Developer: Square Enix / Publisher: Square Enix / Played On: PSP / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes)
Ask any Final Fantasy fan what games in the series reside in their top five and all of them will cite Final Fantasy IV somewhere on the list. No, seriously: go do it! It’s generally accepted among Final Fantasy fanatics that IV is one of the best in the entire series, with its epic story, diverse cast, fun battles, and impressive score. It’s no wonder Square Enix has opted to re-release and remake the game several times over, and we get yet another iteration of the classic RPG in the form of Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection for the PSP. Featuring enhanced graphics, a remixed musical arrangement, and the inclusion of the previously Wii-exclusive The After Years as well as a new adventure, Interlude, The Complete Collection is the definitive version of Final Fantasy IV.
It isn’t a Final Fantasy game without a grandiose story, and Final Fantasy IV in many ways sets the tone for the series’ entire direction. The main game centers around Cecil, a Dark Knight turned White Knight who fights for a noble cause. At his side are a multitude of characters: the Dragoon Kain, White Mage and later wife Rosa, twin mages Palom and Porom, and a fatherly monk called Yang, just to name a few. Cecil and crew unravel an intricate plot that has the entire destruction of the world at its center, and the evil being Golbez at its helm. The story is characteristic of any fantasy-themed adventure but it is how the events play out and the characters themselves that really make the game standout. Nearly 20 years after its initial release, Final Fantasy IV’s story is still engrossing and an essential experience for any right-thinking RPG aficianado. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the two other games in the package. The After Years picks up the story 17 years after the original game’s ending and features most every location and character from FFIV, as well as Ceodore, the child of Rosa and Cecil. A new evil has reared its head, Kain appears to have gone rogue, and a mysterious second moon has shown up in the sky.
Expanding this story is Interlude, the sole new piece of content on the game disc, which tells the events that take place between FFIV and After Years. Cecil again takes up the main role as he sets out to investigate a strange dream he had that could spell doom for the land. Interlude and The After Years do a decent job capturing the essence that made FFIV stand out all those years ago, but they do not compare to the story of the original game and as a result are much less memorable than the main storyline.
Taking a sort of step backward from the previous release of FFIV on the Nintendo DS, The Complete Collection retains the sprites and 16-bit graphical style seen on the Game Boy Advance release in 2005. The game doesn’t impress on the same level as Final Fantasy XIII and more recent titles in the series, but still holds up as a great looking title. Completely remade character portraits accompany the larger, livelier sprites you actually control. Enemies have received the same high-def treatment and look better than they have in any other release of the game. The same updates to the graphics extend to the sequels as well, retaining a retro look that reminded me of the first time I played the game in the early 2000’s, while never feeling outdated or lackluster. This is easily the prettiest iteration of the game, and the enhanced visuals make playing the game for the first time or experiencing it all over again very enjoyable.
Another accepted fact about the Final Fantasy series is that Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for so many Final Fantasy games, has created a beautiful arrangement from start to finish. Harmonic melodies play when you’re inside towns and castles, and intense tunes pick up when the action rises. One of my favorite songs in the entire series, Theme of Love, sounds just as beautiful today as it did so long ago! From the options you can choose a remixed soundtrack to play throughout the game if you’d prefer something new. Interlude and After Years use the same songs from the main game, which isn’t a bad thing. Sound effects however, like sword swipes and Chocobo squawks, sound a bit dated but don’t hurt the overall experience.
FFIV is a turn-based RPG that has you exchanging blows with your enemies until one side is defeated. Each character has a physical attack and another unique ability. Cecil can use white magic, Yang can kick and attack all opponents, and Kain uses the Dragoon-only jump ability to leap into the air and deal devastating damage. The Active Time Battle meter makes sure things keep moving. A meter on the bottom of the screen has to fill up before you can attack with one of your characters. Be wary though: your opponents’ own ATB meters will be filling up too, and if you fail to act quickly they will attack first! This adds a great deal of strategy to the mix, making you decide whether to attack now or wait in defense for your foe’s move first.
I found the random encounter rate of monsters to be ridiculous though, oftentimes falling into battle mere steps after the last (which gets very annoying if you’re just trying to leave a dungeon). All three games follow this basic gameplay structure. Outside of battle the rest of the game is devoted to traveling between towns and dungeons, on the ground or in the air, upgrading your equipment, and level grinding. While the story is well-paced you’ll come to a point in the main quest where you have to kill monsters over and over to gain level up enough to beat the next boss. This is tedious and unnecessary, but fortunately only happened a handful of times during the main game and not too often in the sequels.
There are two types of gamers: those that have played Final Fantasy IV and those that have not. If you are in the former category and really loved your experience with FFIV then go right ahead and experience it all again. For those that haven’t played the game before, then Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection is a fantastic package that contains one of the greatest RPGs to grace the Super Nintendo and its two not-as-great sequels.