Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Final Fantasy II 2 SNES US title screen
I'm kind of disappointed this logo doesn't have a animated shine going across it. I guess I've been spoiled by games like Link to the Past and Silver. Also for anyone following the site chronologically, you might have noticed that this is the 5th shiny metal logo in a row. Pure fluke, I promise you.

Alright today I'm taking a look at Final Fantasy IV, (aka. Final Fantasy II) on the Super Nintendo. This was actually the first game in the Final Fantasy series to get a near simultaneous US release, coming out less than sixth months after the Japanese version. They achieved this miracle by just missing out the last two NES games entirely and skipping ahead, renumbering this to FFII and hoping no one noticed. It could've been Final Fantasy I in Europe following that method, but alas us poor Europeans were skipped over entirely once again. Still, I'm just happy the game actually got an English release somewhere this time, as it'll save me from translating it from Japanese as I go, one message box at a time.

My associate Ocean already wrote up his thoughts on this game in a guest post last year, but I've been playing through the series in order and I didn't want to miss this out, so please ignore his hard work and insights, and consider this the one true FFIV article on the site.

The game's dropped the traditional scrolling introductory text and character naming screen of the NES games, instead I've been thrown straight into a cutscene which follows a fleet of airships flying flat-out across a flashy Mode 7 background. They just couldn't wait to show off the new graphic capabilities of the mighty SNES.

Final Fantasy IV (PSX)

Like Final Fantasy 1 and 2 (but not 3 weirdly) FF4 received a PlayStation port with a brand new state of the art CGI intro video. The thing is though, this port was created five years before the other games made it to the PlayStation, so the intro... well it's kinda dated looking, even more so than the rest of them.

Plus the video clip's pretty much over before it's begun, as it only lasts long enough to show airships taking off and a knight moping around on deck while this half-melted looking woman watches with concern from a nearby town. It felt more like an airship commerical than the start of an epic fantasy story really.

But then in both versions it cuts to the airship crew doing the two frame NES stompy dance! Partying like it's 1987.

It turns out that the sinister knight in blue is called... Cecil, and his crew are just a little bit concerned about the fact that they just stole a crystal from innocent people. This is actually toned down a bit from the original Japanese dialogue, where they talk about how they just murdered innocent people for it.

FLASHBACK!

Meanwhile, a few minutes ago, Cecil reflects on how he led a team into Mysidia and slaughtered some cute little mages to steal their shiny magic crystal. The prophesied Warrior of Light, he ain't.

But Cecil tells his crew to quit their whining, they did their duty for King and country and that's the end of it. Plus they should really be more concerned about those giant monsters flying in to attack the airships.

Okay, at first glance the battle system is pretty much the... oh wait this is still part of the cutscene. Also holy shit Cecil, you think you used enough lightning there? I think there's people in the lower decks still alive, you might want to turn up the voltage.

Man, I'm definitely adding that to my shortlist of spells to abuse when/if I finally get this guy in my party.

Anyway Cecil defeats the enemies and returns to his castle with the crystal. And so the intro continues. This must be when the series started to transition from having a few lines of dialogue every now and again to keep the plot moving, to having endless unskippable cutscenes you have to endure.

Hey wait, isn't this the king's throne room from hit video game series GameCenter CX?

GameCenter CX king throne room
GameCenter CX
I was half right, they've totally nicked the walls! Speaking of walls, FF4's tiles seem a little basic for a SNES game somehow.

Final Fantasy IV RecolouredFinal Fantasy III (NES)
I mean if you turn the colours down a little you could be basically looking at one of the NES games. The characters are tiny and there's very little variation in the background tiles.


Final Fantasy IV Advance (GBA)
The later WonderSwan Color and Game Boy Advance ports added extra detail and shadows giving the game a more 16-bit era look, but you still wouldn't confuse it for Chrono Trigger.

Oh right I should probably mention what's actually happening in this scene. Cecil came back to present the crystal to his king, his mission a total success, so of course the King was outraged and took away his command of the Red Wings airship fleet, effective immediately. Now Cecil's been demoted to being a delivery boy, tasked with taking a Package to Mist Valley.

