Review by sturmtiger
"Nostalgia - The Right Way to do a Port"
I was entirely too excited about the re-release of my favorite childhood game, Final Fantasy IV (or as North America knows it, Final Fantasy II). I had dreamed about this since the release of the Gameboy Advance, noticing games like Breath of Fire and other SNES favorites had been released for this system. Years passed, and I was then relegated to playing my PSX port of the game. I lit up when I heard about this game's release announcement, buying the game and playing it to death within only a few days. Quite possibly my favorite game, I now write this review in order to convince you that this port is both necessary and wonderfully executed.
You may already be closing the Internet browser now, muttering to yourself curse words and the words "fanboy" interchangeably. I cannot ensure that I will write this entire review without my rose colored glasses, but I will try my very best. If this is your first foray into the world of older RPGs or indeed your first RPG at all, this is a fine place to start out. While it may not be brand new, it is the pinnacle of a tried and true formula of classic console RPG gaming. You will not be disappointed.
As a child, Final Fantasy IV was my very first RPG. I highly doubt, if I had never been exposed to this game, that I would be on GameFAQs right now writing this review or indeed playing any video games at all. To me, and it seems to the industry, it is apparent that Final Fantasy IV was a catalyst, a prototype of the gaming future for games with wonderful stories, interesting bosses, and characters that you'll never forget. The very fact that the game is embryonic in it's execution is currently both a blessing and a curse for the game. Highly linear, the game focuses little on exploration of the world, rather leading the player by the carrot on the stick from place to place. FFIV does an excellent job of this, and character development is helped a good deal by this linear gameplay. I have heard few complaints of the game being too linear, though if you are new to the game or the series, you will find that this may just not be for you. The game is almost exclusively battle based as well, and town and excellent cut scenes provide brief breaks from the action.
As an added bonus, Square Enix added extra content to the game, in various forms. Some features include interchangeable parties (!), a challenging 50 level bonus dungeon, and updated battlefield graphics amongst other things to add a bit more flair to the game and some added replayability. Excellent translations and various other tidbits give this (originally butchered) US release the justice that it so readily deserves. Plus, it's portable. Ever think about fighting Golbez on the bus to school?
Graphically, FFIV is essentially "where you left it", meaning that Square changed very little in terms of the monsters, characters and other aspects of the game. Certain updates will please gamers of the original, including modernized battlefields (which look very nice indeed) and updated character portraits. Even such a small detail as the character portraits, I find, adds a bit more spark and personality to the characters. Aside from a few other minor environmental and monster details, this leaves us back at the starting point for the original game. Anyone will remember the beautiful details on the monsters, which still remains, but the over world map hasn't changed. It looks very simple, but for a gamer of the original like me, this is a very good thing. A tinge of nostalgia strikes me every time that I walk along the world map, remembering places like Mysidia and the Tower of Babel in their original form. To be sure, FFIV was never a foray into the graphical realm and judging it with respect to that is not criticizing the game but judging the era that it came from. View FFIV not as archaic, but as a relic whose influence I highly doubt will be seen again.
Similar to the game's visuals, the sound has been left relatively unaltered, leaving us with Nobuo Uematsu's original score. Out of any game that I have very played, the epic tracks in this game stay in my mind the most adrenaline-pumping boss battle music, mood setting town music in places like Fabul and Toria, the inspirational Red Wings theme and as always the famous and moving ending music as well. I will note that though some of the music has changed, the majority and feeling still stays in tact. The sound effects themselves have been subject to some changes, too. I have heard others complain about the changes in sounds, but unless you were playing the original yesterday and then picked up this one today the changes won't assault your ears. The changes are very minor and really don't detract from the game.
As a standard menu based RPG in today's world where many RPGs are moving towards incorporating facets of other games into them, FFIV could be viewed as archaic or even simple. While superficially this may be true, there is a great deal of depth in the battles that you will face throughout your travels. Rarely will you encounter cookie-cutter boss battles you will have to think and incorporate strategy throughout them in order to survive. Undeniably, battles comprise the vast majority of the game outside of the storyline. Any player of the original will know that FFIV lacked minigames, instead using cutscenes to fill the game between battle and gameplay. I feel that the focus on battles and exploration is very traditional and may not be every player's proverbial cup of tea, though one must remember that the battles (if played right) can be very rewarding.
Despite being the hardtype version of the game, it does suffer slightly from being strangely easy. I had few problems completing the game up to the final dungeon. It could be that I had already known all the secrets for beating most of the monsters, so new players may not face this problem.
Problems with the Game
First off, censorship still remains to a certain degree. FFIV was released in the early 1990's in the US as Final Fantasy II, at which point censorship of Nintendo games was at an all time high Mortal Kombat replaced blood with sweat and in parallel Square censored out just about anything that could be considered offensive in their games (changing the spell "Holy" to "White", for example, demonstrates their paranoia of backlash). In addition, they nerfed FFIV to an incredible amount apparently the audience that they were aiming for wasn't smart enough to understand the use of items that cast fire on the enemy party or a skill that recalls a spell from Tellah's past. In any case, Square-Enix got it right this time around, using the original Japanese version (usually referred to FFIV Hardtype) as the base for the game and polishing up the translation very nicely. Everything that was in the original Japanese version is in there except for a couple things. As a couple examples, take the Dancer in Baron. Those that played Hardtype will remember that the dancer would take off her blouse, revealing a (highly pixilated) swimsuit, and then would proceed with her dance. She doesn't take off her blouse in this version. While this actually doesn't detract from the game any (and those who only played FFII won't notice a thing) the principle stands that they are STILL censoring these games. Is it still necessary? I would say doubtful. As another example, the infamous "Smut" magazine is now just called "Magazine". I find this disappointing, though I can understand if they were aiming for the ESRB "Everyone" rating. I would like to see censorship removed from the future planned remakes, including FFVI, though this is a wish that may never be granted.
Secondly, I have noticed some slight slowdown in battles. Perhaps it is just the way that the ATB bars are setup, but this minor problem can be easily overlooked.
Porting a game from an older console to a newer system is tricky. On one hand, you are catering to the original audience that the game originally captured. On the other, you are marketing it to a new one, in hopes of captivating them as you did to the others in times past. Final Fantasy IV Advance may not do this flawlessly, but it is a damn good effort. Ports are not meant to be something new and innovative, but as a nod to the past and to the players that made the game so originally successful. As far as a port goes, Square Enix virtually could not have done a better job of this one. In conclusion, perhaps I am stuck in the past with the memories of my childhood gaming days. However, with a game this great, I am willing to stay there.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/19/05
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