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You would have to travel miles to meet someone who hasn't heard of Final Fantasy. It is one of the most popular and longest running RPG series in the world. Many of today's Final Fantasy games focus on pushing the graphical limit of their respective system. Part of the time, it is a failed attempt. The graphical upgrades did not make up for what some series veterans have come to love out of the Final Fantasy series. That brings up the next point: Final Fantasy IV. Many call it the breakthrough game of the series, bringing the series to new heights and overwhelming popularity.
Originally released here in the states as Final Fantasy II (SNES,) it was well received with excellent reviews and established a massive fan base. People couldn't get enough of the adventures of Cecil, Kain, and company. Over the years, Final Fantasy IV became slowly forgotten among the general public, and all eyes turned to the big time modern installments, such as Final Fantasy VII. But that didn't hurt Final Fantasy IV's reputation of being considered one of the best in the series.
A decent port of Final Fantasy IV has been long overdue. The Hard-Type version of Final Fantasy IV was released as a compilation with Chrono Trigger (under the name of Final Fantasy Chronicles.) The port wasn't well received. Long load times and occasional bugs in the port turned gamers off. Months ago, Square-Enix announced that they would be porting Final Fantasy IV to the GBA. Fans gathered in excitement as they would finally get another chance to adventure with Cecil and the gang. Sure enough, it came, it killed, and it conquered.
You begin the game as Cecil: a Dark Knight working for the kingdom of Baron, and captain of the almighty airship fleet. Baron's ever growing tendency of causing wars starts a quarrel between the kingdom and our faithful hero. The minute Cecil speaks of his disappointment with the way things are run, he is stripped of his rank and all the power that goes with it. He is then given the dismal task of delivering a package to a neighboring town. Unaware of what will happen, he and his trusty friend, Kain, travel together to the small, mountain-hidden town. What happens shocks them. Fierce bombs scatter, destroying the entire town. Deep with rage, Cecil swears to find out what has happened to his once beloved kingdom, and how it has become so enraged with evil intentions.
The story is fantastic and is perhaps the best part of the game. Final Fantasy veterans will appreciate how Square-Enix left all the story elements nearly identical to its' SNES counterpart. The story moves at a flawless pace, with effective twists and turns that really tug at the heart. The excellent scripted sequences are still there, along with the twists, and the fantastic, memorable characters. Who could forget characters like Tellah: the aged sage, and overprotective father or Rydia: The innocent summoner who lost it all? They are all here, and better than ever. The excellent musical score doesn't hurt the progress of the story either.
The story still holds out well today. Though, it may be a bit predictable and clichéd to gamers today, it was still a phenomenal achievement for what it was. The actual story is rather short, lasting around 20-25 hours, but it isn't too short. The story is no Xenosaga, but does it have to be? Certainly not. A classic is a classic, and cannot be beat.
Equally impressive is the grand ensemble cast of RPG character archetypes. They may be unoriginal by today's standards, but that doesn't hurt the fact that they were the most memorable RPG gang of the early 90's. Each character is fantastically developed, and no matter who you pay attention to through the story, you will have an excellent time.
The musical score consists of mind-blowing compositions done by legendary music composer, Nobuo Uematsu. Some of his finest work has been put into the game and without it, the game wouldn't be half as memorable. Everything from the overworld music, to the battle music, and especially the final battle theme is superb, and it will leave you humming for months to come.
Some of the songs have been remixed and these remixes do not sound as good as the originals. Often times they can be annoying to listen to. But that doesn't hurt the overall first-rate composition from Uematsu. The soundtrack may be outdated and it may be washed away by most gamers, but it certainly isn't forgotten by Final Fantasy veterans. Unbelievable musical score, despite the poor remixes.
The sound itself is nothing too spectacular. But the simple hacks and slashes of the swords and the usual earthquake sounds are quite nostalgic of ten years ago. Despite the low quality of the sounds not being as up to date as those of other GBA RPGs, there is still a fine mix of nostalgic sound effects here.
The gameplay is the traditional turn-based ATB system that we all grew to love during our younger years. It generally remains the same as the original versions, but some things have changed. There are some special abilities that were not in the original game and the game's difficulty has been beefed up from the SNES version (and is the Hard-Type version found in Final Fantasy Chronicles.) Despite these upgrades, there are some gameplay problems. When fighting in a populated battle, there is often a lot of slowdown that really affects the gameplay, and how each battle progresses. It can be frustrating at times, but it is forgivable.
The rest of the gameplay, such as the sidequests, has been totally juiced up. Along with new sidequests (including two new dungeons,) a lot of gameplay hours have been added to the game. That, along with the 20 hour storyline, will easily keep you busy for 60 hours. While the gameplay doesn't really do well by today's standards, it doesn't hurt it either. The same addicting battle system is back, though with moderate glitches. The extra sidequests add a real kick in the gameplay department, and is part of what makes this game enjoyable.
The biggest problem with the gameplay, however, is the low difficulty. You can whiz through the game with no real trouble at all. It doesn't damage the overall gameplay, but it would have been nice to see the difficulty ramped up higher than this.
The graphics have been somewhat enhanced in the GBA version, although nothing is upgraded that much. The graphics are more colorful and more detailed than in the original, but that doesn't make up for the completely outdated overworld sprites and the bland battle sprites. However, the battle maps are nice to look at, although none of them particularly stand out.
Perhaps the best part about the graphical enhancement is the monster designs. The monster designs stay true to the original without ruining the monsters we all grew to love. While not the graphical overhaul we have grown to expect from the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy IV Advance still holds out as a decent looking RPG among a crowded GBA RPG line up.
Final Fantasy IV Advance is a great remake of the game we all grew up with and loved. From the excellent storyline, to the addicting gameplay, everything in Final Fantasy IV Advance is just as good as it was in the early '90s, despite minor changes and a few lag issues. The characters are just as memorable as they were back then, and the excellent music has returned in updated fashion. The graphics, while not fantastic, still get the job done without changing the original too much. Anyone who hasn't played the original Final Fantasy IV should not miss this opportunity. Everything about Final Fantasy IV Advance that we gawked at in glee back in the early '90s has returned to bring the memories of the past back to fill our hearts yet another time. Have fun reliving this classic once again!