As a Dark Knight and the leader of the fabled Red Wings, Cecil has dedicated his entire life to serving the King of Baron- but when the king begins pursuing a policy of aggression against other nations, he begins to reconsider. Greater forces are at work in the world, and Cecil must reflect on both his loyalties and his true allies if he is to save the world itself from peril.
Back in the old days, I had tried to get on with Final Fantasy in its previous incarnations; first I had a go at the US SNES version and its laughably sanitised translation, and in due course I tried the PSOne remake, but I was never able to stick at it for long. With the release of a completely overhauled DS remake however, I was given another chance with the game- and this time I was going to see it through until the end.
The World of FF4: remade
In true Final Fantasy tradition, FF4 is a game about magical crystals and destined heroes saving the world from darkness; exactly what you would expect from the era. Originally released for SNES, FF4 was the first instalment in the series where characters actually had names and personalities (remakes aside), and although most Americans knew it as ‘FF2’ for years, it was nonetheless generally regarded with fondness. Fortunately, the remake preserves all that, but it also adds enough to draw in players both old and new to the game.
The core gameplay of FF4 is exactly as you would expect- as Cecil, you and your party run around different towns and dungeons fighting monsters and bosses via an ATB battle system. Moving the game to a dual screen layout has allowed for some changes; for example, on the field, the touch screen displays a map of the area, and as with Star Ocean 3, you can gain bonus items for completing 100% of each map. In battle, the party line-up, ATB and attack descriptions have all been moved to the lower screen; overall it ensures that the game never looks cluttered on the small screen, but there’s no real implementation of the touch screen technology (you can move around via the touch screen map, but generally it’s easier to use the D-pad).
The DS may be considered a lightweight and mainstream handheld, but one thing’s for sure- the difficulty of this game hasn’t been toned down. Spamming attack throughout the game is guaranteed not to work here, with even some normal enemies proving difficult enough to warrant developing specific strategies to deal with them. Loopholes have also been closed with regards to certain bosses, so that while there are still a few undead that can defeated by judicious use of Elixirs, most of the time you are actually going to have to think about what you’re doing. It can be challenging, but mainly in a refreshing way; battles are rarely pathetically easy or impossibly difficult, ensuring that the game never gets dull.
As well as retooling a few of the party’s unique abilities for this release, FF4 now adds an extra layer of customisability with its ‘Augments’ system. Augments are special items that bestow characters with new abilities- collect them all and you can mix and match, giving Cecil Yang’s Focus or adding Fusoya’s Bless to Rydia’s arsenal. Collecting the best Augments does require some strategic planning, but when you combine it with the ability to customise a character’s battle menu with their most used commands (imagining going straight to Cura from the top menu instead of scrolling through the White Magic menu), then you can create your own made-to-order fighting force.
“You spoony bard!”
Despite the large number of playable characters in the game, FF4 is very particular about when you get to use them- basically the story determines which characters you have in your party at any time, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your final line up for the closing chapters of the game is Cecil, Kain, Rosa, Rydia and Edge.
- Cecil (Dark Knight/Paladin): The main character, Cecil starts the game as a Dark Knight with the ability to enhance his attacks by sacrificing his own HP, but after a life-changing event, he becomes a holy Paladin. As with most main characters, Cecil is a strong swordsman who makes an excellent front-line attacker, whilst his noble Paladin nature means that he can take damage for other characters (he’ll do that automatically if they are in critical condition) and use a limited range of white magic.
- Kain (Dragoon): Cecil’s best friend (that is, when he isn’t under the influence of the enemy), Kain is the classic Dragoon- a lance user who does the most damage with his Jump attack. Launch him into the air and he’ll remain impervious to attacks until he comes crashing back down to earth, doing major damage in the process. Many recommend him for the front-line, but with only two slots in front I tend to keep him in back so that Edge can have the other front slot.
- Rosa (White Mage): Cecil’s girlfriend and the main obstacle in the way of HARD GAY bliss with Kain, Rosa is the typical healer- physically weak, but able to heal with powerful magic. She also has Holy magic in her arsenal, whilst her Pray ability now restores bother HP and MP- useful when you’ve drained her reserves through constant spell-casting.
- Rydia (Summoner): As well as having access to powerful summons (including a brand new one that you can customise and have fight in her place), Rydia is a dab hand with black magic, making her unsurpassed in the field of negative status effects and elemental damage. As a child, she also has white magic abilities, but she loses these later in the game.
