TO BE A REAL PALADIN...


Forward strides in graphics and gameplay aside, Final Fantasy IV is most often lauded for upping the ante in terms of the kind of story an RPG or adventure video game is supposed to tell. Many, many fan reviews will heap more praise upon the games for its plot and characters than anything else, asserting that it didn't only raise the bar, but still has the best story to tell of any RPG to date. This is sort of funny, because Final Fantasy IV's story is damn ridiculous.

It's true. I love Final Fantasy IV, but I can almost guarantee you the developers were making the story up as they went along. Another excerpt from a SquareSoft developers' meeting:

DEVELOPER #1: Okay, so the bad guys just snatched all the crystals and we're about out of world map. I think it's about time for a world-shaking cataclysm followed by a climactic showdown and final boss fight, right?

DEVELOPER #2: Naw, dude. Sakaguchi says the final project's gotta be at least eight hours longer. Any ideas on how we go about doing that?

DEVELOPER #3: I got it! Why don't we just say there's four more crystals out there and they're all underground?

DEVELOPER #2: Works for me. I'll start palette swapping enemy sprites and programming them in as stronger "dark" versions of overworld monsters.

[A MONTH LATER]

DEVELOPER: So, uh...we can't think of anything else to have the player do in the underworld, we're still a few hours short, and we can't think of a way to wrap everything up. Sakaguchi-sama?

SAKAGUCHI: [looks up from sniffing glue and doodling a bedroom-eyed Rydia in his notebook] Well duh! Isn't it obvious? NOW WE GO TO THE MOON! And check it: let's also make it so the good guy and the bad guy have been long lost brothers ALL ALONG and now have to set aside their differences to battle a common foe! How's that for some riveting storytelling?

DEVELOPER: Brilliant, sir. But, uh...who's gonna be the last boss, then?

SAKAGUCHI: I don't know. Some guy living on the moon, I guess. What the hell am I paying you for? You think of something.


And even though the characters in Final Fantasy IV do and say a hell of a lot more than the casts of pretty much every 8-bit JRPG combined, they're still fairly flat. With the possible exceptions of Kain and Cecil (and the latter gets a lot less interesting after he gives up being a Dark Knight), everyone spends the game signing the same songs. It's sometimes like watching an episode of Pokemon:

ROSA: Cecil! Save me!

RYDIA: Innocence innocence innocence!

EDGE: Arrogant and boisterous! Arrogant and boisterous!

RYDIA: Innocence?

EDGE: Boisterous! Arrogant, arrogant? Boisterous!

CID: I'm a kook! Airships! I'm a kook!

ROSA: SAAAAVE ME, CECIL!

But here's the thing: none of this matters. Final Fantasy IV's story is simple and silly, but that's not where the game's appeal lies. Final Fantasy IV is worth playing because it gives you a five-member party, a magical spaceship, and hordes of vicious monsters, demons, and aliens to rip up ATB style. It's just fun.

There's still no denying it opened the floodgates, though. If Final Fantasy IV wasn't the turning point itself, it was one of several 16-bit JRPGs that triggered the genre's increasing focus on storytelling. The end result of the process set in motion by Final Fantasy IV and its ilk are newer franchises like Xenosaga and .hack, in which the actual gameplay elements -- battles, dungeons, stat/ability progression -- are simplified and user-friendly to the extent where they sometimes feel like an afterthought. Or padding. Story and presentation get a far wider cut of the budget. (If you think I shelled out forty bucks for .hack//G.U. Volume 2 because I was excited about the new scythe weapon, you're crazier than I am.) I have a friend who watched all of the cutscenes from Final Fantasy XII on YouTube so she wouldn't have to put forty hours into actually playing the game. If that's not bad sign for Final Fantasy and its genre, I don't know what is. But enough for now; we'll talk more about this when we get to VIII and X. Just you wait.

