Review by IllustriousMrP
A succesful re-imagining of one of the great RPGs
Final Fantasy IV DS
Final Fantasy has long been at the heart of the video gaming industry. Since its introduction in the 1980s (and subsequently here in the US in the early 1990s) it has brought stellar game after stellar game to the homes of video game enthusiasts. Though Square Enixs most recent outings have left much to be desired they have also provided us with re-introductions to some of the most storied and successful games of the series venerable past. One such entry is a remake of the game Final Fantasy IV for the Nintendo DS.
Following the success of the Final Fantasy III remake on the same said system, Final Fantasy IV DS is a re-imagining of the SNES classic in a three dimensional setting with added features, updated sound and other various extras. Is this masterpiece worth looking at from a new angle? Lets take a look.
Taking place in an era of swords and magic, Final Fantasy IV doesnt stray far from its roots in the previous Final Fantasy games. You play as a Dark Knight by the name of Cecil, who is commander of the red wings of Baron, Cecils militant home country. After being disillusioned by his Kings change in behavior and policy towards the other regions of the world, Cecil questions the Kings militant stance and why Baron has taken to invading other nations. Cecil is quickly stripped of his rank for his insubordination and sent on a quest as a test of loyalty. This quest ends in tragedy, and Cecil decides to directly defy his home country in an effort to restore peace to the world. Though the premise may seem tried and true, at the time of its original creation the story from Final Fantasy IV was groundbreaking. The scope of the story was on par with some fantasy novels of its day, featuring an large and defined cast, plot twists and an expansive narrative that went far beyond most other games of its day, let alone what had been previously attempted in the series. For those who are playing this game for the first time, the story will likely seem just as fresh as any current generation RPGs.
The DS re-imagining takes its cues from the original Japanese script, fixing various mis-translations from the original US release (Final Fantasy II on the SNES) while expanding the narrative a bit further in some areas (most notably on the history of the primary villain Golbez). Cinematic scenes have also been added, as well as voice acting in key parts of the script. These elements may seem foreign to anyone who has played the game prior to this version, but should be very familiar to those who got their start in the post Final Fantasy VII era. They are well executed and serve to enhance the emotional impact of the story. These new features should make for a good impression for newcomers and long-time fans alike.
General gameplay for Final Fantasy IV consists of an over-world, individual locations and a battle system, each with its own unique style of gameplay and navigation.
The over-world map is a system adopted from the old Dragon Quest games, and there are few, if any, alterations to the system. You explore the world via the directional pad, can bring up menus and can visit individual areas by walking into their respective representations on the map. The menus are easy to navigate and follow a logical pattern if the player has played this type of game before, and it doesnt take much trial and error if the player is not familiar with it. These menus give players the ability to check character levels and stats, change party formation and organize magic in addition to the standard fare of audio and control settings. The actual over-world navigation is simple, and is augmented by things such as airships, hovercraft and various forms of the lovable Chocobo species as extra forms of transportation. If the gameplay has a downfall, it is the random encounter system that sets your characters into battle without warning or any sense of what you may face. This system can be jarring at times, but comes with the territory of most old-style RPGs.
The individual areas in the game are played out in much the same fashion as the over-world with a few key differences. In addition to being able to move about and explore, players are able to interact with non-playable characters and on occasion environmental additions such as switches or treasure chests. The interactions are focused around single button presses and are easy to comprehend for even the most novice of players. Random encounters are to be had in these locations as well, though only specific areas have them.
The final piece is the battle system, where the player most interacts with the game itself. Final Fantasy IV is the father of the Active Time Battle system, a turn based system that moves in real time while you are selecting your commands. The game is also features up to five characters at a time in battle, a system that was a first and is to this day the only of its kind. The system itself remains untouched from the original Super Nintendo outing, but adds features such as a bar representation for when your character will go next, as well as when a command will be carried out. Each character in the game has a unique set of commands and abilities, adding an element of strategy to what would eventually morph into a system where all characters are more or less equal in the later Final Fantasy installments. The DS version also brings back commands omitted from the Super Nintendo release and while they add some flair, they are not a major change from the game everyone grew up with. In addition, a new feature has been added to the DS version in the form of command augments that allow characters to gain the abilities of fallen comrades or in some cases foes. These augments can only be used once, however and are permanently attached to whatever character they are given to. This added element doesnt quite mesh with the original gameplay well, sometimes completely changing the role of a character in battle, other times acting simply as a distraction from the original gameplay (Who, for those of you who know the game, who would want to give ANY of their party Tellahs Recall ability?). In spite of this, the system is to this day one of the best of its kind, though a bit old fashioned by current standards.
Additional content has been added to this version just like those before it in the form of a new dungeon as well as a game + mode that allows for you to begin the game with all the character augments you used in a previous outing if you have beaten the game. While this does add some replay value, it fails to add anything significant to the overall game itself, giving little incentive to give the story a second go.
The battle difficulty has also been given an overhaul from the Super Nintendo and Super Famicom outings, allowing for a gradual increase in difficulty as the game progresses that results in a truly tough end-game. Long time fans of the series will likely appreciate this, as Kains Jump ability would allow players to beat the US version under level 40, while the Famicom version required excess level grinding to simply progress in the story. The game starts out with a nice balance and keeps it throughout the rest of the game.
Graphics, Sound and Presentation:
The overall presentation of Final Fantasy IV on the DS system is where this re-make earns its keep. While character models are un-necessarily cartoonish in design, the detail in the textures as well as the presentation of the world itself is something to sit back and appreciate, easily being one of the best looking games on the DS system. The enemy designs and spell effects have also been given an update, all to the betterment of the presentation of the game itself with flashy spell effects and detailed attack animations.
The sound is where this game truly shines, with Nobuo Uematsus score getting a slight quality increase without deviating from the original score. The sound effects are largely unchanged, only receiving a higher fidelity rather than making any true changes which is fine given the sound effects were solid to begin with.
In all the game takes the DS to its limits in quality, occasionally causing a slowdown in frame-rate to keep up visuals. Inputs remain unchanged in these instances, keeping the slow-down from effecting game-play. The overall quality remains undiminished however, and the game still is one of the better looking and sounding three dimensionally rendered games on the DS.
Whether new to the genre or simply coming back to it for the nostalgia and gameplay, Final Fantasy IV DS is a celebration of all that is good in the Final Fantasy series, hitting key hallmarks in gameplay, sound and for the DS specifically visuals. Truth be told, this game has always been hailed by gamers as one of the best in the series, and this installment does nothing but enhance its hallowed status amongst the masses.
Recomendation: Buy it
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (US, 07/21/08)
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