Final Fantasy IV
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • JP 07/19/1991
    • US 11/23/1991
Score: 80%

This review was published on 05/30/2013.

Final Fantasy IV is a role-playing game originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991. I know the title screen showing "Final Fantasy II" might confuse some of you, so I'll take some time to explain that inconsistency. Before Final Fantasy IV, Square had only released a single Final Fantasy in North America, and it was the very first Final Fantasy on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Square didn't release the games in between the first and fourth in the West at the time. They then renamed Final Fantasy IV to Final Fantasy II in North America, because they were afraid they'd confuse people otherwise. It was a dumb move and they since have apologized for it by no longer acknowledging this game as Final Fantasy II. For the purposes of this review, I will be referring to this game as Final Fantasy IV. Anyway, Final Fantasy IV is the first Final Fantasy game to be released on the Super Nintendo, thus making it the first Final Fantasy rendered in 16-bit graphics. It was one of the first RPGs to pioneer the concept of dramatic story telling, featuring a plot that was much more complex than most games at the time. The game is a fan favorite and has gotten more remakes than any other Final Fantasy. Does it really deserve all that praise, though? It's tough to say, because Final Fantasy IV hasn't aged as well as some of the other Final Fantasy games. While Final Fantasy IV was one of the better RPGs of the time, it has been surpassed by future entries in the series.

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The game begins with players taking command of Cecil, a Dark Knight employed by the kingdom of Baron. Cecil is the commander of the Red Wings, a fleet of airships that are unparalleled in strength, and the protagonist of the game. One day, while flying back from a mission, Cecil begins to express doubts over the king's orders. The king of Baron has been ordering Cecil to go around the world and take mystical crystals through brute force. He wonders why the king has resorted to such unsavory methods of carrying out his goals, and also wonders to what end the king collects crystals for. When Cecil arrives back at Baron, he hands over the crystal he stole from a town of wizards, and then questions the king's motives. The king doesn't take too kindly to this, immediately choosing to strip Cecil of his rank as punishment. If Cecil hopes to regain the king's trust, he is to deliver a mysterious package to a nearby village. Kain, a Dragon Knight who is good friends with Cecil, joins in on the journey. They both agree that the king's behavior is quite unusual. Upon delivering the package, Cecil and Kain are astonished to discover that the package contained a bomb. The village is destroyed with all its denizens killed, save for a little girl. It turns out that was the king's plan all along, because the village's inhabitants had the power to summon magical beasts and therefore were a threat. Cecil feels remorse for his actions and takes the child with him, despite having just inadvertently murdering her entire family. From this point on, Cecil forfeits his position as a knight of Baron and decides to get to the bottom of why the kingdom he so diligently served is now evil. Final Fantasy IV has a pretty complex plot considering it came out in 1991, though a lot of it is on the cliched side by today's standards.

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Dramatic storytelling is something that became much more prevalent in future games in the series and in games in general, but Final Fantasy IV was one of the first games to pioneer this concept. How did it accomplish this? Why, with lots of dramatic character deaths, of course! More characters die in this game than you can shake a stick at. Almost all of them are your allies, and they almost always go down in an honorable sacrifice to save your life. My problem with this is two-fold: none of the characters stay in your party long enough for you to care about them, and the severity of these deaths decreases each time another character gets on the suicide bandwagon. There are times when I even felt like it was comical, despite that clearly not being the intention. The reasoning behind some of these sacrifices doesn't seem too convincing, either. On top of that, a few of the characters end up coming back as good as new, totally nullifying the impact of their deaths. I appreciate what Square was trying to do here, as I do think adding somber moments to a story is a good way to add emotional depth, but I don't feel that they did a good job of it. Final Fantasy IV could use some work in the writing department.

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Ever heard of the Active Time Battle system? Well, that system originated in Final Fantasy IV. This game is a menu-driven, turn-based RPG, but the turn order is determined a little differently from other RPGs of the same type. Each character and enemy in battle possesses an invisible bar of sorts that gradually fills up in real-time during battle. Characters can be issued commands and then execute them once the bar fills all the way up, restarting the process anew. In the end, you might not even notice that this is happening, because it doesn't feel much different from a pure turn-based system. It's nice of Square to try and come up with something new to shake things up, though. The ATB system is used in almost every Final Fantasy game after IV, so it became a standard for the series. Because of the ATB system, battles are a little more fast-paced and frantic, as you're required to make decisions quickly or else suffer the consequences. If you spend too much time dawdling on the command screen, enemies will repeatedly attack you without the slightest care in the world. This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it does spice things up considerably. Other than that, the battles in Final Fantasy IV aren't particularly riveting. Something that really bothers me is the random encounters. This game has an extremely high encounter rate, to the point where you sometimes encounter a battle almost every step. Final Fantasy IV has a decent enough battle system, but the high encounter rate is a killer.

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A large cast of twelve playable characters are available in Final Fantasy IV, though you never have access to all of them at once. You can have up to a whopping five characters in your active party at any one time, which is more than pretty much any other game in the series. Each character has their own predefined job class and skill set that can't be altered in any way besides leveling them up. Characters like Cecil are straight up tanks that can absorb a lot of damage, and you also have wizard type characters like Tellah who can cast offensive magic for big damage. Rosa will be your resident healer with mostly restorative magic, though various other magic characters also have a few healing spells. For the most part, magic is the primary means of dishing out damage in Final Fantasy IV. Warrior characters like Cecil and Kain can do a lot of damage with their swords and spears, but that really only entails in repeatedly selecting the attack command over and over. If you want actual battle strategies, then magic is what you need. Because the given characters in your party are always fixed, the game usually tries to give you balanced parties with a good combination of warriors and wizards. As a result of that, you always have access to a wide variety of abilities in any given battle. Most of the other Final Fantasy games kind of let you do your own thing, like skimping out on magic entirely if you don't really like it. Not so in Final Fantasy IV, because you're forced to have wizards and wizards can't do much else. The good thing about this is that magic isn't useless like it sometimes is in other Final Fantasy games. The bad thing is that you'll need to conserve MP during long dungeon crawls, of which this game has plenty, in order to have an easier time. Final Fantasy IV has a nice selection of characters with varied abilities.

