Review by UltimaterializerX
"This would have been the best version of FF4 to date had a decent effort -- ANY effort, even -- been put into development"
The release of Final Fantasy 4 to the United States in the early 1990s marked the true point in which Squaresoft's Final Fantasy series was here to stay stateside -- and Square seems to know this, as Final Fantasy 4 Advance marks the second time that this game has been redone and rereleased on another system. Previously, Final Fantasy 4 was redone and packaged along with Chrono Trigger in Final Fantasy Chronicles, a dual release for the first Playstation. Recently Square has decided to port Final Fantasies 3 through 6 onto portable consoles -- FF3 on the DS and FFs 4-6 on the GBA, respectively -- and Final Fantasy 4 Advance was the first such port to hit shelves.
At a first glance, Final Fantasy 4 Advance is just the improved version of the classic title that fans have been dreaming of for years. There are updated graphics, character pictures used in dialogue boxes while they speak, just about all of the old translation errors were fixed (though "You spoony bard!" was left in for old time's sake, of course), improved music on most tracks, the addition of the Japanese abilities to the characters in battle, and the names for just about everything are updated due to the character limit being dramatically increased for this particular version of the game. Square even decided to take Final Fantasy 6's Optimum Equip option and slap it into this game, which dramatically reduces the amount of time that one had to spend equipping in older versions of the game.
There are even the extraneous additions and technical fixes that the game has needed from the beginning. A detailed bestiary has been added for all of the hunters and completists out there, an Active Time Battle bar has finally been instituted, a soundtrack player has been added for players who clear the game once, and a dash feature has been implemented to speed up Cecil's walking speed while not on the world map. The massive addition of the bonus dungeon and the unlockable Party Switching ability are perhaps the game's biggest selling points; Party Switching allows the player to use party members in the final dungeon that were unavailable in the original release of the game, while the bonus dungeon is a 50-floor masterpiece that serves as a test for each of the game's characters, complete with massive amounts of extra items and super-bosses.
The issue is that ports, especially for games as old as Final Fantasy 4, need to be held to a fairly high standard. Final Fantasy 4 Advance not only fails to meet this standard, but the game as a whole comes off as a fairly rushed, lazy effort from Square.
Battle lag will be the first thing that jumps out at most players, especially when the party begins to hold a lot of characters. Lag, sometimes over a second long, can take over a battle if a lot is going on at once. Menu-based battle systems need very precise control to function properly, and there are times where one may actually select the wrong choice in battle due to lag.
Further annoyances in battle come from features that should exist, but don't. To target all allies or enemies with a spell, one must still scroll the cursor instead of simply pressing L or R like in Final Fantasy 6. You're still forced to have at least two party members in the back row to fit a formation as opposed to ordering your party freely.
Furthermore, the ATB system is handled horribly, not to mention the fact that damage outputs are far too ranged and the fact that little if no effort is given to fix Final Fantasy 4's lack of in-battle balance. Characters will often see their ATB bars fill up with insane speed or be allowed to act directly after attacking, sometimes allowing them two attacks in a row seemingly out of nowhere. This was actually a problem that existed in the original version of Final Fantasy 4 as well, though one would assume that revealing the ATB would see this problem resolved.
In-battle balance is also a rather large problem in the game, and the lack of effort to fix it is appalling. Certain characters are still near-useless on offense, which will leave players to use the same tired methods to defeat enemies from versions past: have the powerhouses use physical attacks, use mages in a conservationist manner, heal when needed and repeat. Allowing characters like Edward, Porom and Rosa to be able to cause damage on offense, or giving more MP to characters like Tellah, Rydia and Palom would have easily added balance, but things were essentially left the same. As for damage being all over the place, this is hardly an exaggeration. There are times when Cecil's basic attack will cause more damage than a critical to the same enemy, and though this doesn't seem to be as big a problem with magic, it's a problem nevertheless.
And what may perhaps be most annoying of all is how badly Final Fantasy 4 Advance handles items. The inventory system not being updated so as to allow you to hold all of the game's items is bad enough, but you're bound to run into your fair share of error messages with regards to having a full inventory -- yet you'll swear that your inventory had plenty of space in there.
