Review by Exodist
A highly enjoyable early entry into the legendary series.
Before I start off, I want to see this review focuses more on Final Fantasy IV as the actual game, rather than the actual port. I live in the UK and of course the game was never released here until the (not very good) Anthology collection on PS1. Although I originally played this version, I was much younger and thus never really truly grasped the game. The DS version is thus my first proper and full playthrough, and I'll be rating the game more so than what the actual DS port has to offer over other versions of the game.
Final Fantasy IV is perhaps the most released, ported, remade game of the entire series. It exists on basically everything, the latest version being on the PSP, a complete edition back in classic 2D along with the Wii Ware game 'After Years' which is a sequel to this game of which I have absolutely no idea about. The game was originally released on the Super Nintendo, the first Final Fantasy game to do so. The game also happened to introduce a lot of really interesting gameplay to the series along with general game design that make it stand out. As such, its epic story (well, maybe), new gameplay and technological improvements over the NES hardware make FFIV stand out, and according to the box, one of the best loved games in the series.
The story is fairly decent for its age. The story begins with Cecil, a Dark Knight from the town of Baron. The king of Baron doesn't seem quite right however, as recently the king has ordered his elite men, the Red Barons (who travel via airship) on some fairly questionable missions involving the massacre of innocents. Cecil begins to doubt the king, who realises this, and sends Cecil away along with child hood friend, Kain, a Dragoon. They're soon separated and Cecil frantically rushes in order to find his way home, and to warn other people of the dangers of the king of Baron, who is seeking the different crystals of the Earth. The game features a large cast of playable characters and they're all fairly fun, each with their own distinct roles. Rydia the young summoner is a standout, a nice young girl along with some mage twins, a monk, a ninja, and Cecil's sort of girlfriend, Rosa. Each character has some purpose to the story, some more vague than others. You have no actual control over who is in your party, its all fixed, as characters come and go and serve their purpose in the story, there is a large cast but its done well, at least, for the playable characters. The main villain of the game is suitable evil and there is a small cast of supporting characters who again play their roles well.
Although the story may have been considered fairly sophisticated at its time compared to other games in the series, I felt the story had not aged too well at all. The story is certainly epic, its a fairly long story with plenty of places to visit, plenty of things to and plenty of characters and plot twists. However it also happens to be fairy cliched. There are some nice twists in here, however a revelation towards the game borders on being a bit absurd, simply thrown in because they felt it'd be good. The saving grace is the struggle of the characters who are somewhat developed, some more so than others, however the cast is likeable and improve the story somewhat, as you'll feel emotionally attached to some characters. The story, generally speaking, isn't terrible however isn't particularly sophisticated compared to modern day gaming, and if you can look past the cliche's then the story serves its purpose.
One of the major additions to the game and series at this point was the active battle system. Seen in many subsequent Final Fantasy games (4-9), the system went from the familiar turn based system seen in many other Japanese RPGs, and made it, well, active. Everything happens in real time, characters have to wait for their turn and between this enemies can take their turns. In the original release, the gauges were never actually shown (so you couldn't see the time left to wait for a turn) however this has been fixed in the DS version. There are options that allow you to make the system slower or faster, personally I think faster is better as the slower it is means it can literally be ages until a bar fills up, not very fun. When its a characters turn, you pick what you want to do, and they do it in due time. Spells and some other abilities also take a casting time afterwards, and you can also swap to other characters in order to reserve some characters until you want to use them. You can attack, use spells, items, abilities, defend and swap lanes, its all there. The battle system is pretty fun and the game is challenging. At first, it seems particularly difficult however soon we enter a good difficulty curve where the game steadily rises in challenge with bosses and encounters getting harder and harder. And then we enter the stupid difficulty zone, as seen in many JRPGs, where the last few areas become ridiculously tedious and not fun at all.
