Final Fantasy Legend II
Released: September 1992 in USA. Rereleased August 1998 in USA. December 1991 in Japan as SaGa 2 Hihoudensetsu.
Publisher (Re-release): Sunsoft
It's no secret that the first Final Fantasy created a legion of Final Fantasy fanatics. First introduced to the genre through Square's title, these individuals zealously snatched up anything with the words "Square" or "Final Fantasy" attached. Many were disappointed when they purchased King's Knight, to be sure. But others, hooked on RPGs for life, prepurchased their Game Boys as soon as they heard the words "Final Fantasy Legend." The first game in this series, while excellent, seemed shortened and watered down in comparison with the RPGs of the NES. The third title, while also excellent, seemed to lack focus. But the second title was a portable gaming classic from the opening title screen to the final "The End."
The story concerns a youth following in his (missing) father's footsteps to collect the 77 pieces of MAGI statue. These pieces have been scattered and lost throughout several worlds, and there are many of them indeed - Final Fantasy Legend II's greatest insight lay in spreading the adventure over more than a dozen different worlds, connected by a Yggdrasilian "Pillar in the Sky." Some worlds and quests are longer and more developed than others, but even the smallest planes feature dead on characterization. The Giant World's staircases fill multiple screens; Apollo rules his world with a benevolent (if iron) hand; Venus' city admits only the beautiful, relegating the "imperfect" to the wasteland outside. The Shogun's World is set up like a traditional noir mystery: You have the consulate, his beautiful daughter, and the evil underground crime syndicate trafficking in... bananas? (Nintendo's strict localization policies have often led to quirky results.) Each world has its share of quests, interesting NPCs, and ubiquitous MAGI shards to discover.
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Battles, as with all Final Fantasy Legend games, are slightly different from those of other RPGs. Each character attacks and defends in turn, per the status quo, but weapons and spells have limited uses. When an object is used up, you have no choice but to discard it and purchase a new one. You don't always want to use your most powerful attacks - such wanton behavior can get very expensive very quickly. Each class, be it humans, mutants, monsters, or robots, has its own unique play style. Additionally, the four-person party is often joined by a fifth, noncontrollable NPC (as the story warrants). A powerful superior (such as your teacher or a goddess) can support four weaker members single-handedly; but when a little girl joins your party, you'll find yourself scrambling to keep her alive. When the personalities and abilities of the characters are this closely intertwined, each seems like a well-developed character both within and apart from your party.
If this title sounds different from the Final Fantasy you're familiar with, it's probably because it's not a Final Fantasy game at all. Each of the Final Fantasy Legend games is actually a "SaGa" title. Known as Romancing SaGa on the SNES and SaGa Frontier on the PS, the SaGa games are renowned for the relative freedom of their "system," wide range of character customization, and far-reaching environments. Square renamed the titles "Final Fantasy" in the US in an attempt to boost sales. Sunsoft recently rereleased the titles for the Game Boy, and they're still the best portable RPG experience available. Any game from the Final Fantasy Legend series is portable gaming bliss.
Now show me Pokemon