After countless internet petitions, emails, and pleas on internet message boards, Squaresoft finally relented and announced they'd be re-releasing both Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger for the Playstation in the summer of 2001 (Japanese gamers had gotten these two games a few years back, naturally). RPG fans rejoiced-older gamers could once again experience past glories while newer gamers could finally play the classics that they'd heard so much about.
The games would be bundled in a package dubbed Final Fantasy Chronicles; fitting, since these two games served as chronicles of Square's early 16-bit efforts (Final Fantasy IV) and their last (Chrono Trigger).
Making the deal even sweeter was the fact that Final Fantasy IV (which was originally released as Final Fantasy II in America) would be the Japanese hard-type version of the game (which featured more difficult enemies, more items, and some slightly risqué stuff that would have never gotten past Nintendo's American board of censors) instead of the dumbed-down version American gamers had been forced to play since the game's initial release.
So, how do these classic old games hold up in an era of 128-bit graphics? Better than you might imagine.
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We won't spend too much time here, since just about everyone's familiar with the plot of both these games.
Final Fantasy IV tells a relatively complex story about a conflicted Dark Knight named Cecil. Unhappy with the demands of his king (who commands him to slaughter innocents in pursuit of the mythical crystals of Final Fantasy lore), he soon finds himself an outcast.
He'll join up with a ragtag assortment of other characters (11 in all) and work to save the world. You'll cover the globe, check out the underworld, and even wind up on the moon, eventually. There'll be twists, turns, and betrayals along the way, but rest assured-good will eventually triumph over evil.
While it would be easy to pick on the story of Final Fantasy IV as cliché, one has to keep in mind that this is one of the games that invented the clichés. Final Fantasy IV was arguably one of the first console RPGs to concentrate on creating a cinematic story, complete with cutscenes and story interludes. The plot may be relatively simple (and overly familiar) by today's standards, but it holds up anyway.
Chrono Trigger offers up a similar story. You'll take charge of Crono, the strong, silent hero and find another ragtag assortment of friends and allies in order to save the world from the threat of Lavos-an alien entity living deep inside the planet. The difference here is that instead of finding your allies in nearby kingdoms, you'll find them in other time eras.
By the time your journey ends, you'll have traveled throughout history-experiencing each of the planet's major eras-from the prehistoric past all the way through to a bleak and desolate future.
While both games feature relatively light storylines, they've held up well over the years-neither seems to get stale no matter how many times you've experienced it.
So even though the stories of both games in Final Fantasy Chronicles are a little light, the same thing cannot be said about the gameplay.
Final Fantasy IV is the first of the Final Fantasy games to incorporate the Active Time Battle system. The addition of this system adds an extra dimension to the game in terms of challenge since monsters and characters can attack in any order as opposed to the traditional turn-based system.
The 12 characters in the game all fall into a specific class. You have fighters, magic-users, ninjas, summoners, etc. Unlike later games (such as Final Fantasy V which incorporated the much-beloved job system-a system that allowed for massive character customization), the characters remain largely static in terms of ability. Rosa, your white mage, will never be dealing out 3,000 points of damage with her staff, in other words.
The characters' static natures means that the gamer will have to incorporate a strategy based on who he has in his party-not what he might be able to change his party into. The game keeps things from getting stale by constantly forcing you to use different characters thanks to in-game story events. This approach maintains interest by making the gamer constantly re-evaluate strategy based on who's in the party and who isn't.
Battles are random, meaning you'll never see the enemies. You'll simply be walking along and then watch the screen transition to the 2-D battle screen. Fighting is simple, particularly if you've played any of the other games in the Final Fantasy series. You can fight, parry, use magic, use items, or use a character's specific special skill. Nothing new here, but it works just as well as it always has. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The one new (and welcome) addition to Final Fantasy IV is the dash button. Pressing this button while in towns, dungeons, or castles allows your characters to run. Since Cecil and company walk pretty slowly, this is a great new feature.
Chrono Trigger's base gameplay is much the same. There are two major differences that set it apart, though.
The first difference is that the battles aren't random. Enemies are viewable on the screen, and in most cases can be avoided. Walking up to or running into a monster will trigger a battle. This is a great idea that more RPGs should incorporate.
Battles are waged on a 2-D background, but unlike Final Fantasy IV, which places your party on one side of the screen and the monsters on the other, Chrono Trigger mixes things up. You might surround the monsters, or the monsters might surround you. At any rate, it adds a little realism to the proceedings.
The other major difference is in the battles themselves. While you can attack, defend, cast magic, use items, etc., you can also perform dual and triple techs. These attacks have two or three of your party members combine forces and execute a major attack that can do significant damage to the enemies. These techs add an extra dimension to the battles, particularly against bosses. Since characters can only perform specific techs with certain allies, planning ahead becomes essential-you'll want to have the right party members for the game's major battles.
While both games possess simple and intuitive battle systems (particularly for veteran RPG players), the games themselves are anything but easy.
Chrono Trigger is clearly the easier of the two titles, but I can't say if I found it simple because I've played through it so many times, or if it's just an easy game. I suspect it's a little of both, but that doesn't detract from the experience at all. You'll want to keep playing to unlock all the anime sequences and music tracks plus view all the different endings.
