Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition Hands-On

The second Final Fantasy comes to the PSP with slick new graphics and sounds.


Final Fantasy II

After never being released in the United States in original form, Final Fantasy's second installment is being released for the second time to American audiences this summer for the Sony PlayStation Portable. So what distinguishes this Final Fantasy II from the one that shipped with Final Fantasy the First for the GBA? Only all-new levels of sleek audio and video polish, thanks to the PSP's black-magic-powered hardware, not to mention the opportunity to play one of the best (if not last) Fantasies ever made, in case you missed it.

The first thing you'll notice is the exquisite new CGI intro. Firion, Leon, and Maria are fleeing their burning town from the undead wrath of the evil emperor's dreadnoughts. But instead of reading their flight in-text or watching big pixels scramble across a tiny screen, you'll witness the characters as you've never seen them before, lifelike yet larger than life at the same time.

Their flight leads to a lush wood, where they are finally surrounded by the grim pursuit of the hell knights. Forced into battle, you can only wonder what such young, unseasoned warriors could possibly do against such an onslaught of evil power, when (surprise!) you are pitched into a classic Final Fantasy battle sequence and given control. You have no magic, so you'll attack, attack, attack before the black knights completely clean your collective clocks.

Don’t forget to use protection.
Don’t forget to use protection.

But what looks like the end is really the beginning, as you're resurrected in a church. Outside, you'll meet up with your equally healed friends and find yourself at the heart of a brave rebellion, led by the beautiful Hilda. This is where you'll also notice one of the game's subtlest yet sweetest pleasures--its tasteful use of Yoshitaka Amano's original art. If you don't know Amano, he created much of the concept art for the early Final Fantasies in a series of stylish, dashing watercolors. His paintings set the fiery, dreamlike tone of those early games, and now more of Final Fantasy II than ever is visually rooted in his distinct style. It looks fantastic.

And it sounds better than it looks. All of the original musical themes return, but they've been redone to take advantage of the PSP's superior audio power. Simply put, the music is beautiful, and worth plugging nice headphones into your PSP so that you can really enjoy the full aural experience.

Of course, such shimmering production values would be wasted on anything less than a solid game. Fortunately, the one in question is Final Fantasy II, one of the coolest Fantasies ever. Unlike other quests in the series, this game uses a skill system in which your characters' abilities level up with use, or abuse. Some applications are obvious, like using axes to get better at axes. But others are less intuitive and even more important, such as making sure your characters take damage, which increases their maximum hit points. This is important to remember, because you can stick your spellcasters in the second row, ensuring they never take direct hits. It seems like a good idea, until you realize all your characters have 300 hit points except your crucial healer, who has 45. Time to stick that sucker on the front lines and put some hair on her chest!

Is that a giant skeleton leaping out of your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Is that a giant skeleton leaping out of your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

The result is that the requisite experience grinding found in practically every classical RPG becomes much more interesting, because your stats are constantly increasing in several areas at once based on your approach to battle. You may attempt a few fights using only melee weapons to boost your party's attacks, then switch to a magical focus to bolster your casting skills. You'll constantly change your tactics, and that keeps the action interesting.

If you already own this game for the GBA, Final Fantasy II for the PSP may not be a reasonable purchase since, elegant graphics and sounds aside, this is the same game. But if you've never experienced it before, the upcoming PSP version will be by far the best, not to mention an all-around awesome way to wait for the bus.

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