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• Final Fantasy IV: R

developed by Matrix Software/published by Square-Enix
1 player/1 card/Nintendo DS/2008.07.28

Having played Final Fantasy IV several times since its original release on the Super Nintendo, I was almost ready to lock it in the vault until I’m old and alone in a retirement home with nothing but video games to keep me company, at which point I’d dust it off for one last hurrah before I die. You see, this is one of my favorite games of all time.  But then the DS remake was announced, and with completely new graphics to better serve the storyline, a more refined translation, and renewed difficulty, it was all the excuse I needed to revisit this classic chapter in the Final Fantasy series.

Story

Cecil Harvey, a dark knight loyal to the Kingdom of Baron, has a crisis of conscience when he is ordered to steal a crystal from the peaceful Mysidians.  The crystals are powerful energy sources, and Baron is on a conquest to have them all.  When he brings his concerns to the king, who has raised him since he was a boy, Cecil is dismissed from his post as commander of the Red Wings, the kingdom’s air force.  As Baron continues to attack neighboring kingdoms, Cecil decides it must be stopped, and he is soon leading the resistance against his former homeland.  There is more to Cecil than meets the eye, and his journey will take him and his allies to the Moon and back!

Gameplay & Challenge

FF4 is a special chapter in the FF series because it is the only mainline FF title that allows you to have up to 5 active party members at once. It was also the first FF title to feature a large cast of playable characters, who come and go as the story progresses. It even features class changes for a couple of characters despite the lack of a job system. The remake allows you to transfer key abilities from characters who leave the group, which means you can continue to use your favorite skills.

The remake can be pretty frustrating, mainly due to the increased difficulty. Bosses will wipe out your party if you are unprepared and even regular monsters can take you down if you’re not careful. Level grinding isn’t necessary for each new boss, but expect to do some at certain points in the game. And be sure to save your game at the nearest save spot after those difficult boss encounters, because you never know when another, more insane boss lies right around the corner.

Graphics & Music

The 3d engine used in FF3’s DS remake has been improved, and the developers at Matrix have maximized its potential. The cinematic story moments represent the best DS graphics to date, and often feature voice acting. The battles feature more characters and monsters on screen at once, and the summon spell animations (which are skippable) have been given special attention, even rivaling those of the PS1 FF titles. The monsters have been accurately recreated in 3d and are animated nicely. The settings are unique and colorful, even the underground caverns and dungeons feature individual elements that really set them apart. No two areas look alike.

The new graphics are not without some drawbacks, though. The main issue is that the DS screen resolution isn’t the best, so the details aren’t quite as clear as they could be, or as crisp as the 2d original. You can’t clearly see each character’s eyes during battle, for example. Small details here and there are missed, such as how characters power up spells (Edge in particular doesn’t have his cool spell chanting animation).

The music has been redone, and while the tracks don’t sound dramatically different or better than their SNES counterparts (the SNES soundchip was way ahead of its time), they still stand out as some of Uematsu’s finest compositions and have stood the test of time.

DS additions

Besides the stuff I’ve mentioned there’s some new stuff added such as stylus controls for wandering around, an auto map feature (with bonus items for completed maps), as well as some mildly amusing touch screen minigames (most of which are variations on whack-a-mole). A bestiary and music box are also included. Rydia has a special summon creature called Whyt that you can customize and level up, and even play battles online, but I never really used him in the game.

Unfortunately the remake doesn’t add much content in the storyline department. It was stated that roughly 75% of the original scenario had to be cut from the original game, and I was hoping more of it would be included. There are only a small handful of new scenes which present some of the back story for certain characters. There is also some added character development through the thought-bubbles that appear for each party member when you open the menu. These only added a little extra to the game, but it was a nice touch.

Conclusion

FF4 is one of the most complete chapters in the series, and by that I mean it has a nice flow from start to finish, has multiple side-quests, and doesn’t cut corners or feel rushed (like some of the others). The characters and storyline are endearing, and the plot will take you through many twists and turns. The final dungeon in the game is a super deep dungeon where you’ll fight multiple bosses for loot before finally tackling the end game. And the ending is one of the finest in the series, tying up all the loose ends.

The 2D version holds a special place in my heart, mainly because of how amazing it was back on the SNES, and in my opinion it still has the best 2d battle sprites of the series. But after playing the remake, there’s no doubt that the best version of the game is on the DS. If you’re a fan of the FF series, want a solid and challenging game, or simply want to see how powerful the DS can be when in good hands, don’t miss it.

Quick Run-Down

PROs:

  • Increased difficulty
  • Fantastic production values
  • Timeless story & characters
  • Newer, better translation

CONs:

  • DS’s limited resolution hurts the presentation
  • Not much new story content
  • Released too soon after the GBA re-release

One Sentence Review: The DS has become the king of RPGs, and Final Fantasy 4 is undoubtedly the crown jewel of its selection.
One Word Review: Nostalgic.

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