Something Old, Something New
The Final Fantasy series has long been hailed as one of the premier RPG franchises. After playing through the remake of Final Fantasy IV (FFIV), I’m reminded that it definitely deserves such high praise. The attention to character development, plot twists, loads of treasure, intriguing enemies, user-friendly controls, and gameplay mechanics make the game a joy to play. Furthermore, the addition of enhanced combat effects, an updated battle system, CG cutscenes, and 3D environments combine to spell out “must-buy” for Final Fantasy fanatics and RPG enthusiasts.
With interesting and functional controls and mechanics as a base, Final Fantasy IV tells a great story of a land fraught with danger and adventure. You will take on the role of Cecil, a dark knight that begins to question the tainted machinations of his once virtuous king. The dishonorable acts Cecil is forced to commit cause him to be disillusioned with his place in the world. This rift results in the knight being stripped of his rank as Lord Captain of the Red Wings and sent on a mission to deliver a ring – a ring that proves to be wholly evil and sets the protagonist down a path of self-discovery. Can Cecil stop the demented monarch’s lust for the Crystals and rebuke the influence of the evil power behind the throne? This is the backdrop for the charming story that players will uncover as they gain in power and complete their quest.
If you’re looking for a mindless dungeon crawler, then FFIV will punish you time and again. That’s because, in addition to a great story, the game uses random battles, infrequent save points, and an eclectic mix of baddies to thwart your advance. Luckily, you will be in control of a party of characters with unique abilities. Using the skills of various classes like black knight, paladin, white and black mage, summoner, bard, dragoon, and more, you will have the tools necessary to get through the deadly dungeons and bosses that confront you. However, story takes precedence in FFIV. As such, you will often be abandoned by key party members, leaving you exposed to the increasingly difficult challenges. Thankfully, the Augments system allows you to retain some of the most crucial abilities of departed characters. However, once an Augment is learned by a party member, it cannot be unlearned or passed on. So, by all means, choose wisely! As such, the Augments system has players make a number of interesting decisions as the game progresses.
Tricky decisions and a high level of difficulty seem to pervade the entirety of the title. This makes FFIV a very smart and often frustrating RPG. Save points are not casually strewn throughout dungeons, but there are enough of them, strategically placed, to make players suffer the requisite amount without being overly dismayed by frequent, total party kills. That said, some bosses and even random enemies are far above your level, and they will teach you a lesson (several times) if you don’t find their weaknesses and employ strategy. Somewhat disappointingly, pacing is slightly marred by the extreme difficulty. Sometimes tactics simply aren’t enough. In fact, you may find yourself having to level-grind a bit or backtrack to load up on sundries. This is only a minor complaint though. Once you get the hang of the system, the story does tend to advance quite quickly.
The system and mechanics of gameplay are very slick indeed. Time continually flows during battle rather than the turn-based combat of other Final Fantasy titles. However, players can opt for turn-based combat or adjust the speed of battles in the options menu if they prefer. I felt the default setting was the most engaging and balanced though. In the default setting, each character has an ATB (Active Time Battle) Gauge that fills. Tabletop role-players can think of this as initiative. When one of your characters’ ATB Gauge has filled all the way, you can then act by choosing one of the options from the combat list (this combat list can also be manipulated by the player to have near instant access to the most desirable commands).
Melee and ranged attacks are performed almost immediately, but items and magic attacks have a bit of a charge delay before being used or cast. Your enemies will have their own, invisible ATB Gauges. When they are ready to attack, they will do so immediately. In addition to straight damage, enemy attacks often have the effect of slowing down casting times or even make players turn into toads, stone, impart poison, blindness, etc. The time component translates into pressure to perform, and it can be quite exciting and exhilarating. Moreover, spells such as sleep, slow, and hold become very important, as well as very dangerous, because your ATB won’t fill quickly enough or you won’t be able to act at all. Somehow, the enemy always knows who and how to attack, so players also need to be this astute.
Content is not limited to the single-player story, though it does have the lion’s share. After encountering a character called Fat Chocobo, players will have access to the Music Box, Event Theater, Training, and Wireless Battles. The Music Box allows you to listen to the original score (even with the DS lid closed), and the Event Theater allows you to relive unlocked cutscenes.
The Training mini-games are for improving the characteristics of your Summoner’s Eidolon, Whyt (a small, white creature that can be summoned to fight automatically at great cost to magic points). Depending upon how well you score in the mini-games, Whyt’s attributes (strength, speed, stamina, intellect, and spirit) will increase accordingly. In addition to improving abilities, players can also change the look of their Eidolon with the makeover editing tool. Not only will the improved Whyt help you in the single-player campaign, but he will also help you with the Wireless Battles.
These two-player duels require two cartridges. Each player gives their Eidolon a series of battle commands via the abilities menu. With these commands in their arsenal, the Eidolons will duke it out automatically until one of them is KO’d. Sadly, these additional game facets feel rather tacked-on. They certainly don’t hamper the overall experience, but they don’t add anything either.
Presentation in FFIV has gotten a big boost over previous versions. The 3D dungeons and quirky character animations are a real boon to the overall quality of the title. Sadly, the CG movies and other cutscenes are far too pixelated for my liking. I think most people will still greatly enjoy them, but the blocky and unsaturated look is a bit unrefined. Thankfully, the chunkiness is easily set aside, and the functionality of the dual screen presentation is perfect for the title. So too is the expertly remixed and re-mastered music, which succinctly portrays the mood of the adventure and the feel of the story. The only tiny complaint with sound I have is with the voice over work. While I enjoyed the occasional conversations, I think the voice acting could have been a bit more polished. A mix of English accents would have more accurately captured the lofty prose.
Final Fantasy IV is a real gem of an RPG. The new DS version is definitely the best way to enjoy the title and should provide fans with hours of fun. However, if you are not intrigued by the world and basic mechanics of Final Fantasy, you still will not enjoy this title. For everyone else, even at $40, this is a must-buy RPG for the DS!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
The visuals are almost great. I loved the detailed 3D dungeons, but the CG movies and other cutscenes are far too pixelated. 4.8 Control
Moving through the world, exploring dungeons, and initiating attacks during combat are as easy as can be. The only misstep to be found were negotiating the lengthy item lists while fighting. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music does a great job of portraying the adventure and feel of the story. While I enjoyed the occasional conversations, I think the voice acting could have been a bit better. 4.1
The story is very entertaining, the game is full of great characters, and combat is far more engaging than it is in the title’s predecessors. That said, this is a game for core RPG enthusiasts.
4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.