Great, I'm playing as an unstoppable dark knight with unimaginable magic powers and (until very recently) command of the world's mightiest airship fleet and my first mission is almost literally a FedEx quest. Alright let's get on with it then.

Uh, hello? Can I just squeeze past, I kinda need to get this package delivered? I'm pretty sure I outrank you so I order you to move aside! STAND ASIDE PEONS AND LET ME PAST!

You guys aren't going to let me leave the castle are you? Bastards.

Come on, I don't need to see the King, I've seen the King! I started off talking to the King, just let me out. What? What do you want from me?

Apparently I need to take a rest before I can go on my journey, which is sensible enough except someone neglected to give me a map to this castle. I'm in that Quantum Leap situation again where I've jumped into someone else's life and everyone treats me like I already know where everything is. Oh it would be foolish to give the Dark Knight Cecil directions to his own bedchamber!

Well okay, if they're going to force me to search every bloody inch of this castle looking for my own bedroom, then I'm going to go raid every hidden treasure vault I find along the way and claim the contents for myself. Maybe my bed's in one of them, won't know until I look.


LATER THAT EVENING.


The real Cecil I know would never whimper like this!
I'm sorry Rosa, it's just that it took me until 3 in the morning to find my room and by that time I was too exhausted to even take off my armour before collapsing into bed. But then the very second I close my eyes, you burst in through the... stairs to remind me that I spent all morning executing innocent black mages. Because that's just what I needed going around my head all night, to help distract me from this incredibly spiky helmet cutting into the back of my head.

Somehow I get the feeling that the real Cecil's whimpering has only just begun.

At last I've joined up with my old friend Kain the Dragoon and made out of the castle, and it was worth it just for this overworld music. Genius composer Nobuo Uematsu got a lot out of the NES's sound hardware for the earlier games, but this music is a clear generation more advanced.

Well I could go straight off into adventure, but surely the smart thing to do is to visit town and blow my hero's entire life savings on essential supplies (weapons).

Or maybe I'm not getting any weapons then. Well I'm a (formally) high ranking dark knight and my buddy Kain is a badass dragoon, we're covered head to toe in ornate full plate armour, and I can make mythical creatures explode by snapping my fingers, so I think we'll be okay without a basic iron sword and a leather vest for now.

So we left town empty handed and took a stroll around the overworld (the King forgot to tell us where Mist Valley is), but it wasn't long before we got sucked into a random encounter battle.

Okay, a first glance the battle system is pretty much the same as the preceding games (even the knife-wielding imps are back), with FF3's automatic enemy retargeting now included as standard, but they've made a few more improvements this time around such as:
  • Most obviously the fights take place on an actual background rather than being in a miserable black void.
  • The 'Run' option has been shifted off to the new L and R shoulder buttons leaving more room on the menu for more interesting commands.
  • There are extra commands to change the character's row mid-fight or parry an enemy attack, giving more defensive options.
But they've sneakily hidden the biggest upgrade away where I didn't even notice it, until enemies started attacking me during my turn. Yep, Final Fantasy IV introduces the patented* Active Time Battle system to the series, allowing characters to attack when their timer bar has filled up, rather than taking turns as a group. They didn't quite think of adding the timer bars to the HUD yet though so there's no way to predict who'll take a turn next.

*No seriously it really has been patented.

I wonder why they call this place the Mist Cave.

This place is a maze of ledges and stairs hanging over a chasm, pretty different to the more traditional step-less caves I explored in the earlier games. It's also the only route through the mountains so it's where I have to go. Annoyingly it seems that every dead end has a treasure chest, so if I stumble upon the right path I have to backtrack and take all the wrong ones first.

Oh crap, it's Doctor Mist! Aren't you in the wrong game mate? Shouldn't you be hanging out on the cover of Final Fantasy V instead of creeping around in caves, hassling postmen?

Doctor Mist occasionally turns into intangible fog, making it impossible to hit, but with my new ATB battle system I can just sit back and wait for it to recompose. This really isn't a tough fight, even without the slightest bit of grinding.

