Review by snakenamedjoe
New age glitz and glamour can't beat old school balance and gameplay.
Final Fantasy IV for the DS is the perfect example of old school game mechanics versus new age glitz. While older versions of FFIV relied on solid gameplay and balance to captivate audiences, FFIV DS applies a level of graphical and interface glamour to try to cover up broken and discounted play mechanics. This modern approach to RPG's is pretty and occasionally entertaining but fails to live up to the genius of 'old school' RPG masterpieces such as the original FFIV.
Lets start with what was done well.
Despite the complaints of some naysayers out there, this game looks and sounds great for a DS game. Most people who complain about the graphics are comparing this game to a PS3 game, which is ludicrous. The 3D models, creatively casted camera angles, wonderful scores from the original and brilliant voiceover make this game a wonder to behold, and for any fan of the game it is worth playing this game just to see and hear the characters you love replay the story in glorious 3D. Wonderful as it is, however, I did not give it a 10 because the technical limitations of 3D were allowed to lambaste certain aspects of the game. Dialog, while well done, is quite sparse and many scenes were omitted from VO. Too often you'll find yourself reading a dramatic cutscene instead of listening to it. What's worse, the engine was unable to handle the number and combinations of enemies found in the original FFIV. Yes, it's true that on occasion they have managed to fit 6 enemies onto the screen, but this is accomplished only when the models are extremely small and simple. More complex enemies such as giant turtles now show up only as solitary encounters. The sad fact is that many encounters are made much more simple and boring because of the fact that fewer enemies generally can be presented on screen at one time. If the cost of 3D was a decrease in gameplay, I say the cost was too high and the game should have remained 2D sprite based.
The story remains unchanged from the FFIV version, and is further enhanced by the inclusion of updated graphics, cinematic camera angles and voice over acting. The dialog is well translated - much better than the original or any subsequent versions. Just because a story is old does not make it any worse, and this story stands the test of time as one of the best ever presented in a video game, with just the right amount of complexity and emotion to keep players interested, while avoiding the realm of general wierdness found in many RPG's.
Control Scheme 10
Something has to be said for the many modern additions that were made to the controls of the game. Being able to look at the details of weapons and armor and see exactly what they will do for your character before buying them is great. Likewise, showing the stats and weaknesses of enemies that you've previously examined, along with elemental properties and general attack power of attacks on the second screen is a quite ingenious and welcome new feature. Being able to customize your character commands is great. Replacing the useless attack command of a mage with a rod for attack magic is a huge time saver and makes the game play much smoother. Also, I am a big proponent of using the L button as an alternate action button. I like playing RPG's with one hand at times, and making good use of the L button to talk to people and scroll through text is a big bonus to me. These newer, fresher, more convenient control methods truly show the potential for remakes of old games.
I am very impressed that they did not attempt to cram in a bunch of DS touch screen controls that would not have improved the game. The touch screen goes largely unused in this game, and that is a good thing because most of the uses for the touch screen from FFIII DS did not improve the game. Kudos to them for being able to ignore feature creep and only use the DS functionality that helped the game.
Now the stuff that didn't come out quite so great.
It seems like everyone in the world has customization fever. All they want is to customize their characters - to be unique and come up with their own unbeatable combinations of abilities that make the characters their own. Well, a large part of what made FFIV so great was the fact that you had a large group of pre-constructed characters already made for you, and you had to figure out how to work with their strengths and weaknesses in a variety of settings to make them an effective fighting unit. Now you're challenged instead to find a way to eliminate any weaknesses in your characters by customizing them into a perfect fighting unit that can handle any situation with ease. Unfortunately, this doesn't really lead to unique customization as much as to a puzzle with a single solution. Every player who ever plays this game will ultimately come to the same conclusion - that there are certain sets of abilities that were obviously designed to work together, and straying from this prearranged, but not pre-established set of abilities will ultimately lead you down the path of failure. Didn't assign the right augments to the characters they were intended for? Well, start over and get it right this time. Other gameplay problems include the lack of rows for enemies, meaning enemies can do full damage from the back row, lowered effectiveness of rows for your party (mages in the back take almost as much damage as they would have in the front now), boss fights that are over before you can even figure out how you were supposed to fight them, and enemies that often die in one hit to attacks they are supposed to be invulnerable to.
