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Final Fantasy IV Review Rewind


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On 07/19/2021 at 08:00 AM by Jamie Alston

The “Golden Age” started here.
RECOMMENDATION:

A fine entry point for those interested in a simple story and straightforward RPG mechanics.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Final Fantasy IV. Originally released on July 19, 1991, it was a momentous event due in no small part to the fact that this was the first in the series to debut on the Super Famicom. It was released to critical acclaim, and once again several months later when it came to the US on the Super Nintendo as Final Fantasy II (since we missed the first two sequels on the NES). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play it until a decade later, when it was re-released as part of Final Fantasy Chronicles. And although I was late experiencing my first 16-bit RPG, it was undoubtedly worth the wait.

Our story begins with Cecil- a Dark Knight and captain of the elite air force, the Red Wings. While dutifully serving king and country, he feels deeply conflicted in executing orders of questionable morality given by his royal majesty. After being used as an unwitting pawn in the destruction of a village of Summoners, Cecil embarks on a quest for redemption, determined to stop a tyrant from causing greater harm.

As a series known for its radical changes and innovations from one sequel to the next, Final Fantasy IV has the distinction of introducing Active Time Battle (ATB). To put it simply, ATB introduced the concept of characters- both enemies and party members- attacking at various intervals. Whoever has the highest agility stat gets to make the first move. Enemies can attack the party even while you’re selecting commands from the menu.

ATB also introduced variable wait times to complete a command. For example, summoning a creature or using a higher tier magic ability has a longer wait time than executing a physical attack or using an item. These new gameplay elements increased the tension, especially when battling enemies that love spamming status effects. I recall many battles against those infernal Marlboro monsters, hoping and praying that Rydia can call a summon before the enemy bad breaths everyone to death.

The new battle system added depth to boss battles as most major bosses had vulnerabilities exposed or concealed at various points in the fight. Attacking at the wrong time can cause your party to get overwhelmed by a significant counter-attack and possibly KO’d. While at times irritating, the ATB system did force you to approach battles with a new layer of strategy that keeps you mentally engaged in the fights. However, if you prefer the traditional turn-based style, you can always turn off ATB in the configuration menu and take your sweet old time selecting commands.

As the first in series on the Super NES, Final Fantasy IV sported a visual presentation that simply wasn’t possible in the three previous games on the Famicom/NES hardware. Gone were the nearly featureless battle screens and replaced with larger character sprites and well-detailed backgrounds that more accurately represented the locations of the party on the world map. The game also made heavy use of the Super NES Mode-7 scaling capabilities. Of particular note, I love the pixelated blur when entering a room or if a party member has poison status while moving on the map.

The story beats, while well-trodden territory these days, were groundbreaking at the time. This game was one of the first RPGs to introduce a more dramatic story arc. There are themes of loss, failure, and sacrifice echoing throughout a good chunk of the adventure. I remember playing this for the first time and being shocked at moments when certain party members died (or at least seemingly so). Those twists in the story often occurred at unexpected junctures in the adventure. It was an effective story-telling device that separated it from the other RPGs of its time.

The unfolding of plot elements is paper-thin by today’s standards, but most of the characters help keep it interesting while journeying to the next leg of the adventure. Whether it’s Palom being kept in line by his twin sister Porom, Tellah berating a sad sack of a bard, or Edge behaving like the cocky prince he is, the colorful cast of party members has enough charm to leave a lasting impression well after the journey is over.

In addition to radical changes in gameplay elements, the series is known for the unique musical score that gives each entry its own identity. Like the three prequels before it, famed composer Nobuo Uematsu was at the helm. Thanks to the audio sampling capabilities of the console hardware, Uematsu was able to create something that sounded closer to an orchestral score- a definite step up from the chiptunes of the previous console generation.