And once the Mist Dragon's dead I'm free to deliver my Package. You know, it's weird how it's called a 'Package' in the US SNES release, but a 'Bomb Ring' in all the other versions...

Oh shit, the Package exploded when we got the Mist Village, burning the town to the ground! (Just pretend the buildings are on fire and there's people running around screaming.) Why is it that everywhere we go we end up killing innocent people?

Well at least we can go rescue that green-haired kid up on the top right and do one good deed today.

Oh, so your mother is a summoner who summons Mist Dragons and if her summon dies then she does too? Wow, well this is awkward. Cecil really is the crappiest of all Final Fantasy heroes isn't he?

Uh... quick Kain, grab the kid, we'll drag her to safety!

Well, fuck. I'm starting to get the feeling I'm actually playing as the villain's bumbling henchmen in this game. This is another cutscene battle by the way, as the girl summons Titan and tears the ground in two. The game sure loves its cutscenes.

Damn that's a lot of sand.

Well the earthquake somehow formed a new mountain range between Cecil and Mist Village, and Kain's nowhere to be found, so all I can do now is continue east and carry the poor unconscious kid across the desert to the nearest town. I just hope this one doesn't blow up when I get there.


ONE HIKE ACROSS THE DESERT LATER.


I found an oasis town in the center of the desert and it miraculously survived our arrival, though tragedy was only a few doors down the street. Cecil's girlfriend Rosa has somehow made it here before us, having been "kept from falling down" and carried to bed, but she's sick with a fever which can only be cured with SandRuby. Damn, it's pretty lucky these games have gotten me into the habit of breaking into everyone's house and interrogating them or else I would have left town completely unaware she was here.

Before I can go find a SandRuby I think it'll be a good idea to get a bit of grinding in outside the oasis town. Rydia's only level 1 right now, so if I can get her through a couple of fights she'll gain a few levels very quickly and then I won't have to worry about her running out of magic too fast. She can already bring out a Chocobo summon at the cost of some MP, which does devastating damage aganst gigantic desert butterflies. Which I guess makes this Chocobo the very first summon attack in the Final Fantasy series. (Edit - Nope, I've been informed that summoners show up at least as early as Final Fantasy III).

Weirdly I can't summon that ultra-powerful Titan she brought out earlier. You know, I can't do any of Cecil's super attacks from the intro now that I think about it either! The Japanese version of the game did at least let him have a 'Dark' attack that hits all enemies at the cost of some of his own HP, but that was taken out of the US version, because I guess the game had been reworked to be easy enough that you'd never need it.

Incidentally they later made a third, even easier version of the game for the Japanese market called the Final Fantasy IV Easytype, but apparently all the later ports for the PlayStation and GBA etc. are based on the original, more difficult Japanese version of the game.

The route to find the SandRuby just happened to go through a very similar mountain cave (this time with a water theme instead of mist), where I found an old wizard called Tellah blocking the route. He agrees to join our team if we'll help him get to the city of Damcyan to help him rescue his daughter from an evil bard.

Final Fantasy IV Advance (GBA)
Just out of curiosity I tried to leave town without discovering Rosa on the GBA version and found that the old wizard on the bridge was determined that I shall not pass. Not until I've stumbled across the next plot trigger hidden inside some unmarked house.

The thing is, Cecil never even mentioned Rosa to him when they joined up in the SNES game, so I guess he just suddenly changes his mind and lets me team up with him for no reason besides boredom and senility.

Crap, it's a frog and it's frogged me! Funnily enough tiny frogs aren't generally much use in a fight, so now it's all on Rydia to finish this battle before she gets polymorphed as well.

Fortunately Rydia's getting pretty powerful now seeing as she has white magic, black magic and summons, and automatically learns spells as she levels up. Unfortunately she's still a pretty low level so she doesn't have much mana and I've got no items on me to recover it between fights.


A BIT MORE CAVE LATER.