OTHER VERSIONS

Final Fantasy IV has a slew of versions and it can be easy to get mixed up. The original Final Fantasy IV was released on the Super Famicom in 1991. When it was released in North America as "Final Fantasy II" later that year, it underwent some major alterations: a ton of character abilities (like Cecil's "Dark" command) and spells were removed, several items were taken out (mostly dealing with specific status ailments), a few potentially "objectionable" images were censored (namely the porn book item, the dancing girl in Kaipo, and the falling blade over the bound Rosa), and enemies became much easier to deal with. Thanks to this first North American port of Final Fantasy IV, many JRPG fans are to this day are under the mistaken impression that it's standard practice for Japanese companies to reduce the difficulty level of their English ports for the benefit of the lazy and stupid American consumer. The neutered North American version was simplified even futher and then released in Japan as Final Fantasy IV Easytype. The biggest difference here the totally different sprite used for Zeromus.

Thanks to relatively low audience expectations when it came to localization, the almost embarrasingly poor (by today's standards) translation didn't keep Final Fantasy IV from being a hit with English-speaking audiences when it was released for the SNES. It wasn't until several years later that fans clamored for a chance to play Final Fantasy IV without the "Easytype" changes and with a more cogent English translation. It's worth noting, by the way, that Ted Woolsey was not responsible for translating the SNES release.

From 1997 to 1999 Square ported its three 16-bit Final Fantasy titles to the Playstation. These were all Japan-exclusives. When Final Fantasy V and VI were compiled on the PSOne as Final Fantasy Anthology, American fans grumbled that Final Fantasy IV was nowhere in sight. It finally made its PSOne appearance in North America along with Chrono Trigger in the Final Fantasy Chronicles compilation, marking the first time it appeared in its original, non-castrated form. In addition to the restored difficulty weapons, items and abilities, Square gave it a whole new translation. While it still uses an ugly font similar to the SNES games', at least it's not monospaced, and the rewritten, uncensored dialogue is vastly superior to the initial English release. It also introduces a Run button, as well as a "Memo" save, which will temporarily save your game to RAM (although not to the memory card) in case you're killed

The original Japanese release was plagued with load times, but nearly all of these were fixed for the American version. The only loads are at the beginning of the game and when saving -- everything else is just as quick as the SNES version. Also, other Square RPG ports like Final Fantasy V, VI, and Chrono Trigger suffered from degraded music. The Final Fantasy IV port uses streamed music recorded straight from the SNES game, so other than some fadeout when a song plays for too long, it's practically perfect. Only the sound effects are slightly degraded. There's also a very poor CG movie thrown in. The intro only shows the first part; you need to finish the game to view the whole thing, which depicts various highlights from the story.

In 2002, Square brought Final Fantasy IV in portable format to Bandai's Wonderswan Color handheld. Some of the graphics -- mostly the background tiles -- were redrawn to show more detail, so the game looks a bit better. The system isn't quite powerful enough to handle Mode 7 scaling, so some of the effects, like the airships flying, don't look quite right. The music has also taken a significant downgrade, although it still sounds pretty cool listening to the classic tunes in PSG synth.

After Square Enix kissed and made up with Nintendo, they took the Wonderswan version of and ported it to the Gameboy Advance in 2005. This version features a new introduction before the title screen, even more redrawn background tiles, changed character portraits (which now appear inside the dialogue boxes for some reason), and yet another reworked translation. Square Enix tried to market it to newer fans as an inexpensive, accessible version of an old classic, but also included some brand new content to entice old veterans who had already played the game on the SNES and/or PSOne. There are new weapons, new abilities, and the option to mix up your party after a certain point toward the end of the game. Instead of being forced to stick with the usual Cecil/Kain/Edge/Rosa/Rydia crew, the GBA version makes it possible to shred through the last dungeon with, for example, a Cecil/Yang/Edward/Palom/Porom team. There are also some new sidequests and dungeons, including personalized "trials" for every character, battles with "Lunar" versions of Rydia's summons (akin to the Dark Aeons sidequests in Final Fantasy X International), and the "Easytype" Zeromus sprite appears as a new boss called Zeromus EG. In order to keep it up to snuff with Final Fantasy V and VI, the ATB bars are now visible in battle, so it's easier to see whose turn is coming up next. As expected, the music has taken a hit. It's far better than the Wonderswan version, but it's still fuzzy compared to the original SNES synth. Unfortunately, the port was handled by TOSE, an outside developer known for sloppy porting, which resulted in a handful of bugs, the most significant of which screwed up the turn order in battles, in addition to some slowdown. The bugs were fixed for the European release, at least.

