I remember when SquareSoft's (now SquareEnix) original Final Fantasy came out. It was a turning point in the evolution of the game industry and it took my young imagination by storm. What I didn't know at the time was that there were a host of other titles in the series already in the works. What we Americans would know as Final Fantasy II would actually be the fourth title in the franchise. After Square made the switch from Nintendo to Playstation, they began releasing these other titles for the American market. I had other things to do while that was happening, so it's only just now that I've gotten around to playing Final Fantasy II and experiencing the adventures of Firion and his friends.
Final Fantasy II makes a number of ground-breaking improvements over the original title. There are defined player characters with their own rudimentary stories and personalities. Some of these characters come and go, as in Final Fantasy IV, but the number of them that meet a grisly end is much higher than subsequent titles in the series. The world the characters inhabit is well defined with a host of distinct kingdoms and towns that each have their own personality while still fitting in with the overall world of the game (something I felt was lacking in Final Fantasy VII and simply under-developed in Final Fantasy I). The character advancement system, which focuses on how the characters are used rather than simple leveling up, is also a welcome innovation that sadly was not followed up in many of the subsequent titles. It is also one of the real challenges and pleasures of this particular game.
Two aspects of the original title that remained that I particularly enjoyed. The first, was that in contrast to Final Fantasy IV and VI, Firion and company start out as nobodies and have to work their way up to becoming the most important people in their world. This allowed the story to grow and widen with the player characters creating and added sense of adventure and accomplishment. I also enjoyed the high medieval fantasy feel that marked the earliest titles in the series before giving was to a steam-punk/cyber-punk feel in Final Fantasy VI. As with the original Final Fantasy, the world of Final Fantasy II is a vast and coherent place to explore.
The above represents my initial thoughts immediately after completing the game. If other ideas occur to me over the next few weeks, I'll be sure to post them here at the Platypus of Truth.