Review by corran450
Corran450's Review Series Vol. 13: Final Fantasy IV
"Final Fantasy" is a series all gamers are familiar with, whether they enjoy them or not. A last ditch effort to save a sinking company, the original "Final Fantasy" was a hit for the NES, saving Square (now Square-Enix) from bankruptcy and revitalizing the career of noted game designer Hironobu Sakaguchi. The series has spawned countless iterations and variations on the RPG genre it helped pioneer, not to mention forays into other genres such as fighting games (Ehrgeiz), shooters (Dirge of Cerberus) and many more.
As part of a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the series, Square-Enix released a completely remade version of "Final Fantasy IV" for Nintendo DS. Reengineered from the ground up, with new 3D graphics, a revised and expanded script, voice acting, and more, this evolved version of the classic SNES role playing game shines on every level.
Gameplay is your standard RPG fare, with an overworld map, various cities and dungeons to investigate and pillage, and the aforementioned battle screen, wherein your party earns experience (EXP), money (GIL), and items by confronting various creatures and enemies in random battles. There are also storyline required boss fights against tougher foes which require greater strategy. Leveling up your characters and finding, purchasing, or pillaging equipment can improve your chances.
The battle system of FF4 is not particularly revolutionary today, although in it's original release, nothing quite like it had yet been seen. It represented the first appearance of the Active Time Battle system, where turns in battle are determined by a character's speed rating (SPD). Different actions require different amounts of time to prepare and execute, leading to a new level of strategy required in battle.
Today, this sort of thing is commonplace, indeed it has become stale as newer, more innovative battle systems have come to take its place. However, there's something to be said for an old-school RPG experience. Being old-fashioned does not mean it's bad, and battles are still fast and furious as ever.
In a departure from the previous title, "Final Fantasy III", you cannot customize your characters' job. Each character is assigned a class based on the storyline, and, with few exceptions, this never changes. You have your warriors (Cecil, Kain), your White and Black Mages (Rosa, Tellah, Palom and Porom) even a Summoner (Rydia). How you utilize these characters is up to you.
New to this game is a series of perks called Augments. After certain story events, when party members leave, you will be gifted with a certain number of Augments to be given to other party members. The number of Augments you can get varies depending on meeting certain conditions in the game. Thus, you can teach special abilities to other party members, increasing their versatility and usefulness in later battles. Most augments also confer a stat bonus as well.
As in the previous DS remake, the entire game can be played with only the stylus. I'm not sure who this feature is for, exactly, as the stylus will never replace button pressing for me, but it's there for those that want it.
All good RPGs have a good story to motivate you, and "Final Fantasy IV" is no different. Expanded and revised from the original script, the storyline is largely unchanged.
Cecil Harvey is an orphan raised by the king of the city of Baron to become a Dark Knight and leader of the Red Wings, the king's elite warrior regiment. Cecil is dispatched by the king to collect the 8 sacred Elemental Crystals from around the world, by force if need be. Unsure about the king's motives, but bound by duty to follow orders, Cecil embarks with his friend, the dragoon Kain Highwind, to collect a crystal from the summoner town of Mist. There, he falls victim to a trap the king set for the summoners, laying waste to the town. After escaping with the sole survivor, the child summoner Rydia, Cecil vows to determine the king's motive in an end to stop the violence. His quest leads him to conquer the darkness within himself, and ultimately save the planet from the machinations of evil.
The story plays out in a traditional manner, with some surprises here and there. It follows to a satisfying conclusion, with a large cast of varied and interesting characters. I enjoyed the story quite a bit. It's one of the better ones from that generation of games, and heralded a new emphasis on story in RPGs at the time.
The graphics for this game have been remade from the ground up, similar to the earlier remake of "Final Fantasy III". Thankfully, Square-Enix dispensed with the ultra-deformed character models of the previous game in favor of a more traditional look. All the character models look great, and have real facial expressions during cutscenes. The environments look great for a DS game. There's also a limited amount of FMV that looks absolutely stunning. I wish there were more, but the cartridge format means limited space for FMV. I would say the graphics are vastly improved over the original graphics, although they don't have the same whimsical impact of playing the old-school version.
The music has been remastered as well, with new orchestral versions of the classic soundtrack. I always thought that FF4 had one of the better soundtracks of its day. Composed by Nobuo Uematsu, the former resident composer of Square-Enix, the tracks are varied and beautiful. I particularly liked the Main Theme, as well as the Sylph Cave theme.
The sound effects serve their purpose, nothing really special. Does anyone really notice the sound effects anyways?
The voice acting is pretty good, not the best, but better than most. I don't know why, but Kain's voice always sounded inappropriately low. He and Cecil are supposed to be around the same age, but Cecil sounds like a young man, and Kain sounds like his father. It never sat well with me. For the most part though, the voice acting is decent. There were scenes that could have been too overwrought, but the actors showed enough restraint to prevent that from happening.
I spent a good 35-40 hours on this, which is pretty long for a handheld game. But it never overstayed its welcome. I enjoyed every minute of it. There are a small number of side quests and minigames, enough to add a little replay value if you didn't play them the first time through. A series of minigames accessible through the Fat Chocobo allows you to customize and level up a new summon for Rydia called Whyt. The better your scores are in the minigames, the more powerful Whyt becomes.
Also, a New Game + feature allows you to start a new game with all your items and Augments in your inventory. Certain optional dungeons and boss fights are only accessible in New Game +.
As with all RPGs, in my opinion replayability is medium to low. By their nature, they require a lot of time to complete, and some people will only invest that much time once. Still, a classic story, with all-new presentation, a great soundtrack, and timeless gameplay means this is an adventure you'll want to experience more than once.
Rent or Buy? Seriously, it's like $20 bucks now. This is a classic updated for a new generation. A lot of fun packed in that little cartridge. If you like RPGs, you'll like "Final Fantasy IV". And if you've never played the original, you have no excuse. Go and get this game. You'll thank me later.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy IV (US, 07/21/08)
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