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Unlike almost every other Final Fantasy game in existence, Final Fantasy IV has nearly next to nothing when it comes to character customization. It's quite peculiar, really, because even the previous games offered more in this regard. You never get the option to switch characters in or out of your party, either, so you're stuck with the people the game gives you. The only type of customization is equipment, and even that is kept to an absolute minimum. Usually you'll buy upgraded equipment at each new town you visit, or you find upgraded gear inside treasure chests while traversing a dungeon. These tend to be straight upgrades, though. There's no reason to go back to a sword with less attack power when you find something stronger, unless the sword in question has a special effect to it. Admittedly, there are a few situations where that will occur, but they're few and far between. As bad as this all sounds, there's something strangely appealing at the lack of customization options. It makes the game a lot simpler and more focused on the action of combat instead of mucking around in menu screens trying to figure out what the best hat is. You also never have to worry about who to take into your party, or making sure that all your characters are balanced properly. That's where the benefits end, however. When it comes to something like a boss, the lack of customization options is a big problem. If a particular boss trounces you, it really comes down to a matter of leveling up and getting the best gear available at the time, since there's not much else you can do in the customization department. Ultimately, it's in an RPG's best interests to have some complexities in its mechanics. The fact that Final Fantasy IV chooses to totally omit them is kind of a bad thing.

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My favorite part of Final Fantasy IV is when Cecil traverses the road to redemption and becomes a Paladin. When hope is all but lost, Cecil finds his way back to the village he pillaged at the start of the game, asking the villagers to help him out. They don't treat him too well, as you can imagine, but the elder does give Cecil a bit of advice. It turns out that Cecil is up against some evil forces, so his abilities as a Dark Knight aren't going to cut it. You can't fight fire with fire, basically. Cecil is informed of a nearby mountain where he can get what he needs to win against evil, provided he is able to complete the climb. Fast forward one boring dungeon crawl later, Cecil enters a shrine at the summit of the mountain. There he overcomes a small ordeal and transforms into a Paladin, a holy warrior that champions the cause of good. He even gets a shiny new sword, to boot. What I like about this, besides the symbolism, is that this is one awesome prize. It's like the moment you pull out the Master Sword in a Zelda game, only even better than that. Cecil's Paladin form not only looks totally different from his Dark Knight form, but it also has different stats and abilities. Paladin Cecil is way more powerful than his previous dark self, too. Becoming a Paladin in Final Fantasy IV is pretty darn cool.

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The bosses in this game are really tough, which makes them really good. A lot of the later Final Fantasy games are low in the challenge department, so it's refreshing to play one that has some teeth to it. Coming up with sound boss strategies is very important in this one, because bosses will rip you to shreds if you don't stay alert. Many of the bosses also feature unique gimmicks, like the four elemental fiends that you fight throughout the game. Each fiend uses attacks of a certain element, whilst being susceptible to an opposing element. That's pretty standard fare, but it's not always as simple as casting a lightning spell on a water boss. Sometimes casting the spell at an inopportune moment can spell doom for you. For example, the water will launch a powerful tsunami attack on your entire party repeatedly unless you pelt him with a bolt of lightning. The catch is that you have to be careful not to waste your lightning casts, because casting them at the wrong time might mean he'll still let off his devastating attack. You have to wait for him to signal an incoming tsunami attack so you can stop it right then and there. Any other approach can have you facing deadly consequences. It's important to observe every boss' attack pattern for a bit before blasting them with your most powerful magic. There are times when it comes down to simple trial and error, but it never gets totally unfair. And then there's the incredibly awesome boss music. That theme never gets old, no matter how many times it plays. Nobuo Uematsu, the main composer for most of the Final Fantasy series, is a genius. In the end, Final Fantasy IV has some decently challenging boss fights.

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Something that Final Fantasy IV does pretty well is the side quests. You can't really do them until much later in the game, but they tend to give out nice prizes and are rather fun to do. None of them require a terribly large time investment, either, so even those who normally skip quests can find the time to do them. It's a good idea to take the little time it takes to do these quests, because all of the game's most powerful equipment is found in this manner. You can also get new summon spells for Rydia, the summoner in your party. These spells are extremely powerful and are a great asset to have during boss fights. Besides levels, equipment and summons are all you have to tip the odds in your favor during the harder boss fights in the game, which makes completing side quests particularly important. There are also a number of optional bosses in the game, some of which are insanely hard. It is worth it to fight these bosses purely for the challenge, though you also get some killer gear for doing so. Side quests in Final Fantasy IV are simple affairs, but they get the job done.

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Final Fantasy IV was a hallmark game for the series, as it set the standards that almost every entry that followed used. Many diehard fans also proclaim it to be the best game in the series. While I don't agree with that, I can understand why. It is, after all, the only Final Fantasy game where you go to the moon. You could say it's the first Final Fantasy on the moon. The mechanics are solid, it's got a large cast of playable characters, and the plot ups the complexities and drama facture of RPGs of the time. As true as all that is, the plot is fairly generic by today's standards, or even the standards of 1994. Characters don't get much development in the story, and the game tries too hard to make you emotional with tons of character deaths. Final Fantasy IV might have gone to the moon, but it's a little on the overrated side.

Word Count: 2,648

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