Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.
Final Fantasy IV has been one of my favorite games ever since it was called Final Fantasy II on the SNES. It is one of those games I have been very foolish with in regards to my spending habits as I have purchased basically every form of this game, which does bring up a problem when I want to write about it for my monthly feature on handheld games, and that problem is figuring out which version I want to write about it. Final Fantasy IV Advance for the Game Boy Advance is the most faithful to the original release in appearance but the DS remake that came out later as Final Fantasy IV got an extensive face lift and had a game play tweaks added. And then there is the PSP version of Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection which received a less drastic face lift and includes the mobile ported to WiiWare episodic Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and the new Final Fantasy IV: Interlude. Feeling indecisive I decided to go with all of them. Spoiler warning: since the game is roughly 25 years old there are going to be spoilers below.
Final Fantasy IV was originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1991 as Final Fantasy II, which I learned a decade later on the PlayStation reissue there was an easy version and hard version of Final Fantasy IV in Japan what Americans got for the first Final Fantasy sequel was the easy version. Final Fantasy IV was a massive leap forward from the first game in the series in terms of graphics, game play, and most importantly narrative. This is actually the first game that I remember where the story resonated with me on an emotional level. The story begins with dark knight Cecil feeling conflicted about a mission where he takes the Crystal from Mysidia by force which questions his loyalty to the king since he is raising his sword against innocent people. This results in his dismissal from the Red Wings and is then tasked with delivering a package to the small village of Mist, unbeknownst to Cecil that this package is intended to set the village on fire and kill the summoners. This also happens about the team he learns that he killed young Rydia’s mother by defeating the dragon that was guarding the exit from the cave he and Kain had to travel through in order to reach the village, which ends up putting Cecil in the rather awkward predicament of being Rydia’s caretaker after making her an orphan.
Throughout the rest of Final Fantasy IV more tragedies befall the party. Edward, who is probably the most useless human to ever join an RPG party, is devastated when the love of his life dies shielding him from arrows so he can go write sad country emo songs about his misery. Polom and Porom sacrifice themselves to save the party, Tellah dies because he allows rage and vengeance to consume him, and Edge has to kill his own parents after they lose their minds and transform into monsters. This was not the first game where tragic moments advanced the story, but the first one I recall playing where the use of the storytelling and music actually gave these events a real emotional impact.
Final Fantasy IV has been ported to three different handheld systems all them are different from each other. The GBA and PSP ports are the most faithful to the original where the DS version is drastically altered. They are all worthwhile but most people would be okay with just picking one version to play through since the story is the same in all of them, or maybe play the DS version and one of the other ones to contrast the 2D and 3D versions.
Final Fantasy IV Advance is the one that appears to be the most faithful to the original SNES version. The original graphics are used with only some minor tweaks but there were some other additional changes made. The English translation was redone and the spell names have been changed back to their original forms, such like Lit2 turning into Thundara and White turning into Holy, and items that were removed from the US SNES release such as the dirty magazine found its way back into the game since Nintendo has loosened its rules on allowable content. Certain special abilities, like Rosa’s Pray command that restores a small amount of HP to party members was returned to the game. The biggest change was made with additional end game content. There is an additional cave at Mt. Ordeals where new powerful weapons and armor are available for Yang, Edward, Cid, Palom and Porom, since they can be swapped into the party to challenge Zeromus. There was also the Lunar Dungeon accessible after completing the game, where the player can go challenge new powerful enemies with a party of their choosing and even take on a more powerful, alternative form of Zeromus.
Final Fantasy IV for the Nintendo DS is a 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV, much like the treatment Final Fantasy III (no not the one with Terra, that’s Final Fantasy VI) when it made its debut stateside on the DS. This version is actually significantly different from the others. The story remains the same but some modern conventions were added. With the inclusion of voice acting, Namingway no longer allows the player to change character names but instead travels the world assuming different aliases depending on what his job is in a given area. An augment system was introduced where different special abilities can be given to temporary characters, and giving these characters abilities will cause them to return the favor when they leave the party. This was done to keep certain character specific abilities available to players without allowing the player to bring people like Cid or Yang back into the party at the end of the game like Final Fantasy IV Advance does. The player’s inventory is not limited the way it was in the original version, so instead of providing storage space Fat Chocobos now allow the player to view the bestiary or access the music player or the newly introduced minigame involving Rydia’s personal eidolon Whyt. A New Game+ is introduced which does unlock new bosses and areas. While I was extremely suspicious of this remake due to my fondness for the original Final Fantasy IV, they actually did a great job with it and I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Final Fantasy IV, not as a replacement to the original but as a complimentary piece.
Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection is another updated version of Final Fantasy IV that is more drastic than Final Fantasy IV Advance but more faithful to the original than the DS version. The graphics got an HD facelift and fit the 16:9 aspect ratio but remain in glorious 2D, and unlike the Steam and mobile versions of Final Fantasy VI the new graphics actually look very nice. The end game content introduced in Final Fantasy IV Advance is included in this version. In a nutshell, Final Fantasy IV is Final Fantasy IV Advance remade for the PSP, and replaying Final Fantasy IV for the zillionth time on PSP was very enjoyable. The part that makes this collection complete is where things get a bit iffy. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is basically Square Enix’s version of Saved by the Bell: The New Class. This takes place some time after the events of the game and involves familiar characters and new characters, including the spawn of Cecil and Rosa named Ceodore. This content is pretty much an unmitigated mess that feels like fan fiction. This is something I really wanted to enjoy since I love Final Fantasy IV and wanted to see those characters in a new story but this reminds that Final Fantasy games are best when they just exist in their own vacuum and don’t have direct sequels. That is not to say The After Years are completely unenjoyable, but this game felt like a rehash, where plot points and boss battles in the original were remade and each chapter felt disconnected from the others. There is a band system that tries to use double and triple techs a la Chrono Trigger, but unfortunately this title has more in common with Chrono Cross’s too many characters. Now, I enjoyed Chrono Cross but my main complaint of that game is there were too many characters that it was hard to care about most of them, and that is how I feel about most of the new people in The After Years. Final Fantasy IV: Interlude is simply a short episode meant to bridge The After Years with the original game. It’s short and relatively interesting but nothing special. The main reason to pick this up is for a quality handheld port of Final Fantasy IV.
Final Fantasy IV was one of the more memorable titles available on the SNES, and it is good that younger generations of players have the opportunity to experience this classic on a variety of handheld systems. None of the portable versions are bad, though only the most hardcore Final Fantasy IV fan really needs to own all three versions. The 3D remake is available on Steam if that version sounds appealing and you don’t own a DS, and while I wasn’t crazy about it The After Years was also given the 3D remake treatment for Steam.
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