Review by gbarules2999

Reviewed: 08/06/08

Though Final Fantasy IV DS may fix a lot of things wrong with the GBA version, it never becomes the better game.

Final Fantasy II was released on the SNES in 1992, and overcame a shoddy translation to become one of the best RPGs of all time. The game deserves such recognition, still to this day, being arguably the first story-based RPG, using a new narrative structure to create a game that still surpasses modern RPGs on the consoles today. When Square-Enix released Final Fantasy IV Advance to the GBA, it turned out we'd all been fooled; Final Fantasy II on the SNES wasn't, in fact, the second official game in the series. It was the fourth. But without mincing words or confusing numbers, the GBA port was excellent, only held back by a small smattering of technical difficulties that came with the hardware.

Now, roughly three years later, that game is risen again on the Nintendo DS. Love 'em or hate 'em, the Final Fantasy remakes on the DS are very high quality; if more developers did this kind of deal we'd be a very happy bunch of gamers. The first remake, Final Fantasy III DS, was an excellent, hard-core RPG from many moons ago, with gameplay aging as subtly as red wine. In contrast, Final Fantasy IV was the invention of a new kind of game in its time, and in that respect, this new remake tries to make a hard-core game out of something that simply isn't. Considering how close the gap was from the GBA version and how near the DS version gets to the very best version of an excellent game, it's hard to call the game bad, but it's also hard to call the game great.

The biggest issue is the gamer-set this game is trying to reach. It felt that III DS, no matter how hard or unfriendly it may be, was toned exactly for a very specific set of hard-core RPG players. IV (in any iteration) never was meant to be that game. It was designed to be much like the flashy new story-based console sequels; a little easy, and more about having a good time with the story, awesome battle system and sci-fi fantasy setting than being finicky with the gameplay. It was a mainstream game, proving that everyone could enjoy an RPG if the game was good enough. Too bad the DS remake is extremely difficult, and has very little fun with the whole package. Instead of trying to gather new fans, it makes a harder Master's Quest version of a game that certainly didn't need it.

Perhaps it has to do with the real-time battle system. Rather than take planned turns like in other turn-based RPG games, FFIV takes an approach much like other Square RPGs; a bar for each character fills up, and when the bar is full the player attacks. In other Final Fantasy games its heckuva fun, mostly because this makes a non-interactive story a video game in definition, adding an exhilarating set of emotions to a story that very well could be a novel. In IV DS, the battles are the challenge and often an annoyance, and suddenly they lose their novelty. The story, something that made IV so special, is now pushed to the side for these too-long, too-difficult battles that occupy too much of the game-time. It doesn't help that the player has to stop and level-grind every half-hour. They used to be quick, rewarding and easy; now they're long, drawn-out and often life-threatening.

Maybe it's the length of the dungeons. Caves that were fairly sizable on the GBA have multiplied their size by three or four, and each of these rooms twist and turn into overly annoying maze-like areas to draw out every possible random encounter. A lot of the dungeons are so thick with monsters that it's hard to take a step without a gang of enemies attacking. What this leads to is a long, tedious, and difficult torture-the-gamer sequence, and considering roughly half the game takes place in some sort of dungeon, there's a bit of oversight involved if these aren't at least amusing. In fact, I typically speed through the caves, ignoring monsters, chests and the map, because the dungeons are simply not fun. Ever. They're long and annoying and get in the way of what is fun in this game; by the end of it, a hard boss fight feels like a relief.

I don't want to completely rule the game out. Those boss fights mentioned above are horribly entertaining, using the most strategy and action than any other point in the game, and they're remixed in this new version with new attacks and weaknesses. Occasionally, the game does show its more beautiful colors in even random encounters; it feels like VII or X in the Final Fantasy series; excellent, tight, and thoroughly enjoyable, and more advanced and sophisticated than other DS RPG games that are more interested in beating the player down than having a good time. But IV DS only has fleeting glimpses of these wisps of genius. For every engaging battle there are twenty that are as joyous as a root canal.

And then when the story does peek its little head out of the hole, it's a shadow of the intent that went into the SNES game in the first place. The Advance translation was excellent and well written, boasting a good vocabulary and sophisticated additions to scenes to make them completely understandable. To upgrade many parts from SNES sprites, IV DS has voiceovers during key cut-scenes, which are usually very well done and directed with aplomb (the voices are pretty well cast, for the most part). But these scenes usually have clipped, melodramatic dialogue, many times to save space in the voiceovers, and these overly formal lines never sound natural. Many times IV DS feels like its parodying itself, especially with the voices reading these stuffy and idiotic lines and trying to make them sound somewhat realistic in a world with a visual style of a claymation holiday special. The voices highlight the ridiculousness of the plot and writing to the point that I prefer to shut both voice and subtitles off and watch the stilted characters silently animate, a modification that makes the story's presentation much more hilarious than intended.

The game's writing in most other areas is solid, but nothing special. Several scenes that had a lost-in-translation flavor on the GBA are now completely clear and poignant, and the 3D engine can show emotion and movement in ways that the original IV developers never even dreamed of. A lot of scenes in the original game were conceptually cool, but here they really are epic and moving (like the many Peter Jackson style battles the SNES simply could not do). But the game overall feels too close to the Advance version, adding only a few little nudges and winks that add little to the game itself along with the technical improvements - "You spoony bard" is still in, good for them, and slowdown is a long-lost memory - making the game, while superior in many respects, a little too stale for its own good.

The new Whyt custom-summon nonsense is fun for roughly thirteen seconds, and besides a few mind-bending touch screen mini-games, there's practically nothing new to keep veterans interested. There's a sound test and bestiary function as usual, and the music can be listened to even when the DS is closed, which is a nice touch. At least the touch screen is getting some use here, with a handy new map that spawns rewards for a fully explored dungeon, often worthy enough to bother messing with. Even the new CGI movie is still looking pretty fancy, though with even more compression than the one in III DS. But otherwise the new additions are extremely under-whelming; it made me wonder sometimes why I'm playing when I beat this game several times before.

I don't like saying that the remake of IV was bad. It wasn't by any means. The music is faithful and beautiful, the graphics are the same stunning quality that we've seen from Square's DS engine, and many sections of the game do improve upon the awkward SNES storytelling. It's just that IV was on the GBA not that long ago (many gamers have been playing that on their DS anyway), and the improvements work for the overall experience only a fraction of the time. I don't regret buying it, but I can't say I'm entirely pleased with this remake. It shows the DS can pull off sophisticated RPG and storytelling, but in the same breath shows exactly what not to do, with dumb writing and overly convoluted gameplay. Though Final Fantasy IV DS may fix a lot of things wrong with the GBA version, it never, at the end of the day, surpasses it as a better edition.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (US, 07/21/08)

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