Review by Darksun45230

Reviewed: 04/16/09

Theme of Love.

You open up to a brilliant crystal, it's glimmer is mesmerizing. A song begins to play, melancholy but and passionate. This is the Theme of Love, the fabric that binds the story of Final Fantasy IV. Throughout the game you'll be exposed to both love and hate. Of guilt and sorrow and misery and war. These are the roots from which it sprouts, shaping the game as you play.

I can't go on without mention that this is the fourth title of the generation. It has in fact, be remade several times. You're probably familiar with the GameBoy Advance version of the game, some of you may know of the PSX port, and even played the original on Super Nintendo. All four titles share the same elements. My review isn't so much about the returning "veterans" as it is about appealing to both them and the new generation. If you were to ask, does this title blow it's predecessors out of the water? And, is it worth the money? Honestly, yes.

Short Summary:
Story: A tale woven by loss, love, hatred, and war. I have my doubts, but overall a dramatic quest with plot twists abound.

Gameplay: Built from the ground-up with modern graphics, Final Fantasy IV shifts from a two-dimensional adventure into a fully three-dimensional environment. With little quirks that enchant the new generation while appeasing the old.

Sound: A mix of hit and misses. The scores performed by Nobuo Uematsu will be like ear-candy while some grate like sand-paper. Alongside it an effective cast of voice actors that enhance scenery like no generation before.

Graphics: A breathtaking overhaul that portrays the nature of game. Re-rendered characters from top to bottom shine a new light on the adventure.

Overall, A brilliant title that no one can do without. The best of the DS, no doubt.

Story
An epic tale regarding the fabled Crystals, a common element throughout Final Fantasy. In this scenario, our protagonist Cecil is ordered by his king to gather them, whatever the cost. Upon questioning him, he is cast from his majesty's favor. His doubts swirl, admonishing himself for his crimes and unable to face what he has done for the Kingdom of Baron.

Soon after he is faced with one tragedy too many, and rebels against the tyrant. Questing to find redemption in the eyes of himself, he learns the truth behind the King's madness. And finds a way to rid himself of his bloodstained past. All the while recruiting a diverse group of characters to his cause. With them by his side, he braves gloomy caverns, treacherous mountain summits, and towers monstrous in size. Peppered with a love triangle, the familiar ties of love foment. Ending with a climactic clash against the very medium of hate. Accomplishing this with an ensemble cast winning over the hearts of young and old.

The cast manages to remain diverse in character, but not all characters. The main protagonist, Cecil comes off guilt-ridden, perhaps to the point of cliche. I must point out though, that he may have started the trend. His best friend Kain suffers an internal conflict, which on the surface appears benign. As time passes we learn of his conflict and those who exploit it. Ending with a startling revelation. Though, I have my complaints about the sought after Rosa. A White Mage by trade, she spends the majority of her time worrying over Cecil. A brave but stoic woman who, to me, is quite a flat character. Eventually, you meet Rydia, and you'll be glad you did. She is full of youth, potential and is unafraid of speaking her mind. She may have earned a soft spot in my own heart. And later down the road you meet with Edge, the reckless and hot-tempered prince. While he may be garbed as a ninja, he is a typical teenager that capable of feeling infatuated as well as pain. Though, the ride isn't as smooth as I make it out to be. Like weather-worn clock, there are some cogs that are too rusty.

To reiterate, the story is like a clock, but the rusty cogs are the obstructive plot points. If you remove and replace it with a shiny new cog you'll offend everyone who thought that cog should have stayed where it was. After all, it still works. Just that grinding noise is annoying... The game's beginning rather slow. It takes a few minutes to gain control of the main character, but even longer before catching sight of the world map. Then looms the ever present question, I know where to go, just not how to get to it. Those who complained have not relied on their keen wit and talk to those around them. It is in fact, a trait needed to advance in the plot.

Speaking of which, there are times where you'll feel things are happening too fast, and you're running around too much. There is also a sincere lack of characterization among the cast, some even go so far as to sum it up to bad writing. I see it as a lack of explanation of the stories part, rest assured the answers are there. You have know a story might be old, might be simple, after three generations. Take what you make of it. It may not be the hallmark of Final Fantasy, but it's thrilling and conclusive nonetheless. And, all it is choreographed in new light through the overhauled design.

Gameplay
Let's start with what you see. The squat character design similar to Final Fantasy III and the Crystal Chronicle titles for one. There's a bit more detail in their designs as I've noticed. You're allowed to cycle the characters with the Y Button, and by visiting the menu you can read their thoughts. Sadly, they don't have much to say. Interactivity with the stylus is present and much improved from Final Fantasy III. Unlike the previous title, you move via the top screen allowing you to see where you're going, should you use the stylus that is. You generally have the same speed when moving on the world map as you do in dungeons. I've noticed the encounter rate is less on the world map then it is in dungeons. The game possess more then a few castles, all equally hard to navigate, maybe it's just me.
A common trait shared by both field and dungeon are the secret paths that net treasures.

