"One of Square's finest gems; arguably the best story in the series, and at times, a very good challenge"

As a group of airships flies over a wonderful land on a clear day, a crew member tells the captain of the head airship in the fleet, Cecil, that they are about to arrive to their destination. The crew has questions about the morals of their mission, which is to take the imperial airship force, the Red Wings, and pillage the Crystal of Water from a nearby city. The crystal is seiged without much in the way of resistance, and Cecil walks away from his victory with crystal in hand wondering what he had just done. As leader of the Red Wings, Cecil's only purpose is to live the life of a soldier and answer to his king's demands, but lately, he has noticed that the King of Baron has been losing himself in a quest for power beyond Cecil's understanding. Cecil finds himself lost in his thoughts, but when his crew begins to question the king's methods, Cecil lets forth his authoritarian, respected role as captain of the force and restores order to the situation.

Despite being a dark knight and working under a powerhungry king, Cecil's spirit is noble. When the Red Wings get attacked by airborne monsters during the return route home, Cecil is the first man in line to make sure his crew members are okay. It's almost as if Cecil is too good a person and too good a man to be a dark knight in the first place...

Cecil's fears about the king are eventually confirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt when he finally returns to Baron Castle. He gives the crystal to the king as ordered, but the second he asks the king why Baron is taking crystals from innocent people, the king dismisses him as captain of the Red Wings. Cecil's only chance to redeem himself comes in the form of the king sending Cecil to kill the monsters in the dangerous Mist Valley, and to deliver a package to the village of Mist. But knowing the king's ambitions, something terrible is bound to happen...

The amazing storytelling that occurs early in Final Fantasy 4 is but an appetizer for the real thing. Final Fantasy 4 arguably has the best story in the entire Final Fantasy series. It's a tale of nobility, challenging the world order at its face value, discovering that there more to the world than what we can see, and of testing the bonds of love and friendship. There is amazing symbolism all throughout Final Fantasy 4, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better story from beginning to end anywhere else. Nearly every character is brilliantly crafted, and the way that they all tie in with the game's story is truly a brilliant sight to watch. The famous spoilers of Final Fantasy 7 have absolutely nothing on Final Fantasy 4. The game also manages to add to every tense moment with an amazing soundtrack, which only serves to enhance the amazing plot twists even further. Truly, Final Fantasy 4's presentation can hold its own with nearly every other game ever made.

Gameplay isn't all too shabby, either. You view the world from the standard bird's eye perspective outside of battle, and within battle, you see your characters on the right side, enemies on the left side. Each character is unique within battle in that they have a set list of abilities that are available only to them, and in most cases, set equipment that only they can wear. No one but Kain can use the Jump command or use spears, for example, and no one but Rydia can call summon monsters. This limitation on the characters simplifies in-battle gameplay somewhat, and though it causes a few issues with character balance, this works both for and against you and can cause a good challenge at many points throughout the game. And even when you have exactly what you need and know what you're doing, there are still many bosses in the game who can give you a great fight regardless, especially the fight that matters the most, the final boss of the game.

It's rare that a game is able to have both an amazing story and good, solid gameplay, but Final Fantasy 4 manages. As you play through the game, the game will feel like less an actual game more like a form of art. It is truly that well done. And while the graphics are of the cheesy early 90s variety, there are no major graphical flaws of the game that take away from the playing experience. Final Fantasy 4 is truly a one of a kind experience, and its influence across the rest of the Final Fantasy series afterwards is evident. FF4 isn't just a must-have for RPG fans, but a must-have for anyone who is simply a fan of good games.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/31/05

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