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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Square Enix
Developed By: Matrix Software
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
Rated: E10+ (Alcohol Reference, Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language)
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian Higley

December 1, 2010 - There was a moment towards the end of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light where the game broke me. The boss I was attempting had killed me five times and on every attempt I had to re-do the puzzle leading up to him. I know what youíre thinking: so what? Thatís par for the course in most JRPGs. Normally, I might be inclined to agree. But as of that moment, I was on hour 22 of the same, grueling, frustrating grind that I had been on throughout the entire game.

The 4 Heroes of Light was made with one goal in mind: a return to the old days of Final Fantasy. The story is simple in execution but conceptually grand: a kingdom in peril, a boy becomes a hero, good versus evil, etc. Thereís an expansive world to explore, treasure to find, dragons to tame. The game marries the job systems of games like Final Fantasy III and V to the difficulty of the genreís NES debut with games like Dragon Quest and the original Final Fantasy. The 4 Heroes of Light was meant to be nostalgia incarnate.

Before playing the game, I was on board with that concept. Unfortunately, developer Matrix Software saw fit to buy in bulk from the wholesale market of videogames past, taking the bad with the good. The 4 Heroes of Light brings back everything so many of us loved about those old games: the challenge, the freedom, the innocence, the simplicity. Unfortunately, it makes no attempt to refine those principals. The game doesnít approach its old-school challenge by adding depth, allowing any kind of player skill or tactical thinking. No different than the old days, challenge comes in arbitrary spikes.

The first half of the game is a slaughterhouse. I carelessly cake walked through dungeons, only to be decimated in one shot by the boss. The solution was always an obscure combination of elemental attacks and defenses needed to exploit the bossís weaknesses. But the only way to discover this was to walk through the dungeon, fight the boss and see what elements he uses, die, return to town to buy the appropriate gear, repeat the dungeon, and then decimate the boss with almost no difficulty.

What there is of strategy in the game is dependent on the job system -- called the crown system -- but the first 10-15 hours are spent with the party split up, usually in parties of one or two characters. Balance in the game requires tinkering with a full party of different jobs, so being restricted to a group of one or two throws the balance completely out of whack. Usually, the best crown for a boss is the one most-recently unlocked, throwing any room for creative strategy out the window.

During the second half of the game, the difficulty dives. As crowns are upgraded, you unlock new abilities for the character to use in battle. But the ultimate abilities are so overpowered that nothing poses a challenge. With a fully-upgraded black mage, I was killing bosses in three or four turns, maximum. Thatís assuming, of course, that the game let my party go first. If I was unlucky, and the boss got to act first, then the battle was as good as lost; he would cast some overpowered attack that would leave my party crippled, unable to recover. The game became a protracted battle of dice-rolls to see who got to use their game-breaking, overpowered spell first.

Again, the difficulty spikes for the gameís finale, where youíre stripped of your crowns and forced through a gauntlet of previously-defeated bosses. But since the game never taught you anything, never let you use all four party members before earning your crowns, forced you to rely on exploits and grinding, youíre left to figure out, for the first time, at the end of the game, how to actually play it. And thatís the gameís message throughout: figure it out. It offers no direction, no objective, no goal. You finish a dungeon and then youíre just left to wander and figure out what comes next.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I wasnít able to finish The 4 Heroes of Light. For the first time in a long time, I got so enraged by a simple video game, that I had to force myself to stop playing out of fear over what I might do to my DS had I continued. The game does have its better qualities though. When it works and itís not actively kicking you in the neck, it manages to be a lot of fun. The characters are cute, the music and overall sound design is delightfully retro, and its charming personality canít be denied. The super simple story works in the gameís favor, though does manage to confuse at times with over-simplicity.

I donít have a problem with old-fashioned game design, but The 4 Heroes of Light seems to actively embrace old-fashioned flaws. My relationship with the game spiked in sync with its difficulty; one moment I really liked it, the next I was ranting and cursing its name. If a fundamental adherence to a very old-school design philosophy is what suits you, then thereís a lot of meat to The 4 Heroes of Light. But if you want depth, tactics, the ability to think creatively, then the game is not for you.


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