Final Fantasy IV - Reader Re-Retroview  

Dark to Light
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

Medium to Hard
15-25 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Cecil, a Dark Knight from the Kingdom of Baron, loyally serves his king and becomes commander of the Red Wings. However, when the king orders him to steal a crystal from the town of Mysidia, Cecil begins to question the king's morality, and ultimately forms an alliance of warriors to oppose Baron. Final Fantasy IV, originally released in North America on the Super NES as Final Fantasy II, marked a significant evolution in the franchise, introducing gameplay mechanisms that would influence many future installments and a deeper story than most other RPGs in its time.

   The fourth installment introduced the franchise's active-time battle system, combining turn-based and real-time elements in random encounters. All playable characters and enemies take turns depending on speed, with the player inputting various commands for a character when they reach their turn, such as normally attacking, using unique abilities, using items, defending, or changing the whole party's battle setup. The player's party has a front and back row, with the player having to place three characters in the front row and two in the back row, or two in the front row and three in the back row. Front row characters deal more damage with normal attacks yet take more damage, while back row characters deal less physical damage yet take less damage.

   To escape from battle, players must hold the L and R buttons, and the party will eventually retreat. Escape usually takes place right away, although the player will usually lose money while doing so, which isn't necessarily a big loss, especially late in the game when money doesn't really matter. Winning battles nets the player's party experience, money, and the occasional item. The player, moreover, can adjust battle speed outside of battle. Combat, in the end, is generally enjoyable, and at times challenging, with little room from improvement aside from the lack of indicative active time gauges that would appear in later installments of the series.

Well, okay, not the first... The original crystal chronicle

   Interaction, though, is a mixed bag. For one, the menus, while decently-organized, are somewhat slow and clunky, spells lack descriptions, and inventory management can be a bit tedious. While shopping for new equipment, moreover, the player cannot see how new equipment affects characters' stats before buying it, and movement on foot on the overworld and in towns and dungeons is a little slow, at that. Overall, as with most RPGs in its time, Final Fantasy IV could've easily been user-friendlier.

   Creatively speaking, Final Fantasy IV was the first of the franchise to feature active-time battles, which would recur in most future installments with many tweaks, and its story-driven nature also set it apart from most other RPGs at the time. Granted, the game itself, and to some extent the plot, do borrow elements from previous installments of the series, although the fourth installment was both distinctive and influential in its time.

   As mentioned, the fourth Final Fantasy was far more story-driven than most other RPGs in its time, with a decent cast of characters, some development for key characters, interesting backstory, a couple of good twists, and so forth. The plot does somewhat suffer from a translation burdened by Nintendo's censorship policies at the time, some odd dialogue, and a few errors, but is nonetheless one of the game's high points.

Spoonbard Edward never sold spoons again

   Nobuo Uematsu's soundtrack is another high point, with many solid tracks, some of which sound influenced by John Williams' scores for the Star Wars movies. The music during most cutscenes, such as the love theme, is memorable, as well. Granted, the music quality, as well as some sound effects, could've been a little better, but the aurals nonetheless help the game more than hurt.

   Most early RPGs, however, tended to get the low end of their systems' graphical capabilities, and Final Fantasy IV was no exception. This isn't to say the visuals are bad, as they do have some good aspects such as decent coloring and environments (although tower interiors look like carnival halls of mirrors), but character sprites outside of battle are fairly miniscule and have low detail. Character sprites in battles look better and have some animation, alongside some nice spell effects, although normal attacks have an odd telekinetic look, and enemies are static and merely flash to indicate they're attacking. All in all, Final Fantasy IV didn't have the best visuals on the Super NES nor did it have the worst.

   Finally, the game is fairly short, taking somewhere from fifteen to twenty-five hours to complete, with a few sidequests increasing playtime. All in all, the original version of Final Fantasy IV was a fairly solid title for its time, with decent gameplay, an engaging narrative, and a nice musical score, among other things. Love or hate it, the fourth installment was a key turning point in the Final Fantasy franchise, and would receive a number of ports to future systems and even a remake for the Nintendo DS. Those interested in the series' history and evolution might certainly find something to celebrate in the fourth Final Fantasy.

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