Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
The Japanese release of Final Fantasy 4, often referred to as “Final Fantasy 4 Hardtype” in North America, marked the first appearance of Final Fantasy on the Super NES. Although Final Fantasy 4 was released in North America, the US translation was based on the Easy version of Final Fantasy 4, and as a result much of the game is still hidden from Americans who haven’t played the uncut version.
Final Fanatsy 4 begins on the command ship of the Red Wings, the air force of Baron, which is the world’s most powerful nation. The fleet is on its way back from a mission where the team pillaged the city of Mysidia and stole its Water crystal.
Captain Cecil of the Red Wings, along with all of his soldiers considered their own actions deplorable. Some tried to ease their consciences by saying that they were just doing their jobs and following the King’s orders or saying that the King must have a good reason. However, most of the soldiers began to think ill of the King, who prior to this time was always viewed as a kind and admirable leader.
When Cecil arrives back at Baron castle, he decides that he can’t hide his true feelings any longer and boldly tells the King that his orders to kill and rob innocent people were cruel and dishonorable, and that he no longer has the unconditional trust he once had for the King. Angered by Cecil’s treachery, the King fires Cecil from his Air Force command position and gives him a new assignment: to deliver a ring to the foggy mountainside province of Mist.
Just then, Cecil’s lifelong best friend, Kain, runs into the throne room and tells the King that Cecil wasn’t plotting treason but simply asking for the King’s intentions. The King responds by ordering Kain to be Cecil’s partner on the delivery of the ring. Cecil and Kain think the delivery will go smoothly and the King will forgive them afterwards, but the next day they discovered otherwise.
Final Fantasy 4 features a very linear story centered around Cecil. Cecil is the one character who is always present and playable. As long as you can understand the text, the story is explained effectively through strong, straightforward dialogue. The story is fun and exciting, and has its share of surprises and irony.
The characters are also likeable, and the interaction brings out their unmistakable personalities. A few aspects to the story of Final Fantasy 4, such as Cecil’s and Kain’s childhoods were omitted from Final Fantasy 4 Easy, but they’re clear and present in the uncut version. Also, back in 1991, the standards for video games’ writing and translation wasn’t as high as it is today, so the dialogue in the original Final Fantasy 4 was much better than it was in the English release of Final Fantasy 4.
Final Fantasy 4 was the first game to use Square’s famous active time battle system. Final Fantasy 4 came before the introduction of the time bar, so character’s turns appeared to come up suddenly. However, the order and frequency of getting a command is based on a character’s speed and stays consistent throughout all fights. This was also made before the option to pass was introduced, so allied characters must take their turns in order.
Under the active time battle system, enemies will continue to attack while you are selecting commands from your main menu, but when you are in a sub-menu, for example, selecting an item or a spell, time stops if the battle type is set on Wait. You have the option of changing this via the Configuration screen on your party menu. If you set the battle type to active, time keeps moving even when you are in a sub menu.
Over the course of Final Fantasy 4, many characters will join and leave your party. All changes to the party are pre-planned in the story. As with many other RPGs, every character has an occupation, and there is only one instance of a job change; all other characters have one occupation throughout the game. Examples of characters in Final Fantasy 4 include White Wizard Rosa. Rosa has high magic power and fair strength, and she can learn any white spell, but she has low offensive power. Another interesting character is the Ninja Edge. Edge is very fast, and he can equip 2 swords, throw blades and shurikens, use basic attack magic, and steal form enemies. However, Edge has somewhat low HP and defense.
Every character in Final Fantasy 4 has an interesting mix of strengths, weaknesses, and special moves, and they can all be a lot of fun to use. The Hard version of Final Fantasy 4 also has many special moves, such as Cecil’s Dark Wave and Tella’s Recall, that were not in the Easy version.
The characters mentioned above will have access to a vast variety of weapons, armors, and spells. Each character can use a different set of weapons. Some weapons are good for their basic attack power, but there are also specialty weapons that work particularly well against specific enemies. For example, the Mage Masher Knife deals a lot of damage to wizards, and the Blizzard Spear puts the hurt on reptiles and fire monsters.