- Tellah (Sage): An old man who manages to forget most of his magical abilities, regain them and then leave the party for good, Tellah makes for decent magical support, but his MP runs out too quickly. Useful while you have him, but not a character you miss when he’s gone.
- Edward (Bard): The spoony bard of the game’s most memorable line, Edward is a weakling whose special abilities include hiding from danger, but when he’s not protecting his own skin, his song skills can come in handy.
- Palom (Black Mage): Twin brother of Porom, Palom may not be able to keep his mouth shut, but fortunately he offers up some useful black magic support to Cecil during his quest to become a Paladin.
- Porom (White Mage): Palom’s twin sister, Porom is a master of white magic and can also Twincast magic with her brother. Like Palom, she is a useful support character but isn’t outstanding in the overall character line up.
- Yang (Monk): A master of fist-fighting techniques, Yang makes for a perfect front row attacker who can Focus to power up his attack, or damage an entire enemy party with his Kick. A worthy addition to any line up.
- Cid (Mechanic): In this incarnation, Cid is a large-lipped engineer with a bushy red beard who may be excellent with airships, but is generally average in battle. His one special feature is the fact that he can analyse enemy stats at no expense- basically a free Libra that you can abuse whilst he’s in your party.
- Edge (Ninja): A latecomer to the party, Edge is a ninja prince with an eye for the ladies. Typically swift and weak, he has a range of average physical and magical attacks, and makes for decent front line support.
- Fusoya (Lunarian): Another latecomer who only stays briefly, Fusoya is basically another sage, albeit with the special ability to Bless the party and thus slowly restore their MP. A useful character to fill out the numbers, but since his low defence leads to him often falling in battle, you won’t miss him once he leaves.
“Fat Chocobo!? Blasphemer! He is known here as the Godsbird.”
Although the core of the original game remains intact, there are some new features worth mentioning. For example, back in the original, a character called Namingway would periodically show up and offer to change your characters’ names. Now that the game has cut scenes with voice acting, changing names isn’t allowed, so instead Namingway travels the world, changing his name and purpose as he goes.
Also undergoing a change in function is Fat Chocobo; now that the restrictions on your inventory have been lifted, there is no need for him to be able to store items, so instead he performs a number of different tasks. As well as letting you look at the bestiary, rewatch events and listen to game music, Fat Chocobo lets you train and customise Rydia’s new custom summon, Whyt.
In the main game, Whyt can now be summoned like an Aeon to fight for Rydia, but in order to get him into a fit state for that, you’ll have to pay a visit to Fat Chocobo. The first order of business is to take Whyt’s featureless form and customise it with a simple Paint-style drawing function; this, like the Whyt training, is the only feature of the game where the stylus and touchscreen capabilities are actually needed.
Rather than training him directly, increasing Whyt’s stats is done by playing mini-games relating to the different playable characters. You can solve maths puzzles with Rydia, press the stylus down for set numbers of seconds with Rosa (the most boring of the mini-games), defeat goblins with Cecil, jump and avoid birds with Kain or attack and dodge enemies with Edge. The mini-games are mildly diverting, but since I never used Whyt in the game, I wasn’t too bothered about them.
Also added to the game are the by now obligatory New Game Plus option (although you can only play through three times before having to start a completely new game), and of course a couple of super-hard optional bosses to pit yourself against.
Although Final Fantasy IV is a product of the era of destined warriors and magical crystals, it does a good job of rising above such simplicity with plenty of character development, a serving of drama and a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humour. FFIX fans in particular will find much to like about the world of FFIV.
Visually, FFIV has been given a complete overhaul, abandoning the simplistic SNES sprites for a pseudo-3D look that is so appealing and cute that I wouldn’t be averse to seeing it used in a lot more remakes- and that’s coming from a big fan of sprites. The music is composed by Nobuo Uematsu, of course, with the usual range of familiar themes undergoing some improvement so that they don’t sound too tinny and outdated in their new home.
Final Fantasy IV has always been a solid entry into the series, but the polish given to this latest remake ensures that is both addictive and enjoyable even in this era of flashy graphics and complex battle systems. There’s no doubt that playing this is gaming time well spent- now let’s have remakes for FFV and VI as well.