Review by AegisKnight2000

Reviewed: 05/21/09

A Generally Worthy, If Imperfect, Re-make

Pros:
-End Product more than the sum of parts
-Respectable graphics and dialogue upgrades
-Still consistent to original concepts
-The Augment system
-At times, enhanced difficulty makes for a fun challenge
-Voice-acting was mostly suitable, making another nice addition

Cons:
-While certainly an improved version, enough content is not added
-Repetitive 1990s random encounter mechanic still tedious in the 21st Century
-Filler Content (Whyt, Namingway sidequests, etc.)
-A couple of very questionable voice-acting choices

Intro: Having already played the DS-version of Final Fantasy 3 and being mildly impressed – while not completely enamored – with its presentation, I decided to check out the DS release of Final Fantasy 4. I discovered a tidy package, with interesting upgrades and expanded story and character exposition. All the while, it still retains the charm and fundamental entertainment value of the original. While FF4-DS falls slightly short of being a definite “must-buy” if you’ve already played the original, I can confidently claim that this is the best iteration of Final Fantasy 4 to date. Unless of course, you are a diehard fan of Character Sprites.

***Aspect Summary***
Graphics: (8/10)
This was probably one of the most fundamental areas of revision for this game. Graphics received a major facelift. The difference is especially striking within battle encounters, where battles are rendered in full 3-D, yet still retain the integrity and charm of the original sprites. Boss encounters, which take a facing-forward perspective on the opponent, are also striking. One major strength of the original 2-D Final Fantasies were the wonderfully drawn monster designs. FF4-DS manages to effectively transplant those 2-D designs into an interactive and dynamic 3-D model. This delivered an aesthetically satisfying, yet charmingly familiar package. The graphical upgrades are present in over-world traveling and dungeon traveling as well. Additionally, key events are now orchestrated through cinematic presentation, highlighting and expanding on pivotal story moments. This was a nice touch, and really added to the gaming experience. I would actually have preferred inclusion of a few more, though there are certainly enough to satisfy.

Sound: (8/10)
Overall, the inclusion of voice-acting was a good decision and a suitable upgrade. However, several of the chosen voice actors are bound to grate on a few nerves. Thankfully, I believe the five main characters and other critical voice actors are reasonably well voiced. Otherwise, the classic tunes, battle sounds, and most things sound-related remain intact from the original. Perhaps the music is slightly refreshed, but I would be hard-pressed identifying specific instances of an upgrade. Overall, the sound quality of FF4-DS is satisfactory. If you liked the sound on the SNES, you will still enjoy it today.

Story: (7/10)
In its day, this was a refreshing advancement forward in the realm of story-telling and character development. Now, the story has been updated and expanded slightly, dialogue has been added and reinforced with added weight, and characters are more unique and lively than ever before. Still, after all this time, the tale feels a bit primitive and unimaginative. It’s still motivating stuff, and some game moments still carry genuine weight, especially Cecil’s tenuous struggle with Golbez, and with himself. But you won’t shake the feeling that the story lacks depth beyond its rather black-and-white moral, political, and spiritual perspectives.

Meanwhile, most characters – while further fleshed out –will still inevitably seem generic, in nature. Moreover, key NPCs and party allies frequently survive far too harrowing circumstances, gradually reducing believability and the sense of drama from any tragedy that befalls the party. For better and for worse, this Final Fantasy is a genuine fairy tale. Veterans of the original likely will have no issue here; newcomers should be aware, however.

Game-play: (8/10)
This is another area that features pleasant new wrinkles and updates. First, the toughness of certain enemies has clearly been increased, and their routines are nuanced. The increased challenge is nice because it compels the gamer to be more imaginative than in the original. I found myself getting unexpectedly trounced on at least 6 occasions, probably more. But it’s not tough only due to beefed up enemy HP levels or higher defense. A few monsters and most bosses will feature tactical counters. Once learned, the counter patterns are often manageable, but then you still have to plan accordingly. Also, some opponents have been given new abilities to offset some new bonuses available to the party. It all plays out rather well, as it doesn’t violate the core gameplay tenants of the original. This still feels very much like playing Final Fantasy 4, just improved and often facilitated.

The addition of Augments can not be ignored. This plays a rather significant role in both character development choices and battle tactics. It also (slightly) reduces the rigid and static nature of character skillsets, which may have been considered a weakness in the original Final Fantasy 4. Of course, ultimately, Rosa is still your healer, Rydia is still your magic user, etc. etc. But at least you can add wrinkles, like giving your damage dealer (Kain, for instance) a secondary support role or a solid defensive skill. It’s a nice touch. Collection of augments, retaining of equipment, and bestiary logs may help enhance replay value, but honestly I did not see fit to explore that option.

One annoying point of note was the addition of what I deem 'filler content'. The Namingway quests and features surrounding Whyt all seemed like a hap-hazard afterthought to me. I felt that this was an instance of subtraction by addition, but fortunately it can be largely ignored.

Atmosphere: (9/10)
There were some real nice touches here. I particularly liked the re-working of the summon sequences in battle. That was a definite improvement, as it takes a non-factor from the original and maneuvers it into an anticipated and enjoyable event. Also interesting was the inclusion of dynamic character dialogue boxes that are present in the menu screen after every significant story event. Basically, if you go to the menu at various states in the game and select a different character to lead the party, then they will each have some unique comment on the party’s current status. It’s all rather intriguing, while helping lend perspective on party members.

Otherwise, as before, Final Fantasy 4 conveys a true and unique fantasy environment, artistically portraying mountain peaks, exotic monsters, esoteric races, maze-like dungeons, and other interesting (and often unexpected) environments. The world still does face the difficulty of seeming under-sized and under-developed, but that difficulty is never too disruptive, and it does come to be expected with a game of this age.

Expanded cutscenes, inherent nostalgia, appropriate music, and a coherent patch of artwork and sound combine to make this something of an atmospheric treat. The chances are, if you enjoyed Final Fantasy 4 already, this will evoke all of the nostalgia. If it’s your first time, I expect you will have generally fond new memories of this experience.
***End Aspect Summary***

Conclusion: I am not necessarily supportive of the re-make “craze” going on at Square Enix. I tend to prefer fresh content, both within the Final Fantasy universe, and with RPGs, in general. However, if there is one Final Fantasy re-make you decide to purchase, this is probably the one. It’s not an overwhelming must-buy, but the new advantages (portability on DS, re-vamped gameplay, 3-D graphics, etc.) make this a genuine “re-make”, as opposed to a simple “re-release” as the Ps1 version is. If you appreciated the original SNES title, or are looking for an authentic RPG to take with you on road trips, then this will be a solid addition to your DS library.

Extra Thought: So does this mean we are one step closer to genuine Final Fantasy 6 and Final Fantasy 7 re-makes? I hope so.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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