Review by RLegacy3

"The definitive version of a classic RPG"

When Square-Enix released Dawn of Souls for the Gameboy Advance back in 2004, it was highly likely that the popular SNES Final Fantasies would also make an appearance sooner or later. Although Dawn of Souls was a fantastic package, the storylines were very bare-bones and overall far less epic than the games that would follow.

Cue, Final Fantasy IV Advance - the first in a trilogy of SNES remakes for the Gameboy Advance. This is the game where the storylines got deeper and the combat faster. This version of the game sports updated visuals and all the trimmings that made Dawn of Souls superior to previous remakes. Final Fantasy IV Advance promises to be the greatest version of the game to date. But is it?

The storyline is noticeably more advanced than any of the previous Final Fantasies. Cecil - a dark knight and captain of his kingdom's airship fleet, the Red Wings - harbours concerns over his king's state of mind. The man who took him in when he was just a child and raised him as his own is no more, replaced by a cold, heartless fiend who would have Cecil slaughter innocents in pursuit of the world's crystals. Later stripped of his captaincy, our hero is made to play delivery boy by the king when he asks him to take a package to the nearby village of Mist. Accompanying him on this short journey is Kain, a dragoon and Cecil's best friend. It's here that the game begins proper, as the pair begin a journey which will see them unravel the mysteries of the crystals and the King of Baron's sinister motives.

There's far more character interaction in Final Fantasy IV than there had ever been before. Aside from simply stopping the bad guys, there are scenarios that affect members of your party on a personal level, and the game often takes numerous breaks from the central plot to explore characters in more detail. In a way this is the first truly groundbreaking Final Fantasy when it comes to storytelling, setting the standard at the time and presenting itself as an example for all to follow.

Building on the idea first brought about by the second game in the series, Final Fantasy IV forces different allies in and out of your party at regular points in the game. This is where the latest game scores its first point against previous versions. In the original, half of these characters were only temporary, just like in Final Fantasy II. By the end of the game your party was fixed, and everyone else who'd helped you up to that point was just shunted into the backround. Final Fantasy IV Advance changes all this, and actually allows you to form your own group of characters at the end of the game, and switch them around at will. This is the way it should've been from the start, and it's a huge plus point to finally be able to take on the final sections of the game with your preferred party.

Final Fantasy IV Advance also tweaks the battle system slightly. This was the first game in the series to use the innovative active time battle (ATB) system, where each character had a time bar which was constantly filling up during battle. Once full, that characters commands would become available and they could perform an action. The main problem with the original game was that, well, its ATB bars weren't visible, so it would come as a total surprise whenever a member of your party was able to act. Thankfully, they've been successfully implemented here, so you're now able to see exactly who's turn is forthcoming and plan strategies in advance.

The battles themselves are more chaotic than the past three games. The ATB system means that both you and your enemies attack in real time, so even when you're selecting commands there's something happening on-screen. This system stuck with the series for a further five games, which is testament to just how well it works.

Characters stick to a fixed class system. So Cecil, as a Dark Knight, is a powerful physical attacker and can make use of the special command, Dark Wave, which reduces his HP in order to unleash a strong attack against multiple enemies. Every character has their strengths, weaknesses and special abilities, and although some may seem more useful than others, by the end of the game the weaker fighters come into their own and you truly have freedom of choice when it comes to forming your team.

One disappointing aspect of the game is its skills system, and that is because there isn't one. Any character who is capable of learning abilities does so upon reaching certain levels. The only character who functions a little differently is Rydia, who's summon beasts are mostly obtained by defeating the monster in question. Not having to bother with buying/upgrading spells can be a blessing, but it does simplify the gameplay a little, and in light of Final Fantasy II's spell upgrades and III's job system Final Fantasy IV can seem a bit basic at times.

Graphically, Final Fantasy IV Advance is more of an enhancement as opposed to an all-out overhaul. Character sprites are far more detailed, while monsters and backrounds no longer look as pixelated as they used to. Spell animations are largely untouched, and although they're nice and simple in their execution, they end-up looking quite dated in comparison to Dawn of Souls' all-round flashier offerings.

Menus, too, have received a makeover. Slow and awkward to navigate in the original, they're now much tidier and altogether easier on the eye. Items, weapons and spells have had their names correctly translated, with no more space-saving abbreviations spoiling the games presentation. The new menu also sports redrawn character portraits (which are also displayed in text boxes) that look a lot sharper than those found in the original game. On the whole it's a genuine improvement, and anyone who's played the original will appreciate the extra polish.

The games soundtrack is, in a word, amazing. Perhaps the first game in the series to churn-out some truly memorable tunes, Final Fantasy IV provides top-quality audio throughout. Each character has something of a theme tune, and they all suit incredibly well. Battle music is a particular strong point, and the boss theme is widely regarded as one of the best in the series. The only low point of an otherwise tremendously strong area is the fact that tracks always restart from the beginning after battle, as opposed to simply picking up where they left off. This means that you're unlikely to hear each song in its entirety unless you have the game on pause, or are in the middle of a long string of dialogue. Dawn of Souls didn't suffer this problem, so you have to ask yourself why this game does.

When it comes to extras, Final Fantasy IV goes beyond the call of duty. As well as a hefty bestiary and unlockable music player, this version gives you two bonus dungeons in the shape of the Cave of Ordeals and Lunar Ruins. The former is merely a training area for getting the unused characters from the original up to speed. It's a relatively straightforward dungeon, but when you reach the bottom you'll come face-to-face with five strong boss monsters, each guarding a powerful weapon for one of your newly-activated party members. Each boss can only be taken on while the character whose weapon it protects is in the party, so several trips are required to raid the cavern of all its treasures.

The Lunar Ruins is the games true challenge. Unlocked after beating the main quest, this mammoth, 50-floor dungeon is made-up of random floors (in both order and design). Some simply require you to locate the exit and move on, while others may contain a simple puzzle which you need to complete in order to proceed. Every few floors you'll come across a save point, a warp panel to the surface and a large stone door. These areas are home to trials which each member of your party must face, but in order to open the door they must have been in you party when you finished the game, so you're going to need to rotate your squad and take on the final boss multiple times if you want to see everything.

The trials themselves vary from character to character. Cecil faces a collection of scenarios in which he must make the morally correct decision to score maximum points, while Cid takes part in a Crazy Taxi-style mission in his airship. Upon completion, your party will be rewarded with the most powerful weapons and accessories in the game, but first they'll need to earn it by defeating dark versions of the various summon beasts. These are truly challenging encounters, and after completing some of the longer, tougher trials its a real killer to fall at the final hurdle. So you'd best be prepared.

I'll be honest, despite being a die-hard fan of the series I never had a huge amount of love for the original Final Fantasy IV. Having already experienced every game that followed it, I found its clunky menus and rough presentation hard to stomach. This remake gave me the opportunity to give the game a second chance, and it truly feels like a totally different and completely refreshing experience. Final Fantasy IV Advance surpasses the original in every way imaginable, and is one of the very best games available for the GBA. Its noticeable lack of a character growth system could be seen as something of a step backwards for the series, but the superb character design and masterful plot make this a totally essential purchase for all RPG fans.

Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/19/07

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