Review by 94067
A refreshing challenge in the series, with new content that enhances the experience.
Final Fantasy IV has been reinvented countless times, and after 17 years, it seems that Square Enix has finally perfected it. The DS version has finally achieved what the game was striving for since its release. Its gameplay is balanced, the translation has reached its pinnacle in clarity, and there are no major glitches. While some may see this game as one of Square's cash-in attempts at remaking a game for the umpteenth time, I consider this one of the best remakes not only in the Final Fantasy series, but in all of gaming in general.
If you've played Final Fantasy IV before, you will still feel as though the game is different. While story progression is still the same, the mechanics of the game have been completely reworked and several new features have been added to make this game feel completely different from its predecessors. The most notable of these new features is the Augment system, which functions like a low-grade job system. Throughout the course of the game, certain events will yield these key items, which can only be taught to one character, and only once. These Augments yield the abilities of other characters, or new abilities altogether. For example, a certain character comes with a Counter ability, which will automatically counter physical attacks. Once you get this Counter Augment, you'll be able to teach it to a different character. Augments can be gotten again while playing through the game on a New Game+ (another new feature to FFIV), and be taught to more party members, making some very powerful combinations available. The Augment system, while well designed, is not without its faults, however. There seems to be no formal introduction of it, and in order to get the really useful ones, you have to give other ones to certain characters before they leave your party. While there are many, many guides for this on the internet and this site, it seems kind unfair of Square to expect players to know this without any sort of in-game hint.
The Augment system comes into great use when considering the difficulty of this game has been drastically increased. This is definitely not a Final Fantasy for beginners, as even random encounters can kill your party in less than two turns, even before the final dungeon. Bosses are harder than ever, and will take much more strategy to plan out. The game does not leave you to fend for yourself, however. The use of the DS's two screens has been infinitely improved from FFIII's use. Action takes place and commands are issued on the top screen, while the bottom screen shows character and enemy status. If you use an item or spell that reveals enemy information (weakness, HP, etc), that information is retained for all future battles, which is very handy. You are now allowed to choose from multiple characters' actions if their ATB bars are filled up, and there is also an Auto-fight function which is nice when grinding for those Pink Tails. Enemies give out more experience than they have before, but give out less gold, which can be kind of a pain, but luckily there is an augment to increase the amount of gold earned from battles.
Another new and useful addition to the DS version is the self-completing maps on the bottom screen when wondering around on the field. Completing these maps nets a handsome bounty, such as potions or some other sort of useful item, and completing all the maps in the game will grant a very useful augment. However, there is also a not so well thought-out addition to this game: Whyt. Whyt is a special summon that Rydia can call to battle in her stead, and it gains stats based on mini-games that can be played out of battle. Each 'permanent' character has a mini-game that raises a certain stat. This sounds good in theory, and I'll admit that I've never actually used Whyt, but the mini-games are freaking hard. Some of them are impossible to complete without using some exploit (Rydia's, in particular), and I don't know the worth of actually leveling up this 'extra character'. Suffice to say it is by no means necessary to complete the game, just another sidequest.
Aesthetically, I wasn't expecting to like FFIV. I'm not a huge fan of the DS's 3D capabilities, and think that it should stay to 2D, but it pulls it off rather nicely. The graphics look like a little more polished than FFIII, and the art style is an awkward mix between chibi and realistic proportions. The areas look fantastic, and the caves and dungeons actually have ambiance now. Dark, dank caves feel dark and dank thanks to the improved graphics, the Underworld feels hot and intimidating, and the Tower of Babil looks very majestic with its tiled floors, high-tech looking walls, and its cleanliness. Unfortunately, while the graphics were improved, to my ears the music sounds a little worse. The melodies are the same, but the instruments used to create them sound a little tinny, though this could be because I'm not a huge fan of the soundtrack anyway. The music itself is quality, but the execution is a little lacking. If you've never heard it before, you should enjoy it, but if you've played the GBA/SNES versions, you'll be expecting a little more.
The story is still intact from 1991, but a little more has been added. While the story has expectedly lost its original wow factor since becoming the RPG cliche checklist, SE did add some new content. Although it isn't mind blowing, it helps to clear up a little ambiguity. Most notable is the new translation, which makes characters sound threatening, sincere, or whatever emotion needs to be conveyed. Throughout the game, there are some voice-acted scenes, which are done quite well and can be rewatched. None of the characters' voices are over-acted (though Kain's is uncharacteristically deep), and they come off as powerful, rather than melodramatic.
There are a few minor nitpicks I have with this version, though. A NG+ can only be started 3 times, after which point the game doesn't allow you to restart that same file. While this is practical, it would be fun nonetheless to boost all of your characters to unprecedented levels of strength, like Square's Chrono Trigger. Isn't that the point of a New Game +? This version also takes out the GBA's ability to use any party near the end of the game, but that problem has been slightly remedied by the Augment system, unless you just like the look of a certain character. The self-completing map system can be a life saver at times, but is also over-precise about getting corners of certain rooms, and can cause you to look at the bottom screen too much, missing out on the beautiful scenery. The superbosses in this game, which are both very difficult, can only be accessed after completing the game and playing through it again on a NG+, which seems a little selfish. Despite these minor setbacks, and they are very minor, this version of Final Fantasy IV remains one of the best games SE has made in a long time, and probably their best port ever.
Final Fantasy IV is the first really challenging Final Fantasy we've had in quite some time, and the difficulty is done perfectly, placing strategy over tedium. While some of the extra content is kind of unneeded, it made a perfect transition to 3D, and feels like a completely different game. Newcomers will be put off by the high difficulty, but series veterans will appreciate a refreshing challenge, which includes two super bosses.
Final Score: 8/10.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (US, 07/21/08)
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