Final Fantasy II’s Beginning and Mine

Final Fantasy II Box Art

Since I didn’t grow up a prince, this was my first encounter with palace intrigue. I was six years old.

My parents didn’t like to buy me games, but they did let me rent one whenever we went to Blockbuster.  It would have been cheaper for us to buy this one right off the bat, though, because I took it home six times.  Eventually, Mom was so tired of hearing about it that she agreed to buy it if I finished a packet of elective addition and subtraction worksheets. The classical box art isn’t the kind of design you’d expect a small child to like, but I recognized the title because I’d watched my neighbor Brian play Final Fantasy I, and I thought the curtain-colored red background and the radiant sword in place of a T were pretty sweet.

I never got farther than five hours into the game in one weekend, but that was just enough because the opening story arc is so meaningful. It’s about a knight’s contrition, penitence, and redemption. There’s (movie preview voice) Murder! Betrayal! Camaraderie! Adventure! …And Love!

The translation could have been more clear, concise, grammatical, and appropriate with its diction (“You spoony bard!”). Compared to my reading material in first grade, it was like Mozart versus Barney the Dinosaur. This game and its successors introduced me to adult themes and vocabulary. I matched up the natural and emotional imagery of the church hymn “Be Not Afraid,” in particular, with scenes from this game. The Pope would have been surprised to hear that, but my imagination didn’t have anything else to work with. I drew swords in class – on paper, I mean – and designed games in the car all the way through elementary school. You bet I still have those spiral notebooks. Scholars might need them some day!

Yes, Final Fantasy II was text-heavy, but so is my brain, and the cinematic presentation kept things exciting. (The game opens with music, a fade-in, a cool vehicle going somewhere exciting, and a fight, just like the movies!) The graphics are simple, but I responded to them. I saw sadness in the knight’s side profile and flowing locks and loving concern in his lover’s 256-pixel icon. As a game player, I was in control: I could go to wherever I liked and talk to whoever I liked. That 3-dimensional freedom is more engaging than a book, where the only direction you can go is forward in a straight line. If games hadn’t created interactive worlds where talking meant reading, teachers would have had to invent them.

If my mind ever goes, find this game in an old curiosity shop, put a Super Nintendo controller in my hands, and bring a voice recorder for yourself because it’ll all come back to me. My brain responds to blue dialogue boxes with white text like Pavlov’s dogs responded to dinner bells. “This was the game that started it all,” I’ll say, and by then we’ll know what “it” was.

If you’d like to continue watching this game, NextGen Walkthroughs has recorded it all while graciously omitting the voice-overs that spoil so many game videos.

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2 Comments on “Final Fantasy II’s Beginning and Mine”

  1. Brayn Says:

    My brain responds to blue dialogue boxes and white text the same way. …and the music!

    I also could only play this game by rental at first, though I wasn’t able to track down my own copy until 4 years later when I bought it off of a friend.

  2. JD Ricardi Says:

    Good ending. I agree completely about the box art. It’s minimalist but somehow magical at the same time, proof that less can be more. I didn’t play this, my fifth RPG, until after Chrono, FF6, Evermore, and Mario RPG. As a result, by the time I got to it I was mega-psyched. It may well be the best game in the series.

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