Review by _Spin_Cycle_
Spoony Bard 3D
Final Fantasy IV, yet another addition to Squares company-saving miracle franchise, was released in Japan in 1991 for the Super Famicom. The game saw two releases with varying difficulty levels in Japan during '91, and a single American release later that year as "Final Fantasy II" (to avoid confusion, as the Japanese II and III had not been released in America). By this point in the franchise, Square had experimented with a few different battle systems that were each unique and worked well for each respective game. For Final Fantasy IV, however, Square implemented a whole new system of battling that would act as their trademark system for well beyond the next decade: the ATB (Active Time Battle) system. Not only would the ATB meter be used in almost every Square RPG until the mid-2000's, but it also acted as a model for other RPGs of the time (and even today). The game's influence was unbelievable, and many claim that IV is the best Final Fantasy. The game has been re-released several times on several different platforms, both as part of a compilation and as an individual game.
One of the big problems with the original English localization of FFIV was the amount of material that was changed, cut, or altered in some way from the original. Takashi Tokita, scenario writer of the original FFIV, stated that about 3/4 of the script was cut from the original Super Famicom release, which meant that the English Final Fantasy II was missing more than half of the original script. Game elements were also missing, such as certain spells and abilities. Before the release of Final Fantasy Chronicles in 2001, fans had to rely on ROMs of the 10th-Anniversary Edition of FFIV translated by J2e Translations, as this was the only way to play the game without the removed material. Luckily, subsequent releases have fixed this as much as possible. From what I've heard, IV DS does a great job of replacing the lost material while adding some new events as well. This, to me, is reason enough to upgrade to IV DS if you haven't already.
IV DS is a complete remake, not just a port. The game was created from scratch, from the ground up, by Matrix Software, the company responsible for the Final Fantasy III DS remake from a few years ago. That said, IV DS uses the same graphical style as III DS: cute, polygon-based 3D character models, environments which move and look more realistic, as well as a fantastic CGI cutscene that opens the game. The basic gameplay remains the same, with a new ability system added and a few other extras. The game also features voice acting, something that is new to portable Final Fantasy. All of this adds up to make a very compelling experience, one that feels new while retaining the old charm of the classics.
This game looks beautiful. Although I admittedly am not a big fan of Matrix Softwares 3D Final Fantasy style (both in this game, and in III DS), I cant deny that the game looks great. I may be in the minority when I say that I would have preferred a polished, shiny 2D remake (such as the 20th-Annversary Final Fantasy PSP games), but this is still good. All three overworld maps look phenomenal, and its a ton of fun to traverse these vast, expansive environments. Speaking of which, the towns, castles, and dungeons themselves look beautiful and lively. Water flows, trees move in the breeze, and it really feels like youre there, which is one of the elements of Final Fantasy that has always drawn me to the series. The opening cutscene is beautiful, and is reminiscent of the Playstation-era cutscenes.
The character design is good, but I feel like the 3D character models hinder the art. The cute, 3D models mean that certain aspects of a character (hair, eye color, costumes, etc.) are blurred and often bleed together. Many will argue that this is a stylistic decision, and I would accept that argument. However, I think 2D character sprites would have done a better job at portraying important characteristics.
Final Fantasy IV has some of my favorite music in the whole series. Longtime series composer (and my idol) Nobuo Uematsu really outdid himself for this soundtrack. The soundtrack for IV DS is very faithful to the original, with every single well-arranged track being accounted for. Dont quote me on this, but I am almost sure that these tracks were all arranged by Squares arrangers, not by Uematsu himself. If that is true, I am pleased, because few liberties have been taken; this stuff is very faithful to the original material. Its incredible to me that these tracks can retain their melodic and harmonic integrity throughout the arranging process. This is a testament to Uematsus greatness. By the way, the Theme of Love from this game has been taught to Japanese school children as part of their music curriculum. Badass.
The other important aspect of the sound is the voice acting. The voice acting is, in my opinion, some of the best the series has offered so far. I think all of the voices match their characters very well. My problem here isnt with the actors themselves, but with the script. As I mentioned in my FFXII review, the script is full to the brim of fantasy melodrama, but thats precisely what this series is built upon. Its supposed to be dramatic at some level, and Im okay with that, but when we add voice actors into the equation something seems amiss.
