Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Final Fantasy IV (SNES) - Revisited

One of the first titles that come to mind when I think of gaming back when I was growing up is Final Fantasy IV (II in the US, IV in JP). Back in the early nineties, before console emulators and Gamefly, I would rent this title from the local game/movie store and play the absolute crap out of it. I never actually beat the game until I received the game as a Christmas present years later. However, that did not stop me from really enjoying Final Fantasy IV.

Often times my save file would be erased by other customers week to week, but that still didn’t stop me from restarting and playing it nonstop. The funny thing is that I was five when Final Fantasy IV came out in the US; I really doubt I understood much of what was going on story-wise. Regardless, Final Fantasy IV for the SNES is a game I’ve enjoyed for years.

I have been looking forward to coming back to the classic version of the game after having played numerous remakes (Anthology, GBA, and DS).  I’ve wanted to go back to the roots and see if my feelings have changed much over the years for the initial rendition of the game.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story, it opens up with a well scripted event. Cecil, the main protagonist and leader of the mighty Baron Air Fleet “The Red Wings”, is working on completing another task granted to him by the King of Baron. Having always been loyal to the King and his country, Cecil completes the mission of retrieving a “crystal”, even though the task brought forth numerous civilian casualties (which seemed to him like something that could have been avoided in the first place).

It seems as though the past few missions that the Red Wings have set forth to do have been a little out of the ordinary; not to mention the King and the Captain of his guards, Baigan, have been acting out of character as well. Cecil builds up enough courage to question the King’s recent decisions, and in turn is removed from his command of the Red Wings.

In addition, Cecil and his best friend Kain are sent on a mission to deliver a package to a nearby village. That is where your journey begins, but along the way you uncover the truth behind the King’s recent actions, meet a slew of unique allies, and battle enemies in traditional JRPG format.

Final Fantasy IV is the first game in the series to really flesh out the story and characters. If you have played any of the older titles in the series, you know what I mean. That’s not to say that the games are bad, but I don’t feel like story and character development were really their strong points (then again, did any old school NES JRPG really have an amazing story and top notch dialogue?).

While the dialogue itself is much more informative than previous titles in the series, it still suffers from a poor translation; like many of the other early Final Fantasy titles have over the years.  Statements such as, “Please feel free at home!” are just an example of silly bits of poor dialogue riddled within the game. On the other hand, townsfolk do generally have good information for you if you seek them out. Regardless of the apparent flaws, Final Fantasy IV offers a decent story with a memorable cast that you are sure to enjoy.

Having been one of the earlier titles for the SNES, Final Fantasy IV looks really good. Both the terrain and the sprites are colorful and drawn well. While there are several instances of palette-swapped sprites, there is still a good amount variety present. The scripted cutscenes are generally full of animation and help sell both the story and character emotion.

Final Fantasy IV introduced the ATB (Active Time Battle) system to the gaming world; something that would be used in many games to come. Instead of turn-based combat like previous Final Fantasy titles, actions and commands were given in real-time; giving a more realistic and sometimes more challenging spin on combat. With that being said, the US release of the SNES version could have been much more difficult than it was. 

Even with setting the ATB on and upping the speed of combat, 90% of the game can be completed by holding down the attack button. I’m assuming this was done to appeal to a broader audience and it is still an enjoyable experience. If you are looking for a more challenging version, the DS rendition may be up your alley.

One word describes the musical score: incredible. Nobuo Uematsu is known for being one of the industry’s most talented composers, and his work really shines in Final Fantasy IV. There isn’t much more to say besides the fact that it is extremely well done and really helps set the mood of the game. You will not be disappointed with Final Fantasy IV's soundtrack, much less any Final Fantasy score.

Having completed Final Fantasy IV in many forms (SNES, GBA, DS, PS), the SNES version is still my favorite overall. It is the one that started them all, and the small annoyances are not near enough to come close to overcoming the abundance of good qualities present in the game. It’s been probably ten years or more since I last played the SNES version, and probably my 50+th time actually completing it, and I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

I really enjoyed this play through of the game and it is still as charming and enjoyable as I remember it being back when I was too young to even understand what was really going on. If you haven’t played it yet and are a fan of RPGs, I’d suggest trying it out. Even if you’ve played it before, it is definitely worth revisiting another time and experiencing it all over again.

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