Video Game Thoughts: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years was a 2013 Japanese role-playing game by Matrix Software and Square Enix that I played on the computer. This was a 3D remake of the original After Years game, released in 2008 and later on mobile phones, Nintendo Wii, and PlayStation Portable. Compared to the 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV (a 2008 game based on a 1991 game), The After Years is fairly new. In a rare move, a sequel was made almost two decades after the original game (1991 vs. 2008).

The story took place around 20 years after the events of Final Fantasy IV. The 2D versions of The After Years were episodic games sold in small microtransactions. I was happy that the 3D remake contained everything in one purchase, but because of this history, the story was split up into ten tales. Most of the tales (eight of them) happened simultaneously. These tales featured Ceodore (a knight), Rydia (a summoner), Yang (a monk), Palom (a black mage), Edge (a ninja), Porom (a white mage), Edward (a bard), and The Lunarians (black and white mages). Kain’s Tale, featuring the dragoon Kain, took place directly after Ceodore’s Tale. Finally, all the stories were brought together and wrapped up in The Crystals Tale.

Unlike the first game that focused on one main hero (Cecil), The After Years spread the story out between all the characters. Ceodore, the child of Cecil and Rosa from the first game, was given a prominent story. Kain, another hero from the first game, was also given a lot of screen time. The rest of the characters had maybe a few hours covering each. I was a little disappointed that there was no voice acting in the game like the 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV had, but it was a very small disappointment. I was perfectly fine reading the story.

In The After Years, the world started changing in ways reminiscent of past years when Cecil and friends had to vanquish a great evil. This time someone else was the cause of evil. I enjoyed how each tale slowly revealed more and more about who was pulling the strings until the final chapter revealed all. The tales sometimes felt a little too short, not enough happened before they ended. The character development also suffered because characters usually were only the focus for a single tale. They reappeared in later chapters, but usually didn’t play a part in that later story.

The game would have been better with one large story instead of having ten tales. Having less characters would also have helped. Final Fantasy IV had five main characters and another five temporary characters that joined the party for a few hours at a time. The After Years, on the other hand, had 22 characters. With so many characters, there just wasn’t enough time to devote to each one to really get to know them. I learned a little bit about each, but then it was on to another set of characters.

Unlike the story, the gameplay in The After Years was clearly better than the first game. They did remove the Augment system, but outside of that, The After Years had all the gameplay of Final Fantasy IV plus new monsters, skills, spells, items, and bosses. The Augment system wasn’t even that much of a loss because most of the special abilities from Augments returned in the form of accessory items that granted the same effect.

The only downside with the gameplay was how the first seven tales contained low level content, starting at level 1 and going up to maybe level 30. Kain’s tale and The Lunarian’s tale covered mid-levels. It wasn’t until The Crystals tale that high levels were available. That was where the fun was. All the best items became available. I could take my time leveling up characters and trying out different skills, items, and strategies on monsters. There were several rare items I enjoyed collecting. Some of them were a little too tedious to get, but I was never disappointed in their power. The only downside was that there weren’t many bosses to test my souped up characters against. The final chapter only had a few challenging bosses.

With the Augment system removed, the developers added a couple more systems in its place. A central part of the story was a second moon appearing over the planet. In line with the moon theme, a Moon Phase system was added. There were four phases: Full Moon, Waning Moon, New Moon, and Waxing Moon. During each phase, certain categories of character skills increased or decreased in effectiveness. For example, the Waning Moon increased Black Magic damage while decreasing basic Attack damage. Every 30 minutes of gameplay, the moon phase changed. It also changed whenever the player rested at an inn or outside with an item. In this way, the player could control which phase they were in. This was important because some bosses were very powerful in one area but weak in another. With good manipulation of the moon phase, the player could give themselves a leg up in a tough fight. Late game, the phases didn’t matter too much, but in the first eight tales, it was critical a few times.

Another addition was the Band system. Bands were like spells, except requiring  two or more characters to work together instead of just one. There were Bands for two characters all the way up to the maximum five characters in a party. Generally, the more characters involved, the more powerful the Band was. I found it interesting how Bands took on the properties of the characters. For example, a Black Mage and a White Mage might cast a Band that damaged all enemies while healing the party a little.

Like the Augment system, the Bands system could make the game too easy if the player wanted it to be. Late game there were super powerful Bands that pretty much trivialized the difficulty of the bosses. The most powerful band did over 80,000 to all enemies. Most of the endgame bosses had only around 120,000 health, so even just one casting of the Band pretty much ended the battle. There was a risk with Bands though.

Bands required all the characters involved to maintain casting until the spell went off. This meant they could do nothing else while working towards the big spell. If a boss killed a party member, the casting was cancelled. Even after the party member was revived, the Band had to be started over. In some cases, this made it very hard to get the powerful Bands off, but it was pretty reliable to be able to cast one Band at the beginning of the battle before the boss had a chance to kill any character.

Overall, the story in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years wasn’t the best, but the gameplay gave me a lot of fun for many weeks. Getting some of the rare items was too repetitive and time consuming, but the lure of powerful items and stronger characters kept me going until I had unlocked all the achievements. I wish there was some more endgame content though. The powerful items, Bands, and max level characters didn’t have much use without some “superbosses” to fight. I enjoyed the game though.

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years definitely was not as polished as the first game, Final Fantasy IV, but it wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t enjoy it. I definitely spent too much time grinding for rare items. A few times I considered giving up, but I always hate leaving a game without seeing everything it offers. I will try to avoid games that have a lot of rare items in the future.  If I could only play one of these games, I would probably stick with the first game, but the sequel is good for anyone that wants more content. Even though The After Years is a sequel, it’s better to look at it as an expansion pack. It isn’t really any better than the original game; it just adds a lot of content.

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