Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
Taking a break from the teen angst and feathered hair of the modern Final Fantasy games, Square Enix and Matrix Software venture back to the roots of the franchise. Though far from perfect, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light offers longtime fans a refreshing throwback to a classic era in roleplaying games.
When you first set out on your adventure, you’ll be asked to name each of your four party members, and from there you’ll wander around the town of Horne. Before long, the entire town is turned to stone, and it’s up to the four young heroes to find a way to lift the curse. The story is simple, with pacing that is compact and complimentary to gameplay on the go. The dialogue is quaint and enjoyable, leaving behind the frivolous melodrama of the series’ modern installments in exchange for endearing characters and a world that’s easy to fall in love with.
A large chunk of the game has your main party members separated from one another, either working together in pairs or taking on long stretches of the story alone. It’s an approach that works surprisingly well considering how challenging the game can be. You will be required to do some level grinding, but the game encourages strategic use of elemental powers over simply trudging through with raw might.
Since you’ll be given the opportunity to spend quality time with each of the four main characters, you’ll become easily invested in their plight. The prose of 4 Heroes is more in line with the Dragon Quest series than it is modern Final Fantasy, so expect a lighthearted romp. To that end, the story structure is well paced, with loads of interesting NPCs sprinkled throughout the game’s world.
If there is one complaint I do have about the game’s pacing, it has to do with the lack of mapping while venturing into dungeons. Though a world map gives you a sense of where the bigger landmarks are, you will be forced to find your own way around the game’s maze-like dungeons. Battles are random – no monster indicators to speak of – which can make dungeon exploration even more tiresome.
The battle system in 4 Heroes is an interesting mix. Though you can choose the actions for each of your characters during combat, you cannot choose who they’ll attack or aid. The A.I. does a fine job deciding who to heal or attack first, but I still would have preferred having the option to micro manage my party.
The AP (action points) system, however, is an inspired element I thoroughly enjoyed the whole way through. Action Points are used for almost all actions during battle, whether it be attacking or using spells, and you can replenish AP by spending a turn “boosting” (which also function as your characters’ guard ability). It’s a neat mechanic that makes long journeys between towns easily manageable.
Unfortunately, those long journeys can seem like something of a slog if you need to shut off your DS to go do something else. You can only save at specific spots in the game, and with no quick-save option, you’re forced to dedicate yourself to long hauls between save points.
The two final and perhaps most integral features of the game are the gems and crowns. Defeated monsters randomly drop gems, which are used to upgrade crowns and equipment, as well as being a great source for earning gil (the game’s currency). Crowns, on the other hand, function similarly to the job system in past Final Fantasy games. Each crown comes with its own unique abilities and stats, and filling a crown with certain types of gems will unlock new abilities for that specific class. Crowns are a fun take on a tried-and-true gameplay device, and with 28 different crowns to choose from, there’s plenty of variety to keep the adventure interesting from beginning to end.
The 4 Heroes of Light definitely has many high points. Though wandering around dungeons without a map can often be frustrating, the dungeon design itself is mostly inspired. There are a few Zelda-like gameplay elements that elevate 4 Heroes above your average RPG romp, and the presentation is simply irresistible.
That being said, there are some balancing issues that will try your patience more than anything else the game has to throw at you. Running into a group of monsters that spam sleep and then take turns beating on you is absurd to watch. The monster variety is also sorely lacking. You’ll see many of the same monsters over and over, regardless of how far into the game world you travel.
Perhaps 4 Heroes true crowning achievement is its art style. The technical fidelity isn’t the best I’ve seen on DS, but the visual style is completely unique. Muted tones meshed together to create an almost watercolor appearance make 4 Heroes one of the cooler-looking games I’ve seen on the system. The town design, too, is visually stellar, though the geometry occasionally makes for some awkward exploration. Ultimately, there’s so much personality and warmth injected into this world, it’s impossible to not be won over by the game in spite of its flaws. The music is memorable, the sound effects make a great counterpart to the gameplay, and by and large, the presentation here really helps sell the adventure.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a quirky RPG that caters to a pretty specific audience. A few odd omissions and gameplay flubs keep it from reaching its full potential, but its personality and creative gameplay mechanics do a great job of making ends meet. It’s best not to go into the game expecting a true Final Fantasy experience, but diehard RPG fans won’t be disappointed.