Review by LegatoBluesommers
"Great game, bad port."
Were I to rate this game entirely on its quality as a port, you would probably be seeing a much lower overall score at the bottom of this review. To be fair, though, it should be reviewed as a stand-alone game.
First, a little history. Final Fantasy IV was originally released on the Super Famicom (aka Japanese Super Nintendo) back in 1992. One translation butchering, difficulty lessening, and number swapping later, the game was released in the US on the SNES as Final Fantasy II, since the real FFII and FFIII were never brought over from Japan. It was remade with its original level of difficulty, a better translation, and proper number designation on the Playstation as part of the Final Fantasy Chronicles collection. It was remade again on the Wonderswan Color (Bandai's Japan-only answer to the Game Boy Color). So here we are with the third remake of the classic adventure and sadly, while it may not be the worst version of the game, it most certainly isn't the best.
Let me get my gripes with this port out of the way first. One of the primary strengths of FFIV was the rock-solid ATB fighting system which, despite its apparent simplicity, was perhaps the most reliable setup in any RPG of its time. However, this particular port is riddled with programming issues that compromise that reliability. Firstly, characters do not act in the order that their action meter fills up. Rather, it is the reverse. So if more than one character reaches their turn while somebody else is attacking, the person who filled up their meter last will go first. This can be very frustrating at times when you desperately need to use the ability of a certain party member and the game refuses to let you do so because your other members keep filling up their meters while you try to work your way down the order. Another issue is that your allies and enemies will often be able to act even when their action bar has not filled, which makes no sense whatsoever. These problems are compounded by the fact that the button commands can be very unresponsive at times, which makes getting through the command menus a chore. Because of these issues, using the "active" setting for battles is too much of a hassle to even bother with, though they are certainly noticeable on the "wait" setting as well. As if that weren't enough, there are tons of graphical slowdown (in the cartridge port of a 15 year old game??) and hiccups in both normal movement and in battles. Apparently the testing crew for this game either fell asleep on the job or simply did not exist.
The plot is one of the game's strong suits, as it always has been. This translation of the story is the best one by far, letting only a little bit of the previous versions' nonsensical melodrama slip through near the very end. The classic story of the dark knight Cecil's quest for redemption retains all of its splendor. Dialogue between the colorful cast of characters is always entertaining, from the silly sibling quarrels of Palom and Parom to the redneck charm of Cid to the shameless flirting of Edge. For this port, all of the characters you play as in the game that aren't dead are made available again before you tackle the last dungeon, which allows for some strategy. One surprisingly good feature is the bonus "Lunar Ruins" dungeon unlocked after beating the game, a 40-floor monster which contains many interesting floor designs, unique trials for each of your characters, some of which are just downright fun. The bosses here are fairly challenging, which is a nice change from the extremely easy main story.
Another of the game's strengths is the fantastic musical score, which sounds great on the GBA. You could have loads of fun just listening to the music player you unlock on completing the game. One minor issue to note is the sound effects, which are pretty mediocre (slashing claws should not sound like a metal pole hitting a wooden box). Graphically, there have been a few tweaks in the character sprites and backgrounds for this port, but for the most part the game retains its retro look.
While I can't help but be disappointed in the lack of effort Square Enix put into properly porting this version, the game can still be very enjoyable if you don't let the design flaws bother you too much.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 01/12/06
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