Final Fantasy IV

Developer: Square

Platform(s): SNES, PS1, GBA, DS (alternative version of game), PSP (as part of Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection)

Release Date(s): Jul 1991 (SNES), Jan 2002 (PS1), Jun 2006 (GBA), Sep 2008 (DS), Apr 2011

Back to some good ol fashioned Japanese RPGs. Now, for those of you paying attention, you will note that Final Fantasy titles that I have reviewed have averaged quite low scores. Guffaw at this, for those days are long gone! Enter the age of “Holy momma, that’s awesome!”. The franchise is pretty huge, and it was at this point in the series that it becomes apparent that Squaresoft has some serious creative muscle. Like, big guns in the creative department. They could kill dinosaurs with that kinda creativity…well I’ve lost track of what I was saying, but anyway!

The set-up:
Cecil, our protagonist (and a proper evil-looking bugger for once), serves under the King of Baron. He leads a group of soldiers known as the Red Wings, who are returning from the town of Mysidia as the game opens. They have just raided the village in order to acquire the Water crystal there, and Cecil is beginning to question his King’s motives. As he returns to Baron, he meets with his childhood friends, Kain the commander of the Dragoons, and Rosa, the white mage with love interest written blatantly all over her. These make up your initial party of the game. Upon questioning his King’s motives, Cecil is stripped of his title and begins an epic journey of treachery, magic, self discovery and spoony bards.

Let’s imagine for a second that you are unfamiliar with the Final Fantasy series (HA, NOOB!). Where is the appeal you might ask? The last two games you reviewed were lacklustre, and this looks like quite a similar affair? Why should I play this game? Put your pants back on! Get out of my office! You’re fired!…Final Fantasy 4 improves greatly on the original Final Fantasy game. Sometimes, it is just as well to disregard the Japanese imports. (Until recently, America and Europe only received Final Fantasy’s 1, 4 and 6 under the titles 1, 2 and 3 respectively.  I thought this was a right gyp at first, but they are the best of the first six games, so what the hey!)

First of all, FF4 boasts an incredibly epic story. This is no longer the semi linear affair that simply saw you collecting, fighting and winning. True emotion beats at the heart of this game, with real characters, treachery and (swoon) love. This is a real first for the series, letting the narrative divide into a number of sub plots for its vast multitude of characters.

Whereas previous games generally gave you a mere four characters, FF4 now allows you to switch between a roster of up to TWELVE characters, to fill up your party of five. This is a big step forward, and there was always going to be a worry that these characters would simply become faceless and blend together. Luckily, this is not the case…except with the twins Palom and Porom, but if they didn’t look-alike, it would defeat the purpose of twins. Not that twins have a purpose…The Shining is such a freaky film…

It is a rare thing to get such a wide range of such cool characters. Hardly any of the roster feels like a dud. Cecil undergoes a massive transformation which keeps his story interesting. Kain is generally regarded as one of the coolest FF characters of all time. Cid, Rosa’s father, adds some boisterous humour to the game, necessarily considering how grim it can be. Rydia has the honour of being the first playable child character in a Final Fantasy. She can also summon monsters and has green hair. Fabul is a monk, Edge is a ninja…all we’re missing is a robotic crocodile and we’d have the greatest novel ever written.

As mentioned, each of these characters gets their moment to shine, weaving a rich origin story into the central narrative. They feel less and less like created characters, and more like flawed individuals, making the entire experience that much more engaging. As a born hipster, I hate to jump on the band wagon, but it is Kain’s story in the game which I find most appealing. He’s hurtin’ but still fightin’, making him all the more badass.

The central story is so much bigger this time around also. One might wonder, how do you get ‘bigger’ than the predecessor, in which you had access to the whole world? Ask any three-year old, they will provide your answer. Send them to SPACE! Yup, Final Fantasy gets intergalactic in this installment, during its final chapter, which makes it quite awe-inspiring. You are also given access to a kind of underworld, which is where the dwarves, a major race in this game, reside. Just don’t mention the elves…

The story is great, the world is immersive, the characters are likeable (and the chocobos are fresh, get ’em while they’re hot!) The gameplay has also evolved, thankfully, because this is the area that needed the most work. This game saw the introduction of the ATB (active time battle). Characters no longer take turns to use an action. Instead each action affects how quickly they can perform in battle. This is the much-needed injection of strategy that the game sorely needed. It is no longer a case of simply building up until you are strong enough to beat a monster. You have to choose which characters to take into battle (as each one has specific skills), and then decide when and how to use them. (Hint: Never use Edward. He’s a spoony bard).

The graphics are also a great improvement from the previous games. The SNES, GBA and Playstation versions are largely similar, with the latter showing only a slight upscaling on sprites and the like. Characters are more defined and the towns look less painted on the landscape than before. (The PSP version looks particularly impressive, and the DS version boasts 3D models, but as I have not played these versions, I shall review them at a later date).
The soundtrack is also charmingly retro. There are still no voices and the sound effects are slightly dodgy, but this is easily forgivable.

Overall:
Final Fantasy 4 is the first truly great Final Fantasy. The graphics may seem a bit too primitive to some, and the old school RPG style of gaming may not be for those who prefer blowing things up at a billion miles an hour….or those who like playing The Sims 😡

However, despite its technical limitations, Final Fantasy 4 is a landmark in both storytelling and gameplay. It’s narrative and characters are incredibly endearing, so much so that it sparked two direct sequels, the only Final Fantasy to ever do so. And while the game eases you in gently, it has a strong battle system that requires strategy and skill, intensifying until the final boss battle. Which, incidentally, is so difficult, it can potentially cause people to hurl their gameboy at the wall and accidentally hit my brother in the face.

Awful Rating: 8/10

You spoony bard!” – Tellah

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • In 2006, I bought the GBA version of this game. A few weeks later, my GBA broke, so I bought a DS. So absorbing was this game, it was only when I cleared it weeks later that I decided I had better get some DS games, lest I had wasted serious moneys.
  • I remember searching the length and breadth of Dublin looking for the Final Fantasy Anthology collection with this on it. I dragged my friends to every Gamestop in town. They cursed my name as I dragged them to the docklands, vainly hoping that a game trader operated from his yacht. Finally, a friend of mine told me he had it and said he’d sell it for 40 euro….I bought it, but I also pushed him down his stairs.
  • There was a video game society in my college. Everyone would bring their DS and play Mario Kart in 1st year. I was too absorbed in FF4, but I would sometimes make zoooom noises in order to fit in.
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Published in: on October 20, 2011 at 12:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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