakes of tracks from both games. This is especially evident in the original Final Fantasy, but both games benefit from the jump in technology. While the PlayStation is capable of supporting much more in terms of musical capabilities, these remakes are enough to justify playing through both titles again by themselves.
If there is one thing that Final Fantasy II does outclass its predecessor in, it's in the storyline. Unlike the original's generic plot, the second title focuses on an interesting tale of four childhood friends attempting to unseat an emperor. Even though this follows one of the most tired clichés in console RPGs, Final Fantasy II was one of the first in the series to actually create memorable characters. NPCs often join the party in the game, and while their usefulness varies greatly, it was a development that was to be successfully implemented in later games.
All of this is augmented by a localization job that easily overshadows the efforts of Anthology and Chronicles. Occasional gaffes are seen in Final Fantasy II, but for the most part the plot is easy to follow, with the occasional amusing change put in (the most notable of these being the gravestone in Elfland saying "Here Lies Link").
Warts and all, this amounts to a title with a load of replay value. Completing both games takes well over 40 hours, while both games can be played in either Easy or Normal difficulty modes. As mentioned before, the Collections feature has plenty of information in it that should keep RPGamers occupied, whether it's in hunting down an item in Mysidia Tower or waiting for an encounter with the infamous Warmech.
In producing such a title, Squaresoft's third remake effort helped prove a notoriously overused-cliché. This game is and will be important historically for several reasons, and curious minds might like to know that this was the first game that Square-Enix released in North America after the two companies' merger on April 1st, 2003. The game would have been even more stellar if it weren't for the slapshod effort put into many aspects of Final Fantasy II, but those failings can be overlooked by the fact that two venerable games have been introduced to a new generation of RPGamers. More importantly, however, they've been ported well enough as to not butcher each game's redeeming qualities, as was the case with Squaresoft's previous two efforts. It's also a fitting goodbye to the PlayStation, which also makes it an incredibly affordable title for anyone that wishes to pick it up. For anyone who has yet to experience the "origins" of the Final Fantasy series, this is worth a buy.
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