Review: Final Fantasy IV Advance (Game Boy Advance)

Review: Final Fantasy IV Advance (GBA)
Developer: Square Enix
Distributor: Nintendo
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 12/15/05

Final Fantasy IV, originally released in the US as Final Fantasy 2 on the Super Nintendo, is arguably the greatest game in the Final Fantasy series, and certainly the one that completely revolutionized the series as a whole. Up until its release, the series had been fairly cookie cutter, with generic heroes doing battle with generic bad guys in a quest to save the world.

That’s not to say that FFIV doesn’t have its share of stereotypes. But at the time of its release, the range and depth of characters presented was practically unheard of (especially on the SNES), with a few notable exceptions. Adding to this was a fantastic story which, while mostly linear, was filled with some great twists and turns.

I admit, I’m something of a FFIV fanboy. I consider it to be the peak of the series and the last game where the characters were truly unique from beginning to end, before things like Espers and Materia turned everyone into cardboard cutouts of each other. So when I heard they were re-releasing it on the GameBoy Advance, and adding a few new elements to the game, I had to pick it up and give it a try.

But does the game still hold up years later? And how do the added levels and features affect the overall gameplay? Read on to find out!


1. STORY

Final Fantasy IV is ultimately the story of Cecil, captain of the Red Wings, a squadron of airships commanded by the kingdom of Baron. Recently, Baron’s king has been ordering the Red Wings to seize control by any means necessary of the elemental crystals held by other kingdoms throughout the world. Cecil at first obeys his king, but eventually comes to question his orders after seeing the slaughter of so many innocents.

The king, annoyed by Cecil questioning his orders, demotes Cecil and orders him to deliver a Bomb Ring to the village of Myst. Cecil’s friend Kain, a Dragoon, comes to Cecil’s defense, and is commanded to accompany Cecil and assist him in fulfilling his quest.

The story progresses at a quick pace from this point onwards. As you follow Cecil on his quest, you will encounter new allies, suffer betrayals, discover the reason why Baron’s king wants the crystal, explore the underworld, and eventually fly all the way to the moon. Even though the game can be beaten fairly easily in under 20 hours, there is a lot of story here with a decent amount of optional side quests and dungeons to explore.

Additionally, every character you encounter has their own history and motivations for helping you. They will join your party and leave as they see fit, and some of them won’t be around by the time you get to the end of the game. They also all have their own abilities and skills which helps to set them apart from each other, and it will be up to you to best determine how to use them, although the game is pretty good about making sure you have at least one healer and one black magic user in your party at all times.

Overall, the story here is excellent with plenty of depth and lots of heart. Some of it may be considered cliche by today’s standards, but it was definitely top of the line when it first came out, and it still holds up well.

Story Score: 8/10


2. GRAPHICS

As mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy IV originally came out on the Super Nintendo, so the graphics are about what you would expect for that system; 16-bit and 2D.

However, that being said, the game appears to have had a few minor tweaks. Character sprites look excellent and colors are bright and vibrant. Enemy encounters suffer from a lack of animation, but again the sprites used look great. Spells and other effects also look fantastic.

For those curious, the character portraits have been edited quite a bit for a number of characters. The most noticeable are Rosa, Cecil (as a Paladin), and Golbez. I can’t say that I’m a fan of these new portraits, but that’s just me. Many of the others have received a few tweaks, but still look close to their older counterparts.

Menus are crisp and clear, and easy to navigate. Even on the small GBA screen text is easy to read and you shouldn’t have any problems distinguishing item or spell names.

It’s definitely not the best that the GBA can put forward, but then again this is a pretty straight port from the 16-bit generation. And for what it is, I can’t complain.

Graphics Score: 7/10


3. SOUND

One of the things I remember most clearly about FFIV was the sound. And I’m happy to say that it’s just as good as I recall.

The real highlight of the game is its wonderful score. Even though it is your basic MIDI music, the composer did a wonderful job of creating a soundtrack that will stick with you for days after you’ve stopped playing. Everything from the militaristic Red Wings theme to the softer love song for Rosa and Cecil is masterfully composed. Sure, you’ll hear some tracks more than others, but there is still a lot of variety here and none of it ever gets old, with the possible exception of the standard battle music which plays during every fight. My only real complaint is that certain tracks have been tweaked, and while most of these changes are hardly noticeable except to diehard fans, those that do notice will probably be left scratching their heads. Fortunately there are only a few instances that really jump out and make you wonder.

