Final Fantasy IV is known as a turning point for the Final Fantasy series and helped to bridge the gap from above average by-the-numbers RPGs to games that told epic stories though cinematics. Released in 1991 for the Super NES as Final Fantasy II, fans of the series were blown away by the sheer size of the game which spanned an entire world, an underworld, and to the moon itself. Playing the game on your trusty GBA proves just as impressive as the original game remains largely intact even brings a few improvements and extra side quests along for the ride. While some elements were lost in translation, this version of the game feels right at home on the GBA and gives some extra incentive to those who might be hesitant to buy the game again.
Final Fantasy IV tells the story of a Dark Knight named Cecil who is captain of the kingdom of Baron’s air force known as the Red Wings. Cecil, suspecting the king of Baron has gone just a little mad, is given the daunting task of collecting the world’s elemental crystals at all costs – even if it means slaughtering innocent people in the process. At the same time, encounters with monsters become more common. It’s only after Cecil unknowingly slaughters an entire town that he challenges the king’s intentions and is kicked out of the Red Wings. Doubting himself more than ever, Cecil vows to get to the bottom of what’s going on and hopefully undo all of the wrongs he has caused to the people of the world and to himself.
The gameplay is similar to other early Final Fantasy titles with your team occupying one side and your foes on the other. Final Fantasy IV was the first game in the series to incorporate an active time battle system, so the battles can get pretty frantic and fast-paced. The GBA seems to be taxed at times when a lot is going on which results in all sorts of small little issues to pop up like slow down which seems to result in some clunky cursor movements causing you to cast the wrong spell or pick the wrong item. Of course, none of this is good when your enemies won’t hesitate to attack if you’re taking too long to make a decision. Each character has a basic set of actions like attack, item, and the occasional magic spell. Certain characters can also do special actions like FuSoYa’s regen which gradually increases the party’s HP and Palom & Porom’s twin attack which allow them to combine their powers for ultra-powerful spells. Summons are here as well with such perennial favorites as Odin, Shiva, and Bahamut. Don’t worry about exploring the world on foot either since you’ll get your hands on a good assortment of vehicles like a hovercraft, boat, and not one, not two, but three airships. That’s not even counting Chocobos where you can ride around on the standard yellow variety or take to the air on a black one. You’ll be hard pressed to walk as you travel from town to town and into the game’s many dungeons.
Of course, what’s an RPG without a story to drive you to keep fighting random battles all the way until the bitter end? While the storytelling elements are a little crude by today’s standards, the story is still compelling enough to keep you wanting to find out more. Everything from the Edward the Bard side story to the somewhat violent marriage of Yang and his wife have made the conversion. For those who are experiencing the game for the first time, you’ll get a story full of twists, turns, betrayal, revenge, sacrifice, and a main character whose inner battle is just as important as what threatens the world he lives in. If you thought Aeris’ death in Final Fantasy VII was a pivotal point in RPG history, then you most likely haven’t played Final Fantasy IV. Fans of the original game will notice some differences from the version they all know and love since the game has been translated directly from the Japanese version. The result is some mild cursing, utterance of words like “kill” and “dead”, and some pretty big, sophisticated words that are nowhere to be found in the SNES game. Don’t fret however; the infamous “Spoony Bard” reference is still there. The story, mixed with the three different “worlds” for you to explore make for an experience that is sure to entertain you for a good thirty hours plus and then some, that is, if you’re a perfectionist. There’s still plenty to do outside of the main story line and even after the game has been completed. Right before you dive into the last level you’ll get the ability to switch out party members for characters you wouldn’t normally have had in the original game. As an added bonus a training dungeon can also be unlocked where you can complete trials for each character. After the game has been completed and the game’s lengthy (and totally enjoyable) ending has finished, you’ll unlock the Lunar Ruins, a dungeon that runs some fifty levels deep and features the most difficult monsters and bosses in the game in addition to the strongest weapons and armor. A bestiary rounds out the game’s extras and lets you know what percentage of monsters you’ve killed so you can go back out into the world and hunt everything down for that elusive 100% completion score.
As far as visuals go, Final Fantasy IV has aged very well. While the resizing of the screen causes a few graphical anomalies, more than a few improvements have been made and this version more closely resembles the version found in Final Fantasy Chronicles for the original Playstation. You’ll get some impressive mode 7 effects while you’re speeding around in the airship and the once flat towers of the SNES game now protrude into the sky. There are also a number of redrawn backgrounds during battles that look much better than the less colorful and barren earlier versions. You’ll also notice some improvements when you fly to the moon which I won’t try to ruin here. The game’s sprites remain unchanged, though some characters have been redrawn for their status screen portraits and in this case, the change was for the better. You’ll also get some really impressive and over-the-top spell effects and while summons pale in comparison to those found in the later games, they’re still pretty neat. There are some issues with the game’s level design in some spots where everything starts to look the same and treasure chests blend into the floor a little too well, but those are only small complaints.
The sound is on par with the SNES version of the game which isn’t a bad thing at all. Despite the limited hardware of the SNES, Final Fantasy IV has an excellent soundtrack with some great songs that really stand out. From the traditional Final Fantasy theme, to the militant beat of the Baron theme, and the goofy and comical Mysidia theme, the soundtrack is hands down one of the best in the series. While the soundtrack does a great job of setting the mood, the game’s sound effects do a great job too. You’ll get a number of sounds for each type of weapon a character has and some interesting sounds to accompany the impressive spell effects.
It’s about time that Square-Enix released this game for Nintendo’s handheld system. Not only was Final Fantasy IV one of the best RPGs the SNES had to offer, but it was one of the best games the system had going for it and the fact it’s not just another straight port could really win some old-school Final Fantasy fans into Nintendo’s handheld camp. If you already own the original version of this game, the improvements and extra missions offered here warrant some hardcore consideration. This game is definitely worth it.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media
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