Review by Halron2
"Rosa: ‘You are not hurt?’. Cecil: ‘We are not hurt’. Geez..."
Rarely, one game appears and single-handedly takes a whole genre of gaming to a new level. Not so rarely, bad translations from Japanese make great games, specially RPGs, lose a lot of their power to impress and entertain players. Both things happened with the release of Final Fantasy 4 (which became Final Fantasy 2 in the USA). I still can’t believe that Square was so careless in transporting this to American shores.
The biggest change Final Fantasy 4 offered in relation to other games was in the story. First, you were put on the bad guy’s side, working for a king who sends you to violent missions to neighboring countries. When Cecil, the dark knight and main character of the game, realizes the evil of his ways, he goes into a quest for self-forgiveness and becomes a paladin, vowing to stop the evil spreading across the world. Apart from all the drama in the main character’s story, most of the cast have their own particular issues, giving the game much more depth than other games at the time. Also, the story in itself is much more tragic and realistic than the competition, with the death of characters, destruction of kingdoms and other personal tragedies.
The cast of the game also receives this never-before-seen level of attention. Although the characters themselves aren’t all that great, the important thing is that each one of them have issues of their own to deal with during the story’s development. Also, characters would change, come and go, as opposed to other games, in which they started and finished exactly the same. Such characters are the most interesting in the game, like Cecil, who changes from a dark knight into a paladin, Rydia, who has to deal with conflicting feelings towards her companions and Kain, a guy that you never know what side he is on. This is also, I believe, the first appearance of the favorite plot-mechanism in Squaresoft: the love triangle. Apart from that, most characters have relationships with each other that are well-explored during the flow of the story. Needless to say, the story ends in a completely different key than it started. Most plot twists are really well-done, but these days they are mostly predictable and sometimes, they seem really forced.
The gameplay in Final Fantasy IV is quite solid, although it doesn’t add anything really different. Each character has different abilities, depending on their class. They learn abilities, spells and so on, by raising levels, which is also nothing new. The only interesting addition to the ability-learning system is the summoned monsters, which you must defeat in order to be able to use. However, the game is so well done and designed that playing it is quite a fun experience. As far as the battles are concerned, however, two things must be noticed: the five-member party, which was never again used in a Final Fantasy game, which added a lot of possibilities and variety in battles and the addition of the ATB, or active time battle system which has become one of the Final Fantasy trademarks. The diverse cast also adds quite a bit to the overall possibilities in the Final Fantasy 4 gameplay.
Graphically, Final Fantasy 4 offers a solid product. Specially worthy of mention is the design of the game, made by the hailed Yoshitaka Amano, who has designed most subsequent Final Fantasy games, always delivering solid visuals. This game is no exception and the game not only has a very personal feel to it, but most places, characters and monsters are really interesting to look at. It’s really interesting that each location of the game had a different visual feel, which gives the game quite a lot of personality. I actually don’t like the actual look of the characters (in the map view, I mean) in the game from Final Fantasies 4-6, probably because they look like they were squashed with a hammer or something. The in-game graphics impress basically because of the detail-filled backgrounds, original and memorable monsters and good character graphics in the battles.
The music is also one of the unforgettable traits of this game. I believe that the Final Fantasy series owes much of its fame to Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for every game in the series from 1 to 9 (on number 10, he worked with other composers), which means a lot. Number 4’s soundtrack is one of the strongest in the whole series, maybe even challenging the almighty soundtrack of Final Fantasy 6. In this game, he wasn’t as ambitious as he would become later, but most of his marks were there: recurrent themes, a balance of epic and intimate tunes and even a hint at character themes. It doesn’t have such a huge variety of styles as he would employ in more recent work, but to note that he did a samba arrangement for the chocobo tune is enough to convince everyone the guy wasn’t tied to one musical tradition only. I have no doubt that the this game’s soundtrack is one of its most impressive and brilliant aspects and that it’s responsible for much of the fun and mainly the nostalgic effect the game has after you played it.
However, Final Fantasy 4 almost ruins everything with some of the weakest dialogue ever featured in a game. It’s quite impressive how Square managed to screw up a beautiful game with this translation (people say that the original version didn’t have this problem – since I don’t speak Japanese, I don’t know). It really takes away from the game and leaves the task of involving the player in the story solely to the score – something that it manages to do to a certain point. In many parts of the game, you feel that you are controlling a bunch of emotionless robots, because they can’t even maintain an acceptable quality of dialogue. I bet a 10-year-old kid could write dialogue better than figured in this game and that’s the main reason why Final Fantasy 4 has a hard time reaching to a broader audience, or convincing the players that it has a strong and even deep story.
I wouldn’t consider the game bad because of its dialogue (or translation, if you prefer), but it really makes this game look bad sometimes. Mostly, Final Fantasy 4 is a really good game, in some ways classic, in some ways groundbreaking. All in all, it is one of the most important games in role-playing history and in Square’s quest to dominate the RPG market. And I’d say most of its success is due to the magnificent, essential soundtrack.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/31/02, Updated 06/03/02
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