Review by jfalconer

"All your old friends!"

Final Fantasy IV Advance is arguably the best version of this classic RPG, and I should know because I've played every version.

While the PSX version (Final Fantasy Chronicles) added a relatively subpar CG intro and ending, as well as painful loading times, this new GBA version features entirely redrawn battle backgrounds, a better translation, new character portraits and additional content. It restores battle commands from the original Japanese version, such as Cecil's dark aura blast.

STORY

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I've played this game more times than I care to mention, yet somehow it always hooks me in. Well paced, twisting turning plot keeps things moving. You're constantly meeting new characters, going on new adventures, and the dialogue is generally pretty good. There is less mindless leveling and more time spent enjoying the game. I love these characters, and so will you once you've spent some time with them, as there are countless "classic" moments that stick with you long after the game is finished.

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At this point, so many games have ripped on Final Fantasy's generic plot, which itself rips off various movies (re: Star Wars) and books (re: Nausicaa), that it is pretty cliched. What makes it great is that even with that said, its still entertaining.

GAMEPLAY

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5 characters in the party. Its been awhile since we saw an RPG with that many characters in battle, and its nice. You get a lot of variety of characters too, which come and go, smoothly integrating with the plot. The battle system isn't gimmicky; essentially each party member belongs to a specific job/class, learning new abilities as they level up. For better or worse, its simple and fun, and because each character plays a specific role in combat, they're equally important.

In this version, you can swap out old party members near the end of the game and do optional side quests, such as a 50 level dungeon. This adds to the main quest which should last at least 20-30 hours for the average gamer, who isn't trying to rush the game.

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Random battles are starting to show their age. They wouldn't be a big problem if the battles went a little quicker. Unfortunately, during battles you will notice that sometimes your commands are not as quick to input as you would like. This doesn't really affect the gameplay, since it really doesn't happen all that often, but it can be slightly annoying. This is somewhat balanced out by the increased overworld speed, which is like wearing "sprint shoes" in FF VI.

There aren't really many puzzles/riddles to solve, especially in the many dungeons, which will more likely test your brawn than your brains. They could have spiced things up with actual puzzles, but alas no such work was done.

This is kind of a small gripe, but due to the GBA screen size, your spell list is 2 vertical rows instead of 3 (in the original). This means when you organize your spell lists, you can't group them as nicely/efficiently.

GRAPHICS

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With the redrawn battle backgrounds (which look fantastic) and slight alterations to overworld character sprites, you could easily say that this is the best looking version of the game. Redrawn character portraits (varying in quality - Rydia looks great, but whats up with Yang's head?) accompany dialogue, which helps during those scenes quite a bit compared to the original.

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Unfortunately, transparency effects from the original had to be axed (a common problem on the GBA), so when you venture into water or see reflections in mirrored surfaces, it doesn't look as nice as the original. Surely the GBA could've handled a little transparency?

While most of the graphics have been slightly upgraded with extra shading, more could have been done with the general tilesets to better differentiate the various dungeon settings.

Also, couldn't they have included the CG intro/ending from the PSX version, using the same compression technology employed in Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories? I mean, that cg really was pretty low quality by Square's standards, but it would've been nice.

MUSIC/SOUND

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These are some of Uematsu-san's best compositions, and they really do add a lot to the mood of the game. There are some classic tracks that managed to tug at my heart strings all over again.

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Thanks to the GBA's limited sound processor, some of the sound effects aren't as clear and crisp as the SNES original, which is mainly noticed during battles. Also, because the music had to be redone for the GBA sound processor, some tracks sound a little different (not necessarily remixed, but just a little off). However, on the whole the game sounds remarkably faithful to the original.

OVERALL

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I gave it a 9/10. Its Final Fantasy IV, with better graphics (minus transparencies), and its PORTABLE. You get all the grand adventure of the original game, plus you can bring back the previously inaccessible party members and challenge a new dungeon or two. A few years ago I prayed for this game to be ported to the GBA, and I would've been happy with a straight port. But Squaresoft delivered the game with some bonuses in tow for a whole new generation of young gamers to experience, as well as us old hats like myself.

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No transparencies? Slight slow down during battle now and then? Weird sound effects? If these MINOR issues turn you away from one of the greatest RPGs ever made, I suggest you reorganize your priorities.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/19/05


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