Review by Meister Grendale
"Quite simply, bad development"
Final Fantasy IV Advance is a remake of the classic Super Nintendo RPG, Final Fantasy II. (IV in Japan) Particularly, this title has faced two other remakes -- Final Fantasy IV for the WonderSwan Color, and Final Fantasy Chronicles. Being resourceful with their... resources... Square-Enix has decided to recycle the WonderSwan Color remake, add a few new additions, and port it over to the GameBoy Advance.
First, I will discuss the new additions. Obviously, the game's graphics have received a complete face-life -- even in comparison to the PlayStation port. This is actually not entirely true, however, since the graphics are based almost entirely on its WonderSwan Color counterpart. (With the exclusion of new character portraits, and other minor adjustments.) Secondly, the sound has been adjusted to fit the specifications of the GameBoy Advance. Third, extra areas and bosses have been added, including a 50-level challenge dungeon. Just as well, new items have been added to counter the difficulty. Finally, a party-swapping feature has been implemented, allowing you to switch characters in and out. (In correspondence to the 50-level dungeon, none-the-less.) Below, I will discuss how these new features stack-up, along with the rest of the game in general.
Though I would normally praise the original gameplay, it has been overshadowed by heavy modifications, including lag, glitches, statistical adjustments and interference from some of the newly-implemented features. The most noticeable problem occurs in battle, where there exists lag and an ATB bug. If the system is handling a lot of commands at one time, then the game will begin to lag, making it difficult to register commands and manipulate the cursor. This can be, at times, an extremely irritating function -- especially when you are trying to specifically target something, though end-up targeting something else due to your command not registering. Moreover, there is an ATB bug which causes characters to have two consecutive turns in a row. I suppose that this is not something to necessarily complain about, being an exploitable advantage, though I'd prefer the option to avoid the exploit and play legitimately. There is no excuse as to why these problems persist, and I cannot imagine why they would make it past the attention of test-players and the debug team. To be quite honest, Square-Enix strikes me as being a lazy Capitalist monopoly, which is more than often evident in their recent releases.
Next, we're faced with some irritating statistical adjustments. I understand that this game was (supposedly) modeled after the hard-type version of Final Fantasy IV, though I do not quite understand the nature of encounter rates, which seem to be pre-determined at the very start of the game. With the implementation of a Bestiary, hardcore players will find their quest to procure all the data quite daunting, mostly due to the fact that random encounters are not-so-random anymore. If you save at any given point in the game, engage in a few encounters, make a note of what encounters you had, (as well as if they were a back-attack, pre-emp, etc.) and then reload, you will find yourself in the exact same encounters again. This is to say that all battles are now pre-determined since selecting "New Game" from the menu screen, which is completely ridiculous. I've invested most of my game time wandering about certain areas trying to find one-time encounters, which are normally common in all other versions of the game. Unfortunately, depending upon modifiers unknown, you are either pre-determined to encounter X enemy at X rate, or you're not. It is a poor way to side-step the game's normally short play time, and keep players distracted from all the other oddities which make this game quite unacceptable. (Excluding, of course, the horrendous battle system, which is a self-evident problem from the very beginning of the game, and extends all the way up to the bitter end.)
Now, the only reason why I was lenient enough to credit this game a 6 instead of a lower score is purely for its original, nostalgic value. To be quite honest, however, it is difficult to enjoy the classic gameplay for reasons mentioned above. Just as well, I find it somewhat insulting that certain powerful items / dungeons / bosses have been introduced, effectively turning this game into a uber-munchkin appeal. For those of you who don't know, a "munchkin" is a gamer who focuses purely on the aspect of beefing up characters and having the best equipment and stats possible, which is, suffice to say, a person who generally cares nothing for the actual storyline or game events. While I see nothing wrong with perfectionism on some level, Square-Enix has decided to take it up a notch with godly weapons which can randomly cast powerful spells, loads of optional bosses which exceed anything normally found in the game, and a ridiculous 50-level dungeon. Sure, these things are all optional side-quests, though it still bothers me to think that such a wonderful classic can be turned into... this. Honestly, what type of market are they trying to appeal to?
As far as the script is concerned, I feel that it was translated quite well, up until the end, where it seems to lack more and more detail as you progress. Also, my praises most definitely go to the improved method of font handling. Rather than sticking us with a ton of abbreviations and double-byte characters, Square-Enix was very practical in adapting the translation. I am somewhat bothered by the manner in which hooked letters appear, (g, q, y, etc.) though it's an understandable problem. Alas, I've noticed many plunders in the grammar, which may not be that big of a deal to some, though I feel that Square-Enix needs to invest in a less "Japanized" localization team. Unfortunately, no one pays enough attention to these kind of details...
There are some pros and cons here -- first and foremost, I really admire the detail which was placed in the box / manual art, as well as the new character portraits. Being a personal fan of Amano's artwork, this struck me as being a very good thing. (Though, in all fairness, there are some people who find his artwork quite irritating, which is respectable.) The character portraits, which are adapted close-ups of Amano's character art, are adapted quite well. When the PlayStation port was released, it bothered me that they retained the same, pixelated SNES portraits. Luckily, this game received a long-overdue update. I am also pleased that they decided to use the WonderSwan Color sprites and map-layouts. When I first played the WonderSwan Color port, I was very impressed with how much brighter and detailed the graphics were. Certainly, some areas of the graphics could have been better, though I feel quite satisfied with what they decided to carry over.
Unfortunately, I have a very big issue with the mid-flight map style. Immediately upon starting the game, it is apparent that there is artifacting all across the map, where it is unprofessionally shrunken to fit an uneven aspect ratio. As well, there seems to be random speed-ups and slow-downs while flying around. While it's something which I can live with, there is certainly no excuse for such an apparent problem to exist.
Quite simply, the sound department was horrific. To be fair, however, the music was slightly better than okay on my part, but I felt that the sound effects were very deceiving in their lack of contrast and detail. Often times, I would have to adjust my volume just to hear them. I feel that the sound team could have done a lot better, given the specifications of the GameBoy Advance.
Replay Value ?/10
This is really quite difficult to say. The only replay value is found in restarting your game after discovering that you've missed a one-time item or Bestiary entry. (Which is quite common.) Other than that, there's no reason to replay. It seems like there would be other modes of gameplay, such as difficulty settings. Unfortunately enough, there are not. I'm sure that most players would, at the very least, like to choose between the easy-type and the hard-type versions, though the game itself seems to be a very odd adaptation of the hard-type, which is just... beyond words.
Overall Score 4/10
Final Fantasy IV Advance is like an apple rotted from the inside-out. Sure, it may look good and juicy from the outside, but once you bite into it, you'll have a mouth full of worms. While barely resembling the classic, this game's adaptation from one system to the next will have you wondering what happened to the original gameplay. You will also find yourself facing many, many frustrating new additions, which will more than often throw themselves in your way, effectively ruining the experience.
I cannot help but to feel that Square-Enix has taken the cheap way out by allowing an amateur development team to hack around with the WonderSwan Color port, leaving us with a final product that, apparently, did not undergo any sort of testing. Unfortunately, I don't feel that Final Fantasy IV Advance will face concordant amounts of criticism. Even so, I don't even imagine bad sales or unpopularity leaving a dent in Square-Enix's tough shell, which is forever maintained and polished by masses of blindly-devoted FF fanboys. The end result of monopoly, I suppose...
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 01/05/06
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