Now that I’ve finished up Final Fantasy IV and looked back a bit on my previous journeys in The Final Fantasy Retrospective I always come back to my one utter bafflement, the one joke of a concept that ended up with me throwing in the towel on the whole game and declaring my intent to just finish it and move on: The Ultima spell in Final Fantasy II.
For those who haven’t watched my series on Final Fantasy II, a large chunk of the game’s narrative is spent building up this legendary world-shattering spell that will only be unlocked when the end of days is truly upon the world at large. There is only one copy of said spell, meaning only one person can learn it and if they forget it to learn a different spell then it is gone forever. But why would you forget it to learn something else? It’s the ultimate spell. A white magic spell said to turn the tides of the very apocalypse.
Well, probably because it did less damage than Fire?
Yeah, the spell ended up completely sucking for me. A massive whiff. Didn’t do a dang thing worth spending the MP on. But why? Why did this narratively important spell turn out to be so underwhelming? Well, I decided to spend my weekend trying to figure that out – and boy oh boy did I find a treat. The spell doesn’t suck. My characters sure as hell did.
See, Ultima in Final Fantasy II is a spell that has a unique damage formula built on the mechanics that are completely unique to that installment in the franchise: Skill proficiency and leveling. The potency of the Ultima spell swings wildly depending on the number of ranks you have in the spell AND the average number of ranks you have across all the other weapon skills and spells you can use in the game. So if Guy only used Axes, and has Rank 16 axes, but only has Rank 1 for every other weapon? That’s gonna hurt him. For every 24 cumulative ranks among all eight weapon skills and sixteen learned spells, you increase Ultima’s power by one “tier”. The end result makes it one of the most wildly swinging spells with the following formula:
Ultima Level * [FLOOR(SUM(All Weapon Skill Levels + All Magic Spell Levels) / 24)+FLOOR(FLOOR(SUM(All Weapon Skill Levels + All Magic Spell Levels)/24)/2)]^2 + 100
Or to clean it up a bit:
LEVELS = Sum(All weapon skill ranks + all magic spell ranks) — Unlearned spell slots count as Rank 0.
TIER = Floor( LEVELS / 24 )
BASE_DAMAGE = Ultima Rank * (TIER + Floor(TIER / 2))^2 + 100
So what does that mean? It means that at it’s lowest point – all weapons at rank 1, only Ultima learned and at rank 1 – a cast of Ultima will deal 100 damage for the cost of 1 mp. Which isn’t bad! Really, not taking into account the possibility of a critical hit (Double damage) or random variance (giving it a range of 61 to 139), it still deals better damage than a Rank 1 Fire spell at the start of the game… but you don’t GET Ultima at the start of the game. And it’s a hell of a lot harder to get than a Fire Tome.
What about if we tweak that some? What if we maxed everything BUT our newly learned Ultima? Rank 16 on every weapon and 15 spells, but with rank 1 Ultima. Just learned it. How much will it do then? Between 556 and 612 damage. So if we leveled up EVERYTHING but Ultima to the ultimate pinnacle of our ability, taught that one character to use every single weapon and grinded them out to Rank 16 along with 15 other spells… we do about 6x more damage.
Well then, let’s change that up. What about maximum rank Ultima? Say we could learn Ultima right away and start the game with it, and for another scenario let’s figure out the absolute maximum damage that the spell can do when everything is at Rank 16. Well let me crunch the numbers…
Scenario 1 (Rank 16 Ultima, Rank 1 Weapons, Rank 0 for all other spells): 116 damage.
Scenario 2 (Everything Rank 16): 9,316 damage.
So uh… That swings a bit, right? Lemme put this information in a Handy-Dandy Table(tm):
|Rank 1 Ultima||Rank 16 Ultima|
|Minimum Rank Everything Else||100 Damage||116 Damage|
|Maximum Rank Everything Else||584 Damage||9316 Damage|
It’s not really hard to see why this spell is only rewarding if you fully take advantage of leveling all your proficiencies. Especially since Ultima doesn’t take into account strength or magic power, it doesn’t matter what kind of stat growth the character has had as long as their ranks are high – preferably maxed out. Because if even one skill or spell is 15 instead of 16? That damage drops by 1500. A “tier” of 15 instead of 16 is that much of a drop, and a reminded that with the way it’s calculated, Tier 16 is only obtainable with all max ranks. Anything less starts dropping hard. Tier 14 – which is between 336 and 359 cumulative ranks – drops by another 700 points of damage.
So why did my use of Ultima not work out compared to other spells? I gave it Firion who pretty much only knew how to use swords, so there’s what? A total of 16 ranks. He only knew 9 spells out of his 16 and Ultima was at Rank 7. Assuming most of the spells were rank 8 through 10… plug that in… carry the one… Yeah. That fits. Sub 1000 damage. Based on the numbers in my actual streams & videos, I’d pin my total putting me at around tier 6 or 7, which would be about right with the numbers. Though in my defense, the numbers were on par if I had maxed EVERYTHING else and only leveled Ultima up to like rank 2… So which really was the best use of my time? I dunno. I still won in the end.
So yeah, that’s why Ultima sucked in Final Fantasy II. Unless you knew how it worked, and knew that ignored all other stats in favor of how many bars you filled up in the skill and spell proficiencies, chances are you’d end up screwing yourself and have better luck chucking Flare or Fire 10+ at the Emperor for the final battle.
Why did I go into this? Because honestly I’m sometimes very curious how the numbers shake on the back side of games, and the complete bafflement at how this amazing plot-demanding spell turned into a total dud. One time I did an entire breakdown on Tumblr on Final Fantasy XII’s Flowering Cactoid and why even at level 90 in New Game Plus, the fight can wipe you if you haven’t recruited Balthier yet or don’t have any guns to bypass the little things insane evasion (Guns bypass evasion in XII).
At least I didn’t play the original Famicom version. Apparently that one had a bug that capped the damage at 500 regardless of anything you did.
THAT would have sucked.