FINAL FANTASY IV
Original Platform: SNES
Other Platforms: Playstation, WonderSwan Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Virtual Console, FOMA 903i/703i, PSP
By Nick Murray, Videogames Contributor.
Before I get into the main focus of today's Friday Flashback, I wish to address a problem facing many retro gamers the world over, particularly those of you who favour Nintendo consoles. Game saves on old consoles like the NES, SNES and even Gameboy meant saving directly onto the game cartridges themselves, and not the console. Inside each cartridge is a lithium battery which holds this save content, and while back in the day these little things did the trick, they only have a 15 year lifespan (give or take), so what a lot of gamers are experiencing now are their saves being lost, or not being able to make any new saves. It's more than a little annoying, and at times can be downright devastating!
The reason I mention this is because recently my copy of Final Fantasy VI rather selfishly decided to delete my saves, thus rendering the game essentially unplayable, which was made all the more frustrating because my intention was to write about it for this week's feature. Now that it's fixed though, it will be the game of focus next week. Taking its place this week is Final Fantasy IV, so that'll be a Super Nintendo Final Fantasy Double Bill for you, and since I like doing things in a trilogy fashion, the Friday Flashback following next week's outing will be another instalment in this epic series. With all that housekeeping out of the way, let's get this feature underway.
Final Fantasy IV was originally something of a rarity, as it was never released in Europe, so unless you imported it from America, chances are you never played it on it's initial release. Not only that, but to those who did play it will know Final Fantasy IV as Final Fantasy II. In a move that happens far too often in Japan, following the release of the first FF in 1987, Square decided that the west would not be granted access to it's first and second sequels, so when they shipped FFIV stateside, they renamed it to FFII as to not confuse western gamers. A confusing turn of events (which could've been avoided if they just gave us the games in the first place!), but whatever you choose to call it, what is ultimately the fourth instalment in the Final Fantasy series is considered by many to be a game changer in the series.
One of the most innovating aspects of FFIV is its story. Up until this point, the Final Fantasy series' storylines were simplistic in nature, while still engaging and memorable. Here though, FFIV offered a grand tale of betrayal, redemption, vengeance and of course, the classic good vs evil. The Final Fantasy games have always aimed for a slightly operatic demeanour, and this was the first time that notion was truly accomplished. Without giving too much away, the main character is Cecil, a knight who carries out the questionable deeds of a mad King. When the doubt gets too much, and Cecil questions his ruler, he is branded a traitor to the realm, and after one thing leads to another, he finds himself in a battle against the armies he once fought with and... much, much more (unsurprisingly for the series). The single most enjoyable thing about the Final Fantasy games are the stories, and FFIV really raised the bar on that front, for itself and all RPGs alike.
Gameplay wise, this is a typical JRPG, but still one done pretty much to perfection. You'll find a familiar turn-based battle system, random enemy encounters, a sophisticated levelling up system, manageable equipment, and party selection. One thing that was unique to FFIV at the time, and was used in subsequent instalments, was that each playable character's class was locked, meaning a Black Mage character will always be a Black Mage, likewise you can't turn a knight into a healer. This could be viewed as a major restriction on player choice, however it compliments the story, as each character's class is important to that particular character, it's a part of who they are.
Not to sound too pompous about this game, but there are some real examples of artistry. Any fan of the series could talk about the genius that is Nobuo Uematsu until the Chocobos come home, but it is always worth mentioning just how wonderful the music he composed for these games were, an IV is no exception. For all the limitations of working in the 16-bit era, Uematsu created some truly beautiful themes for FFIV, songs that really add to the emotion and melodrama of the story. Not only the music though, but the graphics are great examples of craftsmanship as well. Again, despite the console's comparative limitations, the amount of detail and vibrance in those little pixels is astounding, and anyone who can appreciate the appeal of “retro” graphics will have plenty to admire here.
Final Fantasy IV is available on so many platforms now, the many who did not get chance to experience it first time round are now rather spoilt for choice. The one to seek out though (if you're not planning on importing the SNES version from America) is the 3D remake that was released on the Nintendo DS. This was a complete graphical overhaul, but is still the same game essentially. Personally, I prefer the original 16 bit version, but whichever version you opt for, you're getting yourself one of the finest JRPGs ever made, and for Final Fantasy die-hards, it's essential playing.
As I said earlier, next week I shall be looking at Final Fantasy VI. Following that I will, as mentioned, round up this FF trilogy with another game in the series, though exactly which one is yet undecided, so be sure to let me know what your personal favourites are, and which you would like to see me write about.
NEXT TIME: Nick will continue his look at the Final Fantasy series by checking out fan-favourite Final Fantasy VI.
Live on Friday December 7th.