|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Matrix Software||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jul. 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
The Final Fantasy series has long been hailed as one of the premier RPG franchises. After playing through the remake of Final Fantasy IV (FFIV), I'm reminded that it definitely deserves such high praise. The attention to character development, plot twists, loads of treasure, intriguing enemies, user-friendly controls, and gameplay mechanics make the game a joy to play. Furthermore, the addition of enhanced combat effects, an updated battle system, CG cutscenes, and 3D environments combine to spell out "must-buy" for Final Fantasy fanatics and RPG enthusiasts.
With interesting and functional controls and mechanics as a base, Final Fantasy IV tells a great story of a land fraught with danger and adventure. You will take on the role of Cecil, a dark knight that begins to question the tainted machinations of his once virtuous king. The dishonorable acts Cecil is forced to commit cause him to be disillusioned with his place in the world. This rift results in the knight being stripped of his rank as Lord Captain of the Red Wings and sent on a mission to deliver a ring - a ring that proves to be wholly evil and sets the protagonist down a path of self-discovery. Can Cecil stop the demented monarch's lust for the Crystals and rebuke the influence of the evil power behind the throne? This is the backdrop for the charming story that players will uncover as they gain in power and complete their quest.
If you're looking for a mindless dungeon crawler, then FFIV will punish you time and again. That's because, in addition to a great story, the game uses random battles, infrequent save points, and an eclectic mix of baddies to thwart your advance. Luckily, you will be in control of a party of characters with unique abilities. Using the skills of various classes like black knight, paladin, white and black mage, summoner, bard, dragoon, and more, you will have the tools necessary to get through the deadly dungeons and bosses that confront you. However, story takes precedence in FFIV. As such, you will often be abandoned by key party members, leaving you exposed to the increasingly difficult challenges. Thankfully, the Augments system allows you to retain some of the most crucial abilities of departed characters. However, once an Augment is learned by a party member, it cannot be unlearned or passed on. So, by all means, choose wisely! As such, the Augments system has players make a number of interesting decisions as the game progresses.
Tricky decisions and a high level of difficulty seem to pervade the entirety of the title. This makes FFIV a very smart and often frustrating RPG. Save points are not casually strewn throughout dungeons, but there are enough of them, strategically placed, to make players suffer the requisite amount without being overly dismayed by frequent, total party kills. That said, some bosses and even random enemies are far above your level, and they will teach you a lesson (several times) if you don't find their weaknesses and employ strategy. Somewhat disappointingly, pacing is slightly marred by the extreme difficulty. Sometimes tactics simply aren't enough. In fact, you may find yourself having to level-grind a bit or backtrack to load up on sundries. This is only a minor complaint though. Once you get the hang of the system, the story does tend to advance quite quickly.
The system and mechanics of gameplay are very slick indeed. Time continually flows during battle rather than the turn-based combat of other Final Fantasy titles. However, players can opt for turn-based combat or adjust the speed of battles in the options menu if they prefer. I felt the default setting was the most engaging and balanced though. In the default setting, each character has an ATB (Active Time Battle) Gauge that fills. Tabletop role-players can think of this as initiative. When one of your characters' ATB Gauge has filled all the way, you can then act by choosing one of the options from the combat list (this combat list can also be manipulated by the player to have near instant access to the most desirable commands).
Melee and ranged attacks are performed almost immediately, but items and magic attacks have a bit of a charge delay before being used or cast. Your enemies will have their own, invisible ATB Gauges. When they are ready to attack, they will do so immediately. In addition to straight damage, enemy attacks often have the effect of slowing down casting times or even make players turn into toads, stone, impart poison, blindness, etc. The time component translates into pressure to perform, and it can be quite exciting and exhilarating. Moreover, spells such as sleep, slow, and hold become very important, as well as very dangerous, because your ATB won't fill quickly enough or you won't be able to act at all. Somehow, the enemy always knows who and how to attack, so players also need to be this astute.