An Old Favorite Gets A Facelift
Final Fantasy IV is a game that's revered by many an RPG veteran. It was one of the first RPGs to strike a compelling narrative, telling an emotional story with characters that developed as characters and in their relationships with each other. The game is a timeless classic and that's why Square-Enix has released so many versions of it over the years. As such, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection is the fourth re-release of the game in the 20 years since its original North American release on the SNES in 1991; the most recent remake prior to this was in 2008 for the DS, which saw the game remade in 3D with the addition of cut-scenes and voice-acting. Now the game is going back to its roots, using the same visual style as the SNES game but with enhanced graphics and redrawn high quality artwork, and as an added bonus, the previously exclusive-to-Wiiware sequel The After Years is being included as well as a brand new Interlude which connects the two games. With all of this new content added, could this really be the definitive version of Final Fantasy IV?
I wasn't too excited about playing a visually enhanced version of the SNES version at first, but upon starting the game up and watching the beautiful intro to The After Years and seeing the crisp, clean and high quality in-game graphics, I was instantly won over. The battle mode is where it especially shines, with the enemies and characters completely redrawn and highly detailed. Even the visual effects from magic such as Blizzaga, Curaga, and others look fantastic and add a lot to the already overwhelming eye candy on the screen. It may not have 3D graphics and an amazing polygon count like Square-Enix's other PSP games, but the 2D graphics here are absolutely stunning and the fluid animation stands with the best looking PSP games.
Some Things Never Change
For the uninitiated, Final Fantasy IV is the story of a Dark Knight named Cecil who seeks redemption after committing some unspeakable acts against other nations in the name of his king. In his journey to right the wrongs he committed, he'll encounter such characters as Kain, the ever brooding Dragoon, Tellah, an old wise-cracking sage, and Rydia, the last of the summoners, among others who form one of the most loveable and recognizable casts of any Final Fantasy game. Not only do the characters have their own unique personalities, but their relationship grows with Cecil and sometimes changes over the course of the game, making for an interesting dynamic compared to the earlier Final Fantasy games. Of course, anyone who's played every Final Fantasy game since IV (most notably VII) will be familiar with these concepts but it's nice to look back and see where the trend started.
Final Fantasy IV plays like a standard JRPG of old, complete with an overworld with different towns, caves, and other areas to explore (most of which you'll be visiting to progress the story) and random battles to boot. IV was the first Final Fantasy game to incorporate what would later become a staple in the franchise known as the "Active Time Battle System," which differed from the turn-based designs of other RPGs by having you input commands for your characters in real time during battles. This means that while you're trying to decide whether you should use a potion to heal one of your characters or attack, that dragon you're fighting could attack at any time. Interestingly enough, due to this design, the battles are a lot faster paced than I originally remembered them, and the boss battles can be especially challenging if you aren't quick on your feet.
However, as far as the battles go, there is one thing I have a gripe with and it's the fact that the random battle encounter rate is a little too high for the game's good. There may be times during which you can walk a considerable distance without running into any enemies, but more often than not (especially in some of the caves and dungeons) you'll encounter enemies every few steps. There were a few times where I walked just a step or two, then had a random battle, and walked literally two more steps and then had another random battle occur. And even though this is a game in which you will inevitably have to do quite a bit of level grinding anyway (which entails intentionally looking for battles to gain experience so you can level your character up), you'll find yourself trying to run away from a lot of battles just so you can get through an area to move the story on. It's not game-breaking, of course, but it is a gripe nevertheless.
Fantastic visuals, lots of content, over 60+ hours of gameplay
Too many random battles, lots of level grinding involved