Name: Final Fantasy IV
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
In the twenty one year history of the Final Fantasy series, one title has stood above all others in terms of notoriety, gameplay, characterization, storytelling and nostalgia. That game is, of course, Final Fantasy VII. After that, though, the franchise’s most beloved iteration is probably Final Fantasy IV, originally known as Final Fantasy II in North America. With one of gaming’s first truly complex plots, memorable protagonists and an unforgettable musical score, the 17-year-old game is held in high regard by RPG gamers worldwide. As a result, Square Enix has remade Final Fantasy IV for the DS with 3D visuals, voice acting and a few features that are totally new to the game.
The plot of Final Fantasy IV revolves around Cecil, a knight in the service of the monarchy of Baron and Lord Captain of the “Red Wings,” an elite airship unit. After he is sent on a mission to attack a peaceful nation, Cecil questions his king and is stripped of his rank. He is then sent on a new mission alongside Kaine, his childhood friend, to deliver a package to the Village of Mist. The mission is just another questionable act by the king, though, as the delivered package turns out to be a bomb that kills all but one villager. From then on, Cecil’s journey takes him from loyal knight to rebellious paladin, as he travels the world (and beyond) seeking to unravel the King’s machinations, collecting elemental crystals, meeting and joining a slew of new teammates and facing betrayal, deception and a horde of deadly enemies. While the general story of FF IV hasn’t changed for this remake, the English translations are a huge improvement over the original, and the addition of high quality voice acting makes the already epic story that much more engaging.
If you’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game before (or pretty much any RPG, for that matter), the game’s controls should be automatically comfortable. Your party travels around a large overworld where random monster encounters occur. Once in battle, the game goes into Active Battle mode, a combination of real-time and turn-based combat. You and your party select your type of attacks, then unleash them on opponents. Once the attacks are resolved, each character’s ATB (Active Battle Time) bar begins filling up, counting off the time before they may input their next order. It’s the same system that has been used from the original FF IV up until FF X2, and while it has basically become the standard for RPG’s, in this version, it feels slow and tedious. When defeated, enemies of course drop gold and items, as well as giving experience points to help your characters level up. Gold obviously helps you buy things, and the items themselves can always be equipped, used or sold for more gold.
Honestly, pretty much everything you think of about the mechanics of old-school RPGs is here and intact, from airships to summons to elemental crystals. This is a bit of a mixed blessing, and probably a point of debate for many. Personally, I hate the random encounters. I understand that the technology was extremely limited at the time of the game’s original release, and that changing the mechanic at this point would probably do the game a disservice, but having to fight countless battles with randomly appearing monsters is downright frustrating. Especially when the encounters are as frequent and difficult as they are in Final Fantasy IV. Those who remember the cakewalk that was the original North American release (Final Fantasy II) are in for a rude awakening. Not only are boss battles extremely punishing, requiring you to really think about the best way to use the characters at your disposal, but even regular battles can be truly brutal. Level grinding and efficient usage of the many items, weapons, armors and character types you’ll have access to are musts if you want to have even the slightest chance of getting through the long campaign.
In addition to the seriously increased difficulty level, the DS remake also boasts a few new features. Most notable are the Augment Abilities and the Fat Chocobo mini-games. Augment Abilities are permanent passive special abilities that can be assigned to different party members. These add an extra layer of depth to your strategy, but can also cause extra frustration, especially when you assign an especially useful ability, like autoheal or counterattack, to an ally who leaves your party shortly thereafter. Fat Chocobo mini-games are puzzle games that allow you to level up certain characters’ eidolons (summons) using the touch screen. Some of these games can be extremely addictive in a Brain Age kind of way, and they can be invaluable for upgrading your party.
Final Fantasy IV originally appeared on the SNES back in the days of 16-bit, 2D sprites. In the DS version, every character is rendered in full 3D, and while that may seem like an upgrade, the blocky, textureless character models will have many gamers longing for the classic sprites. Matrix Software has done their best to retain the artistic style of the original, but sadly, the translation to 3D is less than successful. It’s a shame, because the environments the characters inhabit look great, making the characters look even more out of place. At least we get to see the characters go through actual attack animations during combat. Despite the sub-par visuals, Final Fantasy IV’s overall presentation is quite good. The original musical score is intact and sounds better than ever. Characters’ lines are frequently delivered in full audio and the quality of the voice acting is rather impressive for a DS title.
Fans of the original game owe it to themselves to pick up this extremely challenging remake, if only to test their skills. For classic RPG fans, the engaging narrative and unforgettable cast of characters will be enough to counter the slow combat, ugly visuals and punishing difficulty, but those more familiar with modern RPGs will most likely find the game too dated and clunky to bother with. It’s a nice trip down memory lane, but also one that reminds us that memory lane isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.