Review by BlueYoshi579
A mediocre port of a wonderful game.
The story of Square's Final Fantasy II/IV is well known. First released in Japan as the fourth iteration in a then beginning series, and was the first Final Fantasy to garner the Final Fantasy level of fanfare we all expect now. However, the North American release was not quite up to snuff with the Japanese version. It was dumbed down, and made into a very easy game, especially because it was packaged with a strategy guide for half of the game. Realizing that the North American market deserved better (and would pay for it), Square re-released the game on the PS and, forgettably, on the Wonderswan Color. The Wonderswan port featured nicer graphics, used today for the GBA FFIV remake, but the PSX version bundled with Final Fantasy Chronicles was the superior version. It featured the original difficulty, higher quality sound and images, dungeon running, Quicksave, and an opening FMV (along with loading times).
The GBA port, while an improvement over the original, is less than what I was expecting. Granted, it has more content, looks and sounds better, but it is also one of the worst ports I've ever seen. Square's had 15 years of time and experience to get out all the kinks. Even after making a few GBA games before, Square still released a glitch-ridden version of a classic, without adding too many truly new features. The PS version already has many of the features of this version, after all.
Visuals: Final Fantasy IV Advance uses the same visuals as the Wonderswan Color version. While that version did add face sprites to the normally dull text speech, as well as makeover many of the battle and field sprites quite well, it still didn't do much about the very bland over world. The only way to distinguish one mountain, forest, island, town, or area in general is by knowing and using your map well. Towns, dungeons, and the like are only distinguishable by memory, placement and arrangement from the over world, not by appearance. I treasured Final Fantasy II/IV on my SNES, and played it often. Even with that, I was still easily lost in this game. The generic over world, combined with a limited scope of view when walking, makes navigation difficult.
Entering dungeons leads to largely unique visuals, but towns still mostly look like each other. One would expect Square to at least give each town some feeling of locality. One would think Baron, a military force, would have different building styles from Mysidia, a small, magic based town. But it is not so. Some might say that they were just preserving the classic look. While that is a nice sentiment, the classic visuals don't create nostalgia, just confusion. I'd much prefer distinct towns to preservation. But, as you will find out, Square put hardly any effort into this port.
Overall, some improvement, but I expected more. 7 out of 10.
Sound: There was nothing to mess with or change here, really. Square didn't touch one of the most famous parts of the game very much, aside from cleaning up the sound and adjusting it to the changed platform.
A rare balance of upgrades and leaving the original material as it was (which I feel was amazing). 10 out of 10.
Controls: This is where Square's lack of effort shows most objectionably. I've never encountered a game that was so severely hampered by poor controls, which is especially bad for a menu based RPG. The way the controls are supposed to work, they are obviously simple. Some people may be rushed by the Active Time Battle, but they can either turn it off or get used to it. However, the Active Time Battle does not work quite so well because of the control glitches. Often times, the game will not respond to your inputs. You press up or A or whatever, but it doesn't happen. This can be very costly, as you may end up using the wrong attack/spell/action, or targeting the wrong person. This is entirely random, and just makes playing the game pointlessly frustrating. Square could have done a much better job with the controls, if they had only put in some effort to adjust Final Fantasy IV to the GBA.
Ultimately, control glitches make Final Fantasy IV Advance more frustrating than fun. 4 out of 10.
Game play: The game play in Final Fantasy IV Advance hasn't changed too much from from other versions. This version is probably more difficult than the SNES edition, but easier than the PS edition (although one must consider that I know this game well, so I can go through it more quickly than perhaps was intended, so the difficulty may only be perceived). It also features a few more battle functions that I don't recall from the SNES edition, although these aren't the biggest change. The most important addition to Final Fantasy IV is the ability to, after a large portion of the game, make up your own party from many, but not all, of the playable characters; along with the two new dungeons on the moon and Mt. Ordeals. These, along with the vastly improved script add much more depth to the once bland characters. Lastly, the bestiary makes it clear which enemies drop coveted items, which is very helpful.
On most levels, the battle system for Final Fantasy II/IV seems to define tradition: Tough, strong character like Paladins and Dragoons, fragile magic users, a fist fighter, and a ninja. Magic users gain spells as they level up, not from Materia or some silly system like that. You simply move around some menus and pick your next action. Nothing revolutionary (but that's not a problem), unless you count the Active Time Battle. The addition of more playable characters at endgame allows you to make new parties, although the 3-2 or 2-3 row set up prevents you from realistically using some parties. As for the difficulty, Final Fantasy IV Advance is almost definitely harder than Final Fantasy II for the SNES. Even with some level grinding to make up for my reaching the final dungeon in 20 hours, it still wasn't a breeze, which can't quite be said for the SNES version. However, while the two new dungeons and characters do add plenty to the game play, I was hoping for more, somehow. Perhaps some of the mini games or other such idea used in other Final Fantasy games.
In the original Final Fantasy II/IV, the script was poorly translated, with phrases such as Spoony Bard (which has been spared, thankfully; it is an uncommon, but valid, term) finding their way into the game. The poor translation, along with some censorship by Nintendo of America, made for a storyline that was more awkward than interesting. The new script still features a rather cliched story, but that's really what Final Fantasy IV had - it essentially wrote the book on RPG cliches. The new Lunar Trials and Mt. Ordeals Trials also add some more depth to the characters, especially Kain.
Overall, Square improved one of my favorite games of all time, but... it just didn't feel improved enough. 7.5 out of 10.
Square could have done so much more with this port. While I love the ability to play Final Fantasy IV on the move, along with Quicksave and other new additions, the glitches and lack of great improvement makes this a somewhat needless buy for owners of other versions.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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