Review: Final Fantasy IV (DS)

Genre: Role-Playing
Developer: Square Enix/Matrix Software
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: July 22, 2008

The status of Final Fantasy IV as one of the greatest role-playing games of all-time is well-deserved. It has been a hit in America on three different systems (Super Nintendo, Playstation, Game Boy Advance), satisfying old fans and creating new ones along the way. With the success of Final Fantasy III DS, Square Enix has decided to update FF4 one more time, this time giving it the DS treatment. The Japanese version came out last year to positive reviews; how does the North American version play?

Let’s start with the basics. The overhead view of the previous incarnations of FF4 is a thing of the past. In its place is a look similar to that of Final Fantasy VII – impressive, but not overly detailed. It does provide an up-close view of the action, something that has been needed for some time. There are some subtle things that come along with this change – for example, players can now move diagonally, both on foot and in ships. Again, not a huge deal, but it’s nice. Then, we have the cut scenes. Much of the game’s dialogue is text-based, but pivotal moments are accompanied by animations and voice acting. The voice acting is good – some of the characters’ voices are pretty funny – but it’s nice to get to see these characters up close and personal. The animations and up-close graphics are top-notch as well. For those who have been playing this game for years, it’s nice to finally “meet” the characters.

And what characters they are! The one thing FF4 does so well is focus on the characters and make them actual people that generate empathy. The gamer who can’t relate to at least one of these characters is the gamer who has no heart. While the plot of the game is, on the surface, fairly standard RPG fare – recover magic crystals, defeat four elemental fiends, save the world, etc. – there’s a ton more here than meets the eye. Each character has his or her own back story, not to mention issues that they are forced to deal with as the game progresses. One of the new features is a thought bubble that appears over the party leader’s head in the game’s menu. This thought bubble either sheds light on that character’s situation, gives a hint as to what’s coming next, or could be something totally random. It’s a neat little feature that’s constantly changing, giving returning players something new to keep track of.

The one thing everyone had been saying about the Japanese version was the increased difficulty. Truly, Final Fantasy IV Advance was on the easy side, almost excessively so. FF4DS changes that big-time. The reports of Japanese gamers having trouble with the Mist Dragon are not exaggerated. If you’re the kind of gamer who can play through the GBA version without dying, be sure to check your ego at the door with this one. Even the easiest of monsters can draw massive hit points with ordinary attacks, and the bosses… well, let’s just say that they’ve earned their distinctions. Experience points are as plentiful as they once were, if not more so, but gold is seemingly impossible to find. For the first time in a long while, players are forced to pick and choose which equipment they want to purchase, as there isn’t enough gold to buy it all. This is the only aspect of the difficulty that’s frustrating, as the game’s difficulty curve is quite masterful. The game, while extremely challenging, never crosses over the line of cheapness; instead, it tests gamers and makes them better players. That’s what hard games are supposed to do, yet rarely complete the task.

Even veteran players will find themselves in awe of how much newness there is in FF4DS. While the story stays largely the same, in many ways, playing through FF4DS is like experiencing Final Fantasy IV for the first time. Aside from the obvious visual upgrades, there are some neat little additions, such as rewards for completely filling in dungeon maps. While it can be frustrating to reach the exit of a level, only to discover you’re at 99% complete, the rewards are often worth the trouble. There’s also the new Augment System, which lets party members equip functions of those who have left in addition to some entirely new abilities. It’s now possible to use some of the skills opponents use, which makes for some interesting battles. To enhance the game’s replay value even further, after beating the game, players can start a new game with all of their learned abilities intact for their second quest.

The big upgrades found in the GBA version – namely, the trials and the ability to swap characters in and out – have been removed. Instead, we have the augment system and Whyt. Whyt is Rydia’s dragon that can be summoned in battle as well as pitted against other DS users. The mini-games increase Whyt’s abilities; while the mini-games seem sort of cheesy and stupid, they are quite addicting and are fairly challenging. They’re a fun diversion in a game that, due to its difficulty and heavy storyline, can sometimes leave gamers needing a break.

The mini-games can be accessed by summoning the Fat Chocobo, who no longer serves any relevant purpose. Now that the item limit has been removed, his only role is to allow gamers to access Whyt. Another character who is now obsolete is Namingway; since the cut scenes necessitate characters keeping their names, he can’t very well allow players to change names. Instead, he tries out a number of new careers and unlocks some pretty cool features, including the Bestiary and all the cut scenes seen to that point. He also provides some necessary comic relief. Kudos to Square for taking an irrelevant character and giving him a purpose.

Perhaps the best upgrade found in FF4DS, though, is the new translation. While returning players will appreciate the classic lines that remain (with “You spoony bard!” sitting prominently atop that list), this translation expands the storyline by highlighting the subtleties of the original script. For example, this translation does the best job yet of showing Kain’s affection for Rosa, something that’s barely alluded to in the SNES version. Also, the translation helps to date this game back to a period of time around the Middle Ages (the feathered pens on desks help to accomplish this as well), as the dialogue extensively uses old-sounding phrases, but uses them very well.

And then there’s the soundtrack. A big deal was made about how the soundtrack was remixed for this version; quite frankly, it sounds pretty similar to the way it always has. Which is, of course, simply amazing. Some bits sound different, but nothing sounds out of place. That’s the way it should be. FF4 has one of the best scores of all-time and, while the DS has limited sound options, the game still sounds great. It’s also particularly interesting to hear these familiar favorites with the characters speaking over them.

Many people will dismiss FF4DS as yet another Square remake designed to cash in on a big name. These people are mistaken. There’s a ton here that makes this game worthy of purchase, not only as a stand-alone title, but as a worthy update of a classic. As I played through this game, I couldn’t help but think of how the whole thing felt new, even though I’ve played through the other versions many times over. This is different, but in a good way. People are calling this the “definitive” version of FF4, I’m not so sure that FF4DS claims to be. It’s just a different look at a classic game with modern graphics and some touching up. It’s the kind of game in which newcomers and seasoned veterans alike can find something valuable and something new. Given the amount of times we’ve seen FF4 repackaged in recent years, that’s very impressive.

SOUND: Classic
BALANCE: Classic


Final Fantasy IV has always been one of the great games of our time. FF4DS, however, might just be the best version of it yet. It’s received a needed update, but still maintains its old charm. Better than that, though, it provides a new experience for those who are playing for the first time as well as those who have been playing FF4 for years. While many of us have seen this game before, it hasn’t been this enjoyable in a very long time.



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