Final Fantasy IV Review for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance, GBA

Final-Fantasy-IV-Advance-Review

Note: The Story section of this review contains story spoilers. 

Intro:

The original game was published by square enix for the Super NES with an American Release in 1991 as Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy IV Advance (for the Gameboy Advance).

Playing FFIV again for the first time in a while, it seems I've forgotten a lot about the story.  The world we live in has moved on, and indeed, so has the game, with 3D graphics ports released for the Nintendo DS, mobile translation, and PC platforms (and updated 2D graphics for the PSP). Still, though the old 2D sprite's version shows its age in many ways, it's a game that any old-school Final Fantasy fans of the series or of RPG history should play, and it remains surprisingly fun years after its release.

The Story:

Fans of modern RPG storytelling owe a debt of gratitude to Final Fantasy IV. FFI and Final Fantasy III had bare-bones stories, the cast of charactersFinal Fantasy IV GBA Reviewdidn't even have names! And while Final Fantasy II's story was a bit more elaborate (named characters fighting an ominous empire), it was still quite simple by today's standards, and the game featured probably the least popular (and least RPG-like) gameplay of any early Final Fantasy title.

Which brings us to FFIV. This story feels like a Final Fantasy story, even by the standards of someone who first started playing the series in the PS1 era with Final Fantasy VII. The sizeable array of player characters and nemeses have relatively developed personalities and relationships, the story features surprising (and occasionally ridiculous) twists, and explores themes of loss, betrayal, cooperation, sacrifice, redemption, and an internal battle between good and evil in each of us. Also, the GBA version of the game improves on the rather sloppy original translation of the game for North America in the Super NES version (called Final Fantasy II). I would definitely recommend Final Fantasy IV Advance over the  Super Nintendo FFII for anyone looking for an old-school (as opposed to 3D graphics updated) version of the game.

The story is not without its faults. The amount of characters who apparently usually died by sacrificing themselves for the group and then were revealed as really still alive later on was farcical: Edward, Yang, Porum and Palo, and Cid. You could arguably add every single protagonist in the final battle to this list (wiped out then brought back by the faith and strength of their absent friends), but since that happens right away, it's not in the same category for me as the many, MANY situations in which Final Fantasy IV gives you a heroic death scene, then several hours later is like “Oh yeah that wasn't for real. I know he jumped out of an airship strapped to a bomb that then exploded, but he didn't die from that. He just got a little hurt.” The game undermines some of its own emotional power in these scenes. More generally, the story and character personalities aren't as fully developed as their successors in later FF games, making this story less rewarding to return to than, say, the several games starting with Final Fantasy VI. But as I said above, this game is the narrative foundation for all that came after, so even when it's a bit rocky in its own right, it's interesting to see where true Final Fantasy storytelling got started.

Sound and Graphics:

It should come as a surprise to no one that Final Fantasy IV sports an excellent Nobuo Uematsu soundtrack. Many of the core themes are here already, and the game features several good exclusive tracks as well. It's not one of my all-time favorite FF soundtracks, but it's definitely a plus rather than a minus, and it's impressive to see what Uematsu was already able to do in 1991 within the aural limitations of the Super NES hardware. As I've mentioned elsewhere [Telling a Compelling Story with in Game Music], Final Fantasy Vii was the game that got me to start taking game music seriously. If I'd have played Final Fantasy IV when it came out, that might have done the trick years earlier.

FFIV's graphics are what you'd expect from Super Nintendo (or, in the case of Final Fantasy Advance, GBA) sprite technology. Not terrific, not awful. I didn't dislike looking at the game, but the graphics weren't what I'd call rewarding in today's gaming age. Final Fantasy VI, made for the same system, is clearly making more sophisticated use of the same tech limitations, and holds up better graphically as a result, but Final Fantasy IV's graphics are neither a plus nor a minus for me, with the nostalgia factor and the lack of any major eyesores balancing out the fact that it's not exactly pretty by today's standards.

