Warning: As this game is a direct sequel to Final Fantasy IV, there are spoilers that follow. Thank You.
Let me start with the following: if you didn't like playing Final Fantasy IV in the slightest, I wouldn't even bother with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. Further, if you have never had the privilege of playing the original, then the storyline of this sequel will seem so flat and trite that it won't be worth your time. However, if you are a great admirer of Square's fourth entry in the series (first released in 1991) then you will find Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (henceforth referred to as TAY) a wonderful trip down memory lane.
TAY opens about twenty years after Edge, Cecil, Kain, Rosa, and Rydia destroyed Zeromus at the moon's core with the help of Golbez's special crystal. As you recall, the original ends with a Star Wars-like celebration of Cecil and Rosa's wedding back in their home Kingdom of Baron. TAY introduces us to their son, Ceodore and his quest to live up to the dignity and honor of his parents.
Ceodore's story takes him to many locations and situations familiar to FFIV veterans: he flies with the Red Wings, he travels to Mist, and even sees villages like Kaipo and kingdoms such as Damcyan. Meanwhile (a line known to fans of FFIV), the player also controls dragoon Kain and his revenge-seeking endeavor to kill Cecil. Even though the plot seems choppy at points, by the time the major plot twist at the end occurs, I was left feeling very happy with the entire story. TAY's plot is not perfect, but the whole narrative rings true to people who enjoyed FFIV.
While much of the game functions in the same way as FFIV (the menu is nearly identical, as are the random encounters), there are some minor innovations that help freshen the gameplay. Possibly the greatest change is the lunar phase system. Depending on the position of the moon (full, new, etc.), various statistical categories get stronger or weaker. The phases change after staying at an inn, or after fighting many battles. Even though it is not a major change to the original, the lunar phase system does enough to keep the player honest. The other change to mention is the "band" system. Similar to what you might see in Chrono Trigger, the "band" system allows you to combine a few of your characters' attacks into one large combination attack. Unlike Chrono Trigger, however, you do have to search for the characters that can band together. Again, this isn't a major change, but it's just enough to keep it fun.
While the battles have some changes to them, the game world itself is almost identical to FFIV. From the battle and world music to the designs of the dungeons and monsters, TAY is more than just an homage; it is essentially DLC to the original. Personally, I found the music to be a better replication than the graphics. Nobuo Uematsu's classic score returns in all of its glory. I can't remember how many times I turned to my wife and said "listen, it's the archfiend music" or "this is the opening music when you leave Baron!" It's not only nostalgic to listen to the music, but it just reaffirms Uematsu's brilliance.
The graphics, on the other hand, leave a lot to be desired. Because TAY is a cell phone port, the character designs tend to have a lot less detail then was true of FFIV. As a general statement, the location designs and monster designs completely outshone the character designs and spell animations. The graphics and their lack of care are not a deal breaker by any stretch, but it does ding the overall experience.
The control is flawless from my point of view, especially when using the "classic controller." From the simple menu and equipment screens to the ability to quicksave, reminiscent of something you would see on a handheld, I found the control to be perfect.
The biggest question I had after finishing TAY was how the add-on episodic content would be handled. After playing Rydia's side-quest, let me say I think it will be a smashing success. Instead of following the main quest's timeline, Rydia's adventure takes place between the end of FFIV and the beginning of TAY. In addition, it explores locations not seen in TAY such as the Underworld. For $3 a whack for each of these side-quests, I can guarantee I will purchase every one.
Even though I personally think Square should have taken all of the sidequests with TAY and combined them in one attractive DS package for $40, I cannot complain with the content currently available on WiiWare. I've made no secret in past reviews and columns that FFIV is my favorite game ever made. It is the title that took me from a casual RPG player into someone who now writes about them twenty years later. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is not only a very respectful treatment of the original, it also makes me want to dust off my SNES and relive my innocent childhood love of games.