It's a save point! The first ever save point in the entire Final Fantasy series no less! (Probably.) It also doubles as a safe haven where I can use my tent to recover my health... and mana. Okay, cool, now I'm recharged and Rydia's back in the fight. Would have been nice to have a few of these around in the NES games.


SOME SERIOUS SPELUNKING LATER.


Oh shit, it's a giant grinning cross-eyed carrot octopus... that is so awesome! He's also a total pushover, which is always nice. I kept expecting him to do something tricky, like perhaps make it so I had to aim for a specific tentacle, but nope all I had to do was smack him around until he died.

Now we're through the cave passage I'm free to visit the city of Damcyan and help Tellah find his daughter. It seems that my luck is finally starting to turn around.

Or not. That's town number two destroyed right in front of us, by my own Red Wing fleet in fact. Nice to see those guys are murdering the innocent just fine without me though. I trained them well.

It seems that only one person survived the attack, one person in the entire castle, and of course it's the man Tellah came here to beat up: Prince Edward the Spoony Bard.

Unfortunately Edward has plot armour on and is immune to Tellah's vengeance, so the old mage storms out of my party to take his anger out on Golbez, the man who led the assault on the castle, slapping Cecil out of the way as he leaves. Poor Cecil's sick of being life's whipping boy though and goes over to slap some sense into Edward, who's currently moping over his dead lover. Even Rydia gets a cutting remark in, knocking the guy down a rung just when he thought he was at his lowest. 

Well I did come out here to find a SandRuby to cure Rosa, but now Edward's in the team I should probably take him back to the oasis town to get him some gear and maybe a few levels first, so that I don't end up having to drag his corpse the whole way. It's okay, I've got the Prince's hovercraft now so I can take a shortcut back and skip the water cave.

Back in town I ran into this cat creature called Namingway, who has the power to rename any character in my party. So I do actually get to pick their names, just not right away. Here's an interesting fact: the DS version of the game has voice acting, which obviously makes changing the names pretty difficult. So poor Namingway goes through an identity crisis adventure of his own, travelling the world and giving the player stuff when you meet him. Now that to me is a clear example of the developers actually giving a shit.

Alright, back in the hovercraft and off to the Antlion cave then, again. How come the crappy caves never explode, that's what I want to know. I want to nuke the whole lot of them.


ONE VERY SIMILAR LOOKING CAVE LATER.


Whoa, that thing looks amazing. Maybe not quite as good as a psychotic water carrot with tentacles, but a close second. Here we see Edward the Bard's unique skill set coming to good use, as I can choose the 'hide' command to make him go away and leave the competent characters free to get this job done.

With the Antlion dead I was able to use the SandRuby to heal Rosa and together we headed through another very familiar looking cave full of very familiar stairs to reach the castle city of Fabul and warn them that everywhere we visit tends to explode.

Final Fantasy IV Advance (GBA)
The GBA version tweaks the game a little to add prettier backgrounds, on screen timers, and give characters extra commands. Edward's been given a 'heal' command which might actually make him pretty useful. It's a shame I have to drag his pathetic ass back into the fight to use it though.

You know, I shouldn't be so cruel to Eddie. Sure he's not a damage dealing powerhouse, or a versatile mage, or even a likeable person to have around, but he can send enemies to sleep with just his regular attacks (and his whining) and that's a handy skill to have. And to be honest he isn't doing too bad to still be alive here considering I haven't done the slightest bit of grinding on the GBA.

Oh by the way, I have a five character party right now, so that's another first for the Final Fantasy series. Possibly a last too, I'm not sure.

Anyway we finally reached Fabul and of course it exploded. So that's three out of five towns we've watched burn so far, not counting the one we deliberately raided in the intro. Not a great record really for a band of heroes.

But as long as we can guard the town's crystal and not let it fall into the hands of Golbez, then all is not lost. With battle music like this how could we fail? Well I suppose Fabul's King confiscating my two healers for absolutely no reason probably isn't going to help.


ONE LONG DRAMATIC CHAIN OF BATTLES LATER.


