Final Fantasy IV DS

When Square-Enix announced that they were remaking the fourth Final Fantasy for the Nintendo DS, one thought came to many gamers’ minds: were they insane? After all, they had just ported the title to the Gameboy Advance, so this announcement seemed to confirm that they were far more interested in making easy money off constant re-releases than in producing fresh content. Imagine the relief, however, when Final Fantasy IV DS turned out to be a pretty solid title, retaining the original’s classic gameplay with some contemporary tweaks, additions, and modernized presentation, making it an ideal example of an RPG remake.

FF4 was the first installment of the series to include the active time battle system in random encounters, with the remake largely preserving the original’s gameplay in this respect, albeit with some tweaks. As with before, up to five characters participate in combat, with fixed front and back rows consisting respectively of three and two members, or vice versa if the player so desires. Characters in the front row deal more yet take more physical damage, while characters in the back row deal less yet take less physical damage from enemies. Each character, furthermore, has an active time gauge that, when full, allows them to perform a command.

Each character has a fixed class and thus fixed set of abilities to perform in battle, although the player can somewhat customize available commands outside battle, and even include “shortcuts” to specific items and magic spells, but the player can only have up to five listed commands. Every character can attack normally, use items, defend, or order everyone to switch their row formation, but other abilities depend upon a character’s class. Every command has a certain charge time before executing; for instance, normal attacks need less than a second to “charge”, and powerful abilities like summon spells have longer charge times.

Character-specific abilities include dark knight Cecil’s Darkness, which boosts his attack power at the expense of HP as he attacks (replacing his previous ability to blast all enemies with a dark aura), the dragoon Kain’s Jump, allowing him to jump on enemies for powerful damage, Rydia’s black (offensive) magic and Eidolon (summon), and Rosa’s white (healing/defensive) magic. Winning battles nets all alive characters experience to level up occasionally in addition to money. Leveling naturally boosts a character’s stats somewhat and may occasionally earn magicians new magic, although certain sidequests and story events can also give these characters new spells.

New to the DS remake are Augment skills that the player can gain from temporary characters, and which the player can use on current party members to give them a skill from said momentary allies. While an interesting system, it’s something of an afterthought largely because of the aforementioned five-command limit (and thus detrimental to characters who already have full command lists). There are, furthermore, plenty of missable Augments, and they cannot be removed once learned; those who haven’t played previous incarnations of the game are also at a disadvantage since they can possibly use Augments on characters that can possibly leave the party as the game progresses (though this is actually a way of learning certain other Augments). Thankfully, however, Augments are hardly the difference between victory and defeat.

Another noticeable addition is Rydia’s Whyt summon, which the player can customize with various commands from current party members, and which, when summoned, replaces Rydia in combat, having its own stats, as well. The player can increase Whyt’s stats by playing minigames accessed at a fat chocobo, and customize its appearance and costume (with different outfits as rewards for doing especially well at the minigames). However, one could easily consider Whyt an afterthought, as well, both because there are other more powerful and useful Eidolons and because the player can’t access a fat chocobo in the massive final dungeon.

Other additions include the fact that many enemies, mainly bosses, have special Counter skills in response to specific kinds of attacks (although Counters are sometimes random), adding some strategy to many fights. Supposedly, the DS remake is harder than its prior incarnations, but this reviewer didn’t see a huge difference and found it no easier or harder than the Super NES version, although there are definitely some tough moments, and there’s no shame in escaping from normal fights, which will make the player drop some money. Another thing to note is that certain weapons can cast magic when used in battle, which can save the player MP at times.

All in all, the battle system works just as well as it did in the original version, with some other nice contemporary tweaks such as scan magic working permanently against specific enemy types, and the game both indicating when enemies are using Counters and when the player exploits an enemy’s weakness with an attack. Granted, there are some shortcomings such as the lackluster nature of some of the mentioned additions, the high encounter rate (though it is possible to find an Augment that nullifies random battles), and that the Wait setting doesn’t pause the action of battle while the player is in a character’s initial command menu. Regardless, the battle system helps the game far more than hurts it and is hardly a deterrent.

Interaction also has its share of contemporary tweaks, such as the removed restriction on inventory space, a handy equip-best feature, a quick-delete-save option, and useful automaps on the bottom screen that the player can completely fill out for some additional items. The only major hiccups are the somewhat-poor spacing of permanent save points at times (for instance, there’s an annoyingly-long stretch between the final save point and the last boss fight), and the inability to skip unvoiced scenes, but otherwise, the controls are more than adequate.

Why anyone would deduct points simply for a game being a remake is beyond this reviewer’s comprehension, although the original FF4 was definitely inventive in its time, introducing the active time battle system used in most subsequent installments, and having a better story than most other RPGs of the time, even if said plot borrowed some elements from prior installments of the series, alongside superficial things like airships, chocobos, and so forth. Even if the DS version is “unoriginal,” the original game was inarguably revolutionary and influential in its time.

The original FF4 was perhaps one of the first truly story-driven RPGs, standing as something of a narrative gem back in the Super NES era, with the DS remake largely preserving the plot yet having some additional late-game backstory for characters such as Cecil, Kain, and Rosa. The plot still has the same charm and emotion as the original did, with voice acting bringing key scenes to life and adding more poignancy. The translation is now in the style of recent series installments such as Final Fantasy XII, although purists will be happy to know “classic” lines such as “You spoony bard!” are still in the script. Not all characters in the game are heavy on development, but the plot is nonetheless a reasonable driving factor.

As mentioned, the remake features voice acting during key scenes, with its quality being well above average, if slightly melodramatic at times. As for the music, at first its quality doesn’t seem all that better than in the Super NES version, although headphones can certainly enhance it. The soundtrack also has pretty much the same emotion as it did in the original, with rousing tracks such as the Star Wars-esque Red Wings theme, the emotive love theme, and the subtle, ambivalent lunar cavern theme. Quality issues aside, the sound is still great.

FF4 received a visual overhaul in its transition to the Nintendo DS, with a style similar to that of the DS remake of Final Fantasy III, albeit with some tweaks. Character models have smaller heads and are slightly taller, and environments have naturally made the leap to three dimensions, with many areas looking much different than they did in the original, such as the Feymarch (formerly the Land of Summoned Beasts) and towers/futuristic areas, the latter of which no longer look like cyber bathrooms, and generally appearing gorgeous.

Battles are also in 3-D, although normal encounters still retain the same view as in the original version, with enemies on the left and the player’s characters on the right. Boss fights, however, have the over-the-shoulder perspective as all battles did in the DS version of FF3. Animations and effects (especially summon spells) look nice, even if normal character and enemy attacks still have the silly telekinetic appearance they did in the Super NES Final Fantasies. Some of the environmental textures are slightly rough at times, but the remake is nonetheless a visual treat.

Finally, the remake is about a thirty-hour game, with plenty of sidequests and a New Game+ featuring optional bosses and exclusive Augments. In the end, Final Fantasy IV DS is an ideal RPG remake, preserving all that made the original good, such as classic active time battles and a decent story, while featuring overhauled presentation for sound and especially the graphics. Those who played the Gameboy Advance port certainly won’t like the fact that the DS remake doesn’t have that particular version’s own “extra content,” and while one could consider some of the DS version’s additional features, such as Augments, to be afterthoughts, it’s still a solid and memorable experience for those who have never played any incarnation of the game.

Score Breakdown:

The Good:
+Good old ATB with some tweaks.
+Solid control.
+Great story.
+Excellent music.
+Superb graphics.

The Bad:
-Poor spacing of save points.

Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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