Commands & Gameplay Mechanics

Overall, I'd have to rate Final Fantasy IV's gameplay as just barely worth returning to. It's undeniably rudimentary compared to the later games, but on the other hand, like with storytelling, it lays the groundwork for what makes the later games even greater. FFIV Final Fantasy IV Advance Reviewintroduced the iconic Active Time Battle (ATB) system, which sped up battle and added an often illusory but exciting sense that you needed to hurry and make decisions on the fly. The core of FF turn-based combat is here, with (uncustomizable) character classes and special abilities, up to five characters in a combat party (and twelve playable characters in total), and the other FF/RPG staples like a world map, towns, dungeons, airships, and summons/eidolons are all present and enjoyable.

On the minus side, I set down the game for months on one occasion when, maybe two-thirds of the way through the game, I reached a mandatory boss (Asura and Leviathan) that I was woefully underprepared to defeat. I wound up having to spend hours grinding before being able to get back to the story, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. After that, though I didn't have to completely pause my progression for long grinding sessions again, I had less patience with the many hours of battles still left.

On the plus side, I enjoyed the way the game would force player characters in and out of your party, so you had to keep tweaking your strategy based on the characters and skills currently available. That kept the battles relatively fresh through most of the game (my complaint above about my one soul-crushing grinding session notwithstanding). Also, the fact that the game was picking your party combo for you meant no anxiety about having picked a suboptimal team. I also enjoyed the variety of settings (which, to avoid spoilers, I'll just refer to as Over, Under, and Way Over), bosses, and even vehicles (which include airships, hovercraft, airships that can CARRY hovercraft, and, shall we say, a super airship). Playing the game today, I sometimes wished save points were more plentiful, but on the other hand, there was some enjoyable tension in trying to forge through a dungeon without running out of MP (and then health) before I could reach the next save point, so those two balance each other out for me. Also, I was disappointed early on by the lack of side quests, but the latter half of the game opened up more, with optional dungeons featuring nice armor and summons and such. Finally, Final Fantasy IV Advance even offers an early version of New Game Plus to players hungry for more, with a new dungeon unlocking after you beat the game. And there's this weird motif where a bunch of NPCs you talk to just dance a bunch. What's that about?

The Conclusion:

I'm glad I picked up Final Fantasy IV again. It felt slightly long at 30 hours (in my main + extras playthrough), largely due to that one frustrating grinding session that probably added 4-5 maddening hours to my overall playtime (don't be like me: try to be at least in the upper 40s if not level 50 by the time you get to the Town of the Summonses). All aspects of the game, from story and gameplay to sound and graphics, feel a bit dated, but on the other hand, they're all really well-designed, so despite the fact that later Final Fantasy games have clearly surpassed this one, it's still a rewarding experience and there's a tangible sense of playing RPG history. For players seeking a taste of the action with more modern graphics, as well as voice acting, added minigames, and other modernizing touches, there are the Nintendo DS, mobile, and PC versions, and the mobile version (at least I'm not sure about the others) even offer an Easy mode for those who want to experience it without being slowed down too much by combat. Regardless of which version you play, Final Fantasy IV is a game that has stood the test of time and is worth a look, if you like the genre and have the patience for an older style of RPG. 

Final Fantasy IV review score: 7.9 out of 10

Would I recommend it? To an RPG aficionado, yes. Choose the form of your destruction: there are lots of versions of this game, so pick the one you think you'd like best. Casual RPG players might find this too outdated to fully enjoy, though the updated versions might be fun even for more casual fans.  Looking for an Authentic Copy of the Game? We have a few Final Fantasy games for sale in our shop.

Is Final Fantasy IV Advance good?

Not my favorite, but I might play the sequels: FFIV: Interlude and FFIV: The After Years.

Not my favorite, but I might play the sequels: FFIV: Interlude and FFIV: The After Years.Save

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Sunday, 22 May 2022