Final Fantasy IV - The After Years was the first game I ever started a review blog for on the message boards, back in November, and as of the time of writing I have yet to finish it. This is entirely due to the unique nature of the game's release and platform. With only one chapter being released every three weeks or so on the Yahoo! network, I have yet to even approach The End. However, seeing how much attention the game's recent appearance on the ESRB has garnered, I figured an impression was in order.
" As soon as I booted up the game for the first time, the sweet, musty scent of nostalgia wafted through."
The game itself, the part that I initially downloaded, is more of a framework in which to play the game's various chapters. Each chapter I had to buy separately from the Square Enix cell portal site, but once I officially have access to a chapter, I can switch it in and out of my cellphone whenever I like. Separate save files are kept for each chapter, so I can upload my current save information, download a new chapter, and pretty much play the game in whatever order I like, as long as I have access. Whether or not this is the way it will work on WiiWare has yet to be seen.
But on to the experience! As soon as I booted up the game for the first time, the sweet, musty scent of nostalgia wafted through. The After Years features the same music as the original, as well as the same menus, battle system, monsters... Pretty much everything that forms the base of this game was lifted directly from its predecessor, then given a makeover.
Let's talk graphics. While the graphics of The After Years aren't the best examples of sprite-based video gaming I have ever seen, they're much closer to the level of quality found in Final Fantasy VI than the level of the original game. The programmers even have fun pointing this out with various flashback sequences to events from the original game, done with the original's graphics engine. The differences become very obvious after a few of those.
Battlewise, things haven't changed nearly so much, but the majority of the game's new characters have their own new battle skills, and a few of the returning characters have had skill upgrades as well, such as Edge's Steal ability being changed to Mug. There's a new system for multi-character attacks that works a lot like Palom and Porom's old Twin Magic ability.
What's made things really interesting for me so far is how the story plays out. The game's serialized nature lends itself well to the short-story format. Each story is built around a solid plot point, and doesn't expand too far beyond that. Thematically, they're written pretty tightly, but are kept open-ended in order to tie together in the final chapters.
"It is a story of searching, of the relationship between parent and child or master and pupil, of honor and sacrifice, each within the context of a renewed threat and strange happenings."
The original cast is definitely important, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the major new characters. They each have their own quirks and specialties, and the ways the writers work many of them retroactively into the first game's continuity are surprising and effective.
Of course there are things that I haven't liked about the game so far, but as I list them to myself, it's apparent that the majority are linked to the platform on which I am playing it. Sound quality and volume are an issue because of how the phone speakers work. The small screen size is murder on my eyes. A rant on my feelings towards battery life would fill a few pages on its own. The monsters, even the bosses, are rehashed and lack variety, but that's more of a legitimate complaint that might be exacerbated by file size limitations. The only problem that's really kept me from enjoying the game fully would be the battery issue, though.
In the end, The After Years is not a single, epic story, and I don't think it's fair to count it as such. It is a story of searching, of the relationship between parent and child or master and pupil, of honor and sacrifice, each within the context of a renewed threat and strange happenings. It takes a lot from the events of the first game, and was definitely written more as an homage and as a legitimate sort of fan-fiction made real. It won't be winning any Game of the Year awards, but this gaijin is enjoying it just as it is.