Wow, this is just like the intro, we have come full circle. Only this time my team is playing the role of the victims and my old buddy Kain has shown up to play the role of the man who beats the shit out of me and steals my crystal. He seemed like such a nice bloke earlier as well.

Fortunately Rydia wasn't in the fight so she was able to resurrect the team, and we soon received a new quest from the Fabul's King (who sleeps upstairs from a pub for some reason) but that just led to further catastrophe and if I was going to keep listing the team's failures I'd be here forever, so I'll end this here.


I have to admit that I kind of liked Final Fantasy IV, but the storyline didn't exactly grab my attention, despite selfishly grabbing a fair percentage of my playtime. So far the game has been all about moving forward, with very little backtracking or grinding necessary, and even the caves are underground roads rather than dungeons to be explored and then escaped back through the way I came in. Though it is missing a bit of the hook of seeing a shiny new sword in the shop and knowing it'll be mine if I work to afford it, as my best gear was just found in boxes along the way. It's like some other dark knight was stripping naked as he travelled through the caves, packing his gear into empty chests along the way.

Man, in one of these games I'm going to finally come across the person filling these chests with free gear, and he's going say something like "what, you mean you don't know the adventurer's code? Everyone travelling through the caves who takes something from the chests must replace it with something unwanted but equally useful for the next party to find. That's just common courtesy!" And then my hero will feel like the thieving monster that he so clearly is.

Well I didn't love the game, I definitely didn't love being sent through so many caves and having my party members constantly swapped in and out, and I will never forgive it for trapping me in that castle at the start, but it was entertaining enough and mercifully free of frustrations, so I'll give it a shiny star. It might even be the best in the series so far, but I'm suffering from mild JRPG fatigue now so it's hard to say. It did at least get that boss battle theme stuck in my head, so everything I do from now on today will be slightly more epic.


If you have any thoughts Final Fantasy II/Final Fantasy IV, the FF series, my site in general, or anything else remotely relevant, please feel free to leave a comment.

11 comments:

  1. There are summoned monsters in FFIII if you make it far enough, so Chocobo here isn't the first summon. This is the last time you get a full party of 5, though!

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    1. Awesome, thanks for letting me know. I'll quickly edit something in.

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    2. It's still Chocobo, just not FF4's Chocobo

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  2. Nice review!

    If you have the time try to at least continue until the point where Cecil the 'Dark Knight' becomes something else. I don't believe that you are too far from that point. I think that you'll enjoy it.

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  3. After seeing a Gold Star on one of the more boring JRPGs...
    Not saying none of them are good, but FF...ehhh...never got why so many people love it.

    I'm requesting Planescape: Torment. A real RPG, with a real story and an interesting world (huge understatement).

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    Replies
    1. bleh I mean good story, GREAT story, not 'real' story. I wish that game was based on a true story.

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    2. In Rays defense it's a gold star for not being crap, not a gold star of quality. It's better to view this game in the time period it came out in, because it doesn't hold up as well now. Too much caves/grinding and not enough interesting options to make the gameplay fun. Nostalgia factor and all, though I still do like the music.

      I could have sworn he played Planescape on the blog but apparently not? My mind's messing with me. That one is a good request though.

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    3. Yeah, please don't read too much into my Gold Star, it's a dumb and misleading award that basically just means I enjoyed it. I definitely wouldn't say I loved the game.

      Planescape's definitely going on my list of games to play, though it might take me a while to get around to it. It doesn't seem right somehow to play an Infinity Engine game before Baldur's Gate 1's on the site.




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    4. I dunno. As PCRPGs go, I personally found Planescape to be almost insufferably ugly/unappealing/boring/uncompelling. I know it has a great reputation, and I love other PCRPGs of the period, but man. Maybe if I'd played it for the first time in not-2012, I'd have something nicer to say about it.

      I mean, unless I was just playing it wrong or something. I just personally found it to be about as fun as receiving an amateur hysterectomy.

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  4. this game reminds me of my youth!

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  5. I loved this game as a kid, this is really bringing me back! Reading this made me laugh. I only wish the author could stand to play the whole game, would love the commentary!

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