Final Fantasy IV - Retroview

Final Fantasy IV

By: Deshrill

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 8
   Plot 7
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Average
   Time to Complete

25-30 Hours


Final Fantasy IV

   While Final Fantasy IV was not the first RPG I ever played (that honor would go to Dragon Warrior for the NES), it was the first RPG that really got me interested in the genre. Sure, the original Dragon Warrior had a plot, just not much of one. The concept of a console RPG where characters on your party actually had personalities really impressed me at the time.

   Known as Final Fantasy IV in Japan, it was released as Final Fantasy II in the US shortly after the launch of the SNES. While Japan had already experienced a Final Fantasy game with a deep plot before in Final Fantasy II for the NES, the US had only the original Final Fantasy to deal with. Fans of the Final Fantasy series must have been surprised at the leap in quality of the storyline from "restore the four crystals" to an epic tale full of betrayal, lust, adventure, and spoony bards. Final Fantasy IV was also re-released in the US as part of the "Final Fantasy Chronicles" compilation for the PSX.

   One of the several concepts that Final Fantasy IV introduced to the series is the "Active Time Battle System". While the basic mechanics of the battle system were the same, the chief difference was that enemies could attack you if you waited too long to choose a command. Although you can switch the battle mode to "wait" to make it play like the older Final Fantasy games, the "Active Time Battle System" adds a sense of urgency, making battles more exciting and fun.

Cecil has an eye out for the new Active Time Battle System addition to the series.
Cecil has an eye out for the new Active Time Battle System addition to the series.  

   Other than the new battle system, the actual interface itself hadn't changed much from previous entries in the series. The biggest problem with the interface has to do with buying equipment in stores-- there is still no way to tell if a weapon can be used by a certain character or not before buying it. Although most of the time it is fairly obvious what equipment a character will need (fighters use swords, mages use staffs), at other times it isn't so clear. This is merely an annoying hitch in an otherwise smooth interface, however.

   Final Fantasy IV's graphics are definitely better than the NES installments. The use of Mode 7 graphics for the airship sequences works, even if it looks rather pixilated at times. There is a lot of detail in some of the backgrounds and the character's faces in the status screen look excellent. During most of the game, the characters look like super-deformed midgets, but the graphical style works and stays this way through all the SNES installments. The PSX version has a few FMV sequences, which look remarkably poor, polygonal, and undetailed, although they were one of Square's first attempt at CG cut-scenes.

   Possibly Final Fantasy IV's greatest strength is in the music-- Nobuo Uematsu's score is one of the best in the entire series to date, ranging in tone from the melancholy tune Edward plays on his harp while mourning for his departed lover to the upbeat theme for Cid. In particular, the battle music stands out as one of the most enjoyable battle themes in the whole series using a classic backbeat which becomes used in some way or other in most of the later games in the series. Unfortunately, the sound effects come out a bit rougher, sounding very tinny sounding. Sound effects in battle have never been one of Square's strong suits, especially on the 8-bit and 16-bit titles.

   In terms of originality, one must look at the game in the time in which it was originally released. The interface, enemies, and even the characterizations seem extremely bland by today's standards, but at the time they were nothing short of revolutionary, especially in a time where most console RPGs had a plot of "rescue the Princess from the Evil Dragon" simplicity.

Cecil and Kain prepare to enter the Mist Cave, where they fight the first boss of the game.  The horror, the horror!
Cecil and Kain prepare to enter the Mist Cave, where they fight the first boss of the game. The horror, the horror!  

   Final Fantasy IV's plot marks one of the first examples of a complicated plot involving characters with actual personalities in a console RPG, especially in the United States. Cecil is the leader of the Red Wings, a strike force for the Kingdom of Baron. After completing a mission in which he orders his soldiers to massacre innocents in the magical village of Mysidia, he questions his morals to the King of Baron. Demoted in rank for asking too many questions, Cecil is sent on a small mission with his best friend Kain: deliver a package to the Village of Mist. Of course, things don't quite go as planned, drawing Cecil and company into a complex plot revolving around the eight Elemental crystals. As a whole, the plot works pretty well, especially when concentrating on the interactions between Cecil, Rosa, and Kain. The plot only falters towards the end of the game where it makes a sort of bizarre transition to the moon to flesh out a prophecy mentioned rather early in the game.

A good translation of an RPG is quite an important thing, although it varies with Final Fantasy IV depending on which version you play. If you play the SNES release (titled Final Fantasy II), the translation is overall pretty sloppy, with game commands missing and certain elements of the plot deleted. The newer release, included on the "Final Fantasy Chronicles" release for the PSX, has a much better translation, although it includes the infamous classic line from the SNES version: "Hand her over, you spoony bard!!"

As with most RPGs, the replay value is fairly low. Final Fantasy IV is pretty linear, although there are some secret weapons and summons to get later on in the game if you explore around a bit. Still, there aren't any massive side-quests in the game, so if you've played it once, you're not likely to play it again-- except for nostalgia's sake.

Rosa cries when she discovers her low polygon count.
Rosa cries when she discovers her low polygon count.  

The challenge of the game varies on which version, much like the translation. The SNES version is the "Easy Type" release, meaning the game is significantly easier: you really don't need to level-up your characters too much during the course of the game. The PSX version has the original Japanese difficulty level, meaning that a lot of leveling up is required for your characters: prepare to level up your characters anywhere from Level 55-60 if you plan to beat the game! The length of Final Fantasy IV is anywhere from 25-30 hours. It's not the longest RPG, but it is certainly harder than it looks, especially the PSX version. Regardless of which version you play, Zeromus, the final boss, is probably the hardest boss of any Final Fantasy game, full of thousands of hit points and lots of cheap attacks. If you've only played the PlayStation installments of the series, be prepared for a rude awakening with the frequent random battles and high level of difficulty.

Overall, Final Fantasy IV is definitely a classic game, and one of the best in the series. The characters are not as well rounded as they later become (Final Fantasy VI-VII and Final Fantasy IX, in particular), but still manage to have personality in a plot that puts a spin on the traditional Final Fantasy "find the crystals" plot. If you can look past the graphics and deal with the increased challenge, pick up "Final Fantasy Chronicles" for the PSX and give it a shot. If you have only played the original SNES release, "Final Fantasy Chronicles" is worth getting for the increased challenge and improved translation.

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