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Final Fantasy 4 DS: It keeps happening

"M'lord! We're in 3D for some reason!"

One of my favorite probably unintentional ironies in the video game world is the fact that Final Fantasy is still a thing.  I know the original Final Fantasy was named as such since Squaresoft never intended to survive past the game’s release, but that one, sole game resurrected the entire franchise and made the name Final Fantasy a household name.  I like the fact that the last fifteen bajillion final fantasy games released have been the “final” fantasy.  Not sure why.

Anyway, Final Fantasy 4 is a game that is close to my heart.  Originally released in America in 1991, back when the console war between Super Nintendo and Sega was so violent people actually got stabbed every now and then, Final Fantasy 4 was the second game in the franchise to mosey its way across the sea from Japan to us.  I’m not sure at this point if I read this statistic or am making it up entirely, but since then, Final Fantasy 4 has seen more remakes and re-releases than any other Final Fantasy game.  I’ve been playing the DS incarnation of this game for a while now, and with the announcement of another Final Fantasy 4 compilation game for the PSP hot on the heels of an episodic Nintendo Wii exclusive sequel, I figured this was as good of a time as any to go over the game to see why.

The old look. Cecil is getting told to 'eff off' here.

Final Fantasy 4 is a classic.  To my knowledge it’s the first RPG that actually had a story, a rotating cast of party members, and actual, honest to god intrigue beyond the cookie cutter stereotype of villains.  If you haven’t played this game yet, go ahead.  I’ll wait.  It has been released and re-released for so many consoles you shouldn’t have much problem finding it somewhere.

I’m not too concerned with spoiling the plot at this point.  The game has been around for most of my life, for crying out loud, so if you’re one of the few remaining people who have not played this game and actually want to at some point, then please stop reading and get your act together!  Talk about procrastination.

Final Fantasy has gotten a lot of mixed reviews lately.  From Final Fantasy 10’s extremely linear storytelling, to 12’s extremely…  weak story, and the fact that 13 has you running down a long hallway for 50 hours, there has been quite a few critics to the franchise lately.  The fact that 11 and 15 (man there are a lot of these games, holy crap) were rather lackluster MMORPGs didn’t really help things much either.  But this!  This was 1991!  If you wanted to play a good RPG, you turned to Final Fantasy, or you didn’t play one.  The series redefined what you’d come to expect in terms of story and character development, and honestly, I think it all started with FF4.

The game follows Cecil, a dark knight who may or may not have totally brutally slaughtered a whole buncha people because his king told him to.  He’s not quite sure how he feels about that, though, but he’s soon sent down a path of redemption that takes him from the lowest bowels of the underworld to the MOON.  Yes.  The moon.  He goes to the moon.  On a whale.

No, seriously, this is a thing that happens.

Along the way he meets and travels with a wide cast of companions, from the senile old sage hell-bent on revenge, to a bard who takes hits like a little girl and spends most battles in hiding.  There are the plucky spell casting twins who would be more annoying if they weren’t so friggin’ effective, the stoic monk with a sweet ‘stache, and a ninja with…  uh…  swords.  And on and on.

I’ve talked about how little I like seeing developers slap a huge price tag on old content and resell it, but in the case of Final Fantasy 4, I’ll make an exception.  This is how video game remakes should be done.  The game has been completely rebuilt from the ground up.  Graphics in 3D, reworked dialogue that makes more sense to American customers (though thankfully they left the classic line “you spoony bard!”just for kicks), and actual cut scenes with dialogue bring this game into a new generation for gamers to enjoy.

But…  maybe not for all gamers.  One of the biggest problems with the original Final Fantasy 4 was that it came across the ocean with a bit of a slap in the face for gamers.  The development team in charge with Americanizing the game decided that certain features were too…  complicated for American gamers, and thus they were removed entirely.  Some characters get chopped significantly more than others, to the point where the only options available to them were “fight” and “items.”  Boss fights, too, were watered down to the point that a good, well placed spell or three would fell your foe without anyone breaking a sweat.

What battles looked like in the old days. Look out guys! Zombies!

In the DS release, however, the gloves come off.  Everyone has their abilities back, and bosses and normal enemies have suddenly become lethally dangerous.  I first realized this early in the game, when my humble little party encountered some very, very tiny mages in a cave, who then proceeded to beat the ever-loving tar out of me.  Every encounter and boss fight is an uphill battle, which makes success feel that much more rewarding but could be intimidating to less hardcore gamers.

The game has been rebuilt well, though.  Maps, towns and locations are identical to what they were in the Super Nintendo first release, which goes a long way to creating that nostalgic air if you’re revisiting the series for the *cough* fortieth time *cough*.  Other features have been reworked or added in order to appeal with a newer audience.

What battles look out in the DS version. Look out guys! Uh... Fat.. red thing.

Namely: Whyte.  Everyone’s favorite green-haired summoner Rydia has a new pal who is introduced early on in the game.  By talking to the fat chocobo (the fattest!) you can redraw his face, train him using some added stylus-friendly mini games, or even connect to a friend to pit your summoned monstrosity against theirs.  When summoned in battle, Whyte takes Rydia’s place in the lineup and will automatically use the abilities you have assigned to him.  He costs an arm and a leg to bust out though, and since he requires me to be exceptionally good at ridiculously difficult mini games, I rarely use him.

Also, Namingway makes a surprise reappearance in this game.  In the original game, Namingways were scattered all over the world, and would allow you to rename Cecil and his friends to Butts, if you so chose.  This time around, Cecil’s friends are mentioned by name in some of the new cinematics, so you can’t just go about changing names to something ridiculous.   This time, there’s only one Namingway.  After making an earnest attempt to rename Cecil at the beginning of the game and failing, Namingway has an identity crisis and heads off into the world to find himself a new niche.  From camping to singing to cheating on his girlfriend, Namingway offers a small but interesting side plot if you keep your eyes open for him in your travels.

Rydia never looked like this when I was playing the game.

As for the voice acting…  well, I won’t say it’s perfect all around, but the voices do match up with the characters well, and it’s honestly just a thrill to hear some spoken lines in the game every now and then.

There’s a reason why Final Fantasy 4 keeps getting remade.  It’s just that good.  But now that I’ve seen the DS remake, the new PSP version seems a little, err, lackluster for my wallet.  Lets pretend for a moment I actually have a PSP to make this anecdote work.

It still boggles my mind that the Wii exclusive sequel is actually a thing that happened.  As much as I love the game, I feel like we’ve done everything we can do with it at this point.  I’d be up for seeing another well done remake of FF5 or FF6, or even maybe possibly…  a new game? That would be nice too.


3 Responses

  1. Better than Final Fantasy 6 imo. And best soundtrack for an RPG ever.

    • Meh, I liked FF6 better. You are wrong, and basically awful. I will have to punch you in or around the face areas because that’s how real men solve their differences


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