Anybody who has browsed this website extensively or followed any of my work will be well aware that I’m a rather large fan of the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy is a name which instantly inspires reverence in the minds of gamers everywhere.
Following the surprise success of Final Fantasy III’s DS remake, Square-Enix announced they’d remake FF4 for the DS in full 3D. This was a surprise, considering that it had only recently been a GBA port of the title. Honestly, I was worried. While I enjoyed FF3, FF4 is one of my favourite titles in the series, and I was worried about it getting ruined. Those fears are all gone now, though.
The game opens with a beautiful CGI cutscene, and following that moves on to open the actual storyline with a real-time 3D cutscene. These story sequences eased my concerns about the graphics. The CGI is as beautiful as ever, and the in-game graphics are stylized in a way that keeps the polygon count low but the beauty factor high. He in game models are pleasingly close to the original art by Yoshitaka Amano, though this could be a polarising point for many – those who dislike the ‘girly men’ of FF may have some issues with this game, especially after Dark Knight Cecil becomes a white-haired Paladin.
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Like FF3 before it, the event sequences are fully voice acted. While most of the story plays out in text-boxes like the original, the game replaces major story events such as character entrances and exits with cinematic, voice-acted cutscenes reminiscent of more recent entries in the series. The sound quality on the voice acting is high, remaining crisp and clear both through headphones or the tiny DS speakers. The entire script has been retranslated and makes more sense than ever before, too, which is a huge bonus.
I’m a big fan of videogame music, and one of the major issues with the GBA port of FF4 was with the quality of the music. With the GBA’s inferior sound chip, the original SNES tunes sounded different and noticeably worse in most places. No such problem on the DS, though. The soundtrack has been completely rearranged and remastered for this rerelease, and I’ve found this version of the epic FF4 soundtrack is true to the original, and actually might well be better. But that’s a very difficult call to make.
That’s the cosmetic stuff down, then. Final Fantasy IV DS has beautiful music, beautiful graphics, and overall generally an impressive reimagining of the Final Fantasy IV world. Admittedly, some people may take an issue with the stylistic choices of FF4 DS, but this reviewer can’t find much of a fault with it. But what about the gameplay?
Well, Final Fantasy IV is hard on DS. It’s not as hard as the original Japanese version of FF4 (thankfully), but is much more challenging than the original US translation on the SNES (Final Fantasy II in the US.) The random encounters are generally fairly paced, the frustrating “battle every 3 steps” syndrome many of the earlier titles in the series suffered from obliterated in this remake.
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Despite a lower encounter rate, FF4 is still difficult on the DS. Enemies are stronger, are susceptible to less attacks than in previous versions, and veterans will still struggle through the game as many of the hardest bosses and enemies in the game have been tweaked so that even they will still have to work out just what the weakness is all over again. Dungeons are now mapped out by the helpful Namingway, who also offers rewards of items for completing a dungeon map. This had me doing something I rarely do in RPGs – trying to visit every nook and cranny of every dungeon – even the empty ones – in order to attain that elusive 100% map completion bonus.
For those of you that love to grind out levels to make the game easier – and I can’t blame you with how hairy some fights in this game can get – the development team have actually added an “Auto Battle” button. In the menu you can set an automatic command such as Attack or Potion. Turning on Auto-Battle will make Random encounters sweep by as each of your characters uses their assigned auto command without any input from you. No more holding down A to attack.
In the same menu as auto-attack, you can actually now edit your battle commands, putting them in an order that suits you. If you want your Black Mage to have Black Magic at the top of their list, that’s no problem – just take a moment to edit it. Many of Final Fantasy IV’s menus and design choices seem to have been made with the intention of making the game simple and convenient to play, especially on the move. Simple changes like these allow you to breeze through random encounters quickly, but some punishing monsters will leave even level-grinders dying if left to auto-battle, and so the difficulty is still there.
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Final Fantasy IV for the DS is a fantastic, almost revolutionary new game for people who have never played the title before, but Square have been careful to also add enough new content for series fans. In addition to the original game recreated faithfully in beautiful 3D, there are some new additions to the world of FF4.
Those who have played the game before know that the character turnover rate is quite high – and to remedy that a new system has been introduced. Characters leaving behind the party leave behind an Augment – an item containing one of their exclusive abilities. This can then be taught to another character, ensuring one-time abilities can now remain in the party. All non-permanent characters also have several abilities to give out, too.
The game also includes tweaks to bosses and enemies to keep the game fresh, and an all new Summon for Rydia. This new summon monster (named Whyt) can be dressed and given a new face by drawing on the DS screen, and is levelled up by completing several minigames set in a true DS style – there’s a maths game reminiscent of Brain Training, and several Wario Ware style games. Better performance in these games gives you a more powerful Whyt to summon in battle. These minigames are a nice different angle in a game mostly based around map-browsing and turn-based battling, and are great for quick play while travelling.
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Despite my overwhelmingly positive comments throughout the whole review, there are still some negative aspects to this game. Compared to modern RPGs the design of FF4 is old fashioned, hardcore, and fiendishly difficult in places. The traditional design of the game means less handholding, and more discovering extras and optional quests on your own. Main story events are still pointed out to you though, which is a distinct improvement over FF3. The use of the DS touch screen is lacking outside of the minigames, but at least it makes regular use of both screens, unlike FF3.
The greatest issue with this game is in its age, and despite this game being a master class of how to remake a game, it’s faithfulness to the original title also means that the core game is very traditional, which might be a turn off for some players. The simplicity of the levelling, magic and ability systems make them pale in comparison to the license board of FF12 or even the Materia of FF7, perhaps in a handheld game, simplicity is best.
As I mentioned earlier, FF4 DS is a master class in how to remake an older game. It’s faithful to the original game designs, beautifully modelled, lovingly translated, and offers enough new content to attract somebody who has played or even completed the original version. It has some issues, and it’s not perfect, but this is a damn fine game. Final Fantasy IV is in a way the quintessential Final Fantasy game. If I wanted to introduce somebody to the series, so long as they could cope with the difficulty, I think I’d show them this one first. After this, I think they’d play all the others. Final Fantasy IV is just that damn good.