Part 1: Chapter 1
Let's do this.
Oh dear, the evil empire has conquered the kingdom! Now let's take a ragtag band of youths and make the entire army of Phin look like chumps.
(I almost said "make the Phinnish army look like chumps" but that shit just ain't going to fly.)
But first, we have to give them some names. And by "we" I mean "I", although if someone comes up with a really awesome name I might change it.
: This guy is nominally the main character, I guess? Compared to his Amano concept art he loses his cool bandanna in his 8-bit rendering here, but he also loses his blue eyeliner and lipstick, so... call it a wash, I guess.
The official translation for his name is Firion, which is dumb. The fan translator's best guess is Frioniel, which is even dumber. Obviously, the solution is clear:
: Next up is... Leonheart or Lionheart, or maybe Leonhart, depending on who you ask. It's slightly less terrible a name than Firioniel, but it's still way too long for the number of spaces we get. Rather than try to cram it in, I'll do my best to preserve the spirit of this noble appelation:
: Then we have Maria, who has a name that is sensible and short enough to fit. But also kind of boring.
: And last up is Guy, who has a pretty short, solid name.
Plus we've already got Fry, so together we have... actually, no, wait. This is dumb.
Now that we've established the very close to almost completely canonical names of our heroes, it's time to start the game proper.
Oh, a tutorial battle! This game certainly doesn't waste any time.
Not to worry, I still have three party members to retaliate with!
I'm not dead?
The turban dude just said I was fine already. Quit being so pushy.
"I've amplified his life force" sounds like blatant jargon. I think in layman's terms it means "I already cast LIFE and CURE on him, he's fine, now get off my back lady." The glowy magic probably didn't even do anything, he just wanted to look busy.
: "If the Empire completes their Warship at Bofsk, we'll stand no chance against them.."
Funnily enough, this is not the first time Fry has woken up on an unfamiliar healing rune after a rough night.
Oh dear, Fry has been separated from his friends! We must embark on an epic journey to find our lost comrades and reunite our party.
Nevermind, they're just outside the door.
: "It's alright, I'm sure he's alive."
So looks like we get an epic journey to find one of our lost comrade anyhow.
After that, the party instinctively heads for the throne room.
: "Princess, let us fight with your rebel army against the Empire!"
: "Settle down! In your current state, you'd only be throwing your lives away."
: "We've got nothing else to live for... Our family, our homes... gone."
: "I'm sorry... Well, you may stay here in Altea if you wish. Remember the Wild Rose. It's the crest of Phin and the secret password of our rebel army."
Now for something kind of unique for a NES RPG:
A keyword-based dialogue system! You can "learn" bracketed words and ask NPCs about them to trigger specific responses.
Of course, outside of a few major NPCs most of the people you run into just have standard canned RPG dialogue. And there are only about a dozen keywords total. Most of them are only relevant for one or two quests, tops. For that matter, even the major NPCs rarely give any response to keywords other than the one or two currently relevant ones. And at some points you are required to speak to fairly obscure NPCs in order to learn a keyword necessary to advance the plot.
But hey, it's a keyword system! In a NES RPG!
Giving Hilda the password that she just told us yields the following conversation:
: "Ah, I wonder how Phin is doing now. I saw captives being gathered there. If you're going to try to find Marty's brother Lenny, Phin might be a good place to start. However, it's become a very dangerous town ever since the Empire seized it. Be careful."
See how stopping to learn "Wild Rose" and repeat it back made that infodump so much more interactive? Now let's see what turban guy has to say.
: "I see you're using the password. Try saying it to others, too."
Way to be useless, turban guy. Stick to amplifying life forces.
Looks like we've run out of major NPCs to grill with our keyword.
No one interesting out here, either.
But hey, we might as well loot the place while we're here.
Exploring the rebel base a little further reveals this room. The king (who appears to be named King, appropriately enough) has nothing useful to say, but the fact that the keyword menu appears should be a clue that he'll be important eventually.
Outside the base, we find... ninja!
That's more than we can say, since we just stole the rebel army's entire supply of potion. One. One potion.
And say, I spy someone hiding behind the text window up north:
: "You want to join the war? Sigh... if you succeed, remember what a coward I am."
I don't think Square has ever managed to create anyhow quite so emo as Gordon the cowardly coward of cowardice. It sure ain't for lack of trying, though.
Hiding, you say?
There's about a dozen people in this town, all of whom are either rebels or rebel sympathizers. Don't ask me who he's supposed to be hiding from.