The translator for this version of the game is the same person/group that translated Final Fantasy VI Advance and the DS port of Chrono Trigger. This translator does a good job of making sure the lost material all finds its way into the script, and does an even better job of updating the game to make it fit in more with the newer Final Fantasy games. For example, the names of the spells now match their counterparts in the current main-series entries, as do the enemy names. Even the currency has been updated to Gil. Lots of fans will complain that this removes the classic feeling from the game, but considering all the mess weve had with Final Fantasy IVs script and story up until this point, Id say that is a silly argument. With a game like Final Fantasy VI Advance, however, this argument makes more sense.
As I mentioned above, the script can be pretty overbearing sometimes with its melodrama, but again, this is a Final Fantasy game, so am I really surprised? The script is fairly effective in some instances, and it is charming to the extent that the voice actors dont send it over the edge. Generally, the script effectively pushes the story forward and maintains its momentum.
The story is one of the most compelling in a Final Fantasy game. You play as a Dark Knight that works under a monarch, and your adventure unfolds as your character realizes how corrupt the monarchy has become. The story will take you to three different overworlds, a very big change compared to the past Final Fantasy games. The story is solid, and will effectively maintain your interest despite the three entirely different settings. This game has happy moments, silly moments, sad moments, and epic moments. It really deserves to be considered for that number one spot. The conclusion of the game (and the events leading up to it) is just awesome.
Despite the graphical and stylistic overhauls, the gameplay retains its classic feeling by keeping close to the tried-and-true method. The ATB meter, though it is old hat to many of us, probably made this game stand out quite a bit in 1991. Essentially, your job is to explore towns, castles, villages, and caves from coast to coast in search of items, abilities, and friends that will help you save the world. Although the main storyline is linear and often prompts you to simply go from point A to point B, the most fun you can have with the game is to just explore the vast world. With several plot-related exceptions, there isnt really an order in which you have to do things, and this is a huge advantage for the gameplay.
The battle system in 3D is as fluid and exciting as ever. The time-based combat feels just like it did in many of the newer games. The battle system has received a new feature exclusive to this version: the Augment system. During your journey, youll find dozens of Augments, items that impart special abilities to a character of your choice. These Augments also have significant effects on a characters stats; certain Augments either facilitate or hinder the growth of certain stats when the character reaches a particular level. While youll receive some Augments simply by playing through the plot, most Augments (including some of the best in the game) need to be hunted down yourself. This new ability system is fantastic and really adds a new dimension to the gameplay. Youll find yourself wanting to collect them all!
Another great new feature exclusive to the DS version is the New Game+, which weve seen over the years in numerous Square RPGs. New Game+, available after youve beaten the game at least once, is a new game that retains certain aspects from your previous file. For example, certain rare items will carry over into New Game+ from your prior save file, including some of the best equipment in the game. The best part is that all of your Augments also carry over, so you can start a new game with all of your fantastic abilities from the first game. Stat bonuses acquired through the use of Augments from the previous file also carry over, which means you can acquire perfect, maxed-out stats on any particular character with enough New Game+ playthroughs and a little bit of planning.
Square has even added a few mini-games for you to play that have effects in-game. All of these great new features make the game that much more addicting. Honestly, your success is only limited by your dedication!
New Game+ obviously is a huge factor when considering how often youll replay a game. I think this feature offers enough goodies to make you want to play through it again and again. Dont forget about the stat bonuses, if youre into that stuff. Also, who says you cant simply replay the game for its awesome characters, great storytelling, and top notch music?
Final Verdict: 9/10
Final Fantasy IV is a classic, pure and simple, and this DS version has upheld that standard. The new additions as well as the entire graphical overhaul make this not simply a port, but a truly new game that you can pour dozens and dozens of hours into. To say it in fewer words, its an excellent remake. Now, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed for Final Fantasy VI DS
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (US, 07/21/08)
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