Spells include basic elemental damage dealing magic like Ice, Bolt, and Fire, along with more unorthodox elements like Bio and Quake. There are also spells that inflict status ailments, allowing you to slow enemies down, turn them into frogs or pigs, silence their magic abilities, or even confuse them into hitting each other. On the defensive end, there is basic HP restoring spells like Cure and Raise, and plenty of auxiliary spells that boost defense and block some spells and attacks. Finally, there are a lot of useful items. In addition to curative potions, there are some items that can be thrown at the enemy to inflict damage, like the star fragment and the red fang.
The adventure of Final Fantasy 4 is lined with many enemies and bosses. The monsters in Final Fantasy 4 are a classic mix of traditional Final Fantasy beasties, including imps, zombies, skeletons, bombs, man-eating fish, slimes, and about 200 others. Early on, the fights are easy, but as the game progresses, the enemies grow in power faster than Cecil and his allies, and as a result the later parts of the game are harder.
Boss fights are always special in Final Fantasy 4, and frequently the boss fits with the theme of the area. For example, the final enemy in a cave full of rivers and lakes is a large octopus. Every boss fight is brought forth by either an event in the story or the party’s attempt to get an extra special item or ability. All boss fights are a little more difficult than the normal fights in the area, but some provide truly great and fun challenges.
Final Fantasy 4 provides difficulty in both fighting each fight and surviving long dungeons. In the Hard version, almost all enemies have more HP and attack power than they did in the Easy version, and a select few monsters are much more aggressive in the Hard version. All in all, Final Fantasy 4 is packing 25 hours of fun RPG gameplay.
Final Fantasy 4’s graphics are much like those of other first-gen Super NES games. Landscapes, including mountains, forests, plains, and deserts are all well defined, but most of the backgrounds, even in the battle scenes, are simple. All sprites, backgrounds, and pictures feature good artwork and lifelike color, but are definitely outdone by later Super NES games.
Everything on the world map and in all places you can explore is arranged in blocks, and most sprites on the map screen are one block in size, but some characters, such as frogs and children, aren’t as big as the entire block so they have an appropriately small appearance.
The best parts of Final Fantasy 4’s graphics are the battles. The heroes are a bit small, but their costumes, hair, and weapons are still perfectly visible. As with other classic Final Fantasy games, the enemies, especially bosses, are much larger than the heroes. The enemies are detailed and imposing, but most enemies are simply still pictures. There are a few animated bosses, but the vast majority of enemies don’t move. The heroes on the other hand, all have simple movements. When they execute their actions, your characters swing their weapons, and charge up their spells.
Another good part of Final Fantasy 4’s battle graphics is the spells. While not as intensive as the animations from Final Fantasies 5 and 6, FF4’s spells are brought to life with large flames and explosions, numerous flying ice cubes, glowing stars, and various other images. Summons and attack spells, especially on the high end have the most explosive and dramatic animations, but curative and auxiliary spells have their charm, too.
The music of Final Fantasy 4 is fantastic. Despite running on primitive sound hardware, FF4’s music produces perfect atmospheres for moments of excitement, danger, sadness, victory, adventure, and the many other situations you will experience in Final Fantasy 4. In addition to its own unique set of tunes, FF4 has traditional favorites like the Prelude and the Chocobo theme. From the big event songs to the ones you hear every single battle, Final Fantasy 4’s soundtrack is a great listening experience throughout the whole game.
The sound effects in Final Fantasy 4 are also pretty good, although they are fairly simple. There is good sound for actions like swinging weapons, casting spells, and opening doors. I also liked the sound effects used for when spells went through, such as the blowing winds, the crashing lightning bolts, and the burning flames. All the sounds were clearly from a video game, as none stand out as realistic, but they all served their purposes.
The original version of Final Fantasy 4 is very hard to come across, but if you can get a hold of either this game or its PlayStation counterpart at a fair price, and if you have a way of being able to understand it, by all means play it. It’s a real shame that Square never took the time to write a good translation for the uncut Final Fantasy 4, either on the Super NES or PlayStation, because this is a top-notch old school RPG.
I must say, after playing the US release of Final Fantasy 4 Easy many times, and then playing this one, I got to experience Final Fantasy 4 in a whole new light.