As a child of the early 90s, every Friday night in suburbia was a mixed bag of excitement and choice anxiety. My parents would haul me and a friend to Blockbuster Video in our spacious, maroon Toyota Camry to pick out some mindless entertainment for the evening. I was allowed to rent one film and one video game and there were no exceptions.
The film was an obvious choice, as I was quickly becoming a horror connoisseur and I could always find a forgettable, disgustingly bloody cinematic masterpiece to fulfill that quota. Whether it was something from the Children of the Corn, Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, it always proved a great accessory to a bag of Doritos and a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew.
However, I faced many a bout of choice anxiety having to pick out the video game. There were too many options and game types available to choose from. SNES was home to quite a few pieces of vaporware as well, so you didn’t want to make your decision too rashly. The consequences could be dire.
I believe it was the giant sword on the cover and the simplicity of the design that made me first delve into the realm of RPG goodness. While some may consider lands full of dungeons, dragons, ninjas, monsters, and magical crystals a geeky endeavor, they’ve obviously never had the masochistic pleasure of playing through Final Fantasy II for the SNES.
I know, the name is a misnomer, as it’s actually the fourth Final Fantasy game. In Japan, it was called Final Fantasy IV, but for us lowly Americans it was only the second in the series. Technicalities aside, it was actually my first RPG and it opened the door to my eventual obsession with the genre.
Final Fantasy II places you in in the role of a dark knight named Cecil, hailing from the Castle of Baron. Forced to choose between the will of your king and the weight of morality, Cecil is torn. A pretty dark game from the onset, this tale’s twists and turns are not the stuff of kiddie fantasies. Shit gets real. Delving into the psyche of Cecil and his long-time friend, Kain, they are both consistently faced with their inner demons. Covering topics such as romance, betrayal, death, deceit, transformation, and self-discovery, the game pulls no punches in its dramatic arcs.
The supporting cast is well-developed and interesting as well. From the good-natured Rosa to the mysterious Rydia to the charming Edge and the grandfatherly Tellah, the characters are sincere and unforgettable. Even the boss characters have their fair share of screen time and some of them are quite likable, actually.
The difficulty level is pretty high and the overall game is unforgiving as well. The player is punished for stepping foot into new situations ill-prepared. If your gear is shoddy and your team isn’t well-leveled, you will die. Bosses can be a real pain in the ass, but that only makes conquering them all the more rewarding.
One of the best parts of this game, as is true of most games in the Final Fantasy series, is its musical score. The music throughout this game punctuates the action and drama perfectly and is near-flawless. It hosts one of my favorite Final Fantasy theme songs and the track during the opening airship formation is one of the greatest pieces of video game music ever recorded. The battle theme is on-point and the boss theme is fucking fantastic. It’s among the best scores ever conceived. It gives me a geek boner the size of the Tower of Babel to even speak of it.
Overall, though I’d consider Chrono Trigger my favorite RPG experience of all time, Final Fantasy II follows closely behind. It was my first RPG love and one of my favorite games of all time. It’s a fairly straightforward, linear tale with plenty of plot twists and enough content and strategy to keep even the most hardcore players interested until its final act. There’s a reason this series has made it well into its teens.