Review by Arkrex

"Not so Fantastic Four"

Been there, done that. This saying applies to many gamers out there when talking about Final Fantasy IV Advance (FF4A). Since the original Japanese SFC conception, there has been a localised SNES version (AKA US Final Fantasy II), and a PSX revival via Final Fantasy Chronicles. Suffice to say there has been many an opportunity to have a crack at this game.

As part of Square-Enix's goal to have all the core 2D Final Fantasies available on a Nintendo handheld, FF4A was an inevitable port. But was it worth the hassle? For the younger generation, somewhat new to the Final Fantasy ‘sub-genre' of RPG's, it is a welcome addition to the vast catalogue of portable adventures available. For the older peeps however, it is a revitalisation plagued with horrible ‘lag' issues and a totally toned down difficulty setting. Despite the wonderful nostalgia, this journey just doesn't advance far in by today's lofty standards.

Visuals – 7
Sound & Music – 8
Gameplay – 6
Controls - A
Longevity – B
(15+ hours)
Replayability – C
Difficulty – Mild

Colourful Cast – 8

Mmm… 16-bit eye-candy

First I'll begin with the graphics department. The GBA hardware has truly reached its peak at this time of writing, with many SNES ports coming out looking flawlessly faithful to their originals. FF4A is no exception. FFIV was the first in the series to make a graphical showcase (with the leap from the so-called 8-bit to 16-bit technology) with big, colourful sprites and some pretty magic effects. The splendor still exists here, and it looks great on the smaller screen.

Nobuo makes his mark
This is where the Final Fantasy series started to build steam in the audio department. Not only are there many memorable tunes featured here, but the sound quality finally allowed for some justice for Nobuo Uematsu's imaginative compositions. From Theme of Love to The Red Wings to the always-catchy Battle Theme, everything sounds spot on now, just as it did then. The soundtrack isn't the best the series has to offer, but it is still one of the most memorable in RPG history nevertheless. For those who have played through the latest instalment, Final Fantasy XII, you will be able to see where the inspiration was drawn from for the beautiful opening theme; here it is in its full 16-bit glory and boy does it conjure up some good memories to this very day!

The sound effects were also beefed up since the initial Famicom trio, and although many samples wouldn't work too great these days, the fantastical nature of it all still serves up enough for most; I have no qualms about my sword-slashing sounding like paper-cutting. Overall FF4A offers a competent conversion of the sound department, and the bonus sound test is a nice treat (albeit rather useless seeing as the OST has been out for yonks and is easily obtainable).

All-new LTB system! AKA ‘Lagging Time Battle'
FFV saw the advent of the renowned Active Time Battle (ATB) system, which features in nearly all the Final Fantasies that followed in some way or form. FFIV did not have ATB implemented and was a more blind turn-based affair, but in bringing FF4A to the masses, Squeenix decided to sneak in this mainstay feature.

The ATB system allows for more strategic turn-based gameplay as certain actions will take longer to perform/recover from than others, and so care must be taken when deciding to use weak, but quick or slow, but strong attacks, with items and magic abilities flexing the muscle here and there. Once a character's gauge has filled up, you can give them an instruction to follow, and how fast it fills can be modified by time magic, special items, and other specific factors. To be honest, I like the way it works, especially after seeing all the subsequent series' advancements leading up to X-2's pseudo ATB. In FF4A however, it is great only in theory.

Although the team managed to carry over the visual and sound quality to a good standard, there are still technical issues present which have resulted in the infamous ‘lag' during battles (amongst other non-battle slowdowns). Basically there are (many) times when the ATB gauge doesn't work the way it should. Usually when it fills up, it's that character's turn to act. But due to the ‘lag', what will happen a lot is that other characters that also fill up at about the same time will go first instead, that is out of order. It doesn't seem like a big deal on paper, but in practice it renders the system broken; strategic plays are made messy and since you couldn't skip over a character's turn then and even now (why not?), frustration will set in as your plans are ruined and your turns wasted.

Even more broken is that sometimes a character can act immediately after they have just finished executing a command. This allows for unfair multiple attacks on the enemies, and coupled with the super-toned down difficulty level, this makes proceedings very, very easy. Why am I complaining about difficulty so much here? Although it may not be a valid reason to criticise in most cases, here the simplicity of it all means that repetitive physical attack patterns will overcome nearly any adversary. Compared to the original version, this is a big thumbs-down. FF4A may be a more beginner-friendly RPG, but it definitely is no indication of the quality of Final Fantasy games in general (of which the series isn't as legendary as it has astoundingly come to be).

Yet more blunders
Conversion issues aside, it was disappointing to see that the job system introduced in Final Fantasy III (J) was ditched in favour of set character classes, and hence set abilities. This does make every character unique though, with individual abilities and prowess to cater for different situations. In all there are 12 playable heroes, but you never actually have the chance to decide upon the make-up of your party, that is until the very end (with the new bonus dungeon tacked on). Most of time you are just going with the story's flow, and the events that occur dictate who you will use at any given time.

The then-acceptable random battles make up a large part of the Final Fantasy hook; if you strongly dislike invisible battles creeping up on you while wandering around empty lands, you are doing yourself no favour by tackling this RPG. Although the encounter rate can be quite vicious at times, entering (and exiting) battles is lightning fast, much unlike the CD-based PSX port. That said, you may actually find this instalment to be somewhat bearable.

Stuff which could've been fixed… but wasn't
These days a simple direct conversion of any game isn't worth anyone's time unless there are additional bonus features of some sort: gameplay enhancements, extraneous fan-service, or otherwise. As mentioned earlier, there is a bonus dungeon to trudge through for the hardened, but it doesn't offer much in the way plot and so it is purely for the die-hard. The difficulty has been knocked down to a childish level so I wouldn't call that change an enhancement. Some things which should have been addressed such as allowing individual character rows to be set, and perhaps updating some sound samples and adding some more useful abilities (many are redundant) have gone unnoticed. Instead we have trivial modifications like the renaming of magic spells (fire 3 to firaga etc.) If you are going to do yet another port of a port, at least get your priorities sorted!

Overall FF4A is a fairly short RPG, clocking in at around 15-20 hours for most people. Since fleeing from battle is easy to do, and since you can breeze through most enemies without the need to level up much (nowhere near other Final Fantasy games), everything moves along at a brisk pace. (Although Gil is lost as a consequence of a successful retreat, it is much too easy to load up your pockets again by actually finishing a couple of battles.) Storyline events will get shoved down your throat so fast that at times it borders on absurdity, especially that period when everyone seems to die. With 3 worlds to traverse, it may seem like a lot, but only the first is of a decent size, and even then a lot of that land is pretty sparse.

If you've never played a traditional Final Fantasy game before (ie. Pre FFX), and are looking for your next RPG fix, this may be one to consider. It contains all the essential elements that make this franchise what it is, and it is all packaged into one little GBA cartridge. But if you want a proper FF4 experience, opt for the original US version (SNES, emulator, virtual console, whatever). When all is said and done, I cannot ignore the charm of a classic right in the palm of my hands, but I also cannot forgive the terrible lag issues and terribly easy difficulty moreso.

6.0/10 – Legendary series, good game, disappointing port… again

My Score System – a score of 7 from me denotes a good, solid game. Excellence earns a higher grade, whilst 4-6 reflects a below average product; glitchy, unplayable games deserve less.


Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/06/07

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