I remember at one point getting a new summons that is customizable by the player. You get to customize his appearance, stats, abilities, everything. It's a great idea and great fun. Unfortunately, to my dismay, after spending hours playing with my new summons and getting him looking great, I went out and tried to summon him in battle to see what he looked like in action, only to find that if I took the time to take this unnecessary action in battle, I would be wiped out before I even had a chance to look at my creation.
One of the things that is highly touted about this game is that it is presented with a higher level of difficulty than the original US release of FFIV (released as FFII). They call it more difficult - I call it more restrictive. The game is actually not hard at all, provided that you use the same sets of abilities in every fight. You are provided with numerous free healing abilities and direct attacks that are very effective. Enemies attack fast and hit hard. Your characters, provided they are at full health, can easily withstand one round of attacks from your enemies, and as long as your healers are healing every round and your fighters are quickly taking out the enemies, you'll be just fine. Stop for a round to try something different, however, and it's game over. Effect spells such as sleep, toad, and pig generally have only about a 30% chance to work. Try to use one of these spells and unless you're very lucky you've just wasted a round. That's all the enemies need to start taking your party apart. Sure, you might be able to make use of these abilities later in a fight when most of the enemies are already dead, but really, that's when these types of abilities aren't that useful anyway.
Additionally, certain aspects of the original SNES game that made the game more difficult have been removed. Attack an enemy wizard in the back row with your fighter and he takes full damage, allowing you to easily eliminate any enemy that is a threat first. Attack a flan with a physical attack or a zombie with a dark sword, and they will still go down in one hit. This is far removed from the SNES version where such enemies were all but invulnerable to these attacks, taking only 1 damage, and requiring other methods to defeat.
Attack, Fire/Lightning/Ice, Heal, Attack, Fire/Lightning/Ice, Heal. Rinse, cycle, repeat. That's basically what this heightened 'difficulty' amounts to.
This game is designed under the assumption that anyone who plays it has played earlier versions of FFIV. If you haven't played the game before, don't expect to get through this game without using some sort of guide. Here's the problem. You need to get these augments, which allow you to customize your characters to make them powerful enough to overcome the steep 'difficulty' curve. However, receiving many of these augments is based on giving other augments to characters who will be departing from your group and never coming back. That means that in order to get some of these all important augments, you need to know enough about the story to know when something is going to happen that will make a character leave your party. If a character leaves and you weren't expecting it, you may miss out on some very powerful augments and that could very well make the game almost unbeatable. What's worse, you're expected to know which 5 characters will still be around at the end of the game. If you have a favorite character and start giving him the better augments, you may find out that your favorite character leaves your party unexpectedly, taking with him your invaluable augments, never to return, with no way to recover these abilities. This wasn't a problem for me as I'm a long time fan of the game, but for anyone playing this as their first experience with FFIV be warned. Don't try it without a guide unless you're willing to give up and start over multiple times to figure out who to give abilities to and when.
For me, this game holds little replay value. Yes, the game lets you go through 3 different play throughs accumulating augments along the way, but you're just getting the same abilities over and over. It seems to me that by the 3rd play through you'd be using almost the exact same augment setup as you were on the first play through, with only a couple of augments being useful enough to warrant using them on multiple characters. Yes, you could get marginally more powerful, but with no actual new abilities, just copies of abilities you already have, it doesn't seem to warrant the time and repetition it would take for the 3 play throughs. 2 optional bosses are included during multiple play throughs, but to my understanding they are not related to the game in any way beyond another meaningless boss fight, and you get no reward for defeating them.
For anyone who's a fan of FFIV and has played it before, this game is worth checking out just to see the visuals and presentation in a portable format. If you've never played FFIV before, I would strongly urge you to go out and hunt down one of the previous versions before attempting this one. You'll enjoy this game more if you've played one of its predecessors and you won't risk ruining a classic gaming experience. This game evidences a lot of hard work and some good ideas by the developers, but at the same time it shows all the reasons why SquareEnix RPG's have been on the decline in recent years. Gameplay first, SquareEnix. Gameplay First.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (US, 07/21/08)
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