There are a ton of weird differences between the translations in all versions. The SNES one in general is significantly dumbed down, toning down elements like Cecil's and Rosa's romance. At the beginning, Kain will also break the fourth wall and instruct Cecil to talk to everyone with the A button. At the beginning of the game, the King gives an item to Cecil and Kain to take to the village of Mist. In the SNES version, it's just called a "Package", whereas the other versions call it a "Bomb Ring." THE GBA version features a few slightly amusing pop culture references, like having a little kid call Dark Knights "totally sweet" a' la the Ultimate Ninja Home Page. All English translations keep the "SPOONY BARD" line.

In 2007, only two years after the Gameboy Advance release, Square decided to completely remake Final Fantasy IV and release it on the DS. This version features totally new polygonal graphics, drastically altering its look and feel. Like the remake of Final Fantasy III, this was done by Matrix, so it feels a bit similar. Although the brand new CG intro features character designs reminiscent of the PSOne-era cinemas (and is also significantly better than the PSOne FMV intro), the in-game character artwork seems to be more based on Yoshitaka Amano's designs. They still all look a little bit super deformed, and Cecil in particular looks like one skinny, skinny dude, but it looks decent, given the limited 3D abilities of the DS. Unlike the DS Final Fantasy III, which was a bit slow and cumbersome, Final Fantasy IV moves at a much brisker pace. The battles still feel a little bit slower than the original, due to the addition of extra animations, but it's not overwhelming. Unlike Final Fantasy III DS, the camera maintains the classic side viewpoint during battles, but it switches to an over-the-shoulder camera during certain major fights. The action takes place on the top screen, and the bottom shows the ATB bars, as well as information on enemies and abilities being selected.

There are also several cutscenes rendered with the ingame engine, most of which are fully voiced. They detail the most important plot points (The Red Wings at the beginning of the game, Cecil's nighttime conversation with Rosa, the bombing of Mist, etc.) and are all fantastically directed. It's surprising how much emotion they can conveny, especially how low-tech they seem, and it really adds a lot of drama to the game. According to developer interviews, a significant chuck of the original SNES game was left on the cutting room floor, implying that the DS version's plot would be significantly reworked a' la Lunar: Silver Star Story for the PSOne. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. The plot and even the dialogue are almost exactly the same as the original version. There are a couple of extra cutscenes -- most significantly, some background detailing Golbez's origins -- but those expecting some of the loonier story points to be altered will be disappointed. One bonus, however, is that you can now view the lead characters' thoughts on the current situation by bringing up the menu.

Strangely, none of the enhancements added to the GBA port were carried over to the DS version, so you're once again stuck with the same five characters for the final dungeon. Instead, there's a brand new mechanic called the "Augment" (or "Decant" in the Japanese version) system, which is meant to allow players to customize their characters -- a feature absent from all previous versions of Final Fantasy IV. Although all of the party members still have their inherent abilities, you can also obtain abilities from elsewhere. For instance, when Palom and Porom leave the party, you get an Augment ability called "Twin". You can then equip this on whatever character you want, basically allowing you to inherit the twins' specialties. There are far more than just party member abilities too -- you can learn commands and abilities from bosses and subquests, most which should be familiar to Final Fantasy vets. The catch is, once you equip an Augment ability, you can't remove it, thus forcing you to customize characters without making them interchangable like they are in Final Fantasy VII.

Fans of Final Fantasy IV know that certain characters leave the party for good at certain points in the game. Naturally, they'll give you at least one of their special abilities as an Augment. However, if you've already assigned any additional Augment abilities to them, you won't get those back. Instead, you'll been given other, new Decants in return. This is only way to get some of the best Augments in the game, which is weird, because you're it essentially encourages to sacrifice some Augments for others. For instance, if you don't equip any Augments on Yang, he'll just give you his Charge power. If you equipped one, you'll get both Charge as well as Kick. If you equipped two, you'll get a Gird ability, which reduces damage by quite a bit. There are also extra subquests to undertake to get other Augments.

