Before I start in on this review, let me clarify a few things. I found Final Fantasy IV (II on the SNES), to be the defining RPG of my youth. It had been hyped to me by friends, and when I got the chance to play it, it lived up to the hype for me. Taking an unbiased, nostalgia-free look at this title was difficult for me, mostly because of all the memories wrapped up with the original. Hopefully I have managed to do that, though giving this game the scores I did felt like a betrayal. But I’m writing this review for you all, not for me, so let’s get started.
One to be Born from a Dragon
Final Fantasy IV begins with the main character, Cecil, going on a raid to capture the crystal of wind from the mages of Mysidia. The king of Baron has recently become more aggressive towards other nations, and thanks to the kingdom’s fleet of airships, known as the Red Wings, they’ve been successful in most of their military aims.
However, during the raid, Cecil sees the damage done by seemingly senseless acquisition, and when he voices these views, is demoted and sent on a mission to deliver a package to the village of Mist. Accompanied by his friend, Kain, the two embark upon a journey that will lead them to the secret of the crystals and the very world itself.
If you’re new to this installment of Square Enix’s flagship series, this plot may sound rather cookie-cutter…and you’d be right. But it’s important to look at this game in its historical context; this was the most epic plot RPGs had come up with up to this point, with the exception of possibly Dragon Quest IV. This was where the cookie cutter was made, and it was done with élan. The characters all had distinct personalities, and there was definite character development in darn near every member of the cast, good AND bad. And, while the plot will seem somewhat predictable to most players nowadays (and probably did to most players back when it came out on the SNES), it’s nonetheless fun to experience.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that Final Fantasy IV’s storyline holds up to the test of time, even with the spelling/grammar corrections Square Enix made on this port. Yes, it’s easier to understand what characters mean, and there is slightly more depth to them, but overall, if you’re looking for a deep and involving storyline that does something new, this is not the game for you.
Hoisting the Light and the Darkness
Graphically, Final Fantasy IV doesn’t hold up to other GBA titles, although again, considering historical context, it was very good for its time. Most of the characters are very tiny sprites, and their character portraits went through an uglification in transition to this port. Amano’s hand is still present in the design of the characters, though, which should please fans of the series.
The environments are actually quite nice though, at least when seen as background for the battles. They mostly consist of the standard rocky cave, brick castle, and shingled-roof towns, but every now and then you get some special effects, such as in the Sylph Cave and Land of Summoned Beasts, which uses parallax scrolling to superimpose one level on another. The effect, for its time, was most impressive, as it was as if you were looking down through the floor to the level below (which you were, more or less).
Spells and other assorted special effects were nothing impressive, nor were the summons, so don’t expect much graphical hoo-ha during battles. If Square Enix had done a little more to give this game a graphical face lift, I think it would be much more accessible to today’s gamers, but the purist in me likes that they kept it the same.
He Arises High Up in the Sky to the Still Land
Musically, I have very few qualms with this port. I consider Final Fantasy IV to have one of the greatest game soundtracks of all time, even today. Compositionally and in terms of sound quality for the medium, Final Fantasy IV did and still does stand the test of time. Deep resonating sound effects, stirring chords, and themes that perfectly fit the tone combine to deliver a soundtrack that can still be called Classic to this day. Call nostalgia on me; when I think of the Final Fantasy Prologue, I think of the version in this game.
The Sound effects don’t necessarily come out as well as the musical score, and do show their age on this port. Explosions are relatively well done, but many other sound effects are more of a whine than anything resembling a spell effect. I was surprised how well the SP took to the sounds, however, and it was a relatively faithful recreation of the SNES version. Square Enix gets much love here.
Veiling the Moon With the Light of Eternity
Final Fantasy IV’s gameplay is nothing special at all. I loved it, but then again, I love simple, straightforward systems. The flow goes as follows: go to a town, buy better equipment, find out information, walk/fly to a dungeon, beat the boss, go on to the next town. While there are some secret dungeons you can visit (both old and new) to obtain special weapons/magic, the game is fairly linear and won’t take you on too many side trips that don’t involve the main storyline. Still, this was more than previous RPGs had given, and thus was a breath of fresh air.
Final Fantasy IV also introduced the concept of the Active Time Battle, in which your party members and the enemies take turns based on a time bar which doesn’t happen to be visible, but still exists. When your turn comes up, you may perform an action from a list which usually includes Attack, Magic, Item, and Defend, but which also will contain special commands based on the character (Jump for Kain, and Aim for Rosa, for example). Fortunately, the controls in this port are very solid, and menu navigation is a cinch. You won’t find any complaints here, outside of the simplicity of it all.
After battle you get experience, gil, and maybe an item. When you gain enough experience, you go up a level, and will gain improved stats and possibly a new spell. You also get some vehicles, such as a hovercraft, airship, and chocobos, which can allow you to get places quicker. However, those looking for something new or innovative in an RPG definitely need to look elsewhere, as they will NOT find it here.
A final note needs to be made regarding the extra content, however. Without spoiling the surprises, I will say that the new features included towards the end of the game were refreshing, and as a fan of the series, I appreciated some actual character-based content that I hadn’t gotten previously. Thanks, guys!
He Brings a New Promise to Earth, with a Mercy and Bounty
It should be pretty obvious by now to most of you that Final Fantasy IV does not stand the test of time for new gamers. Those who, like me, got their start on the NES or SNES, however, should enjoy the little trip down memory lane, and will definitely appreciate the extra content. This game is a must-buy for anyone who played Final Fantasy IV on the SNES and liked it, as well as for those new gamers who want to see how things were like back in the old days. Otherwise, and this kills me, you should pass by this game in favor of something else.