Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Final Fantasy IV v 7.0
I am not being ironic with the title of this review. Believe it or not, FFIV DS is actually the seventh incarnation of this game. Originally released on SNES back in 1991, the game had an easy-type remake and a dumbed down U.S. version come out around the same time. The game was also released for PlayStation, the Japanese WonderSwan Color in 2002, and Game Boy Advance in 2006. With FFIV DS having been released in 2007, the game has averaged one remake every 2.5 years for over a decade and a half, and to top it off, a cell phone game sequel is in the works.
Is FFIV really just that amazing? I don’t think so. What it has going for it is the same thing as VII, in that it struck a chord with a segment of dedicated fans who will always swear by its classic story and gameplay. While Final Fantasy IV was a solid early SNES RPG, I can rattle off two dozen better fourth generation RPGs with little effort. To the game’s credit, it has certainly had a big impact on the genre, with scores of games copying its narrative style (characters with unique talents coming and going) and battle mechanic. Still, the game was hardly revolutionary in its time, and considering how much it has been copied and how little has changed, you’re likely to find the game tedious if you are not already a big fan of old-school RPGs.
Considering this game’s history and how boring it was for me to play through it again, I wanted to give the game a 60%. I just couldn’t see any merit to re-releasing it given its archaic battle system, myriad of other versions, and essentially unchanged gameplay. I changed my mind because I believe that whether you are tired of a game or experiencing an intense craving to play it, neither of those emotions say anything definitive about how good the game is. A remake should be given the benefit of the doubt and have a starting score somewhere around the original game. FFIV DS clocks in at the lower 70% range only because it’s not that much worse than the original and gameplay tweaks and voice acting are amusing. I would rank the original game around the 80% range.
I understand the idea behind reissuing classic games to newer systems with shinier graphics. Classics are always classics, and having a mobile version is always convenient. However, I am also of the opinion that the distinction between a reissue and a remake is that the latter also changes the gameplay. Final Fantasy I and II were reissued onto PSP (rather unnecessarily in my opinion) because Square Enix knew they would sell and they wanted to get those without DS’s for the Game Boy Advance reissue (or the PlayStation for yet another reissue). When Final Fantasy IV was announced for DS, the 3D graphics and FMV scenes suggested they might change more than the surface. This is not really the case.
The game plays almost exactly like the original: turn-based random battles with standard menus used for selecting actions. The one significant change is the addition of an ‘ability’ system, which, depending on some of your choices, allows the player to use items to make characters learn new command abilities. Skills include things like counter-attack, Yang’s kick, auto-potion, and twin magic. It’s a solid addition and it gives players a reason to go through the game more than once since the player’s choices can affect what skills they obtain. The abilities add a splash of spring freshness that mask the moldy odor of the gameplay itself. Aside from it, the fights are just as repetitive as the original.
While there are many RPG lovers who always swear by the random battle system, I find it tedious. It lowers the quality of general in-game graphics, is monotonous after an hour or so, and removes a crucial element of strategy — the decision when and when not to engage enemies. Chrono Trigger got it right twelve years ago by doing away with it. FFVI — X were solid games in spite of this system because they each added several innovations of their own to the battle system. Final Fantasy XI and XII finally moved the series beyond it, and XIII looks to have a cinematic and fast-paced battle system thanks to Square Enix’s thinking out of the box. In this “new” FFIV, the battles actually feel slower than the original’s, and you’ll need to fight many more of them since level-grinding has become an absolute necessity. Folks who’ve only played the American SNES version, in particular, will notice the increase in difficulty and the unavoidable hours of battling to get your characters strong enough to not be wiped out by the next boss.
If you’re still in love with Final Fantasy IV’s gameplay, you’ll have few complaints. I suppose you can give Square Enix credit for staying true to the original (how hard can that be after six times?) but I would have liked to see them take some more chances.
For a seventeen year-old game, Final Fantasy IV has a decent story. FFIV has a pretty diverse cast of characters that come and go (sometimes rather quickly) as the story marches along. The pacing is good and the writing, while at times taking the clichéd route, is actually quite good as the main villain is somewhat more complex than your typical megalomaniacal dark wizard. Oftentimes remade RPGs have extra scenarios or quests, sometimes from another character’s point of view to help flesh out the story. FFIV DS adds a couple of flashbacks and added story sequences, but no significant new sidequests, characters, or plot points. Cecil and Golbez’s relationship and childhood is, however, given more detail thanks to a player-controlled childhood sequence and some well directed cut scenes.
When it comes to graphics, there are two important points: what is possible on a given system, and style. To the first point, FFIV DS looks like an early PlayStation 1 game, which you might assume is a step up until you remember that not every PS game looks better than every SNES game. The castle and dungeon layouts are just as simple as the original Super Famicom version, though there are some changes in architecture. Some of the backgrounds are quite good. The opening FMV is marvelous, but that’s basically the first and last time you’ll actually be impressed. More FMVs would have given the game the cinematic feeling it deserves, like the FMV’s in Final Fantasy VIII. FFIV uses a polished in-game engine for cutscenes, which is not bad but underwhelming. The resolution and detail are average for DS. Stylistically I found myself even less impressed. The characters looked cleaner and more mature back on the SNES. The blocky, disproportioned, childlike models do not suit the game’s mature story. They would have done better had they copied the PSP FFI and FFII updates, which were 2D but extremely colorful and detailed. The novelty of seeing these familiar personalities in 3D wears off pretty fast, and with five characters on screen during battles, characters often look like a mere mash of colors and angles.
FFIV’s sound has definitely improved, with updated versions of songs, including the gorgeous vocal rendition of Rosa’s “Theme of Love.” The added voice acting is also generally good. I have to make a comparison here to Star Ocean: First Departure about why, as a remake, FFIV DS’ sound is underwhelming. With the Star Ocean remake, all of the SNES version’s tunes were updated to rich, fully orchestrated versions, incontrovertibly improving upon an already solid soundtrack. With FFIV DS, you get a mixed bag. Some of the remixes are better produced, while others will just make you nostalgic for the original. The amount of voice acting is also significant. Star Ocean gave major and minor characters tons of dialogue both for story sequences, battles, and incidental conversations. The volume (is there a pun here? I hope not…) is much smaller in FFIV DS. The number of voiced sequences is perhaps a dozen total; it feels like they could have recorded all of it in one hour long session. The sound can best be summed up as adequate.
No real complaints here. The game plays like the original; there aren’t any camera issues or awkward configurations. You can use the stylus to move your character around and there are some added minigames that make use of it. That’s all I have to say about that.
My ultimate beef with FFIV DS is that it doesn’t really work as a remake or a reissue. It doesn’t work as a reissue since stylistically it’s trying to do something very different from the SNES version, and it’s not very successful aside from the voice work. It doesn’t work as a remake since the there are precious few changes and the game has not aged as well as many other SNES rpgs. In any event, remakes have fanbases, and among those fans are people whose opinion cannot be affected by any piddling reviewer. My goal in evaluating games is not to change opinions but to better understand my own views and analyze what makes games interesting or dull or whatever effect they ultimately have. For non-super fans, people who have played FFIV and moved on, or those who’ve never bothered, I recommend the Game Boy Advance or SNES versions over this unless there is just absolutely nothing else you might want to play out there. If you are a big fan, then I can’t see you being disappointed with the game unless you really hate the graphical style or the voices.