Also brand new is an additional summon monster for Rydia called Pochika. When you first get him, you can draw your own face on him. You can also play a variety of minigames to customize his abilities. Once summoned, he takes Rydia's place in battle instead of simply showing up for a single attack like all of the other summon beasts.

Other abilities have changed too. Cecil's Dark attack works like the Dark Knight abilities in DS Final Fantasy III. In the original Final Fantasy IV, it attacked all foes on the screen. Now, you need to charge it for a turn, and while it can only be used to attack a single enemy, the ability will stay active for a few turns. You can also select specific songs for Edward to play, so he's not quite as useless as before. Arrows are now unlimited, in addition to other small changes. Finally, the difficulty in general has been increased quite a bit. Specifically, many of the bosses have different and more powerful attack patterns, which will challenge even the oldest Final Fantasy IV veterans.

The dungeons are nearly completely identical. However, the bottom screen features an automap, which helps make the zoomed-in camera less of a hindrance. Also, old fans may remember Namingway, the fellow who had previously allowed you to rename your characters. In the DS version, you meet him right at the beginning of the game, where he offers his services. However, he realizes that he can't change them (due to the names being used in the voiceovers) so he runs off. Later, he takes on different jobs and changes his name. He becomes Mappingway and offers to give you bonuses every time you uncover 100% of a map, and later becomes Livingway and opens up the bestiary. He also unlocks several other functions, the sound and cinema galleries.

The music composition is all the same, but they've been rearranged to accomodate the DS synth. Even though some may miss the distinctive sound of the SNES, the DS music sounds pretty good. Some of the samples sound a bit strange, but they elicit the same flawed charm as the original SPC chip, even if it does sound different. Certain songs, like Rosa's theme and town theme, feature some Celtic influence, undoubtedly inspired by Final Fantasy IV's arrange album, Celtic Moon.

The DS version isn't quite perfect -- the 3D graphics still look a bit primitive, the designers could have done more to fix some of the sillier elements of the plot, and the Augment system isn't as versatile as it could be. And yet, it's still fascinating to see such a classic adventure totally revisited with brand new graphics and a more balanced game system.

MP3s Download here (Includes SNES, WS, GBA, and DS)

Red Wings
Main Theme
Battle 1
Battle 2
Final Battle

Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Final Fantasy IV (PSOne)

Final Fantasy IV (PSOne)

Final Fantasy IV (PSOne)

Final Fantasy IV (GBA)

Final Fantasy IV (GBA)

Final Fantasy IV (GBA)

Final Fantasy IV (GBA)

Final Fantasy IV (GBA)

Final Fantasy IV (GBA)

Final Fantasy IV (DS)

Final Fantasy IV (DS)

Final Fantasy IV (DS)

Final Fantasy IV (DS)

Final Fantasy IV (DS)

Final Fantasy IV (DS)

Intro

Super Nintendo

Wonderswan

Gameboy Advance

DS

Airship Battle

Super Nintendo

Wonderswan

Gameboy Advance

DS

Cecil's Thoughts 1

Super Nintendo

Wonderswan

Gameboy Advance

DS

Cecil's Thoughts 2

Super Nintendo

Wonderswan

Overworld

Gameboy Advance

DS

Super Nintendo

Wonderswan

Gameboy Advance

DS

Battle

Super Nintendo

Wonderswan

Gameboy Advance

DS

Baron

Super Nintendo

Wonderswan

Gameboy Advance

DS

Translation Differences

SNES

PSOne

GBA

SNES

PSOne

GBA

SNES

PSOne

GBA

SNES

PSOne

GBA

VERDICT

With its stubby characters, straightforward ability system, fairy tale setting, and admittedly dated graphics and sound, Final Fantasy IV bears very little resemblance to today's JRPG's, and that might be a good thing. It's vintage enough to possess a great deal of retro charm, but advanced enough to avoid feeling primitive and dated. I'll spare you the SQUARE HAS GONE TO THE DARK SIDE rant (for now), and just say that this is Final Fantasy the way Allah intended. Final Fantasy IV is cartoony, fast-paced, engaging, and, packed with memorable characters and monstrous bosses. And even though it's got a story to tell, Final Fantasy IV is more interested in striving to be the best video game it can be than the best interactive storybook. They sure don't make 'em like they used to.

Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

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