This is my main complaint with the game. The design is a bit weird towards the end. The game itself is fairly linear. You can travel around the world map at your own pace when the game allows it (depending on what vehicle you have, of which there are only two variations anyway), however generally speaking you progress how the game wants you to. And its done well. Slowly you become accustomed to the characters in your current party, you learn the tricks of the game and what things do, what spells are useful and all that stuff. And its fun. The game provides you with a map when you explore areas, and if you gain 100% exploration, you gain bonus items, giving you an incentive to actually explore dungeons and find everything. There are plenty of hidden paths making it even more rewarding to explore and do fights, thus gaining plenty of EXP to level. However there is a point where it just becomes annoying as hell, that is, towards the very end. The dungeons become extremely tedious where everything suddenly starts killing your characters in just a few hits, they spam every kind of status effect on you imaginable (even worse when there's barely any status protection in the game, ie, basically none) and counter attack your every move. These sections can become very frustrating and all of a sudden the game is about grinding or suffering. Through my 28 hour playthrough, there was very little actual grinding, maybe a little near the start and some a bit later, but barely any, maybe 30 mins tops of actual grinding through the whole game. Of course, grinding is a big problem with RPGs, and its not fun at all. Bosses are generally doable most of the game without grinding, they're challenging, but can be done. The end just goes insane however. You don't really require any actual grinding, I still finished the last boss rather comfortably, however if you want to get through the tedium that is the constant random encounters, you need to grind. Its not fun, and by the end it was getting a bit annoying.
The gameplay however is generally speaking, very solid. Your characters learn abilities as they level up, and each character has a general role, such as melee fighter or a white/black mage. You can tinker your characters gear to very basic levels, literally, what's equipped. A new feature is the augment system which is very nice but also a bit questionable. On the one hand, it seems to make it easy, on the other, I really don't care as it helps a lot and seems fair. The basic premise is that different characters have different moves unique to them. However, you can also acquire augments, which are said abilities, that can be equipped onto a character. For example, the twins have Twincast, which allows both of them to cast spells together. An augment can be acquired so you can use them on other characters, thus spreading your ability and strategy among characters. There are also extra abilities that can be learned, ranging from counter attacking, getting more EXP to straight up attack moves. Its very interesting but the brilliance is that you have to slot it into your command menu. For you see, you can only have a few commands on your menu at once. And its here you have to swap these abilities around, some being passive (but still taking a slot) and some active. Its a good system and a big help in making the game more enjoyable by making it less annoying and a welcome addition. Afterall, its entirely optional and you can easily do the game without ever equipping any. Apart from this there isn't much. Its well balanced for most of the game apart from my aforementioned end-game problems, its challenging, fun, however the ability system (as in, learning etc) is a little basic, it works and you gain plenty of great spells in a steady stream.
The graphics in the game have been rendered in 3D and look pretty great for the DS. The characters take on great 3D versions of themselves and all look unique and instantly recognisable. The battle graphics are also fairly decent with monster design being good, despite large repetition where enemy models are reused and recoloured for different enemies (straight from the old game). The cut-scenes in particular look pretty great with the action being done well. The game also features a CGI opening however there is nothing beyond this. Although the environments are pretty, I felt there was a distinct lack of variety in the locations. This may be straight from the original game, but most caves look pretty much the same, and most areas are just simply walls and floors. There are some pretty interesting locations, the Eidolon Passage and Slyph Cave are nice and unique, however I felt the game had a lack of variation in the locations. Also, some of the towns and dungeons just felt really pointless being in 3D. The graphics are 3D, however the perspective is still the same from the original, a birds eye view on everything. The castles in particular are shocking and really don't need to be in 3D. The battles and cut-scenes are good, however I felt the environments were lacking and unnecessary to be remade in 3D. Personally I think the 2D graphics of the SNES area have a real sense of charm to them, and I vastly prefer the 2D versions of this game over the 3D, however its not a major problem and can simply be down to personal taste.
The sound on the game is pretty great. The game includes some voice acting which honestly isn't great but does the job. The characters only speak during the cut-scenes, probably to save space on the DS card, and these aren't often through the whole game. However the scenes are nice and having the voices is a nice touch, even if it is only a few lines every once in a while. The music is simply amazing. Nobuo, the genius behind the music of the series can pretty much do no wrong. There are plenty of really great themes here for every area, from battles, to towns, to character to themes, to all sorts of locations and dungeons, every theme is great. The music has in fact been remixed, its more on par with DS sound quality as opposed to SNES quality, however I feel the SNES renditions of some songs are a little better. Despite this, the music is still great and a real treat to listen to whilst you play.
From playing this and seeing what has been added, I can pretty much say its probably not worth it if you've done it all before. Its essentially the same game with augments, probably the biggest features. There are 3D graphics which are largely pointless but still good for DS, and well, there's a little voice acting. There isn't really much incentive to play again, however if its your first time looking into the game, then this is the version to go for. The playstation port isn't particularly great and you'll probably have an easier time getting this version as opposed to the advance version. Yes, Final Fantasy IV has been released yet again, but its still a pretty great game and essential playing for anyone who hasn't played it yet, and if there's any version to get, this is probably it.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (EU, 09/05/08)
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