|By Zach Patterson||Saturday, 27 Jan 2007|
Well, I suppose experiencing one of the best Final Fantasies is better now than never. Though not for lack of trying, this was my first run through of this game, and in many ways, it rivals the best in the series in terms of storytelling, gameplay, and music.
You begin as a dark knight Cecil who becomes concerned and dissatisfied with his king’s motivations, and are shortly after, outcasted by your own people. From there, you discover a collection of great characters, flight, an alternate underworld and finally even space flight to the moon. There are a lot of twists and turns and good secrets, but suffice to say, it is a story that overall is much better structured than, say Final Fantasy VI (whether it is a better story on the whole, I will leave that up to you) and really manages to pull you into its world. I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention what a fantastic re-translation Square-Enix did. Gathered from others and my brief time spent with other versions of the game, I had come to understand that the original US translation wasn’t so hot and affected some enjoyment of the plot, which, of course, is a big reason many play role-playing games in the first place. Now the game is fluid, witty, and often touching. In general, it’s a more truer version of the original game.
Of course, this was an early Super Nintendo game, and this is a Game Boy Advance port, so it’s unreasonable to assume this game is full of beautiful 3D graphics and computer generated cinemas. Instead, it is a classic overhead, sprite-based game that calls back to a time when games were as much dependent on your own source of imagination and wonderment as they were on what it could actually display on screen. And for what it is worth, the game has beautiful sprite based monsters and attractive character designs. In addition, the GBA port has graced us with slightly more detailed characters and pre-rendered backgrounds on the battle screens, both of which are unobstrusive and make a very subtle but excellent change. The addition of the portraits on the menu is also a small but welcomed change that gives a bit more personality to the game.
The music has and always will be a very large part of Final Fantasy games, especially the early games that relied on the music to accentuate the mood, and in some ways, tell a bit of story themselves. Luckily, FFIV is regarded as one of the best soundtracks in the entire series, and for good reason. Uematsu’s score has great rocking tunes (all the battle themes and boss themes are fantastic) and slower, somber moments that connect you to a game that otherwise wouldn’t be as effective. The music is so closely tied to the game that it is hard to think of the game without immediately considering how much good music is in it and how it made the game that much better. Luckily, Square-Enix realized this and included a music player to play any of the tunes whenever you like.
Gameplay-wise, the game is very similar to other FF’s in the Super Nintendo generation, so if you have played any of them you will be right at home. This game relies on your characters being strict classes that are related to their stories and their abilities are drawn from their class. This in turn gives the characters much more memorable characteristics and personalities and ends up being a positive instead of a limiting factor (so that way, not all of your characters can perform white magic, black magic and attack for 4000 damage each time, and you in turn can’t remember who is the white mage and who is the fighter). Of course, the gameplay isn’t quite as refined as V or VI, but that’s the benefit of coming afterwards, I suppose. This is a pretty standard RPG in terms of battle-town-dungeon repetition, but the story really helps move along through these parts so it never feels like a task. Also, battles are frequent, but not particularly long, which is very nice, since long battle transitions can make RPGs painful.
I’ve talked about a few new features, and the Game Boy Advance version also adds a few new dungeons and bosses for veterans to tackle. One great thing about these new parts is that they force you to use all the characters and also enable you to select your own party, a feature that the original game lacked. FFIV has a bad habit of shedding characters rather quickly from your party, so being able to use your favorites is definitely a plus. The Lunar Trials is perhaps the most significant addition, and while it adds really nothing to the story, it is a fun addition for those who love the game. I personally didn’t like the fact that in order to complete it, you had to beat the final boss with every character (which means beating the final dungeon 3 times), but I digress. It’s extra, so I cannot really complain.
With the new features comes a few downsides, however. The biggest problem is that in battle, you will notice issues with the battle system from time to time. I noticed it more towards the end of the game, where it seemed like the active time battle system wasn’t performing correctly (it seemed to be allowing players to go out of turn), and the game seemed to lag a bit. It didn’t affect me too much, but it was noticeable nonetheless. The game is allegedly a bit easier than the actual Japanese version as well, but I found the challenge to be pretty good. I was definitely struggling to survive near the end.
Whether you are fond of recent Final Fantasies or not, this is a great game, and a great port to a portable system. It’s perfect for short plays on the go or extended play at home. If you enjoy role-playing games and have not played IV, you should consider dropping 30 bucks on this game.