This game is often considered to be the “black sheep” of the Final Fantasy series for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, the “leveling system” comes to mind: rather than experience points, as you all know, your stats grow according to what occurs in battle; receiving damage increases HP, casting spells raises intelligence, fighting raises strength, etc. While ideally this makes sense, most players found their characters very lacking in critical areas often throughout the game.
Second, the graphics; some characters’ sprites, such as Firioniel/Firion and Guy/Gus, were taken directly from FF1, as well as many tiles from scenary. The designers clearly didn’t put spend all that much time and thought making character models.
Third, but most likely not finally, the nuances that made the game incredibly annoying. The battle music, which wasn’t the best song in the game by far, played during the constant random battles. During random battles, many events, such as casting spells on the entire enemy party, took a long time to complete and are often not even worth the effort put into them. If you attack an enemy and it dies, other characters who have targetted the enemy will miss and waste precious turns in the process.
Do these things make it a bad game? Of course not.
As far as battle tactics are concerned, people who complain of the game’s difficulty have no idea what they’re doing. If you run out of MP, don’t cast spells and use items instead like you did in the original Final Fantasy. If your spells are too weak, use them more often instead of attacks while travelling back and forth between towns. The game wasn’t designed to be sickeningly easy like the sequels that have spoiled American gamers, such as Final Fantasy IV: Easy Type or Final Fantasy VII.
What could graphic designers do with a game that was released just a year after Final Fantasy? If I remember correctly, Final Fantasy was a “final” attempt by one of the game’s producers (thus the name), so chances are they weren’t working on the sequel immediately after the first game’s release. By using the same sprites as Final Fantasy, perhaps Square intended to carry over some of the previous game’s success to this title. This game was definitely not the only of the beloved Final Fantasy series that used sprite theft.
Finally, let me remind you that this game was released in December of 1988. The standard and capability for NES games definitely excuses any flaws in the simplistic plot, graphics, or music that most people complain about. We can’t expect the game to contain voice-acting, FMVs, or any other dazzling effects; all we could possibly expect of Square was to do the best possible job given the circumstances of the game’s release.
I think they did it.