The marching drums as Cecil recounts his previous mission (The Red Wings) and the strings that play after he reaches the castle (Kingdom of Baron) both work well to introduce the hero’s journey. And, of course, the famous prologue theme sets a mood of adventure as Cecil and Kain set out into the world for the first time. Additionally, Uematsu’s compositions accentuate the dramatic undertones of love (Theme of Love) and loss (Sorrow and Loss). And I very much enjoy the opening chords of the overworld theme- it’s one of my favorites in this game.

As much as I savored the musical journey, I couldn’t help but notice that many songs are highly repetitive. It can wear on your ears after a while, especially any song featuring a trumpet. Even so, there’s enough to like that it won’t ruin the overall experience of the game. That being said, Uematsu’s most significant works of the 16-bit Final Fantasy series were yet to come.

The initial version released on the Super NES had an easier difficulty and removed Cecil’s “Dark” ability. Final Fantasy IV on the PlayStation marked the first time that Square restored the original’s harder difficulty and special commands for each party member. The increased challenge means you’ll need to do more level grinding than previously- especially if you’re like me and prefer to keep your party several levels above the bare minimum before a boss fight. But the restored difficulty setting isn’t necessarily a bad thing since there’s plenty of us out there that enjoy a decent challenge.

Where the PlayStation version suffers is with the lengthy load times when saving or loading game data. It takes about 18 seconds for the game to load a file and 25 seconds to save a game. While that may not sound like much on paper, 25 seconds is an eternity to perform a process that is instantaneous on the Super NES. Even Final Fantasy VII- also on the PlayStation- took only a few seconds to do its save/load business, making the inconvenience in this port of Final Fantasy IV even more difficult to overlook. The game does give you the option of saving a memo file quickly, but it’s no good once you hard-reset the console or turn it off. The only way to save your game with confidence is via the painfully slow method.

Final Fantasy IV was remarkable for its time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the 16-bit vibes despite not having played it until 2001. Is it for everyone? Realistically, no, it isn’t. And even less so as presented here on the PlayStation version. Inevitably, there will be folks out there who won’t like the older graphics, denser difficulty, and slower save/load times. In addition, the ATB system and story-telling elements would be vastly improved in future sequels.

Frankly, the game offers little that can’t be experienced elsewhere by this point. However, there is still value in playing if you can look past the parts that haven’t aged well. The game’s overall presentation and soundtrack still deserve recognition in the pantheon of great role-playing games. If you cut your teeth on RPGs after the release of Final Fantasy VII and are curious to experience the history of earlier games in the series, Final Fantasy IV is a worthy entry point. It well represents the beginnings of a golden age of JRPGs that continues to inspire 30 years later.

Screenshots courtesy of Legends of Localization.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

SanAndreas

07/19/2021 at 03:07 PM

Great soundtrack and a memorable little story line. I did kind of roll my eyes at the number of deus ex machinae that allowed characters to miraculously survive tragedies that killed them, but other than that? It's a shame that there isn't really a definitive version of this game out there. The PS1 is closer in terms of gameplay, while the SNES version has better sound and no load times.

And don't forget the best part: "YOU SPOONY BARD!"

Cary Woodham

07/20/2021 at 07:43 PM

The PSP version is actually pretty nice. It has all the stuff from the PSOne game, plus the extra dungeons and items from the GBA version, and it also comes with The After Years and its prologue.

Cary Woodham

07/20/2021 at 07:46 PM

Even though I had played Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on the NES at a friend's house and had fun, it really wasn't until FF4 came out that I really got into RPGs.  I know the story is trite by today's standards, but back then it was pretty revolutionary and was one of the first times I kept playing a game just to see what would happen next.  The amazing musical score helped, too.  Along with FF6 and FF9, FF4 is one of my favorite FF games.

The Last Ninja

07/26/2021 at 01:01 PM

When I was a kid my brother would play FF6 the most because we owned it (it's my favorite in the series), but we would often rent FF4 and so I grew to love that game too. This is one of those games where I've gotten very close to the end, but haven't beaten it. I won't be satisfied without the SNES cartridge, even if it IS a little pricey to get, it's worth it. 

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