Reviews: Final Fantasy IV

A classic RPG

The Final Fantasy series has changed a great deal over the years, sometimes for the better and other times for the worse. My favorite game in the series happens to be one near the beginning, one that's relatively simple yet well-done fun that established some of the best parts of the series.

The plot begins with Cecil, a knight of Baron, beginning to question his kingdom's quest for control of the world's crystals, and feel guilt over his actions furthering that quest. After unwittingly destroying a village, he sets out on a quest to gain personal redemption and stop Baron. The story isn't anything particularly special, mainly involving a race to find the crystals before your enemies do, but it's well-told and has a good amount of Character Development involved.

The game is in many ways a step up from its predecessors. The Active Time Battle system- a turn-based combat mode with a gauge that fills over time before your party members can act- provides an interesting amount of strategic depth, forcing you to think on your feet, and decide when biding your time might be the best option. It also provides a sense of urgency when you make your decisions, which helps prevent random encounters from becoming dull, and also eliminates the quirks of some turn-based systems, such as worrying about which characters go first.

Characters not only have various strengths and weaknesses, but also unique abilities, such as the ability to sacrifice their health to deal a powerful attack, or jump into the air and avoid attacks before crashing down on an enemy. The same goes for your foes, which means that bosses require a good amount of thought in order to defeat, as opposed to merely keeping your party members healed while whittling down their health (although you will have to do that, too).

As with other Final Fantasy titles, the music is excellent and sets the mood, from emotional scenes to boss battles. The graphics aren't especially high-quality, but they're decent, helping to show the world and those who inhabit it without being ugly to the point of detracting from the gameplay.

Over the years, there have been many versions and rereleases of this game, and my favorite is the Game Boy Advance version. It has an entirely new dungeon with various subsections and floors that have their unique challenges and the translation is a step up from the original without seeming like Purple Prose, as the Nintendo DS Version does.

Perhaps FF IV may not seem original by today's standards, but it's a highly well-made title in its own right, and a large part of why Final Fantasy became the game it is, so you should definitely give it a try if you enjoy Final Fantasy

Doesn't hold up, even to its own era

Unlike many, I have no nostalgia for this game, having been introduced to it via the DS version. While in retrospect, I can applaud that version for making an interesting twist on the original game, it only makes the problems of the original even more readily apparent.

For one, the plot gets in the way of the gameplay far too much, as evidenced in the way it constantly cycles through party member with no warning to the player. This forces the player to, in turn, constantly rethink their strategies. While I'm not against that, ideally, it would come from the game presenting new challenges to the player instead of "lol your healer is gone." This is especially apparent in the DS version, which, while I can appreciate for being one of the few turn-based games I've played to require you to think your way through random battles instead of just spamming the attack command, still forces you to know when each party member leaves and what to give them in order to get the most out of your final party. Considering the difficulty of that version, you need every bit you can get.

Compare this to FFIV's immediate predecessor and successor, where you have the same four party members for more or less the whole game, can change what they do at any point in response to what the game throws at you, but don't necessarily have to if you've found something that works for you. If your usual plans aren't working for something, you can make a temporary change, cover it, and go back afterwards. This seems like a much more fair way to handle challenge than what FFIV does. FFIV doesn't let you do that, not even through having a pool of party members as seen in games such as FFVI and the Breath of Fire series, and as such comes off as worse in comparison.

Now I could tolerate the plot's changing party members if the plot was anything to write home about, but it isn't. True, this was the first Final Fantasy to have distinguishable characters, but it didn't do much with them other than Kain and maybe Rydia. As a person that's played Breath of Fire II, I can say that game definitely trumped FFIV in plot within its own era, even with a shoddy translation.

While I can see IV as being a foundation game, that's the best it has going for it in my eyes. There's fun to be had, but I don't see it as an all time classic.

DS Remake: Wrecking a Classic

Final Fantasy IV was my first real meeting with the aesthetics of the pre-FFVII era. Somewhat aged though it is, it makes for one of the series' very best attempts at creating a cohesive, resonant narrative. Exactly what compelled Square Enix to scuttle all that in favor of a completely needless remake is beyond my knowledge.

