The game isn’t difficult, which might be a bit of a letdown, considering how well it performs in just about every other department. Some enemies, like the ones in the Fanatics’ Tower/Cultists’ Tower (where you can only use magic), or the Pugs/Tonberries, might take you by surprise, but there’s usually a good way around every difficulty. Don’t underestimate negative status spells, as you might be surprised by how many actually work (especially Imp).
The game is also, unfortunately, one of the glitchiest in the series, alongside its immediate successor, FFVII. One of these glitches, the infamous Vanish-Doom bug, only serves to make the game even easier than it already is. The Vanish spell is supposed to make its target immune to physical attacks, but still vulnerable to magic ones. However, an unintended side-effect allows it to override instant death immunity, thus rendering every enemy and almost every boss in the game susceptible to Doom if they have been inflicted with Vanish beforehand. Needless to say that this is a cheap and dirty way of breezing through the game, so exploiting it or not is entirely up to you. I usually save it for particularly annoying fights like Doom Gaze/Deathgaze, which would otherwise take an unnecessarily long time to complete.
Despite having been revived with a fanfare in FFV, the tradition of optional superbosses faltered in this game (it has, however, thrived since then), as there aren’t any. Or rather, there was supposed to be one called Czar Dragon, but, for some reason, it didn’t make the cut. It has, however, been revived in the GBA version, so that’s where you should look if you’re itching for more challenge.
That being said, the lack of an optional superboss is possibly less noticeable because the main villain finally has such an amazing stage presence. Gone are the large, impersonal talking suits of black armour, enter Kefka, the crazed blonde clown with his trademark laugh, who has since become one of the most famous and unique villains in the series. He was the first prototype of a Magitek Knight, like Celes, but his enhancement went a little wrong, leaving him completely insane. Think Joker from Batman, right down to the makeup. But he one-ups Joker with a garish red-and-green jester’s outfit and some feathers in his hair. Kefka craves power to destroy anything he fancies, just because it’s fun, and becomes noticeably more potent as the game progresses. He revels in his lunacy and is about as predictable as a faulty bomb. Some of his lines have also been immortalised by Ted Woolsey’s translation, including such gems as “run, run, or you’ll be well-done!”, “wait, he says! do I look like a waiter?”, “son of a submariner!” or “you all sound like chapters from a self-help booklet!”
The sidequest department receives a major upgrade in this game. Several of the characters are optional, and the entire second part of the game is essentially a succession of sidequests, as you strive to recompose your team, which has been scattered as a result of the game’s midway event. You could finish the game with just Celes, Sabin and Setzer, who are the only mandatory characters in the second part (however, Terra does make an appearance even if you don’t recruit her), if you so desired, but that would sort of defeat the point. Every character you retrieve in the second part of the game also comes with her or his own little sidequest, completing which is also usually left to your discretion. However, most of them are either entertaining or informative (or both), and, if anything, serve as training for the party, so I don’t recommend passing them up. As a side note, it’s also possible to avoid recruiting Gau and Mog in the first part of the game and still have them available in the second part. However, in that case, Gau will miss out on some Rages, while Mog will miss out on a Dance. It’s also possible to completely miss out on Shadow, if you don’t pick a certain course of action at the very end of the first part of the game (you’ll know which it is, don’t worry).
The game features an innovation in the healing item department, which has only reappeared once since then, in the PS remake of the first FF: the Sleeping Bag. This is basically a one-person Tent, which you can only use at a save point or on the world map. So if one of your characters is particularly low on MP and a little dented, you can use a Sleeping Bag rather than waste Tinctures/Ethers, Tonics/Potions, Tents or someone else’s MP for healing them. This is quite useful, but it certainly does nothing to increase the game’s difficulty level.
Chocobos can now be hired from stables, which can be found in some towns and some forests. In theory, this is handy if you don’t want to bother with random encounters, since riding a chocobo prevents the party from being attacked, but…the chocobo riding screen is a disaster. Don’t ask me why the developers decided to flatten the map out, or why they’ve made such a horrible remix of the chocobo theme. Suffice it to say that you’ll most likely get lost while trying to navigate the chocobo, and then the weird colours and the music will start hurting your eyes and ears. So I would just steer clear of riding chocobos altogether. Unless you really want to experience it for yourself.
Some closing remarks:
– A miniature version of the world map can now be permanently displayed at the bottom of the world map screen to help you keep track of your travels. You can also enlarge it at any time to get more precise bearings.
– The Colosseum/Coliseum is a feature usually found in Tales games, but it nevertheless makes an appearance here (and will reappear in FFVII). It’s an arena where one party member of your choice faces off against one enemy upon wagering a piece of equipment. If the party member wins the bout, they’ll gain another item in exchange for the one wagered. You need a list of the possible tradeoffs to make the most of this process, but some of the game’s best equipment is obtained by these means, so make sure you have a prize fighter ready to go. Gogo (pun not intended) is usually a good choice, due to her/his capacity to use other characters’ abilities, but other characters can perform just as well with the proper preparations.
– The Auction House makes its first appearance in the series. Located in the town of Jidoor, it allows the party to bid on a small selection of items. To be fair, the only things worth buying are two pieces of magicite (Golem and Zoneseek/Zona Seeker), but the concept will be reused later in the series (FFIX, FFXI, FFXIV and FFTA2).