Final Fantasy IV is definitely difficult. The challenge offered by the Japanese version in this package is a significant increase when compared with the old cartridge. Newer gamers who've come up with games like Final Fantasy VII and other recent RPGs can expect to die quite often.
The reason for this seems to be because Final Fantasy IV actually requires a player to spend time leveling up before each new area. This is a far cry from today's more story-oriented RPGs that require minimal leveling up because spending hours fighting for no reason interferes with the flow of the plot. If you try to run directly from one area of Final Fantasy IV to the next, you can expect to lose a lot of battles.
If the idea of spending several hours doing nothing more than leveling up during the course of the game is bothersome to you, you might want to avoid this game. You'll be missing out, though.
In this era of 128-bit gaming, the graphics in these games can be best described as primitive. For their time, though, these were two of the most impressive games around.
Time has been particularly cruel to Final Fantasy IV, which just looks crude in almost every way imaginable-the super-deformed character sprites, the miniscule number of frames in the animation, and the very plain looking towns and dungeons just scream 'retro-game'. It shouldn't matter though-it's not about how these games look, it's about how they play. And while Final Fantasy IV may look dated, it certainly doesn't play that way. However, those who've grown up with the detailed summons that first appeared in Final Fantasy VII are in for a rude awakening the first time they call Bahamut here, that's for sure.
Chrono Trigger (which is several years younger than Final Fantasy IV) looks much nicer. The hand drawn sprites and the backgrounds look far more detailed and organic than the ones found in Final Fantasy IV. The animations sport more frames, the spell effects are more detailed, and the dual and triple techs look really good, too.
Each game also features some new and improved cutscenes. Final Fantasy IV only features 2 CGI scenes-one at the beginning of the game and one at the end (reminiscent of Final Fantasy Anthology, which featured this game along with part V and VI in Japan). These are short scenes, and the CGI isn't quite up to Square's usual standards (it's a little grainy in spots). However, it's nice just to see the characters in CGI.
Chrono Trigger features numerous new scenes of major game events presented in anime-style. These new cutscenes are fantastic-it's just too cool to see Crono and the gang in cartoon form, re-enacting some of the game's major events. These scenes are littered throughout the narrative. The only downside seems to be that they're a little light on frames, making them slightly choppy in spots. I didn't mind this, though.
There's also the addition of a new scene featuring Luca, designed to bring Chrono Trigger and its sequel, Chrono Cross closer together. You'll see this one once you beat the game.
This is yet another area where both games simply shine.
Final Fantasy IV features an amazing score from the legendary Nubuo Uematsu, which is even more impressive when you consider how grand it sounds despite the fact that it had to be played through the SNES's primitive sound system. This is one of those soundtracks that you'll hear and never forget-it's classic Final Fantasy.
Yet, while Final Fantasy IV's score is amazing, it's not quite as good as Chrono Trigger's. Nubuo Uematsu contributed some material here, but Yusanori Mitsuda did the bulk of the work-and it's almost beautiful beyond words. Before the release of Chronicles, I hadn't played Chrono Trigger in years-but I still remembered almost every track of the music. It's the kind of stuff that just fits with the game perfectly-somber at some points, light and bouncy at others.
The rest of the sound effects are decent, particularly given that they're for games from an entirely different era. They're nowhere near as detailed as something like Vagrant Story, but they're not so bad that you'll want to play the game while muted.
Many people have complained about the games in the Chronicles anthology not loading properly. While it appears as though there were a number of defective discs, mine played fine. I had one instance where my PS2 wouldn't read Final Fantasy IV, but a quick reset solved that problem. I had no problems with Chrono Trigger.
While not technically a glitch, lots of people have complained about the load times in Chrono Trigger. The game does load a lot (before and after every battle), but the load times aren't awful. In fact, you become used to them as time progresses. While it's certainly disappointing to have load times in a game (particularly when it didn't have load times in the cartridge format), I'm just happy to have Chrono Trigger on CD, chock full of extras (that weren't available on the cartridge) and not have to pay $100 for it on Ebay. The port isn't flawless, but it's not as horrible as some have made it out to be, either.
Final Fantasy IV, on the other hand, plays just like the cartridge. The only point where the game seems to slow down is in the save menu. To counter this, Square has added a memo memory function that allows for a quick save. The only problem here is that if you turn the system off, you'll lose that save file. Other than that, everything plays perfectly.
With Final Fantasy Chronicles, Square has finally relented and given American fans what they've begged for over the last few years-the Japanese hard-type version of Final Fantasy IV and the newly revamped version of Chrono Trigger.
Nostalgia can be a tricky thing…few things that we remember from our youth withstand the test of time. These two games are the exception to the rule-they not only hold up, they're as much fun today as they were when initially released. Veteran RPG fans will want to pick this package up simply to relive past glories and remember what games were like before they became CGI movies. Younger gamers should pick this up to experience two of the greatest old-school console RPGs ever made. After all, you're getting two genuinely classic games for $40…how can you beat that?