Video Game Thoughts: Final Fantasy IV

Final Fantasy IV was a 2007 Japanese role-playing game by Matrix Software and Square Enix that I played on the computer. This was a 3D remake of the original game, which released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1991. The remake was released for the Nintendo DS originally, then ported to mobile devices and personal computers only in the last few years. I never had a Super Nintendo, so I never got to play it back then. I had heard many good things about it over the years though. When I saw that it was available for the computer, I was ready to play this classic game.

Like many Final Fantasy games, the story centered around magical crystals. Whoever controlled the crystals, had great power. The game began with Cecil Harvey, Captain of the Red Wings, returning from a mission to steal one of the crystals. He had a good heart and felt bad about stealing the crystal from innocent people, but he was absolutely loyal to his king. However, after questioning the king on his motives, the king stripped him of his command and sent him on a dangerous mission along with his childhood friend, Kain Highwind. Cecil’s girlfriend, Rosa, secretly followed them, worried that something was up. Eventually, Cecil and his friends found that his king was just a pawn in a powerful villain’s plans to destroy all life on the planet. Cecil and company had to put a stop to it.

Final Fantasy IV’s story was a quite a bit better than the story in Final Fantasy III. Rather than just generic main characters, the main characters in Final Fantasy IV were all well developed, with their own personalities and motivations. There was a small core of characters that appeared throughout the game, but even the temporary characters were there long enough for me to really get to know them and enjoy their presence. The story in Final Fantasy IV was much longer than Final Fantasy III, covering three world maps: the Overworld, the Underworld, and the Moon. Through the course of the game, they were each detailed and explored. By the end, I really felt like I knew these places and the people that lived there. With the three large maps, the game really felt like three Acts. Each Act ended with a major conclusion that could have been an entire game. There were a few plot holes here and there, but overall the story all made sense.

Instead of the job system in Final Fantasy III, where the heroes could master any combat style, Final Fantasy IV’s heroes all specialized in one area. Cecil was a Dark Knight with the Darkness ability that increased damage at the cost of health points. Kain was a Dragoon with the Jump ability that doubled damage but took a while to hit. Rosa had White Magic for healing and the ability to Aim for a 100% hit rate with a Bow & Arrow. Every character had at least one unique command. A few unique commands were not very useful, but I was always excited when a new character joined the party to see what new abilities were at my disposal.

The 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV added a number of features. The largest one was probably the new cinematics. The original game was made up of simple 2D sprites with a few animations and text boxes. These were greatly updated for the remake. Before the game even started, players were treated to a high quality computer-generated movie that previewed many parts of the game. I enjoyed seeing how all the characters looked in high detail. In the game itself, the cinematics only used in-game graphics, but the major story events were improved with voice acting, custom animations, and cool camera angles. They really kept me interested in seeing more. The graphics weren’t perfect though.

This Final Fantasy IV remake was originally made for the Nintendo DS. While it had 3D graphics, they took many shortcuts to get the game running well on the small handheld gaming device. The polygon counts were low, the texture sharpness even lower. Several small objects and doodads were simply 2D textures angled towards the fixed camera to look like 3D objects. While good graphics can enhance a game, I am passed the point of requiring top-notch visuals to enjoy good gameplay. It helped that the music was pretty good throughout.

The new gameplay feature was the Augment system. Many of the unique commands the various characters had could be unlocked for use on other characters. I had a lot of fun mixing and matching these Augments. Previously, the player had little control over the characters’ abilities — what they started with was what the player was stuck with — but now interesting combos could be taken advantage of. One small downside with the Augment system is that it resembled a bit too much the Materia system in Final Fantasy VII.

The Augment system wasn’t as robust as the Materia system, but it was mostly the same idea. I liked the extra gameplay opportunities it added, but I think it would have been better if it were more original. In addition, some of the Augment combinations made the game too easy. The developers added a Hard mode to compensate for this somewhat, but some combos were so powerful even Hard mode wasn’t a challenge. Overall, I did like this feature. It wasn’t my favorite, but it succeeded in adding meaningful choices for character building, something the original Super Nintendo game lacked.

Another new feature in Final Fantasy IV was the New Game Plus mode. The original Final Fantasy IV ended when the final boss was defeated, but this game allowed the player to start a new game with much of their progress from the first game retained. This feature could be used two times for a second and third playthrough. To keep players interested in playing again, the developers prevented players from getting all the Augments in a single game. Another incentive was two new superbosses only available in the second and later playthroughs for experienced players to try their hand at. I found the first boss pretty easy, but the second boss took an extreme amount of time.

I was able to defeat the first superboss, Geryon, towards the end of my second playthrough after around 60 hours of gameplay. The second one though, Proto-Babil, was so powerful, it probably took me another 100 hours of playing to power-up my characters enough to defeat him. The player’s party of characters needed near perfect stats. This required leveling with certain Augment setups to get maximum Attributes and farming the rare monster drops. Leveling up with the right Augments wasn’t too hard, but farming the rare items took a massive amount of time.

Many necessary items were random drops, and the best the player could do was keep killing the right monsters until the item they wanted dropped. There was a “Treasure Hunter” Augment that doubled the drop rate, but these items were so rare even that seemed to make little difference. I looked it up and found that these items had only around a 1% chance to drop with the Augment. A few times I got good luck and found an item I wanted after just a few monster kills, but a few times I spent hours and hours killing monsters to get the necessary items.

I liked that Proto-Babil required near perfect characters, but I really disliked hunting for rare drops. It was way too tedious just to kill one boss. The 60 hours to do everything else was fun, but the 100 hours to defeat Proto-Babil was mostly boring. Of course, Proto-Babil was an optional boss, but the version of the game I played had achievements. One of them involved defeating this boss. I just didn’t like being one achievement short of doing everything in the game. I don’t know if I will do this much of a grind again though.

Aside from the very long grind at the end of the game, I enjoyed the Final Fantasy IV remake. It was great to experience this classic game. The new features added enough depth to keep me playing. The story was interesting throughout. The player characters were pretty much all likable. The graphics weren’t the best, but the gameplay more than made up for it. Other than the long grind, I enjoyed my time with the game. I’m interested in playing more Final Fantasy games if I have the time and ability.

I always enjoy the little worlds in Final Fantasy games. They remind of a little diorama. They aren’t immersive with high resolution, realistic graphics like modern games, but that’s a good thing to me. Modern games really wrap up the player. It’s easy to become absorbed and focus on them more than real life. On the other hand, in classic Final Fantasy games, I see this world, the diorama. It’s fun to look at and explore, but it’s small, so I remain aware of the world around me. Because they are single player I can play at my own pace and save at almost any time. These games fit into my life no matter how busy and allow me to continue my focus on practicing the faith, the most important part of life.

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