Final Fantasy 2 is a strange one. The skill level-up system is weird. Its story is, at first glance, a ramshackle and slightly too familiar story, and unlike its storied older siblings, there’s something oddly forgettable about this Final Fantasy.
That doesn’t mean you should discount it, though. It’s crucial to nearly everything Final Fantasy achieved from then on.
Stop Hitting Yourself
Final Fantasy 2’s easiest target is the level up system. Skills don’t mature as you do. Instead, you have to use them enough times to warrant an increase in power, which means either spamming random encounters ad nauseum or attacking party members relentlessly.
That oddity makes Final Fantasy 2’s late game feel unusually rewarding, though, and not just because you’ve broken the game and steamrolled all who dare defy you. It’s almost like enjoying a private joke, one where you actually save the world because you made Maria beat Firion with a stick.
The mechanics behind it are more complicated than that, of course. But more importantly, you can see the beginnings of what eventually became a Final Fantasy staple. Learning skills might be a nuisance in Final Fantasy 2, but the point is anyone can endure this nuisance.
Final Fantasy 6-9 might call it something different each time, but whether you call it an Esper, Materia, or just a weapon skill, their combat systems exist thanks to Final Fantasy 2.
A Long Time Ago...
I admit, the story is essentially Star Wars-but-fantasy. A white-robed princess tasks your ragtag band of heroes, guided by a wise older warrior, with defending their small kingdom from the big, bad empire’s invasion.
The empire dabbles in forbidden technology, and family members on both sides of the conflict end up being a plot point.
Maybe that’s not too surprising from a series that names two characters Biggs and Wedge whenever possible. Whatever intergalactic inspirations Square might have had when writing Final Fantasy 2, this oddity of a game is the narrative spring that gave life to Final Fantasy 4 and possibly everything that came after it.
That’s not to say later Final Fantasy games just recycled Final Fantasy 2. Like all good legends, they build on the simpler tales that came before.
In that sense, Final Fantasy 2 is the best thing that could have happened to the series because it made humans the central focus - well, minus one or two demons from hell.
Garland was once a human knight, but the talk of chaos knights and magic crystals places the original firmly in the realm of ye olde fantasy RPG.
Magical races and mystical crystals are... fine, sure. But there’s only so much emotion you can squeeze from these kinds of stories - only so much shock you can muster at the heinous actions of villains clearly marked as very bad people and only so many times you can care about saving the inhabitants of Fantasy Village.
That human focus is what transformed Final Fantasy from the medieval fantasy tropes so common at the time.
Kain and Cecil’s fraught relationship owes its tense darkness to Maria and Leon. The Gestahlian Empire should have erected a shrine honoring Palamecia, and I doubt Sephiroth and Kuja could have been half as chillingly cruel without their predecessors’ 50/50 split of human fallacy and supernatural powers.
That's not even considering the grander stories in Type-0, XII, and XIV.
These deftly weave Final Fantasy's mystical strands with very human heroes, villains, and motivations to create genuine epics of the kind that would make Final Fantasy 2 blush, were it capable of doing so, but they never would have reached these heights had the series remained stuck in its magical medieval roots.