Review by RubyW3apon
Refreshing and nostalgic
Final Fantasy 4 was one of the first games I played to completion; it was this remake that reminded me it is also one of my favorite games of all time. While certainly not a niche favorite of the series, FF4 is not in contention for fan favorite amongst the Final Fantasy Faithful. With this sort of upper middle status among fans FF4 has had many iterations that have not offended purists....until now.
A retelling of the original 1991 granddad of modern RPGs with vigorous creative license given to the developers. The 2D maps and sprite characters have been completely replaced with 3D environments and full polygon characters to create a gaming experience that is visually unlike any release of the game since it's debut. Much like the GBA re-release the script has been tweaked and localized to create if nothing else more coherent dialogue and plot. The game music has also been completely uphauled leaving a noticably different score to even the least of uninitiated ears.
Although FF4 does not push the limits of the DS technology to the breaking point (this is no Crisis Core) the game does look good. Character models are re- imagined in a very Amano way, which is not a bad thing; meticulous wardrobe details abound from the main casts' equipment spouting out horns, gems, jewelry and various textiles adorning the solid looking models themselves. Although super-deformed the models have all appendages without that FF7 concavity that creates a more realistic, if not artistically licensed feel. The 3d environments, however shine in the DS version and are the real stars of the visual show. Flora and fauna surround the exploring party as searching a dungeon takes to new dimensions, both literal and physical. Split levels create a new challenge to navigate surroundings without being overly vexing or frustrating. Seeing a treasure on a lower level in the Antlion's den for example really expand the scope of the game and creates a fresh experience to FF4 vets. Jagged edges are the norm, however as the game really fails to have smooth edges just about anywhere. But if you could ignore it for Metal Gear Solid you can do it here as well. The color palette is noticably more bright than you may remember, but again the at times near pastel quality of the game really only drives the art style and makes the game pop visually while in contrast creates a powerful sense of gloom when in darker environments ( when you fight the first elemental fiend you'll know what I'm talking about)
On a personal note I feel I must say that the music of FF4 is my favorite part of the game, and FF4 DS is a bit of a mixed bag from my perspective. The sounds have been almost completely redone, while keeping just a fraction of the true original sounds, and none of the original score. Foes and bosses die with the same satisfying crash and burn and slow earthquake/ meltdown sound as they did before, respectively, but that's really about it. Songs themselves are similar at best and reminiscient at worst when compared to the original game but are of high quality in thier own right mostly. Traveling music and ambient songs for towns and dungeons are all top level, and are really improvements over the originals. New details and baselines accent the already rich soundtrack and create a much more complex score. On the other hand battle sequences are somewhat detracted, failing to have the impact and urgency of the original music. The music for normal enemies, bosses, and special bosses sound muddled and all contain baselines that haunt every Sega Genesis game ever made (think Sonic bouncing off a jump or the entire X-Men soundtrack) and are powerfully offensive to my personal tastes. Objectively the music for the battles is barable and the normal boss music is a few steps above that, whatever it may be and will probably not aggrevate others as much as it did me. The game also contains voice acting for the first time, and that too has its ups and downs. The voices themselves are appropriate, well delivered, and at times riveting, but the quality of the recording is not of the highest level. The voices often sound muddled and rough ( I played much of the game through Bose headphones so this may be a bit trifling) and often scratchy. Overall though the quality of the actors well outshine any technical problems and creates a surprising new dimension to a well known world.
FF4 DS really creates a great balance and usually walks the line between boredom and frustration with grace. I felt that FF4 advance was too easy but FF4 DS really hits a good cord as far as difficulty is concerned. The game is a straight forward turn based RPG using magic, attacks and recovery to defeat many, many opponents while growing stronger and aquiring new equipment along the way. The main draw for this routine is progressing along the story which is functionally unchanged from the original. New lines, altered dialogue, new spell names, and renamed equipment really help the story feel fresh all of which is assisted by the new visual style and spoken words. The gameplay experience is new enough to bring returning players back but familiar enough to keep them from feeling alienated from the original; all but the most stubborn of players will feel that FF4 DS strays just the right distance from the SNES version and will be rewarded from the new experience.
If you think about it adding another dimension to a classic game is kind of a ballsy move. The prospect of failure is much more realistic than a moderate success, especially while improvement is impossible in the minds of those faithful to the original. Does FF4 DS improve over the original? It really doesn't need to, and in a lot of ways I feel the developers didn't aim to. FF4 DS is a great parallel to the original and "retelling" is the most accurate way to describe this game. This version is a very solid choice in its own right and I could see those who played the DS version first really liking it more than the SNES version. Either way FF4 DS shows a new side of a familiar game and really merits a full playthough which, lets face it, is getting rare for a lot of RPGs now adays.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (US, 07/21/08)
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