Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection Review

If you ask the average gamer which Final Fantasy titles are the most important, the most well loved, you're probably going to get three obvious answers: Final Fantasy IV (originally II in the US), VII and X.

Those three games, more than others in the series, represent what Final Fantasy was, what it is, and what a lot of people think it should become - more so than even Final Fantasy XIII. It's no surprise, then, that Square Enix has decided to release Final Fantasy IV again in a new, complete package.

Designed as both an ideal jumping-on point for those few who haven't played Final Fantasy IV before as well as a significant upgrade for those who have, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection essentially packages together Final Fantasy IV Advance, the Wiiware version of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and some all new features all whipped up to PSP standards with new, fancier high-resolution sprites.

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The version of Final Fantasy IV included is much as we've seen in previous releases. It's comparable to the Game Boy Advance version, with a tweaked, easier difficulty that's harder than the original "EasyType" US release of Final Fantasy IV but easier than the DS remake or the original Japanese release.

Like the GBA version, there have been minor changes to tighten up and improve the script and its translation, but other than that this is Final Fantasy IV all over. The graphics on offer are similar to the PSP versions of Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II, featuring the same sprites from the original game remade in high resolution.

These can sometimes look a little strange, but on the whole Square Enix have done a great job with bringing the game up to scratch without losing some of the original charm that made it great. There's sadly no option to switch back to the old-school, blocky sprites, but that kind of option has made it in with the remastered music - fans of the original sounds can switch back to the SNES originals or listen to the remastered versions - which are ripped from FF4 DS.

Many of the features in The Complete Collection are actually ripped from other releases of FF4 or even other Final Fantasy titles. The music comes from the DS game, while the CGI cutscenes are a mixture of all-new scenes and scenes rendered for the DS. The Bestiary feature is ripped right from previous PSP and GBA remakes of FF titles.

The game's producer Hiroyuki Miura, the game's producer, told us that a large part of the draw of this version of FF4 is that it's the first place you can find the game's episodic sequel, The After Years, all in one place on physical media. That's a nice draw for hardcore FF4 fans, and we'd mostly agree, but much of The After Years left me wanting.

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Like FF9, FF4 ended well for the cast - everyone got where they needed to go and their character arc ended perfectly compared to FF7 or FF10, which left many questions in place at their initial close. As such, The After Years follows Cecil and Rosa's son and swaps in and out old familiar faces against a new threat that's largely disconnected from the overall story of FF4.

The After Years has some really clever ideas including team attacks that work very similarly to the Double or Triple Techs and are based on the relationship between those two characters while the game also factors in FF4's all-important moons in a new moon-phase system where certain attacks only work or certain enemies only appear in certain stages of the moon phase. That can be changed by sleeping at an inn easily enough, thankfully.

Cool ideas like these penetrate much of FF4: The After Years, but the game is still overwhelmingly clearly a sequel that treads water. The drawbacks of being a smaller-budget episodic cell phone game initially are even clearer now it's on a disc, as you'll see it retread the exact same locations from FF4 using the exact same assets and the exact same enemies over and over, and the fact that it's still episodic in structure - you select episodes from a menu - is strangely disconnecting on a disc.

The After Years is a sold sequel to FF4 for those who wanted more action from that world, but it also manages to be at once disappointing in its execution. It is, for certain, not as good as the original - but it's a nice addition to this 'complete' FF4 package.

Also included is "The Interlude", which is a short chapter that bridges the end of FF4 and The After Years. You start with uber high-level characters (not bought over from your FF4 save, but preset) and kill some dudes. It's pure story setup, and barely worth mentioning considering how much game you're getting already.

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The Complete Collection lives up to its name pretty well. It is, truly, a complete - or almost complete - collection of everything Final Fantasy IV. The problem is that it actually might be too much Final Fantasy IV - after 30-some hours with the original, will you really want to revisit the same areas and characters and music again in The Interlude and The After Years? Probably not.

Final Fantasy IV is one of the true RPG greats, but it has to be remembered that it's been released on 6 different consoles now as well as Japanese mobile phones. Ultimately, in 2011, this is a high-resolution port of a 2005 Game Boy Advance port of a 1991 Super Nintendo game.

Nothing's been done to change the little unfriendly, annoying foibles that the 91 release had here - though perhaps that is the right approach. This is an archaic, old-school game now. That's part of the charm, but for new users, or fans of Final Fantasy post VII who've never touched the old games before, this could come as a hell of a shock.

The underlying game is great - one of the best - but if you've played Final Fantasy IV before this offers next to nothing new that's actually must-have. If you just need a version of Final Fantasy IV for your collection, though, this is a fine version to have - it's the original classic with a graphical and musical upgrade, the definitive translation and the brilliant-but-sometimes unfriendly gameplay largely untouched. In that sense, this a great package.

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