Final Fantasy IV
A legend of cruelty, betrayal, love and redemption.
I’d like to start this piece with an apology, this contains spoilers about Final Fantasy IV, not lots of them but enough to justify someone turning round and saying “Hey, this has spoilers in it” so you have been warned!
And now, our main feature…
Back in 1991, Square released Final Fantasy IV for the Super Famicom System in Japan, this console would later become the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the rest of the world and Final Fantasy IV would later be rebranded as Final Fantasy II in the US.
Fast forward to 2011, and I have the inexplicable subconscious desire to play one of my favourite final fantasy games and realise it coincides with the 20th anniversary of the release of Final Fantasy IV…is this coincidence or just fate?
Sadly I never managed to play the original Final Fantasy IV when it was released on the SNES, my first experience with it came in 2002 when Square Soft released their Final Fantasy Anthology pack for PSone, after titles such as Baldur’s Gate, Suikoden, Wild Arms and Final Fantasy VII (yes, I was a late RPG bloomer) had already taught me how to fully appreciate Role Playing Games.
I often find times in my gaming career where I can go back and play older titles such as harvest moon, Super Mario and FFIV and enjoy them just as much as I did the first time round.
I love the fact that it’s one of the earliest games I can find where you actually believe in the characters that you are playing as, every time I play FINAL FANTASY IV I find myself rooting for Cecil as he ascends Mt Ordeals to become a Holy Knight and renounce his evil past.
I loved the instance where Rydia was almost forced to learn the Fire1 spell, having previously refused because it reminded her of when her home village burnt down. After this I would then suffer a small pang of guilt every time I made Rydia use a Fire spell because I thought I was dragging up the psychologically scarring memories of an 16-bit character! There are also subtle little touches that make the characters individual, such as Porom (the white mage) being right handed and Palom (the black mage, and Poroms twin) being left handed. These touches do not need to be there but when you notice them they give you the impression that the only logic behind the decision was a shrug from the developer followed by ‘…but Palom IS left handed…’ This is the level of connection with your characters that most games miss these days.
Now, at this point it would be very easy for people to label me as a Final Fantasy fanboy, yes, I play the Final Fantasies, I enjoy them, I have collected almost all of the games for my personal game collection but conversely I am the first person to point out their shortfalls and failures and Final Fantasy IV is not without it’s frustrating moments:
The difficulty of the original SNES version (and sometimes the port I played) was nothing short of diabolical, one false move and you would find yourself in a world of ‘Game Over’ screens, the inclusion of Hiroyuki Ito’s Active Time Battle system was revolutionary in it’s day but it allowed the increasingly difficult enemies to take cheap ‘one-kill’ shots at you whilst you were elbow deep in your item menu.
On the subject of difficulty, you will find that the Blue Planet’s economy is almost as bad as the current real world where you have to buy a stockpile of Life and Potions early on as the sheer price of equipment later means that restorative items quickly become the commodity that you simply cannot afford.
You are then faced with the age-old RPG situation; going into battle well armoured but with only a few restorative items or stock up on Potions, Life’s and Ethers and go into battle with outdated equipment, thereby increasing your need for the restoration.
And yes, it is time consuming to use spells and items out of battle to heal your party members and more often than not you will find yourself sitting there mathematically juggling the decision of whither you should give Tellah that Potion because he’s only missing 40 HP after all or if you should keep the potion until he is really injured.
The constant hidden doorways to little treasure troves and invisible pathways through walls to hidden areas that were extremely popular in these kind of 16-bit games will have you second guessing whither that 20 tile corridor you just ran down is completely solid, forcing you to go back and check, especially if you are a complete perfectionist like myself!
Eventually you find yourself hugging every wall in a dungeon before being completely satisfied that you can move onto the next area. This is something that, at first with the massive amount of random encounters in the game, feels arduous and tiresome but you quickly build it into your regular ‘dungeon routine’ and you think nothing of spending an additional hour rubbing your characters face against the walls of the sewers with no guarantee of reciprocation just to see if there is a doorway there that may eventually lead you to a new sword or better pair of shoes…
But you find yourself forgiving these issues for the greater picture, you feel yourself getting draw into the rich tapestry of characters and plot that FINAL FANTASY IV brings with it.
A feature of the game that I found to be both beautiful and tragic at the same time was the soundtrack. At times you would find the music moving and emotional, fitting perfectly with the scene you were playing at that moment, however if you spent too much time in a town then the music often started to grate on your ears. Though this has not stopped the Final Fantasy IV soundtrack becoming one of my favourites and I’m not alone in this as the soundtrack has been remixed several times, including an excellent version by the OverClocked ReMix website.
But for me, what stands head and shoulders above the (for it’s time) excellent graphics and spell effects or its wonderful soundtrack is the story.
I’m a big fan of fantasy novels; I love books that include a fantasy setting, knights, kings and queens, at least one mage and preferably a dragon to sweeten the deal and it’s usually difficult for me to play an RPG and envision the story I am playing as a stand alone book but with Final Fantasy IV that is entirely possible.
You have tyrannical dictators platting to take over the world, a misguided knight who is betrayed and then embarks on a journey of self discovery and redemption, you have multiple plot twists where characters will either betray you or sacrifice themselves to save you. It even has a MULTIPLE dragons!
Now I’ll admit whilst the idea of a ‘redemption and revenge’ storyline may be a little clichéd and whilst it has been done many times previously in both movies and books you don’t mind if it’s done well and with Final Fantasy IV, everything fits beautifully into place.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy IV, Squaresoft are releasing a PSP version of the original game and it’s direct sequel, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years which I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t even know existed until recently, I for one have played and completed Final Fantasy IV several times but I am still going to be purchasing this PSP version as it’s not only a faithful update of the original game but also a member of the Final Fantasy IV legacy.
In my eyes, Final Fantasy IV is the best game in this legendary series, love them or hate them, you cannot deny the franchises impact and effect on the gaming industry as a whole.