Review by nastynate3118

"The first three games in the series were a warm up for the greatness of Final Fantasy IV."

Introduction

Note: this review is about Final Fantasy IV, also known as Final Fantasy II for the SNES. I will be referring to it as “Final Fantasy IV” because that is the true title of the game.

Final Fantasy IV took everything that was great about the first three games and combined it into one emotionally gratifying experience. It was released in 1991 for the Super Nintendo and started a trilogy of three games for the SNES. This trilogy could not have started any better as Final Fantasy IV builds on many strong features of the previous three games and introduces its own innovations.

Gameplay – 8/10

Final Fantasy IV is a traditional turn-based RPG in which you control a party of up to five characters and travel the world exploring dungeons and fighting monsters. The main innovation that was introduced in this game was the Active Time Battle (ATB) system. In the first three games, you would select commands for all of your characters and then everyone would all attack in the same round. This game completely does away with that and makes the battles continuous with monsters constantly attacking you. Depending on whom your fastest character is, their turn will appear and you have to quickly select a command. The battles are never interrupted and more strategy is required because you have to think about whose turn will be next. This is especially true for boss battles in this game.

The system is not perfect; sometimes you will be standing around in the middle of a battle waiting for someone's turn to pop up and there is a good chance the turn that does pop up is not the character you wanted. You cannot skip turns in this game, so there are many times in which you must waste a turn defending so that a more preferred character's turn pops up. As with the previous two Final Fantasy games, there are “rows” that your character can be in that have different advantages/disadvantages. This game forces you to have three characters in the front and two in the back, or vice-versa. This is not too much of a problem because you will never have more than three attackers/magic users, but some autonomy over this would have been nice. It is also apparent that many commands that were present in the Japanese version of the game have been removed from the SNES version.

There are a variety of characters to play as in this game, almost equaling the total number of characters from the previous three games combined. You are never able to make your own party and choose which characters you would like to use, but the characters you get become better and better as the game progresses. This system mixes the ideas of Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III together in the fact that these characters have backstories to them but also are subject to having a specific job. There is always a nice balance between physical attackers and magic users, so the linear progression of the game in terms of character usage is never a problem (unless you want to replay the game with different characters).

I have to say that Final Fantasy IV is one of the most balanced games I have ever played in terms of difficulty. It should be noted that the American release on the SNES was an easier game compared to the original release in order to attract more players. I never had to level grind during the game and I found that as long as I fought every battle I encountered, the game was just right in terms of challenge. I still had to prepare and come up with a strategy for boss battles but I was never forced to level grind just to advance to the next area.

Exploring dungeons is a lot of fun due to the fact that there are plenty of treasures to be found and the game does not go overboard with hidden passages like in Final Fantasy III. As you progress through the game, optional dungeons become available and you can choose to explore them if you so desire. I like the variety with the level design as the game introduces hazards and obstacles to impede your progress and offer some depth. The only problem that comes along with exploring dungeons is the erratic encounter rate; there are some areas where you can go an entire room without a battle and others where you will take three steps and have a battle for every step. This really interrupts the gameplay because after every battle you have to pause and heal your party.

This game continues the tradition of having a huge map to explore with multiple vehicles. There are a total of three world maps to visit with a variety of vehicles, including the Chocobo, Black Chocobo, airship, hovercraft and space ship (!). The imagination put into these games has always astounded me, and it continues to impress in Final Fantasy IV.

Interface- 8.5/10

Perhaps the biggest addition to the game that I loved is the inclusion of an in-game timer. It is accurate and will stop when you pause the game, something that even modern games are not always good at. I like that you can control the pace and difficulty of battles by selecting a battle speed and the assistance the game provides by telling you what each item does in the inventory. Save points are another welcomed addition to the series as you are no longer required to beat lengthy dungeons in one sitting.

The most glaring interface flaw is the various translation issues throughout the game. Some of the translation was intentionally censored due to Nintendo's standards policy in the early 90's, but there are also numerous grammatical and spelling errors throughout the game. The menus are neatly organized for the most part but once again this game fails to have a neat inventory. You have to constantly hit “sort” for it to be organized or else it will be a complete mess. I am not sure why the game could not just do this automatically. A glitch from Final Fantasy III carries over into this game where you can use items and spells to heal characters with full HP and the game still deducts the items/MP that you used. This is an annoyance that should have not been included in the game.

Story- 9/10

Final Fantasy IV easily has the best plot of the first four games. It follows the story of Cecil Harvey, a Dark Knight who is a captain of the Red Wings airship unit of the Kingdom of Baron. He is tasked to steal crystals from different towns but is unsure of why he is doing this. He eventually decides to stop attacking innocent people and recruits other characters to aid him in his quest to protect the remaining crystals and find out why Baron is doing this. He eventually uncovers a sophisticated (and convoluted) plot involving the moon that explains the power of the crystals and must stop this scheme.

