Developer: Square Enix | Year: 2011 | List Price: $19.99 | Buy from Amazon
I’m currently on a quest to beat the first seven North American Final Fantasy games (since they’re all playable on Vita). First I played VI, VII, and X, in that order, and I was missing the sprites and old-schooliness of VI a little so I thought I’d go a little further back. Final Fantasy IV is one of the most celebrated of the franchise, some even going so far as to call it the best in the series. Since its original release as Final Fantasy II in North America, Final Fantasy IV has seen an almost excessive amount of re-releases. You can play it on the SNES, the PSX, the GBA, the DS, the PSP, as well as on iOS and Android. I’m personally playing the PSP version, The Complete Collection, on my Vita. It also includes the two sequels, the Interlude and The After Years, but I didn’t play those. I think I can still give a fair review of the package, however, and the sequels aren’t too celebrated anyway.
Final Fantasy IV wasn’t the first Final Fantasy, even in the Americas, but it certainly was the first to attain universal appeal. JRPGs have always been story-driven, but IV took that to the next level, with a story that is genuinely interesting and protagonists that players can actually relate to. Unlike the generic characters of the NES Final Fantasy games, IV’s characters have personalities and motivations.
You play as Cecil, a dark knight who’s an officer of the Red Wings of Baron. Guilty about the war crimes he’s commited, Cecil questions direct orders from the king and is demoted. He then proceeds to travel the world and right old wrongs. Soon a more nefarious plot is revealed and Cecil and Co. must go to the ends of the earth (and beyond!) to save mankind. Ultimately, the story feels a bit cliche from a modern perspective, but I can imagine how groundbreaking it must have seemed back in 1991.
Gameplay-wise, it’s surprising how modern Final Fantasy IV feels, at least on the PSP. This was the first Final Fantasy to feature the pseudo-real-time Active Time Battle system, which would become a staple of the franchise until Final Fantasy IX. Something that does feel archaic, is the fact that characters’ classes are set. You can’t get magic on characters that aren’t supposed to have it, and spells are learned in a specific order. This was a bit of a step back from Final Fantasy III (not originally released in North America), which had a job system similar to V’s and Tactics’. And having played VI and VII, which both have systems that allow you to micro-manage your magic, I certainly felt limited by the strict character classes of IV.
The PSP port is a great way to play the game. The visuals and resolution have been improved upon, though I’m glad Square Enix decided to keep them sprite-based, as opposed to the 3D graphics on DS, which looked mildly impressive in 2008, but which haven’t aged awfully well. The awesome Uematsu-composed soundtrack can be experienced in its original SNES glory or the modern arrangement found in the DS remake, and you can switch between the two in the fly.
My biggest gripe with Final Fantasy IV lies in its pacing. The PSP port is quite similar to the original American SNES version in difficulty, and this makes the first 4 or 5 hours painfully easy. The difficulty ramps up significantly in the final dungeon though. Let me put it this way: Before the last dungeon, I only had my party wiped out once. In the final dungeon, I died over a dozen times. Also, the experience scaling is kind of weird. Enemies get pretty difficult towards the end, and they don’t even give that much experience, meaning you’ll have to grind by save points if you don’t want to risk losing lots of progress. There isn’t actually any enjoyable way to grind in Final Fantasy IV. I beat the last optional boss, but couldn’t beat the final boss, and because there’s no way to get new magic on characters except to grind, I spent more hours grinding in IV than I did in any other Final Fantasy game. The game took me just under 24 hours to beat, and I actually reached the last dungeon at the 16 hour mark. To many hardcore RPG fans, this might not be a big deal, but 8 hours of forced uneventful grinding is simply unacceptable to me.
If you’re a Final Fantasy fan already, you’ll love Final Fantasy IV. It’s one of the shorter entries in the series, and also one of the easiest (for most of it!). I wouldn’t recommend it to a newcomer though. It really feels old, and today, I can’t see why anyone would choose to play it if they haven’t yet tried VI or X, both much more accessible to those uninitiated to the Final Fantasy craze.
Design: 7/10 Final Fantasy IV is credited as first Final Fantasy that had a real story and unique characters. The story does get a little old after a while and the ending is a little out of nowhere, but it’s enjoyable for most of it. I found the characters are quite likable for the most part, though there are a couple that just didn’t get enough screentime for the player to really care about them.
Visuals: 9/10 Forgoing polygonal models for sprites in this remake was a great idea, and The Complete Collection looks great even on Vita. The graphics aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and don’t push the limits of the PSP hardware, but they’re definitely better than the SNES originals.
Sound: 8/10 You can’t go wrong with a Nobuo Uematsu soundtrack, but IV’s doesn’t quite have the size and scope as VI’s or VII’s. Some tracks are catchy, but there are noticeable instances of tracks being reused between areas. Being able to switch between the SNES and DS soundtracks is a nice touch, though.
Gameplay: 8/10: The gameplay is solid and still enjoyable today. The ATB system is virtually the same as in any other Final Fantasy game between 1991 and 2000, and it’s really fun. The game does get a little grindy towards the end, though.
Value: 7/10: $20 gets you the digital version on PSN, which includes Final Fantasy IV, The Interlude, and the After Years. I can’t vouch for the quality of the two sequels, but they weren’t critically well received. That said, $20 is not too much considering you’re getting one of the great JRPGs of the SNES era. If you haven’t played them, I’d recommend Final Fantasy VI and VII over this one, though, and both of those are only $10.
Total: 39/50 (B-)
List Price: $19.99 | Buy from Amazon
I’m into the Inverted Castle in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The going is getting tougher, but I should be done in a couple days’ time. Look forward to that review soon. I’m also continuing my JRPG education with Final Fantasy VIII, which I’m about 2 hours into. I’m finally getting a hang of the Junction system, though I’m still confused most of the time, and I swear I’ve spent half of my total playtime in menus!
Until next time, check out our other video game content here, and see an always-up-to-date ranked list of my favourite games of all time!