The dungeons are quite diverse and illustrate depth. A new feature to the DS version is called Map Completion. A novel idea in my opinion. Completing a map automatically gives you items, many of which can be put to good use. The task can be tedious, especially if you miss an area because you weren't walking close enough to a certain point. It also takes your off eye of the brilliance of the map, and on the bottom screen. Dungeons by nature include something unique without becoming gimmicky. For example, Sealed Cavern has Demon Doors. Sylph Cave has traps that gradually lower HP you can counter with Float. Of course, I'm leaving out the juicy details on random encounters.

Battle feels slow. It know it may not be slow, but it feels it. The turns take longer, and using abilities have a waiting mode. None of which I disagree with. On the contrary, I believe it teaches players to think about what attack they will use. Not only does this provide a new level of strategy, it also makes a player think twice about using an overpowered move. Sure, it can do more damage, but the waiting time can kill you.

I love the way the screen spins upon random encounter, it gets you kinda dizzy. The encounter rate is quite frequent in my opinion, not only this but random encounters bring strategy to a fight. Monsters are difficult, armed with status inducers and attacks with such power that they are at the point of unfair. For example, Chimera's Blaze takes the parties HP. Malboro's Bad Breath can fit one of your characters with a massive amount of ailments. Enemies later on come with Counter: [Attack/Spell] simply put means when you hit them, they back. Like Behemoth's Counter: Attack and Imp's Counter: Silence. To sum it up, you make the wrong move, you end up dead. To be fair, the enemies have a waiting time for abilities too.

Spells and Summoning animations are quick but beautiful. The sound can be grating, and the graphics at times are weird. Like Silence, for example, sounds like a zapping from a science fiction pistol and Firaga looks like a popcorn kernels popping. You acquire the ability to summon monsters called Eidolons, possessors of some of the strongest magical attack in-game (Ultima aside.) And thank god, the summoning animations are skip-able. Though every-time I summon, my screen goes blank and I fear my game has crashed. When under a status, be it good or bad, your character will show it. My favorite status enhancement is Blink. That swirling wind makes you look like a character from Dragon Ball Z. Aesthetics aside, the real gem occurs at the start of a boss encounter.

Boss Battles are electric. The the quick surprise and fast-paced beats of the Boss Battle music will act like your grammar school teacher barking at you for goofing around. These fights have to be taken seriously, not paying attention to your health can mean a lost fight. And later on, you have to time your drawn-out spells in order to keep alive. It presents a level of tact that makes bosses unique. Like Cagnazzo's Tidal Wave, or Rubicante's Cape, even the dreaded Demon Wall's crawl. My favorite part the fight is towards he beginning, when the camera starts with a close-up of the boss then zooms out. All of which are accompanied by a thrilling musical score which details the tension of the battlefield. These encounters also exist to test new Augment system.

The most obvious addition to the title is the ability to customize your party through Augments. You receive them throughout the story as key items. Once applied they cannot be unequipped, which means if you feel it could have done better on another character, well, too bad. You receive even more of them for giving them away to characters who later leave your party. Strange, no? Of course, how are you suppose to know this if you've never played the game before? You don't.

Augments take two forms, Active and Passive. They both take slots up on your command menu, meaning you have to painstakingly choose between them. Later on in the game, you will be dependent on skills you've acquired from Augments. Because these trinkets allow you to shape the battleground by drawing fire and bypassing barriers normally untouched. For example, Cecil can equip Draw Attacks to take physical damage in the stead of his allies. A lifesaver later on. The new system applies as well to a munch-kin marshmallow man named Whyt.

Whyt is yet another exclusive character unlocked early on in the story. You can customize his appearance by naming him and even drawing his face. Personally, I named him Dwight and drew him a pair of dorky glasses. You have a variety of colors at your disposal allowing you to be as creative as you want. You can set up his abilities during combat based on the Augments you know. Having the potential to be really good at what he does or really bad, it's up to how you equip him. He comes with the option to fight wireless with others, however the Wi-Fi is absent. What determines your creature's overall strength are his stats which increase through "training." This consists of a series of mini-games unlocked throughout the story. Each one trains a different stat, Rydia's game for intellect, Cecil's game for strength, and so on. All of which employee the touch screen. A maximum score in any mini-game unlocks a costume for Whyt along with maxing said stat. A fact which makes Whyt an asset in battle.

Whyt is the very face of Final Fantasy, no, games in general. He's what you make of him. It takes 50 MP to summon him. And when you do he takes the place of Rydia. Depending on your situation that can be a good thing or a bad thing. When in battle he's in the control of the AI which means he randomly uses his given abilities. Which is why I tend to give him a select set of active abilities and fill the rest with passive. He has an endless pool of magic points meaning he can spam the strongest spell in-game without fear of running out. Yep, all you have to fear is the waiting time. He also comes with some amount of risk, should he die so does Rydia. Ultimately, it's up to you whether you want to use him or not. Whyt is simply one of the many side-quests accessed throughout the game.

