35 Years Later, the Worst Final Fantasy Game Deserves a True Remake
A game in desperate need of reimagining.
The original Final Fantasy was a huge success for Square, and a massively influential game that would change RPGs entirely. What’s truly amazing, however, is that after that initial hit Square was ambitious enough to strike off in a different direction with its sequel, introducing wildly different gameplay mechanics on top of a more in-depth story. There are still great ideas at the core of Final Fantasy 2, ideas that could be brought to life by a true, from-the-ground-up remake. Thirty-five years later though, it’s clear that a lot of Final Fantasy 2’s ambition was misguided, and hindsight shows it was one of the most frustrating titles in the franchise.
Square Enix loves remaking games, and the framework for a reimagining of Final Fantasy 2 already lies with one of the series’ most fascinating spinoffs. 2022’s Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a brilliant metatextual satire that breaks down the legacy of the franchise and its use of the traditional hero story. It’s a fantastic way to reimagine the history of the franchise, and feels like a natural foundation that could be built upon for Final Fantasy 2. Nothing short of a complete reimagining would work for Final Fantasy 2, due to inherent flaws that are impossible to fix entirely.
Chief among these issues is the combat and leveling system, which sounds good on paper but flounders in execution. In Final Fantasy 2, you level up specific traits by using those actions in combat. So attacking with a sword will raise your sword level, attacking with Fire will raise fire magic, taking a lot of damage will raise your HP, and so on.
This system makes stat growth an absolute chore that typically requires a bit of grinding, not allowing you to play freely. At the same time, there are certain exploits, like fighting bare-handed, that can blow the entire system wide open and make things absurdly easy. There are a handful of other flaws that only make Final Fantasy 2 more frustrating, like confusing dungeon design, liberal backtracking, and a rotating door of fourth party members who mostly feel useless.
The release of the Pixel Remaster earlier this year did address certain issues, like giving you boosts for stat raises to cut down on grinding. However, it feels like Final Fantasy 2 honestly needs a complete re-imagining for its ideas to shine.
One of the more positive aspects of the game is its story, as this was the first game in the franchise to have an involved narrative. While the tale pales by today’s standards, in 1988 it was an admirable achievement. There are some complex themes in Final Fantasy 2’s story about betrayal, the human cost of bloody conflict, and the danger of turning people into “heroes.”
That last point is what could especially make a compelling Stranger of Paradise-version of Final Fantasy 2, as it could deconstruct the very nature of what make up hero characters. A particularly interesting character is Leon, one of the original four heroes who ends up turning into a villain for the bulk of the game, before coming back as the final party member. Diving into Leon’s evil turn in more detail, and exploring how he grappled with that fact could be incredibly compelling.
A reimagining could reassess the unique leveling system, giving it a more modern take applied to action combat. Again, Final Fantasy 2’s leveling system is good on paper, so there’s no reason it couldn’t be used effectively — the problems in the original game just come down to execution. It’s honestly a shame that Square Enix has never returned to the idea.
Final Fantasy 2 is the black sheep of the franchise, the game that’s universally recognized as one of the worst. But despite that, it still has a legacy: it introduced beloved characters like Chocobos, Cid, and Ultima, and set the stage for storytelling in the franchise. It’s an odd game to look at, because there are so many compelling ideas mixed in with bad execution. Both Stranger of Paradise and Final Fantasy 7 Remake proved that examining and deconstructing the history of Final Fantasy can help lead to its future, and Final Fantasy 2 needs to be a part of that.