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4 Heroes of Light is one of my all-time favourite games and for good reason. It was pure, honest fun.
Modern games seem to have gotten this weird idea where they need to have some kind of deep philosophical message, or make a harsh deconstruction on the tropes and narratives in games we've come to accept. To be honest, its kind of wearisome and draws away from the core concept of a game. To have fun and enjoy playing.
And that's the main thing I love about this game. It doesn't pretend to be this epic masterpiece, it doesn't bog itself down in morals and themes and doesn't try to make you rethink how you game. It's pure turn-based fantasy RPG at its finest. In fact, you could almost claim it to be a cliché. But I think that's the point. It's got this cheeky attitude towards the whole save-the-world-from-evil concept and its quite charming.
The story is your standard "bunch of teenagers go on a quest to save the world from darkness" kind of thing, but with a twist: they can't stand each other. After valiantly coming together and beating the first boss, the descend into bickering and split up. They then proceed to leave after their hometown gets cursed and journey around the world, exploring distant places in a series of interconnecting plots that somehow weave seamlessly together. While you explore the world and try to find solutions to your problems, you find out the world is actually a lot more miserable than you thought, giving you just a little feeling that something is up. Then you get to the epic climax at the floating city of Spelvia where the heroes finally meet up again, having gone through some really satisfying character development that finally brings the team together to face the Darkness.
And the a time crash happens.
Really though, the game is really satisfying. Seeing the party overcome hardships and keep holding on just feels so brilliantly satisfying. Visually, the game looks gorgeous for a DS game. Special props to the final boss fight, which you really have to see to believe.
One thing though. This game is hard. I cannot tell you how many times I've died. The boss fights in the second half of the game are INSANE (f*ck you Asmodeus!) and to date, Chaos holds the dubious honour of being the only boss I've never been able to defeat. Seriously, I've beat Ninja Gaiden 1, but I can't defeat Chaos.
Final Fantasy really likes making homages to its original formula of Crystals and Warriors of Light, but it always seems to work. Light Warrior games don't have the intricate plot twists or metaphysically tragic figures that other games in the series like to go for. Instead, they go for pure charm factor, and this one's no different.
4 Heroes of Light is an homage to older games, but it's clever enough to subvert the stock storyline. Sure, you get your four destined kids in the first dungeon, charged to fight darkness by a crystal and given some nifty job classes, but the characterization isn't anything like the others. As soon as they return to their Doomed Hometown, the "heroes" fall into bickering and split up. One pair wanders around in a desperate effort to find someone who can lift the curse, but the other two plop down in a seaside resort, happy to give up and see to their own comfort. Then both pairs split again and scatter into the wilderness, completely in over their heads—hardly the unified and purposeful True Companions you'd expect. They're so distracted by the calamitous messes they get themselves into they forget that they have a larger goal, and you have to wonder if the Crystal got the wrong kids. But it makes it all the more rewarding when they do start getting it together. It's some very realistic and satisfying Character Development.
The gameplay, though, can be very frustrating. The job classes are good, familiar but not total copies, and there are a few new ones. The battle system is turn-based, but you can't actually direct where the characters aim. It takes some getting used to and makes battles harder than they have to be. There's no way to flee except with a particular job, either. Basically the game has a very steep learning curve and the second half punishes you viciously if you think you've gotten comfortable with it. On the other hand, the jobs are easy to switch around, and the AP system makes it easy to rely on mages, so you can experiment freely to devise your own strategy.
If you can get past the artificial difficulties, the game is very much worth playing—the music is great, the writing is charming, and the job system is as always lots of fun to play with.
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