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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
Rated: E10 (Everyone 10 & Up)
Release Date: July 22, 2008
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian H.

In the history of the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy IV--originall released as Final Fantasy II in North America--has always held a special spot in the hearts of fans. It was the first entry in the series on the SNES, it introduced the now-series-standard Active Time Battle (ATB) System, and it was the first to feature a (at the time) complex plot and characters with developed individual personalities and relationships. Itís also one of the most popular and, consequently, most milked entries in the series, having also appeared on both the Playstation and Gameboy Advance.

The story of Final Fantasy IV follows the journey of Cecil. Cecil is the Dark Knight of the kingdom of Baron and the commander of Baronís elite airship fleet, the Red Wings. Disturbed by Baronís recent increase in aggression and the newly-developed power hungry nature of its king, Cecil, along with lover Rosa and comrade Kain, rebels against his kingdom. The plot of Final Fantasy IV impressed all those years ago as charactersí allegiances and motivations shifted back and forth, party members were lost or presumed dead, and the development of Cecilís quest grew from one of rebellion to one of redemption and self-discovery. The plot of this, the third iteration of the game, remains mostly unchanged, adding new sequences that help to better establish or flesh out certain characters, and expand on some of the story twists that show up towards the end.

Very little has changed in terms of the actual mechanics of the game. The cha-racters are the same, the plot is the same, it still uses the Active Time Battle system, it still uses random encounters, spells, weapons, dungeons, the overworld... They all contain, at most, marginal changes. Perhaps the biggest difference, at least in comparison to the North American Final Fantasy II, is the difficulty. Final Fantasy IV is hard. Understand that more than anything before diving in to it. Youíre almost guaranteed to die the first time you enter a new area and occasional grinding is a requirement to progress. Often I found myself teleporting out of dungeons to save for the sake of the levels and items I had gained out of fear that I might die and lose valuable progress (which also happened quite regularly). I canít fault FFIVís difficulty, as the game was clearly designed with old-school difficulty in mind. Nevertheless, it can be obnoxious to die because some monster is able to spam a powerful attack that damages your whole party, faster than you can heal yourself.

Character customization is another added feature, though the prospect of custo-mizing the party is not alien to the game. While Final Fantasy IV Advance allowed the player to swap out party members and customize the party for the final dungeon, FFIV DS takes a new approach in the form of character augments. Augments are special one-time use items that teach a character a special ability. Some of these abilities are original and some are the abilities of other characters inherited from them when they leave your party. Itís a clumsy system that, ultimately, doesnít really work. Augments are inherited based on the number of augments a certain character is given. Itís im-possible to know the proper order of who gets which augments when, making it a com-plete guessing game. Furthermore, additional augments can only be gained on subse-quent playthroughs of the game and are dependent on the augments given to charac-ters in the previous playthrough. The entire system is frustrating and ultimately ineffec-tive when compared to the much simpler option to simply customize the party with your preferred characters.

Compounding the issues with the augment system is the difficulty of the new post-game dungeon. The problem isnít the extreme difficulty. Rather, thatís expected and welcome as a challenge for veteran players of the game. The fact that it is so diffi-cult as to require multiple playthroughs of the main game from the player is the issue. If the game had more replay value in the main game this wouldnít be an issue. As it stands, however, the extra dungeon and augments provide the only real replay value, and those two features alone are simply not enough.

As usual, Square-Enix has spared no expense in the technical department. The graphics, cut-scenes (on the DS!), and voice acting are no doubt pushing the plucky little hand-held to its limits. The visual style may turn some off but it canít be doubted that the graphics themselves are stellar for the system. The voice-acting--an area that Square got off to a rough start with with Final Fantasy X--is equally impressive, if not more-so. Cecilís voice is appropriately noble with an edge, Kain sounds like as much of a badass as heís always been, and Golbez sounds appropriately like Darth Vader, the obvious inspiration for the character. Seeing classic locations and characters represented in 3D pushes all the right nostalgia buttons for anyone whoís played any of the previous versions of the game, while newcomers can simply awe at what the DS is capable of.

As much as new Final Fantasy titles are a constant in life, so are Final Fantasy remakes. Itís hard to say which version of Final Fantasy IV is the ďdefinitiveĒ one. After all, we can probably expect to see another one in the next generation. Those who played the original (especially those who, like myself, passed up the remakes) will be overwhelmed with nostalgia and newcomers can experience one of the franchiseís best entries for the first time, in all of its technical glory. While the Augment system fails to really achieve the level of customization it seems to hope for, it doesnít detract from the overall game, either. Those going in to the game, especially newcomers, should be aware of the increased difficulty and prepared to spend some time with it. Either way, Final Fantasy IV for the DS is a gorgeous re-imagining of a classic game, even if the added gameplay mechanics donít pan out so successfully. A definitive version of Final Fantasy IV probably exists in bits and pieces throughout its various iterations. Considering how Square-Enix love to make money on their old games, Iím sure weíll see it eventually.


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