There's plenty to keep the player busy before finishing the game. I must note however, they're difficult to locate unless sought after. You'll be traveling to the ends of the world in search of summon spells and crusading for the legendary Excalibur. Then there is Augment hunting. My quarrel with Augment hunting is that you are supposed to look in dungeons you've already explored. Like Inferno which requires you to backtrack through Elban cave at a certain point of the game. My question is, how are we suppose to know that they are there?

You meet the character Namingway and his comical name changing. Throughout the story you'll brush paths with some benefit, be it a laugh or a item. You'll never know where he'll appear, so be on the look-out for those rabbit-ears of his. There is a point in your quest where you will be asked to produce Rainbow Pudding. Dear god, it's like the developers wanted you to waste hours and hours of your time. Item drops can be a lengthy and fruitless search. While Augments like Treasure Hunter and items like Siren help, it's still quite the grind. And unless you go peaking at a guide, you're not going to know where to find it. Item drops (tails especially) can help you bag some of the strongest armor in-game. It should be mentioned that Lunar Ruins was removed from the GameBoy Advance version. Which means no more broken equipment. Overall, the entire mess is pulled together through the completely overhauled graphics. And it comes out swimmingly.

Graphics & Sound
Superb overall. Ranking among the most pleasing and beautiful on the Nintendo DS to date. The transition from two-dimensional to three-dimensional is seamless. Everything seems to have had a major overhaul from the roaring falls on the world map, to the flicking embers of the underworld. Not to mention the breathtaking opening at the game's title. Levels of detail are shared between dungeons and their battle backgrounds. With vibrant scenery and tailored graphics in nature complementary to the field. Where you see lava, you'll see it battle, if you see colorful boulders, you're bound to spot them as well. My opinion, the moment the random encounter begins, it's starts with a jarring bit-tune then transitions into something great.

The music in general is a mixed bag of epic melodies and repetitive tunes. It's like a concert with it's many musicians, and things are going great until that one guy starts off cue. The soundtrack is full of hit-and-misses. The world map theme for example, is a an outstanding piece but as soon you enter an town, meh. It's the singular repetitive beat that, should you hear more off, will make you want to switch off your sound. In particular I enjoyed the mystical pitch of the Feymarch. The weightless song upon your first airship trip. Which, I admit, I'm a sucker for airship songs. Of course you already know my love affair with the random and boss battle music. My all-time favorite is undoubtedly the Theme of Love, which plays throughout the story. And among the catchy tunes events occur that opt for voice acting.

Voice acting is ably performed, meaning, it's up to taste. The application of voice acting bolsters certain scenes overall effect. While I cannot say much without spoilers, refer the scene between Edge and Rubicante, wow. I found Kain's voice actor is surprisingly deep, for such a squat character to possess such a voice takes me aback. Cecil's voice actor is fitting for his role. The questioning, doubtful Dark Knight transitions well later role as the hero. I can't say it's all good, at times I found tragic events interrupted by a certain "foghorn-esque" bellow of *cough*Cid*cough*. Though to be fair that's just taste. You could watch these scenes again through the Fat Chocobo, but why not play-through the game again?

Replayability
New Game + allows you three separate playthroughs. You keep some items and abilities obtained from your last game. And unlike the killjoy developers of Crisis Core, your level was reset to prevent your party from becoming overpowered demi-gods. Well at least until you get to the end of the game. You can obtain most of the Augments you acquired through the first playthrough, with few exceptions. The more Augments on your final party, the more bonuses they give allowing you to max your stats. Which is needed if you plan on facing the optional bosses. Geryon and Proto-Babil are indeed harder battles then the final boss. They are unlocked only on your second and third playthrough. It's recommended you bring your best game.

The Good
+ Outstanding storyline.
+ Excellent cast.
+ Completely overhauled graphics.
+ Treasure filled dungeons and Map Completion.
+ Strategical enemy encounters.
+ Soul-stirring boss fights.
+ New Augment system adds an additional level of strategy.
+ Whyt!
+ Engrossing side-quests.
+ Good musical score.
+ Scene enhancing voice acting.
+ Three extra playthroughs.
+ Optional bosses Geryone and Proto-Babil.

The Arguments
- Underdeveloped characters.
- Map Completion can be bothersome.
- Battles are slower compared other titles.
- Enemies may be overpowered and unfair.
- Spell animations are odd-looking.
- If you make a mistake with Augments, you're screwed.
- No Wi-Fi for Whyt battles.
- Farming item drops can be exceedingly lackluster.
- Humdrum songs of castles and villages.
- Side-quests can be quite out-of-the-way unless you're reading a guide.

A solid winner. As romantic and engrossing as any Final Fantasy could be. Littered with plot twists to appease the thrill seekers, filled with tragedy to tug at our heartstrings. Shining a light so bright and pure on the clash between love and hate, good and evil, and mechanism that is life. Their weakness, could be our weakness. Their pain, could our own. In the end, it's what you feel that matters.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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