The remainder of the games sound is solid, although no where near the level of the score. Spells sound roughly like what you would expect, from the roar of fire to the shattering of ice. Again, there is a decent amount of variety here, though you’ll hear certain sounds much more often than others.

In the end, the sound is perfectly suitable for the game, with the soundtrack scoring a homerun and bringing the overall package up to above average. If they ever release the game again on a console, I hope that they go back and orchestrate the entire score, as the few clips I’ve been able to find from various CD collections are absolutely wonderful.

Sound Score: 7/10


4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

The control here is about as basic as you can get. Everything is menu based, so you use the A button to choose an action, and the B button to cancel. Movement is performed using the control pad, and the Start button brings up the menu, or pauses the game if you are in a battle. You can also use the L and R buttons to toggle pages while on the menu screen which is a nice little addition since it keeps you from having to cancel, choose another character, and select the information all over again.

Wandering around in the world is pretty basic, and as you travel you will randomly encounter enemies unless you are in a town. While in dungeons or in towns you can also use the B button to dash, allowing you to move at roughly twice your normal speed around the map. This can also be toggled in the options menu so that it is always on, although I prefer to be able to use it when I choose so I don’t overshoot doors or passages by accident.

Pretty much every monster you encounter is a random fight, with the exception of boss encounters which occur at predetermined locations. The battle system is your basic menu setup where you can choose to attack, cast spells, use an item, defend, or change rows. Characters in the front rows will take more damage from attacks, but can also hit more accurately and for more damage. Characters in the back rows will take less damage, but will have a harder time damaging opponents unless they are using a ranged weapon, or casting spells. Battles also occur in real time, with a little bar slowly filling up below your character’s name before you can make an attack, and during this time monsters will attack you freely. Additionally, certain spells and abilities can take a long time to perform, so sometimes you may decide to settle for doing less damage quickly as opposed to launching a high damage attack that may take a while. Lastly, if you run into a monster that you can’t defeat, you can hold down the L and R buttons to attempt to run away, which tends to work most of the time.

Defeating monsters earns you experience and gold, which can be used to purchase better items and armor in towns. Characters will automatically gain spells as they level, so you don’t need to worry about spending money on those. Speaking of magic, there are a few different types depending on the character. There is your basic White and Black magic, which focuses on healing and elemental damage respectively, and then you also have Summoning spells and Ninja spells. Summons allow you to call forth monsters to assist you in battle, and some of these are incredibly powerful. Ninja spells are similar to Black magic attacks, although they tend to affect all opponents on the screen as opposed to a single target. There is also much less variety within the Ninja school of magic. Lastly, two characters that you will encounter are able to launch a Twin attack, which combines their magic into one powerful spell that affects all of your opponents. The downside of this is that it takes a very long time to cast, and sometimes isn’t as useful as using them to launch a series of smaller attacks back to back.

As mentioned earlier, characters will come and go depending on the story, and you will constantly have to adjust your tactics to take into account which characters you have available to you. However, one of the new features with this version of FFIV is the ability to change up your party for the final boss encounter. This is a nice little touch, and adds a certain amount of replayability (to be discussed below), but doesn’t really change the story.

Overall, Final Fantasy IV has an incredibly basic control scheme with simple yet satisfying gameplay. Some gamers may be turned off by the lack of characters customization that has become the staple of more recent FF games, but I actually prefer the characters each having their own unique skills and abilities, even if it does mean they are locked into their archetypes. My only real complaint is that the game can become overly repetitive with the constant random monster encounters, although the changes to your party as you progress through the story should help to get rid of some of the monotony.

Control and Gameplay Score: 8/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

I mentioned earlier that the game has a fairly decent amount of new content, and most of that is what tends to extend the game’s replayability. Upon beating the game, a new 50 floor dungeon will become available on the moon’s surface. This is randomly generated based on the levels of your characters and can be used to level everyone up fairly easily, especially those characters that have not been in your party since very early in the game.

Additionally, beating the final boss with each character will allow you to access their Trial in the Cave of Trials which appears on Mount Ordeals after you’ve beaten the game for the first time. This dungeon gives you access to number of items and weapons for each party member, and gives you something else to look forward to once the game is over.

However, once you’ve beaten the game once, there’s no real reason to keep coming back to it, unless you are like me and just enjoy the story enough to play through it over and over again. But for those completionists out there, the developers have added in enough new content to keep you busy for a good while afterwards.

Replayability Score: 6/10


6. BALANCE

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the game to be incredibly easy compared to its SNES and PS1 counterparts. However, this could be because I’ve played through the original game four or five times, and another two or three times on the PS1, so I all ready know all of the strategies for each boss as well as where to find the best weapons and armor for each character.