There is obviously a lot more to the story, but you can play the game yourself to discover all of the intricacies and plot twists the game offers. From the moment you start a new file, you are greeted with an excellent introduction scene that sets the dark tone of the story and immediately gets you interested. Final Fantasy IV makes huge strides with character development. All of the characters you play as have a backstory and a variety of motivations that drive the plot and keep it fresh. It is refreshing to see characters with multiple dimensions that change as the game goes on. This is especially true for Cecil and his evolution is one of the most fascinating at the end. You know a game has great characters when it is almost impossible to choose which one is your favorite.

The story itself is presented with cutscenes that occur as you progress through different dungeons and towns. They feature a nice mix of action and drama and the pacing is done very well. There are no cutscenes that feel too long or too short (besides the very beginning of the game, which is very heavy with cutscenes). The amount of emotion that is packed into some of the scenes is also very impressive, as love, death and redemption are prominent themes of the story. Despite the translation issues and censorship, the dialogue is still very interesting and well-written.

Perhaps the only criticism I can levy with the plot is how wacky it becomes toward the end of the game. Several things go unexplained or are elucidated in very vague terms that require you to kind of “just go with it.” Still, there is an incredibly epic feel to the plot as the game nears its conclusion and it executes its climax and ending with precision and expertise.

Graphics -8/10

The graphics with Final Fantasy IV are a hit-or-miss. The field screens look like they belong on an NES game. I was disappointed with the lack of an upgrade there was, especially with the sprites. Your character sprites do not look any better than the sprites used in the NES trilogy.

The poor quality ends once you are in a battle, however. I was impressed with the variety and detail of the battle screens and the sprites of your characters. There are a surprisingly high number of different animations for attacks and spells that your character can use and they all look fluent and add to the fun of fighting a battle. The most tremendous animation of all in this game comes with the ending sequence. For a game from 1991, it is truly impressive to watch.

Mode 7 technology is employed when using the airship in this game and adds a sense that you are flying high above the world. The only part of the game where it does not work at all is when you are on the moon. The screen looks like a pixelated mess and it is simply impossible to discern what is going on.

Sound/Music – 9/10

I cannot praise Nobuo Uematsu enough for his soundtracks. He is always finding ways to top himself in his work and Final Fantasy IV is no different. The soundtrack is simply outstanding. There are songs full of action and that are intense and songs that are full of emotion and drama. The combination of emotion and heroism in the music is always present and gives you the sense that you are on a grand adventure. There are a countless number of excellent tracks to choose from and the soundtrack stands as one of the best ever for the Super Nintendo.

My only criticism comes with the mixing of the music. There are a lot of times when the music will partially cut out when a lot is happening on screen and it does not sound too good. I was also not a fan of the music restarting every time you get into a battle and finish it. It makes the music start to sound repetitive, especially in longer dungeons.

The sound effects in this game are classic. I love the “opening a treasure” clicking sound effect and the healing sound effect. They are memorable and fit the game perfectly.

Play Time/Replay Value – 9/10

One thing that I found very interesting about Final Fantasy IV is the fact that out of the original four games, it is the shortest. I completed the game in 18 hours and 55 minutes, making this game 20 minutes shorter than the original Final Fantasy. I completed every side quest (except one that could potentially take thousands of hours to complete) and still want to play it again. The short length is a bit of a disappointment but there are at least plenty of things to do in this game that add replay value. The story also makes the game easy to play through again because of how well it is presented, but it would be much better in terms of replay value if you could choose the characters you want to use as the game goes on.


PROS
+ATB system allows for faster-paced battles
+Plenty of side quests and places to explore
+Very balanced with difficulty
+Variety of characters to control
+In-game timer and save points are introduced
+Plot is character-driven and has an epic feel to it
+Battle graphics and animation are impressive
+Soundtrack combines heroism and emotion
+Plenty of side quests are available that add to the replay value

CONS
-Many features from the Japanese version have been removed
-Very erratic encounter rate
-Inventory can be sloppy
-Translation issues and censorship are present throughout story
-Field sprites and design look like they came out of an NES game
-Music restarts after every battle, leading it sound repetitive

Final Recommendation

Final Fantasy IV was the first truly excellent title in the series. It combined everything that was great from the first three games and ascended the series into the realm of RPG bliss. It is not perfect but it is accessible and engaging enough to be enjoyed by all kinds of gamers. Anyone who is interested in RPGs should give this game a try; the balanced difficulty and sophisticated plot make it a joy to play.

Final Score: 8.58333333/10 rounded to 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/28/13

Game Release: Final Fantasy II (US, 03/08/10)


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