You'd be correct. The problem is that the game doesn't combine items when you buy new ones, and it instead acts as if whatever you've bought is a new item altogether. If you buy 10 Tents when you already have 20 in stock, it takes up two inventory slots. Making it a habit to constantly use the Sort command out of pure necessity is wholly ridiculous, and is perhaps the biggest proof of the lazy effort given to the game. All it would take for such an issue not to exist is attention to detail, which Square clearly does not give in this rush job of a port.
Despite all of this, you'll find that most of these issues are barely issues at all. The reason for this is because Square decided to dumb the game down to an oversimplified level, essentially sucking away most of the challenge. Boss fights in Final Fantasy 4 Advance are a joke in comparison to their counterparts in other Final Fantasy 4 releases, both in difficulty and in how flawed the design of several are. Most enemies in the game will be a joke to kill unless you're horribly underleveled, and the same goes for bosses. An excellent example of this is the first battle with the Wind Fiend. It was one of the hardest battles in the game even on the SNES Easy Type release, yet Final Fantasy 4 Advance finds a way to completely screw it up. Not only will she barely make an effort to kill your characters, you'll be able to do full damage even when she's in her tornado. This makes one of the coolest fights in the game out to be a joke, and this battle is hardly the only one given the desensitization treatment.
These types of screwups are all over the game from many random battles to several of the bosses, and even the bosses that appear to be normal aren't so due to several having their attack patterns from previous games being slowed down dramatically. FF4 fans should not look forward to the challenge past games had to offer, because it simply isn't there. In fact the biggest challenge from the game could very well await players who wish to fill the in-game bestiary, as Square decided to be lazy with the encounter formula. It's no exaggeration to say that 70% of the battles in any given area will be exactly the same, making it difficult to find the more rare monsters. This screwup also turns once-common battles into nightmares to find, as anyone who has ever hunted down a Toadgre or a Hell Turtle will tell you.
Final Fantasy 4 Advance: All style, no substance. Thanks for nothing, Square.
At its bare core, Final Fantasy 4 Advance retains all of the qualities that made the original game such a masterpiece in the first place: great story-telling with a lot of twists, good characterization and development, a great atmosphere, simplistic-yet-fun gameplay, and a wholly immersive experience. That said, ports and remakes need to be held to a much higher standard as all of the flaws are already laid out; ergo, developers have obvious things to work on for said ports and remakes and such flaws being repeated are simply unacceptable. Worse yet, a developer's laziness adding a bunch of new flaws to a game without fixing many of the old ones is nothing short of moronic on the part of said developer -- Square, in this case.
Square gives little if any effort to fix issues that already existed in the game, and instead opted for a very lazy effort that accomplishes little if anything. This game makes it seem like Square's goal for Final Fantasy 4 Advance was to add new-age flashiness as opposed to fixing the existing mechanical issues in the game; thus, while Final Fantasy 4 is still one of the finest games ever released, Final Fantasy 4 Advance is wholly a below-average title when graded solely as a port and several of the new additions created more design flaws instead of less. The necessary effort to fix existing flaws, as opposed to simply adding new flash to appeal to the existing fanbase, is simply not there. Worse yet is the fact that Square's laziness creates new problems on top of not fixing the old ones, which may make the game unplayable to new and old Final Fantasy 4 fans alike. Even those who never played Final Fantasy 4 in the past might see some of the things in Final Fantasy 4 Advance and feel disappointed, especially if they've heard how much of a challenge Final Fantasy 4 was.
All this said, Final Fantasy 4 Advance is a game worth checking out if you've never played Final Fantasy 4 before, have no access to past versions and want to see what the big deal is. Final Fantasy 4 Advance being a failure as a port hardly means that Final Fantasy 4 itself is a game not worth playing, though be forewarned that you won't get near the experience that other releases of the game would offer. In fact, you won't be getting much of an experience at all. Find one of the other versions of this game at all costs.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 03/14/06, Updated 03/27/06
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