The second game in the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy II was released in Japan in 1988, but unreleased outside of Japan until 2003, when various remakes of the game have been released on different platforms. Previous to that, it was only available to English-speaking gamers as a poorly translated ROM.

There are two things apparent upon playing Final Fantasy II (in whatever version), although one of them might not seem like much of a realization to modern gamers. The first is that Final Fantasy II has a plot and characters. The first Final Fantasy had a plot, but it was a hodge-podge of dreamlike sidequests. In Final Fantasy II, we have something like a realistic setting. We also have characters, with both playable characters and NPCs showing personality and a little bit of character development. Compared to later installments in the saga, with five minute full motion videos where the characters discuss existentialism, the plot is fairly basic: Evil Empire tries to dominate/destroy the world, but a surprising amount of mileage was gotten out of it here. In some ways, Final Fantasy II is the real first Final Fantasy, with many games after it reiterating its plots and themes.

The second thing a gamer will notice when playing Final Fantasy II is that the experience point system, used in almost every RPG, is absent. You don't gain experience points. You don't "Level Up", at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, the characters get individual levels for different skills, depending on how much they use them. Every spell the character learns levels up when the character uses it. Weapons level up when a character hits with them. When a character has their hit points or magic points depleted in battle, those statistics go up. It was an interesting take on the system, but it does have some problems: for example, one of the best ways to level up HP is to attack your own characters in battle. Also, some spells are incredibly weak and leveling them up would be an improbable task. Casting "Sleep" 300 times to no effect before it is useful is not a very fun way to play a game. But I actually found the leveling system good, and in fact was against grinding: because a risky battle where the character got hurt was actually more likely to give a character a boost than 100 battles against low-level enemies.

And other than that, Final Fantasy II is the first place we see Cid. The first time we see a Chocobo. There are proto-Moogles. And this is the first time we see our characters interact with each other, with unresolved romantic tension, expressed in all its 8-bit glory.

Speaking of 8-bit, the original games graphics are exactly what you would expect from a Final Fantasy game from 1988. Quite good at the time, cutely cartoonish today. The music, however, like the music from any other Final Fantasy I can think of, holds up very well today, even in its 8-bit version.

Final Fantasy II is a melancholy and difficult game that well probably not appeal to everyone, and probably will not even appeal to most RPG players. However, for the player who gets into it, the game is of interest for both its historical interest and challenging gameplay.