Final Fantasy IV
Square has had a lot of success stories in its time on this planet. Final Fantasy brought RPGs to the mainstream on consoles, helping to establish a genre which today is one of the biggest stomping ground of developers next to shooters and sports games. The Final Fantasy series has spawned lots of sequels; and in turn, these sequels have spawned lots of remakes, ranging from lazy ports to full-blown reinterpretations, like Final Fantasy III’s 3D outing on the Nintendo DS. Following the success of III’s well received port, Square has continued the series with Final Fantasy IV, another DS remake featuring 3D graphics and other bells and whistles. It may be a rehash, but it’s one of the best damn rehashes ever.
Final Fantasy IV was quite groundbreaking back in the day. It featured a surprisingly political plot, ditching generic fantasy tropes for a web of intrigue concerning a disillusioned officer in the Red Wings, an elite military force in the kingdom of Baron. It was the battle system that would make the biggest splash, though; instead of a strictly turn-based affair like previous Final Fantasy games, IV introduced the active time battle system, now a staple of many RPGs. ATB allowed for strategic timing of attacks, as each move would take place as soon as the player chose it, and the enemy would attack whether or not the player did anything. Everything operated on a recharge, highlighting the importance of critical thinking during otherwise slow-paced battles. The graphics and soundtrack were also praised, and in the end, Final Fantasy IV sold millions of copies and was ported to both the PS1 and GBA.
This version, however, has received significant upgrades. The graphics are entirely 3D, and cut scenes have been redirected to be more cinematic, highlighting the impressive character detail and adding voiceovers. It’s shocking to see such well directed scenes playing out on a DS screen; the production values are through the roof. Players who have experienced the original game will instantly be able to recognize classic character and monster designs, and the gameplay has remained untouched - other than rudimentary touch controls for menu selection - but it still feels like an entirely new game.
Final Fantasy IV sports the familiar overworld system, featuring a large map for the player to traverse. Battles are random encounters, which might be a turn off for some. It’s an outdated system, to be sure, but it hardly ever feels frustrating in this version, thanks to the brand new presentation. The battle system, as previously mentioned, speeds up battles by forcing the player to act, adding an imaginary ticking clock to every fight. It’s this kind of pressure coupled with the gripping story that makes trudging around the admittedly bare overworld a worthy undertaking. As always, a little grinding is recommended - another old-school RPG trope that remains intact in this updated game. It really is a relic in disguise; the difficulty can reach brutal heights in some areas and as with any RPG, save points can be few and far between. Luckily, Final Fantasy IV supports quicksaves, allowing players to save at any point and resume later on - but only once. Saves aren’t catalogued, so reliance on actual save points is still imperative.
Ultimately, Final Fantasy IV successfully proves that remakes can be an honest business. Sure, we’ve played this game before, but never like this - this feels closer to a director’s cut than a port. The cut scenes feel brand new, the graphics are brand new, and the gameplay holds up after all of these years. By applying a caring amount of polish to a classic game, Square has raised the bar they set for themselves when III was unleashed on the DS. It’s a must buy for fans of the series; and for DS owners looking for a challenge, it’s a great game to start with. It both pushes the handheld’s limits and preserves old-school gameplay well beyond Final Fantasy IV’s original release.
Nine out of ten