Review by transience

Reviewed: 12/29/07

Square takes an absolute classic and, surprisingly, improves it in almost every aspect.

Final Fantasy IV is a classic -- the game that gave us ATB, the first Final Fantasy game with legitimate characters and a full-blown story, and a game that set several benchmarks and character archetypes that would be followed for years to come. Square ported the game three times within ten years -- to the PS1, Wonderswan Color and GBA respectively -- but each version came up short due to technical flaws such as load times and nasty battle lag. When news of a fourth remake was learned, most fans understandably felt insulted by the constant milking of a classic for the sake money. To my complete surprise, though, this is not some shoddy remake job that feels cheap and uninspired - it's a brand new game with tons of new features while still retaining every bit of the charm of the original.

The first thing one notices when turning the game on is the new graphics. The opening CG looks fantastic, the best thing I've seen from the DS. It's the only CG in the game unfortunately, but you take what you can get. The in-game graphics are pretty good. The character models are a bit of a disaster - Dark Knight Cecil and Kain are nearly indistinguishable unless they're side by side (and neither looks all that good -- what's up with those legs), Rydia looks like a freaking tree, Rosa's outfit is fairly ridiculous. The rest of the game looks good though. The environments are what hook me the most - they're a little disorienting for somebody who's been playing the original for 15 years, but once you adjust to them they look really good. Every dungeon offers something the original lacked. Select scenes are now voice-acted, and while this may scare some off, I liked it. I haven't heard the English voices yet, but if they're offensive there's an option to turn them off. There's also sceneskip during those scenes if you so desire. The music sounds great, maybe even better than the original despite it being on a handheld system. Overall, it's a pretty good package. The graphical style is "superdeformed" and reminds me of FF9 in a lot of ways.

The story is the same as it ever was: Cecil, a Dark Knight to the King of Baron, feels guilty for forcibly taking a crystal from the innocent people of Mysidia and questions the King. Relieved of his duties, Cecil is ordered to take a package to the village of Mist, and his journey begins. It's fairly stereotypical (mostly because it set the stereotypes), but I love the game's plot. It's simple, it's brisk, and most of all, it's climactic and never lets down. The game isn't the longest game in the world, but a lot happens during it and it's got some of the best pacing in any RPG. It's tough to get bored in FF4.

Gameplay is pretty simple, but it works. Each character has a specific class with strengths and weaknesses, and as they progress in level they learn new abilities and skills. Each class has a unique skill that only they can do - Kain can jump, Edge can throw items, Rydia can summon, Edward/Gilbart can sing, etc etc. The game has pretty good balance, though some characters will be objectively better than others due to the way that they grow. Some characters are more effective in certain battles though.

Gameplay is where FF4DS is radically different to its SNES ancestor. For starters, the game is much harder. In the original, the enemies outside of the first town did 1 damage to Cecil and Kain, and barely moved. If it was harder in the "hardtype" version, it wasn't enough for me to notice. In FF4DS, they're moving as fast if not faster than you, and they hit you for 15-20 damage. You have to spend a few minutes levelling up outside the first town in order to really have a chance. It's a bit of a shell-shock for somebody that's used to the original. That's just the start of it, too. Each area is ramped up in difficulty, to the point where you can die from random encounters if you're not careful. It's the perfect balance of being challenging and making you pay attention while not being annoyingly frustrating. Those who are used to the post-FF7 model of advancing the story without worrying about battles may find the game overly hard, but I thought it was absolutely perfect. It's probably the hardest Final Fantasy game since the NES incarnations, and I welcome the change with open arms.

On top of the difficulty raising, most monsters behave differently. Some have nastier attacks, some have status ailment attacks that they didn't before, many have more HP and drop more EXP. The bosses have been completely overhauled, too. Several of them have entirely different attack patterns and don't play the same at all. There's a lot of strategy involved, at least compared to other FF titles, and sometimes you have to fight a fight and experiment just to figure out how to exploit the boss's weakness for massive damage. It's a hell of a lot of fun. You can't power level your way through bosses, either, because they'll just stop you with an uber attack.

Skills and spells have been overhauled, too. Some items and spells are now useful when they weren't before; some have been nerfed a little bit. Yang's Kick, for example, is now far more useful and carries the elemental properties of his equipped claws. Cecil's Dark/Darkwave is a completely different ability - in the old days, it hit all enemies while inflicting damage to Cecil, but now it doubles his attack power for the same penalty. Attacking with equippable items seems much stronger than before. Spells are taught at different levels, too. Meteo is now taught at level 80, which may sound ridiculous, but you'll be hard-pressed to beat this game under level 70 now. The difficulty is that much higher. I love every change.

The big new addition to the game are what's known as Decant Abilities. In FF4DS, you can bind commands to your menu and then use them. For example, I often remove Rydia's physical attack and replace it with her using her Rod as the top option on the menu. It makes things go quicker than having to go through the menu each time. I often equip Rosa with a Cure spell so I don't have to go searching for it, too.

Certain characters and plot points teach you Decant Abilities. Each character has unique abilities, and as they come and go, you lose access to some cool skills. FF4DS fixes this by teaching you departed characters' abilities. Now you can teach anyone Sing, or Twin, or Kick, or whatever ability you want provided you know how to get them. Rosa and Rydia (or better yet, Kain and Cecil) using Twin? No problem. Kain using Darkwave? Great! There's also some passive abilities like Counter, Auto-Potion, HP + 50%, Target All, Doublecast, etc. Decant Abilities are one-time uses that you can only teach to one character, and they're fairly limiting in that you can only equip five abilities at a given time. If you know what you're doing, though, they can be fairly overpowered. Cecil with Attract (every enemy attacking physically will target Cecil) and Counter? Instant win, provided you can keep him alive. Rosa doublecasting Cure and Holy, with the charge time of Cure? Winner! It's a lot of fun to play with, and given the upscaled difficulty, it may even be mandatory. There's also a new game plus mode, and upon completing the game, you get Limit Break -- the ability to do more than 9999 damage. Decant Abilities and choice other items carry over, so through multiple plays you could theoretically teach everyone every ability.

There's tons of other extras, too. There's an auto-battle option that's essentially like a single gambit from FF12 - you pick what your characters do and they do it repeatedly until you turn the mode off. There's an awesome map that auto-fills in on the bottom screen, and you get prizes for 100%ing a map on a dungeon floor. They're not great, but actually filling the map in is naturally addicting and sends you running to remote corners to have a completed map. There's a new summon for Rydia called Pochika that functions like a GF or an Aeon - it takes the place of Rydia for a few turns in battle. You build your Pochika's stats up via five minigames that range from fun and addicting to annoying and bad. It's completely optional though, and you can battle wirelessly (though not via Wi-Fi) if you desire. I don't know who would actually take advantage of this, but if you've got someone around to battle, maybe it's a cool mode. I haven't been able to try it out myself. The gameplay of FF4DS has so much new stuff to it that it feels like a completely different game. It took Square 15 years, but they've finally moved on -- this isn't 1991 anymore, and the game is flat-out better because of it.

FF4DS has pretty close to no flaws. There's a few minor ones, though - there's a bit of lag when accessing the healing option in the menu that gets tedious after a while. Some status effects lag in battle, too - if you get toad'd or mini'd, you vanish for a couple of seconds while the game plays catch-up. At first I thought I was sneezed out of battle or something. A couple of bosses aren't as fun as before (I won't spoil which ones). There's one optional boss that's incredibly annoying because of its attack patterns. But for the most part, the game has very, very little to complain about. It's a remake built from the ground up that takes a fantastic game and makes it even better. How can you go wrong with that?

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (JP, 12/20/07)

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