Review by ClessAlvein05
"I'm just a Dark Knight with no courage to disobey His Majesty"
Square's first SNES RPG (not quite their first 16-bit title, as Bahamut Senki was released for the Megadrive a few months prior) was one of their better Final Fantasies.
To "get over with the bad news" first: The visuals are the only real black eye on the game. They are not very good, even after using the "it was an early SNES game" excuse. Look at most of its contemporaries--even besides action games that need superb visuals the most, SNES adventure games like Lagoon and Zelda 3, and Genesis RPGs like Phantasy Star, were many steps ahead of FF4. Even FF3 for NES was only slightly behind. (You can tell that Square had started out programming FF4 on the NES if you look at side-by-side screenshots; some of the town maps are even almost identical in structure.) It is insufferable to have to see a 16x16 Cecil slowly waddle around in two-frame walks on the maps, and have solid-color menus. There is some okay Mode 7 during most flight (even using "reduction" of colors to make water solid-blue and grass solid-green) and some nice pixelation from poisoning and entering and leaving battles. The multiple-scrolling of the background in the final battle is impressive, and I do like the character profiles on the menu.
The sound effects are basically glorified NES beeps, slashes, hits, fizzles, and explosions, like most early 16-bit games, and there are no digitized voices. However, the game does fine with what it has. None of the sounds are particularly annoying, and I actually really liked the burning and explosiveness of the higher-level Fire and Nuke spells, the cold crushing of the Ice spells, and the icy, burning, or crystalline slash for ice, fire or crystal swords. All the sounds are in the right places and times; for instance, it is simplistic but effective when you begin your descent into the Lunar Core and the crystals shimmer and you hear a lightning flash.
Nobuo Uematsu is, as always, right on top of things with this one. "Long Way to Go" has sent chills down my spine every time I've walked Cecil up to the Mysidian elder to hear the old wizard chew "that Dark Knight" out for his actions towards the town. Most of the field and battle music is good (particularly the fiends and the final battle,) although it gets a little annoying how the field music completely starts over after battle, unlike in later FFs. It's the portion of the audiovisuals that stands out, much more than it should. You have waltzes, classical influence, appropriate incidental songs, and high-fidelity instrument sampling. For the first time, FF's trademark "Prelude" song includes the famous second channel.
The story will always be legendary. There is a lot of symbolism of historical events and human nature--from the moment you start, Cecil questions the principles of fighting a "just war" (such as the ethics of civilian deaths, plundering for their goods, and remaining loyal to his comrades,) and becomes what we call a "conscientious objector" in standing up to his "commander-in-chief." In his efforts to complete his alternate tasks, he comes across people with their own challenges, such as Tellah--who's suffered over having his daughter run away to the infamous "spoony bard" and is willing to give his life to cast Meteo and defeat Golbez--and Yang. Eventually, he washes out to sea and must own up to his atrocities in Mysidia--the townspeople rightly look upon him with suspicion and turn him into a toad, but the Elder is willing to give him one more try, but not without much criticism (and sending Palom and Porom--the two characters besides Spoony Edward I didn't care for due to their weakness--to spy on his mission.) Afterwards Cecil's "right of passage"--what some religious people would consider a form of being "saved"--is one of my favorite moments in video gaming, as he must own up to his past, and not destroy it but let it strike him with Dark Waves. I struggled trying to understand what to do the first time I played it--I wasn't supposed to do anything! And it's interesting how Cecil struggles to fight entirely for good even after, although it's not entirely clear with this particular version's script. Some say that Cecil becomes "wimpy" and had more "attitude" as a dark knight, but I loved both in their own ways, more than almost any video game character. I could go on and on about how Kain must struggle with his friendship with Cecil and Golbez with his bloodline and control by Ze[ro]mus (although the "I am your brother" thing reeked of an "I am your father" Star Wars ripoff,) how little 30-hit-point Rydia grows into a strong summoner, how Rosa and Cecil must overcome many obstacles in their love, and how even villains like Rubicante (nice Divine Comedy influence with the four fiends) have their soft spots--like when he has the class to heal you before the fight. I love Cid's bombastic attitude. Tellah's "old coot" mentality, Edge's memory of his parents as a driving force in his life, Rosa's effort to be the "voice of wisdom and temperament..."
But this isn't a plot walkthrough; it's a review. So I'm just impressed at how every character is tied together, although again the translation masked a lot of things beyond "the spoony bard." For instance, Klu-Ya was supposed to urge Cecil to fight for justice and law, not say that "justice is not the only right," a deep but nonsensical introspection that was caused by translating "right," or "law," to be an adjective to describe justice. Also, Cecil was most certainly not "one born from a dragon" as the Mysidian Legend translates, but had two human parents and hailed from a continent of that shape (I was a little disturbed by what the ML seemed to imply, although then again Terra Branford was not a product of two humans, either.)
The gameplay is always strong. It would be nice to run at full speed instead of walk, but the movement through areas and battles are not slow, especially if you adjust the message and battle speed and format. You will, again, be frustrated by your early minor characters' weaknesses, but your final party of five has no major flaws to speak of, except for Rosa's lack of offensive threats. The character class system from FF1 and FF3j is nicely integrated into your players, with Cecil even having two roles. The difficulty is reasonable; if you are poorly leveled you will face some painful fights with the Evil Wall (even though Rydia can skip it) and the Lunar Core, but it mostly fits in the "tough but fair" category and can be managed with smart strategy (i.e. don't have weak fighters attack blow-for-blow retaliators like Behemoths, and don't use magic on the appropriate enemies!) There are secret battles and secret items up the wazoo--often more so than FF3/6--and therefore lots of replay value, even with this version stripping so many items and areas from the original and lacking the bells and whistles of the remakes. I remember how glad I was to land the Pink Tail after only 13 tries in the Pink Puff room, when the odds were supposed to be 1 in 64. Saves are in appropriate positions (unlike in FF3j where, for instance, you must ascend the entire crystal tower in one fell swoop.) Like in previous FFs, the low size of the inventory is frustrating (especially the lack of auto-sorting that causes you to have several boxes of "Potion: 01"'s, which inexplicably take up more space than 99 cabins,) although I like the Chocobo storage system.
The game is top-tier otherwise and would be somewhere close to the "greatest ever" list, but the second-rate graphics drag it down to a "weak" nine. If you like RPGs at all, you must find some version of this. It's my 2nd favorite FF after the 6th (yes, including FF7.)
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/27/07
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