No matter how loyal I am to the graphics of yesteryear, it is always refreshing to see timeless properties given loving updates and reissues. Final Fantasy 4 has been showered with tender loving care, having been blessed with a full 3-D makeover in the same vein as 2006’s Final Fantasy 3.
The first taste North American gamers were given was actually titled Final Fantasy 2, in a confusing name-change move that baffled many. However, it came as a complete surprise to many that for the first time, you were stepping into the shoes of a real protagonist, rather than giving a faceless hero your name, or the name of the girl you had a crush on. Giving the game more of a purpose, if you will, was just about revolutionary at the time. With that said, Final Fantasy 4 has been widely regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of all time due to its variety of characters, the more adult issues it tackles, and its brilliant score from the revered Nobuo Uematsu.
The game has been cut up and re-released upwards of four times, and in the first North American iteration, a lot of integral back story had to be left out due to lack of space. With that said, I am pleased to announce that for all intents and purposes, this lustrous 3D remake of a magnificent adventure does not fail to deliver.
The lord captain of the Red Wings of Baron and resident Dark Knight, Cecil Harvey, is struggling with a guilty conscience. Having had committed heinous acts in the name of his king, he is nearing the end of his rope. However, in true evil king tyrant fashion, Cecil’s questioning of his king’s motives is not taken lightly. Our lord captain is stripped of his rank and power to be sent on an errant trip north, with his tail between his legs and his pride shattered. Upon reaching the village of Mist, his ultimate destination, his real story begins. A search for atonement commences.
Of course, Cecil will not have to make this journey alone. Accompanying him is a motley assortment of characters whose personalities are so intricately designed and interwoven into the story that it becomes quite difficult to forget that these are not actually real acquaintances. Prominent amongst the many travelers gamers will meet on their quest are Kain Highwind, a best friend first and a formidable dragoon second, Rosa Farrell, Cecil’s beautiful girlfriend who became a white mage for the sole purpose of offering protection, Tellah, a sage driven by revenge, and Rydia, whose specialty is summoning Eidolons into battle.
As previously mentioned, Final Fantasy 4 has been given a complete visual overhaul, featuring beautifully rendered 3D models and lush, vibrant environments. Story scenes that move the plot along are very well designed and directed. It feels as if you’re watching a miniature movie, which is often a welcome change from poring over text like we are forced to in basically every handheld RPG available. On another note, we are now blessed with the gift of speech. That’s right, some story scenes are now fully voiced. While most characters are spot-on and sound exactly as you would expect, others are not so accurate and leave much to be desired. Some scenes are almost laughable in their melodrama. It is quite unfortunate to me that the voice acting was executed so poorly in some areas. However, the good far outweighs the bad, and voice acting in a DS title is always noteworthy, even if Luminous Arc does tend to overshadow Final Fantasy 4 in this regard. On a brighter note, it’s not the source material – the script from the previous iterations of the game has been updated and altered so that it’s become a much more elaborate endeavor than its poorly localized predecessors.
The soundtrack? One name: Nobuo Uematsu. The musical score translates well to the DS and sounds spectacular through earbuds. As usual, his genius bleeds into very area of Final Fantasy 4, creating memorable moments throughout that will linger with you long after you complete the game.
Final Fantasy 4 was the first of the series to introduce the now loved — and often despised — Active Time Battle (ATB) system in which the battle continues on whether you are ready or not. It’s alive and kicking in this remake, but it’s also been given a more organized format. Just as you would expect, the carnage will take place on the top screen, but now the touch screen plays an important part. While fighting off scourges of enemies, the touch screen acts as a very useful information database, displaying your character’s current status, ATB gauge, and general information about who is selected. It goes even more in-depth, as now you will be given information about your attack’s element and hit rate. The addition of such information and a very tight, accurate ATB gauge proves to make combat much more efficient and enjoyable, taking most of the guesswork out of what order your party’s attacks will launch in. It isn’t an enormous change, but it’s significant enough to tighten up an already infallible battle system.
Exclusive to this DS remake is the addition of augments, which grant you the power to customize your party as your heart desires. Similar to how you would find materia in Final Fantasy 7, you can happen upon certain augments in the world; sometimes you will be given them, and sometimes you can obtain them from certain enemies. Effects of augments range from giving characters slight HP boosts to awarding the invaluable spell Recall to party members who otherwise would not learn it. Wise usage of augments is essential, as Final Fantasy 4 is a very difficult game if you are not prepared to put some time into it. Finding and putting augments to proper use will greatly aid you in yours (and Cecil’s) quest. Along with these new augments, there are quite a few new additions that will delight fans of the original as well as new players. For instance, Rydia has been given an Eidolon by the name of Whyt who can be customized through mini-games and personalized as you see fit. Players can actually match their version of Whyt with friends and see which incarnation emerges victorious, adding a sort of virtual pet element.
Do not confuse Final Fantasy 4 for a simple game. You will need to invest a lot of your time into this vignette, as the story will add and remove characters as it sees fit, leaving you to rely on all of your teammates rather than focusing on just one as many gamers tend to do. You will need to pay close attention to what NPCs advise, as well as take in your surrounding area because as far as RPGs go, this is quite the traditional experience. You will be challenged. That’s part of what makes it great.
Whether you have enjoyed the original version or you’re a newcomer, there is something for everyone in this definitive edition. At an affordable $40, it’s a must-play for both old and new RPG fans in general. It’s an excellent addition to the Final Fantasy line, and it’s heartwarming to see an old favorite given such a polished treatment. If you’ve never experienced this memorable tale before, now is the best time.