Final Fantasy IV DS - Staff Review  

Crystal, Though Not of the Meth Variety
by Mike Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Augments allow new sidequests and plentiful customization
+ Visual upgrade shows off the best the DS can do
- The environments look better but use the same designs
- Story has not aged well
+ Combat requires new strategies and is harder
- Magic animations are distracting in battle
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   Final Fantasy IV has seen numerous ports over the years since its original Super Nintendo release, but all of them were simply ports. Final Fantasy IV DS does not simply regurgitate the same game with a few added features; it reconstructs the material using the 3D capabilities of the Nintendo DS. Final Fantasy IV on DS is far closer to its original incarnation than Matrix Software's previous remake, Final Fantasy III, but the new version does possess numerous changes that will prevent veterans from playing the game on autopilot.

   The kingdom of Baron seeks the elemental crystals of the world and aims to get them by any means necessary. Cecil, commander of the Red Wings airborne battalion, is deeply conflicted between his loyalty to the King and the heinous acts he has been ordered to commit in the name of Crystal procurement. Upon questioning the King regarding recent shifts in policy, Cecil is demoted and sent off on another grisly errand with his fellow skeptic Kain. Cecil defects from Baron after being used to slaughter more civilians, and his struggle against the forces responsible is the core of Final Fantasy IV's narrative...

   ...Which has aged rather poorly in places, and did not make much sense even in 1991. Elements of the story are good, and a few parts new to this remake near the end help flesh out certain things, but the plot holes are still everywhere. Characters do things that make no sense, death is an easily circumvented triviality for protagonists, and leaps of logic are constant. The story may be entertaining, but picking through the insanity of it could form a drinking game.

   Combat in Final Fantasy IV DS is mostly the same as the original game's Active Time Battle system. Characters and enemies take actions based on their speed statistics and do not simply have one action per turn. More complicated actions such as casting advanced magic require more time to perform than basic commands such as defending. Combat is fairly fast, and an auto-battle option to let characters fight with no player input is also available. A more irritating addition to this remake are the character spellcasting animations, which blank out all other information and briefly pause attempts to use other characters because whatever the player wanted those characters to do is temporarily offscreen. This is a constant nuisance and will vex players.

Cagnazzo Cagnazzo's posture is going to give him some back problems in the future.

   The most significant change to Final Fantasy IV's combat is the Augment function. Characters in the game have a maximum of five unique abilities in battle, and attaching an Augment allows those abilities to be changed at the player's whim. Augments are rarely given away, however, and most of them must be found by scouring the world. They also cannot be removed once assigned, forcing careful thought about who would best benefit.

   The original Final Fantasy IV was not terribly difficult, and while the DS version is not outlandishly challenging, most enemies have become stronger and possess new abilities. Proper use of Augments can make the game much easier, while not obtaining some very useful Augments will make for an extremely difficult game. The challenge is manageable after a little experience in combating each enemy, but rare is the occasion on which simply attacking repeatedly will win the day.

   The effects of equipment can be viewed before purchase, but only some of those effects. Not all of the statistics affected by equipment are viewable unless the item is already in inventory. The game also has to load a visual of the character being healed by either items or magic, and though this happens quickly it is not instantaneous, which is a source of frustration when healing must happen after most battles later in the game. Inventory room is ample enough to never be a problem, and the thoughts of every character on the current situation can be viewed from the menu.

I see an intestines diagram with some nasty breaks in the system. I see an intestines diagram with some nasty breaks in the system.

   Final Fantasy IV DS puts the visual abilities of the DS to the test, and the system gives a very strong showing. Perhaps the handheld can do a little bit better, but Final Fantasy IV is near the pinnacle of what can be displayed by the device. Characters and monsters animate fluidly in battle and the environments are constantly interesting to navigate and colorful to look at. Any faults in Final Fantasy IV's visual presentation can be blamed on the DS's technical limitations rather than Matrix's failure to push the system.

   Nobuo Uematsu's score has been tinkered with for the DS but is mostly unchanged. The music is as strong in this rendition of the game as ever, and Final Fantasy IV always contained some very strong work from Uematsu. Cutscenes with voice acting are new to the game, and they work rather well, with the actors giving good performances.

   The new strategies and increased challenge make Final Fantasy IV into a longer game, thirty to thirty-five hours is a reasonable assessment of how long it could take to complete. The game already possessed side quests to inspire additional playing time, and there are new ones in this remake. The only way to acquire all of the Augments in the game is by using a New Game + option, providing ample replay value.

   Final Fantasy IV DS is not perfect by any means. It dispenses with the additional options of Final Fantasy IV Advance for party customization, and in refusing to tinker with the plot, Matrix displays just how ludicrous many parts of it are. Veterans will find that every dungeon map is unchanged, and newcomers will find that this game packs a fearsome punch despite its new 3D look. And yet it succeeds in enticing veterans with the many things that are new, and might just entice newcomers with its good looks and interesting mechanics. This game is probably the final word on Final Fantasy IV, and despite the flaws, is worth experiencing.

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