Final Fantasy IV is the defining entry of the Final Fantasy series, so naturally it has had a number of remakes. This is the most recent, as well as the most expansive one.
Aesthetics: I find that the art style and the design work are very good. I would say that they did an excellent job of translating 2D to 3D while still being faithful to the original designs and style. They use the same visual style as the remake of Final Fantasy III, in that game the new designs were good, but in this game, they look a lot better. I enjoy seeing the way that Matrix has improved their character and monster designs since Final Fantasy III. The monster designs are even better translations, with a surprising amount of detail. The use of colour fits the light hearted, melodramatic tone of the game, and added to my enjoyment that much more.
Audio: The music is as good as you’d expect from Nobuo Uematsu. Of course, Prelude and the theme of Final Fantasy are here to set the mood for the slower paced gameplay, as well as your every success recognised by the victory theme. One of the best remastered tracks is the Chocobo theme, which I love for its jazzy style and up tempo beat contrasting the slower pace of the music. You can feel the influence of the original in the battle and boss themes, however, I feel that they improved on them substantially, especially with the new boss theme. Nobuo Uematsu knocked out of the park with that one. The most iconic track composed for Final Fantasy IV is probably the Theme of Love, which is what plays, when Rosa and Cecil are having a conversation, it really hammers in the melodramatic style of storytelling. One thing that needs to be mentioned is the fact that they added fully voice acted cutscenes to the game, I like the effort they put in, and I don’t mind the hammy voice acting as much as most people.
Technical: Being created for a touchscreen platform (the Nintendo DS), Final Fantasy IV could have streamlined its controls for touchscreen a lot better than it did. It’s not that the touchscreen controls are poor, it’s that they add very little of value to the gameplay; even though they don’t use it to its fullest potential, they still slightly improve the flow of gameplay with the touchscreen, enough for it to be noticeable. The monsters are rendered in a surprising amount of detail for a DS game, but I can’t say the same for the character models, however, I wish that they would have given the game a HD update for IOS/Android/Steam (not even changing the models, just the textures).
Story and Characters
Like a lot of early SNES games, there’s not too much too say here, however, the main reason I am combining this into 1 category is the fact that it falls into the genre of melodrama (the most famous example being the Wizard of Oz). Like a lot of melodramas, the plot follows a simple arc, like a lot of Final Fantasy games, it also becomes convoluted. I still enjoyed following along the story, despite how weird it becomes. The characters are also melodramatic, usually taking a primary personality trait and taking it to its extreme, without showing much depth or variety. I don’t care about the flaws in the story or the lack of character development, because the game knows how melodramatic it is. Even in the more serious moments, the game is full of this shameless sense of fun, like it’s taking itself just seriously enough to avoid full blown comedy.
Final Fantasy IV was the first game in the series to use the active time battle system. You navigate through the menus of your party member (there are up to 5 at any time) in real time with each party member being able to act when their gauge fills up. This was an attempt to add more real time elements to the series and it, for the most part, worked quite well, unfortunately, there is a major problem with 2 of the bosses: they can slow down the time it takes you to fill up your gauge, so you (of course) do the same in return, creating unnecessarily long battles that otherwise require interesting tactics to beat. Other than this it’s surprisingly engaging to manage your party in real time (probably why they used this system until Final Fantasy IX). One of the changes for the remake was the addition of an auto button. The good thing is the auto button is almost never the best way to win a fight, however, I find that it is symptomatic of a problem. It feels like Matrix was trying to find a way to deal with the high encounter rate and streamline grinding, instead of lowering the encounter rate and rebalancing the game (I know this would be more difficult, but it is a much better solution for the quality of the game). One of the biggest problems I have is how the party members gain new spells by levelling up. This would be fine if they employed a similar system to Kingdom Hearts or Chrono Trigger, but they didn’t. One good new mechanic is skills, unlockable bonus abilities that can be equipped to any character permanently, this does at least give you some character customisability other than equipping the best gear that you have access to at that time.
8/10 Easily worth a play if you own the system, but no need to go out the way for it. I recommend Final Fantasy IV to anyone who has never played a Final Fantasy game before, it is a great first entry, but skippable if you’re familiar with the series.