For whichever reason, they decided to rewrite the entire script in a kind of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness version Ye Olde Butcherede English that just comes off as off-putting and pretentious rather than a boon to the story being told in any way. It may just be a pet peeve of mine, but this is exactly the same problem Final Fantasy XII had (apart from generally being a shoddy piece of work, natch).

Add to that the replacement of the surprisingly fluid battle system to an even clunkier version of the one from that remake from Final Fantasy III, an ugly art style that only serves to display the technological limits of the DS, and poorly remade music that sounds like they were run through that same god-awful reverb filter that XII uses for everything, and what you have is pretty much the ultimate insult to a JRPG classic. But hey, at least they didn't remake it for iOS, right? Damn, they probably are going to do that now that they've obviously read this review, aren't they? DARN THE LUCK! DARN!

Great then, could use work now

In the modern era of games, when talking about plot, you get key features, like dialogue, relationships, and development. However, back when Final Fantasy IV came out, such things only needed to be hinted at before the fans eagerly nodded and continued playing on.

The plot, for the most part, just served as a springboard to throw the player straight into the game and keep playing to see its end. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold well by modern standards. Please note that when I speak badly of the game, I am critiquing the "where it stands now" rather than "how it was back then." In all accounts, this game was fantastic back in its time period.

So let's discuss the good; Characters, while somewhat shallow, have quirky behavior that you can fall in love with. I can say the twins were probably a favorite for all fans, new and old, as well as Cid. Kain certainly tugged a lot of heartstrings, and many believe he is the main character. He's even in the logo of one version of the game!

Music is beautiful, typically Final Fantasy epic. Gameplay is also typical Final Fantasy, and it has the attraction to completely the game entirely just so you can get to the special bosses and prizes.

Now for the bad; The storytelling is pretty weak. My biggest problem was with Cecil and Rosa, some of the least developed characters, as while you play as Cecil and see him become a Paladin, there isn't much themes and blatant development going on. I do applaud the DS version for giving the cutscenes some added "oomph" and also the nice feature of the thought bubbles, but really, those needed to be placed in the story itself.

Notice I didn't mention the game style or graphics? Truth be told, since it is one of the older games, I didn't want to consider these to be prime features to focus on. The DS version improves the graphics and style somewhat, but it is still reminiscent of the old version.

Final verdict: if you're a Final Fantasy fan, play this game. It is well worth it. If you're a noobie to the series, you might want to pick it up. Rent it, at least.

Do You Have Prince Edward in a Can?

(Note: This review is based on the 2005 rerelease for the Game Boy Advance.)

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but while I'd had suspicions before, I was about ten hours into the game before I realized the following:

Final Fantasy IV is, first and foremost, a game. It may have had more plot than most of its contemporaries, but in essence, the plot serves to give its main goal, the gameplay, more "oomph". (It also kept me playing even when I wanted to put it down, but that may just be me.) If anything, this is a bit frustrating — the premise and especially the cast hold great potential, but on its own merits, the story is underdeveloped. There is just enough material and brief moments of drama for me to know that I wanted to know more about these characters, to see more going on between them, but it wasn't there. (For reference, I'm using Chrono Trigger as a very rough watermark.)

But this isn't a book or a movie — it's a game. And, on those terms, it earns its status as a well-loved classic. If you're in this for exploring a sixteen-bit digital world of towns and dungeons; for items, powers, and random encounters; for turn-based battles with elements of timing, strategy, and all the fixin's — then, I say, you are looking at the right game. It's challenging, well-made, and generally fun to play. (Moreover, at least in the "Advance" release, the infamous bard Edward is quite useful, as well as being one of the better-developed characters. I imagine I'd be less disappointed to see him shunted to the side for the bulk of the game if I'd had to live with the classic, useless, spoony Edward of the SNES era.)

The bottom line: If you want a well-developed, engaging plot, look elsewhere. If you want a masterfully-designed RPG with a plot, go for it.

(Of course, I would have known all this from the beginning if I had just listened to this fellow...)