Still, I can’t help but feel that things are a little easier than they should be. Enemies seem to attack much less often, and the first few boss fights are incredibly simple, with latter fights not being much more difficult. I remember the Baigan fight driving me nuts on the old SNES version, but this time around he was a pushover. And Cagnazzo bit the bullet after only two casts of Thundaga.

Fortunately the latter bosses are a little more challenging, and the final dungeon certainly isn’t a pushover. Additionally the new dungeons are particularly difficult with the Trials requiring you to both beat high level opponents and a time limit.

However, compared to most other RPGs out there, I can’t help but feel that FFIV is much easier than it should be from start to finish.

Balance Score: 4/10


7. ORIGINALITY

FFIV Advance is the third time that the game has been released, the first being in the US as Final Fantasy 2 for the SNES, and the second time being part of the Final Fantasy Chronicles collection with FFIV and Chrono Trigger on it. Not to mention the large number of games bearing the Final Fantasy name that have come out in the past few years.

In all honesty, there is nothing here that hasn’t been seen in any number of other games. The different spells, items, summons, and general gameplay has reappeared time and time again throughout the Final Fantasy series. And Final Fantasy IV even borrowed elements of its gameplay from its predecessors when it first came out.

However, all that being said, when the game came out it was groundbreaking for the series as a whole, and introduced a number of elements that would become staples in the series. Historically, FFIV was a fairly original game even if this particular incarnation is not, and for that I have to give it some credit. And besides, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s nice to play a game where each character is an individual and not a copy of every other character.

Originality Score: 3/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

With its excellent and fast paced storyline, FFIV is one of the more addictive entries into the series for me, even if the graphics and music are somewhat outdated. It’s a lot of fun to see what happens to Cecil and his companions as you progress through the story, and you level frequently enough to constantly feel like you are progressing with your characters at a pace equal to the story so you don’t need to stop and grind out experience if you don’t want to.

Still, the game isn’t anything new for most people, and some may only play it for a short while then put it down for something fresh. But if you are like me then there is plenty to enjoy here, and you’ll find yourself playing it until you’ve managed to complete it.

Addictiveness Score: 7/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Just by sporting the Final Fantasy name this game will have a fairly broad appeal. It will also appeal to retro gamers and those who remember the original SNES version fondly, as well as those who played the slightly updated version that appeared on Final Fantasy Chronicles.

In addition, this is the first time the game has appeared on the GBA, or any handheld system for that matter, and it is a great RPG to take on the road. They even added in a quicksave feature in case you need to stop in the middle of the game before getting to a save point, which is a nice little addition.

On the other hand, those looking for a flashy game with plenty of customizability and options will be a bit disappointed. This is a straight old fashioned RPG.

Appeal Factor Score: 8/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

Of all the Final Fantasy games, FFIV is easily my favorite. And I’m glad to see that the latest re-release hasn’t ruined that experience.

Fans of the game will find everything here that they loved about the original still in tact. The story, the characters, and all the spells and abilities. There are even a few changes that have shown up that fans of the SNES version won’t know about, but that appeared in the original Japanese version and some were on the PS1. These include Cecil’s Dark attack that he starts with, or Porom’s Cry ability. These new options don’t drastically change the game in any way, but they are nice additions.

There have been a few other minor tweaks here and there, including some changes to the game text and spell and item names. For instance, instead of seeing Fire, Fire 2, and Fire 3, you now have Fire, Fira, and Firaga. These don’t make much of a difference to me, but some gamers may find the new names to be a little annoying. Certain characters have had their names changed slightly to better match the Japanese translation, although all of the main characters have remained the same. And lastly, even though the game text has been updated, Tellah still calls Edward a “spoony bard”. Never fails to crack me up.

A nice new little feature was also added in the way of a Monster database, which allows you to look up the information for any creature that you have encountered. It doesn;t directly affect gameplay in any way, but it;s fun to page through it and see how many of which creatures you have defeated, as well as what their stats are.

In the end, Final Fantasy IV Advance is just as good as the original SNES version, and some might say slightly better with the added content. Purists will find that the new content can be completely ignored without take anything away from the game experience, while those who want to try the new stuff have the opportunity to do so. It’s a win win situation regardless of what you prefer.

Miscellaneous Score: 9/10


THE SCORES

Story: 8
Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Gameplay/Control: 8
Replayability: 6
Balance: 5
Originality: 3
Addictiveness: 7
Appeal Factor: 8
Miscellaneous: 9
Overall: 68
Final Score: 7.0 (Good)