This is the weapon shop, though, which reminds me: it's time to get our party equipped! The character building system is open-ended and has no classes, so anyone can potentially use any item or spell (although trying to master both heavy weapons and magic doesn't necessarily work so well.) Everyone starts out with weapons and armor, so let's go hit the magic store. We've got 400 gold to start with, so we should be able to buy plenty of spells.
Well, that's okay. I'm sure we don't really need all those weapons and armors anyhow. Selling off some of our useless junk gets enough money to buy a copy of both Bolt and Cure, plus a second buckler shield. After some equipment juggling we arrive at our party configuration:
Marty, our fearsome berserker!
Guido, our magic-wielding ubergod!
A quick rundown on stats: Power is for physical attacks, Intelligence is for black magic, Soul is for white magic. Agility is your base Evade% (which gets modified by equipment, more on that later.) Vitality and the misleadingly-named Magic Power related to HP and MP growth respectively, plus they both contribute to Magic Defense%.
Down at the bottom are weapon skills. FFII has no concept of overall experience levels; instead weapons and spells are powered up gradually through use. Attack with a sword, you get a tiny bit of sword experience, which eventually levels up your sword skill. Right now everyone's at level 1 in all weapons, with 0 experience for each of them. Spells use a similar system, although you have to go to the spell menu to see your progress with magic.
Now, you might be wondering why Fry and Guido are nekkid. Mostly it's for Marty's amusement, because she's the one with the axe and no one's in the mood to argue with her. But it's also because of a unique feature of the battle system:
Like later Final Fantasy games, you can toggle characters between front and back rows. But where in most of these games it just gives a 50% damage reduction that most powerful attacks ignore anyhow, in this game being in the back row makes you completely untargetable by physical attacks as long as there's someone in the front row. Marty is going to be doing the tanking, so defense is not especially relevant for Fry or Guido. Meanwhile, wearing armor lowers Evasion, which is a seriously overloaded statistic in this game--Evasion functions as kind of a catch-all speed score here. Shields boost evasion, though, which is why Guido's using one even though he's in back.
The catch is that from the back row, you can't physically attack either unless you have a bow. Fry's covered there, which leaves Guido with his trusty Bolt spell.
With that, we set forth into the wilderness!
Oh god it's filled with bees.
Walking out into the overworld and immediately getting poisoned is an extremely disconcerting experience for old-school RPG players. Luckily the poison inflicted by these guys wears off on its own within a couple of turns.
Guido shows us why weapons are for suckers (it did take him two castings to get everything, though.)
And now the spoils! Since there's no experience levels, attributes go up with use just as skills do, except there's no concept of experience for attributes--they just go up at random. Anyone who's played any of the SaGa games should be familiar with this kind of system. Swinging weapons around sometimes causes Power to go up, losing HP will raise Vitality and max HP, losing MP will raise Magic Power and max MP.
A few hornets later, the party runs into some new monsters. They're almost identical to the hornets, except they don't poison and they're slightly easier to hit.
But the party manages to get into trouble anyhow, since Guido has no MP to bail them out with his awesome magic. The one problem with relying on magic is that you start with very low MP, and MP is one of the more annoying stats to raise if you're not horribly abusing the system. It's not difficult to work around the problem, but when you're starting out it's easy to come to the conclusion that spells aren't worth the hassle. This is stupid and wrong and will make the game a whole lot harder, though.
Luckily, in the process of using up all his MP Guido ended up getting a substantial increase to his max MP, and there's a convenient town right here to rest at.
This place exists solely to be a pit stop on the way to Phin.
Inns don't have a set rate in this game; instead, you have to pay based on how much HP/MP you have to recover. One reason it pays to be frugal with HP and MP.
With everyone refreshed, it's time to head out again.
Goblins! You've just gotta have goblins. Otherwise, what are low-level adventurers going to kill? They're also very close statwise to the leg eaters and hornets. It was nice of Square to throw in a little variety in their fledgling adventurer fodder (without even resorting to palette swaps yet, at that.)
A few battles later, we're at our real destination, the city of Phin. We can't get into the castle right now, so we'll hit the town.
Oh hey, this guy looks pretty friendly.
I tried to tell him that the rebels wouldn't let us join their rebel army when the rebels saved us with their rebel healer and took us to their rebel hideout and invited us to live in their rebel town, but somehow it didn't seem to help any.
Woah, deja vu.
Actually, it's kind of nice to see this level of consistency. It's always annoying in later RPGs when your party gets curbstomped by the evil army in cutscene battles but then you go and actually fight them and you one-shot them left and right all over the place.
Anyhow, I'm dead. Next update: I grind for 3 hours so I can take down this asshole and proceed with the game.
no I don't because that's stupid