Saturday, February 6, 2016

Game Boy RPG Series: Final Fantasy Legend II

I play a lot of handheld games, and I love RPGs. I've made it my mission to play and review every RPG released in the USA for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color consoles. My goal is to be able to experience these games and enlighten my fellow handheld collectors on their strengths and weaknesses. These games will be played in the order I find and acquire them. If you have any suggestions for games I should be on the lookout for, let me know.


Final Fantasy Legend II
What's about to follow is a review for a game that took me 5 months to complete. A short time playing in my spare time at work to complete about 99% of the game, and the remaining four months of ignoring the game when I got stuck in the infamous final dungeon. So if you've read any of my previous reviews and you're wondering where I've been? There's your answer. Sitting with my arms crossed and feeling too guilty about not finishing it to start up a different Game Boy game instead. (That's not totally true I've also moved to an awesome new apartment). Now that I've successfully completed the story, I can finally move on.

Final Fantasy Legend II carries a lot over from the first game. Your 4-character party must travel upwards through a vertically stacked universe, visiting various worlds as they climb the central tower towards their final goal. The graphics, while a bit more polished, still have the same aesthetic and art style. The battle system is also very much the same, with each character in your party equipping weapons with a limited number of uses that calculate damage based on the characters Strength, Agility, or Mana stats.

Each character class has unique ways of gaining stats as they progress through the game. The delightfully morbid Monster system, where your monster characters transform by devouring the flesh of their fallen foes, is carried over from the first game, with more depth and stronger monsters to potentially create. Unfortunately, the ability to eat humanoid enemies has been removed for some reason :( Mutants and Humans have a potential to gain stats at the end of battles, and Mutants can gain spells to cast as well. One neat addition is the Robot class, which can carry up to 8 pieces of equipment with no limit on type. Robots get crazy potential combinations like a jacked up strength stat from equipping 8 swords at once. It's fun to play around with and something I haven't really seen in modern RPGs.

One issue I have is the complete lack of information on the different weapons. For example, if I have a character with high agility stat, I would naturally want to equip a weapon that deals agility-based damage. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any way to know a weapon's damage base without a guide. This didn't affect me too much personally, as I have no issue at all using guides to help me through a game, but I do think it is a design flaw. Those of you who prefer unassisted playthroughs should be aware, it's not going to be impossible to get through the game, but you're going to have to spend time with different weapons to figure out how they work, especially in the late game when you start needing every advantage you can get.

Speaking of brutal final dungeon, the sudden and punishing spike in difficulty towards the end of the game needs to be mentioned. You're really going to need to understand the mechanics of the game if you want to make it without getting wiped out consistently. I ended up with a party without enough agility to escape from battles, and it was an ordeal to make it to the end. But make it through I did, and having completed the game, I'm glad I did.

Now that I have completed both FFL2 and it's previous installment, I think Squaresoft really knew what they were doing when it came to releasing RPGs on the Game Boy, at least when it comes to this franchise. The FFL series has all the features you'd want in a portable title- the ability to save anywhere so that you can play for short intervals, simple and easily differentiated sprites and backgrounds, music that works well using the tones available on a Game Boy Speaker and sound chip, dungeons that are just the right size. It all adds up to a game that feels complete. It's surprising that games coming out years later still lacked these basic design elements that made deep games like RPGs playable on a handheld.

Actually, speaking of dungeons, I want to take a minute to spread appreciation for just how nicely the dungeon maps were designed. Take a look here. Maybe it's just me, but I love how each map segment fits neatly into the next, and even creates coherent shapes that can't necessarily be seen while you're playing, almost like wandering in a corn maze that forms a picture in an aerial photograph (I don't know how many of you have been to a corn maze :P). Anyway, sorry, enough nerding out, I just think it's a cool bit of extra info that a lot of developers don't bother with.

If you like old-school JRPGs, or you're just curious about the roots of gaming (The Final Fantasy Legend series was a big inspiration for Pokemon) you're definitely going to like FFL2. It's got plenty of charm, a neat aesthetic, an interesting setting, and a combat system that is ripe for a bit of tinkering. Just don't be afraid to do a bit of reading on the mechanics and the way items and weapons work. It will reduce a lot of stress down the line. FFL2 is a fantastic example of how to make a handheld game that plays to the strengths of the medium.