Review by CarbunkleFlux
It could've been a lot more, but it's wonderful for what it is.
Before we really get into the review, lemme give a primer as I have seen this question uttered constantly through the messageboards. This game is Final Fantasy IV. It was originally released in the US under the name 'Final Fantasy II' but was rereleased in Final Fantasy Chronicles once more as IV. This game is an entirely seperate monster from Dawn of Souls- and the Final Fantasy II in that game has nothing to do with this one outside of being in the same series.
That said, Square Enix boasted much about this version of the game. The promise of the ability to swap party members, new dungeons, weapons, armor and even expanded plot got into every one of us; creating great expectations for what would surely be the best version of Final Fantasy IV released yet.
Let's delve into what expectations were fulfilled and what expectations fell short of what we got.
All things told, Square Enix didn't do as much with the graphics as they could've. What was basically done, was that the sprites and spell graphics were touched up and the character portraits and battle backgrounds were redrawn. This is all fine and dandy, but even with these updates; Final Fantasy IV Advance falls short of Dawn of Souls graphically. To make matters worse, the scrolling and animation is choppy; in some cases (ESPECIALLY the spell animations), even choppier than the original. While this isn't exactly a big deal, it doesn't exactly help it look prettier. I digress, though. While what we have still looks dated, it doesn't look bad. I've still yet to find a Square game that is truly terrible graphically.
While we're comparing it to Dawn of Souls- let me tell you that this game's music surpasses it in every way. The synth is infinitely better, which brings the quality of the OST up significantly. On its own, expect Final Fantasy IV Advance to provide a good aural experience in all areas but the sound effects. Oh, yeah- the sound effects. They're...well, they're not good. They range from scratchy attempts to reproduce the SNES sound effects (Bio, Meteor, Comet/Stardust Rod) to staticky sorts of things that had much better counterparts on the SNES itself (Blizzaga, Regular Attacks). So as a whole, you have awesome music accompanied by really lackluster sound effects.
Final Fantasy IV was actually the game that pioneered its own wonky buggy version of the Active Time Battle system that is now a staple of the series. Other than that, though- you don't really have anything special. There's no special customizable system, no special ways to level up, nothing. Your party of five is made up of characters with static abilities and although the party in itself dynamically changed as the plot required it, you would only find yourself gaining new skills upon level up or completion of story events. You could imagine Final Fantasy IV is pretty out of place among the latest FFs in this case. However, the game had execution and flair that simply made it all work.
Square Enix hasn't changed the core system at all. Your party is still made up of static characters that come and go as the plot pleases and only gain stats and abilities upon level up or story completion. The ATB is still wonky and buggy. What they DID do was tweak it to allow you a visual representation of said ATB in the form of a bar (Which wasn't there in the original FF4), simplify the menus and add a Bestiary. The former element naturally brought to surface that Final Fantasy IV's ATB was buggy as heck; but keep in mind that this is how the game originally was. We just now see it.
So, what IS the major difference between Final Fantasy IV Advance and the original? There are actually many. Let's start with the most obvious. When you reach the end of the game, you now have the ability to switch your party out with characters who originally left and never rejoined in the original game. So veterans be glad that you can finally bring Prince Edward in tow when you tackle the final moments of the game.
This doesn't change the final segment significantly, but it's extremely fun to visit areas with characters that were never meant to see them. It adds some challenge to the game's final segment and much needed variety to the originally static final party. To complement the ability to switch your final party, a new dungeon was added to allow you the chance to bring your rejoined party members up to snuff as well as snag them a much-needed ultimate weapon.
It doesn't stop there. Once you finish the game, you'll have access to yet another new dungeon. This one is a 50-floor random monstrosity that is sure to challenge you if the main game does not. Unlike Dawn of Souls' Soul of Chaos dungeons, however, this new dungeon is actually fun. Where I was rolling my eyes and yawning in Dawn of Souls, I was having a blast here. The dungeon design is just done very well with all of the possible hidden paths, as well as the special variety floors that pop up, that you barely even notice you're going down 50 floors. The highlight of this dungeon are the trials. There's one for each character in your party that is unlocked by finishing off the final boss with that character in tow. These trials range from massive combat fests, to Crazy-Taxi esque airship escorting and in general are just plain well-done. Once you conquer the trial, you're treating to a super boss that's sure not to disappoint.
To be fair, this game could have been more. Square Enix could have and should have taken the time to implement a more modern version of the ATB as well as added all of the little touches that we take for granted in the current releases (The red outlines for Hasted characters, characters jumping forward when they attack instead of plodding forward a step, unique victory poses for everyone). In some cases, they'd have probably been far better off doing so- as while this is a faithful adaptation of FF4's ATB; it's a little too faithful. You may often notice a slight lag as the pause that occurs when a character or enemy takes an action now pauses the entire fight.
Even more noticable on the downsides is that the earlygame has been tweaked to be made easier. The middle and endgame are much more faithful to the original counterparts, but there is still the occasional enemy or boss that was originally slightly more difficult than it is now. Thankfully, outside of that key beginning portion, it isn't tweaked to the point of obvious imbalance.
Mind you, these things are all minor discrepencies as best but they're valid nonetheless.
However, flaws and all, this game is still a worthy addition to your collection. There's simply a lot to like in the main game and the post-game is the most fun I've had since Phantom Brave. If you like Final Fantasy at all, this game will not disappoint.
Final Fantasy IV's plot is endearing, but it hasn't stood the test of time as well as it could have. It's a tale about a Dark Knight named Cecil in a country called Baron who commits unspeakable acts in the name of his King. Cecil's crimes begin to haunt him and he starts to have doubts that what he is doing is truly the right thing. When his King gets wind of this, he decides to put the Dark Knight's loyalty to the test. Little does Cecil know, however, that this test of loyalty will be the final straw and could possibly reveal something more sinister behind the scenes of what is simply an expanding empire.
It starts off well and keeps going strong- but the flaw that comes most to mind is that the plot suffers slightly from ADD. The game doesn't dwell on things as much as it should and Cecil isn't really given enough time for his guilt to properly develop. This goes for a lot of the game's plot. You're often sent along from revelation to betrayal with little time in between to ponder it. As it is, though, it's one of the better plots seen on the GBA at all.
In short, I think Square Enix fulfilled what it promised. They should have gone the extra mile and modernized Final Fantasy IV a little better for this release; but what they did deliver was a fun port with really fun extras. A worthy addition to anyone's GBA collection.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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