Review by darthjulian

"Another chance to relive the timeless tale of dark knight Cecil"

Here we go again. Square-Enix provides us with yet another port of "Final Fantasy IV", the fourth, to be precise, after the original on the Super Nintendo, the PlayStation version and the handheld port for the Wonderswan Color. But we´re talking about a classic that has has had such a considerable the gaming industry and especially the RPG genre, so that´s not really a bad thing. Even more if the game holds up so wonderfully.

The basic outline for the story has not changed, naturally. Which means that we can still experience the classic tale of dark knight Cecil of the kingdom of Baron, who´s beginning to doubt the more and more violent and cruel orders of his king and eventually turns against him as he starts to go down the path of redemption and toward the light. And of course, he has to save the world as well together with his friends, but I think that I don´t need to give more info on the story now. After all, it´s one of the most well-known stories in the history of video games, and rightly so. "Final Fantasy IV" earned this reputation due to the fact that it has been the first RPG to feature a real storyline that went beyond the popular formula of some unknown heroes having to save a princess, some crystals or the world entire. For the first time in the Final Fantasy series, it featured prominent characters with personalities and feelings, with their fates being part of one big storyline full of twists and surprising revelations. And despite its age, the story holds up surprisingly well. Sure, there are tons of cliches to be found, but let´s not forget that "Final Fantasy IV" has been the game to introduce some of these cliches in the first place. Just think of some stereotypical characters you´ve encountered in any RPG of the last couple of years, and chances are that there was a similar character in FFIV. So, while it was revolutionary for its time, the story still is more than enjoyable and quite intriguing, too, which is made even better by an all-new English translation. Compared to the abominable English text of "Final Fantasy II" on the Super Nintendo, the new version is lightyears ahead, as the script stays closer to the original Japanese game and allows the characters to express their feelings in a more appropriate way than before. Fortunately, Nintendo was kind enough to translate the Game Boy Advance version into German, French and Spanish as well, and as a German, I can say that the translation is practically perfect and manages to capture the spirit of the US version excellently. Another great job in that regard by Nintendo, and overall, the game holds up extremely well as far as the story and the characters go, even though it pales compared to its Game Boy Advance competition in form of "Tales of Phantasia", "Lunar Legend", "Golden Sun" or of course "Final Fantasy VI".

Well...what can I say about the gameplay? It´s a port of "Final Fantasy IV", after all, which means that the gameplay practically is as basic as it gets as far as traditional Japanese RPGs go...but again, it was this game that established all these gameplay standards in the first place. For example the active time battle system. Unlike in the early Final Fantasies, where you were being treated to a simple turn-based system that allowed you to determine your actions before each round without having to hurry up, you have to act fast while choosing your actions, since your enemies can attack you even while you´re in the action screen. In this Game Boy Advance version, however, Square-Enix added an active-time-battle gauge just like in later parts of the series, so you can see at least when you´re about to attack. But speaking of the battle systems, this brings me to a big flaw of this Game Boy Advance port. For reasons unknown, there´s some considerable lag during some of the battles when you´re trying to choose an action, especially when a lot is going on on the screen (i.e. when you´re facing a huge boss, summoning a powerful spell or when there are lots of enemies). I have no idea how this flaw could have possibly worked its way into this version of the game, as it can become quite bothersome at times. Imagine you want to choose a heal spell and you´re in a hurry, because one of your characters is low at HP, but your command is being delayed, which gives your enemy enough time to attack the aforementioned character. Fortunately, though, this flaw doesn´t detract too much from the enjoyment of the game. As for the difficulty level, veterans of the original hardtype version of the game might be disappointed to find out that the game has become a little easier than before. This means that you don´t have to level up as much as in the original, and strangely enough, most of the regular boss enemies are far too easy and don´t really pose a threat at all. In fact, I beat the game without seeing the game over screen a single time. It´s still more difficult than the easytype version of "Final Fantasy II", though, and overall, the game is still as enjoyable as always.

I think we established the fact that "Final Fantasy IV" is 15 years old already, so you can imagine that the visuals are rather outdated on the Game Boy Advance. After all, "Final Fantasy IV" already was rather unimpressive even for an early Super Nintendo game, but at least Square-Enix made some minor changes in order to give the game a more modern look. The most obvious change might be the more colorful look of the characters and surroundings, which becomes quite evident in the battle sequences. Then there are the character sprites. They were rather small and pathetic in the original, and while they are still tiny, they at least appear to be more detailed than before. The visual highlight of the game definitely is the masterful artwork by Yoshitaka Amano, and especially the monster sprites during the battles look great. But even if the graphics are nice to look at, "Final Fantasy IV Advance" still utterly fails in view of the mighty GBA competition, but you can´t really hold that against the developers when you consider the age of the Super Nintendo version of this title.

The music is a completely different case, though. Featuring some of Nobuo Uematsu´s most memorable tunes, the original "Final Fantasy IV" is well known for having given an astounding example of the audio capabilities of the Super Nintendo back in the days, and much to my joy, I was able to realize that the beautiful musical score did not suffer from the port to the Game Boy Advance. Surely, there really are some examples for Super Nintendo ports on the Game Boy Advance featuring a horribly butchered soundtrack due to the poor audio capabilities of the GBA, but fortunately, that´s not the case here. If you put on some headphones, the music will sound almost as good as on the Super Nintendo, which means that Square-Enix was able to recreate the aural joy of "Final Fantasy IV" for this GBA port without harming the original experience in any way.

While "Final Fantasy IV Advance" is by no means a perfect port, it´s good enough to provide veterans with a trip down memory-lane, and newbies will be able to enjoy the game as well, since Square-Enix has made sure that it´s more beginner-friendly than it originally used to be. If anything, "Final Fantasy IV Advance" is the ultimate proof for the fourth part of the Final Fantasy saga being a timeless classic that has aged considerably well, even if it cannot compare to its successors anymore. It´s a highly recommendable purchase, especially for RPG fans who missed out on the original - "Final Fantasy IV" is essential gaming and a valuable history lesson.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/22/07

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