The definitive version of the first modern Final Fantasy makes it to the PSP
While some may argue that with new hardware developers should focus all their efforts on new games, I personally love remakes, especially handheld remakes. Metroid Zero Mission, Megaman Powered Up and the Dracula X Chronicles stand among my favorite portable games in recent memory. When I heard Square was to remake the classic Final Fantasy IV yet again, this time on the PSP – to say I was excited would be an understatement.
Now that the Complete Collection is here, does the 20 year old RPG still hold up, what’s new to this version, and more importantly, why should you buy Final Fantasy IV again?
With the advent of the airship, the kingdom of Baron quickly becomes the most powerful military power in the world. Cecil, captain of the Red Wing airfleet, has been ordered by his king to collect the mysterious elemental crystals from other nations by any means necessary, even through theft and murder.
When Cecil questions his king about his orders, he is demoted and sent on a journey to deliver a mysterious ring to the nearby isolated mountain village of Mist. What follows is a lengthy quest for Cecil and his companions to solve the mystery of the crystals and save the world. Their twisting path leads through high mountain passes, castles under siege, a dwarf realm underground, and eventually even to the moon. Along the way Cecil will meet many interesting characters and have to make some tough choices on his quest of redemption.
Final Fantasy IV: Interlude is set roughly a year after the original game. The story begins at Baron after Cecil has a dream about one of the Crystal Chambers, where he sees Rydia and hears a voice which says “Finally, it has a new form.” As soon as the voice is just about to reveal itself, Rosa wakes him. Cecil and Rosa set off on one of the Red Wings airships for Damcyan. Meanwhile, at the Feymarch, Rydia is about to leave and is confronted by Asura, who asks her where she is going. Rydia tells her she is headed for Damcyan for its reconstruction celebration, and Asura lets her pass…
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years takes place following Interlude. Peace has been restored to the world, destroyed cities rebuilt and people’s lives beginning to return to normal at last. Seventeen years later, a new threat endangers the world and this time it is up to Cecil’s son, Ceodore and his companions to attempt to save the planet.
While the plots of these games have aged and become standard RPG fare over the years and might even be somewhat….predictable, Final Fantasy IV set the benchmark for RPG plotlines when it was first released twenty years ago. The plotlines of Interlude and After Years are just gravy after such a great original plot.
In 2007, Final Fantasy IV was remade for the Nintendo DS, upgrading the 2D SNES graphics to full 3D. Unfortunately, as the DS can do only slightly-better-than-N64 3D visuals, even when the DS remake was new it looked like an outdated port. The effort was fun to look at for a while, but visuals in old-school RPGs take a backseat to story and gameplay. I found the 3D redesign unappealing.
Although the PSP is capable of rendering 3D visuals far beyond those of the DS and Square-Enix could have easily duplicated what was done on the DS and make the 3D visuals look much better, they decided not to follow in the DS remake’s 3D footsteps. Instead, Square-Enix put all their efforts into making the PSP version a 2D masterpiece.
The visuals in the Complete Collection return to the same 2D “overhead” style used for the first six Final Fantasy titles, but heavily cleaned up and all old effects replaced with brand new ones. In place of the original mode 7 effects are advanced 2D techniques that give the same impression of depth while being much more advanced. Beautiful effects are added in for spells, and sprites look simply stunning. Each are incredibly detailed, making the overall game look like an HD version of the SNES original. This is by far the best looking version of Final Fantasy IV. It truly excels at reimagining the game for a new generation.
Ah, the music of Final Fantasy IV. I don’t know what I can say about the Final Fantasy IV score that hasn’t been said a thousand times before so I won’t even try. It’s epic and brilliant. Composed by the accomplished Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu, one of the greatest living composers in the world, this version of Final Fantasy IV beautifully remixes and arranges the amazing original soundtrack, which even after all these years is still among the very best game soundtracks ever composed.
The range of music is complex and very emotional, and very fitting in this classic RPG title. The music is so much a part of Final Fantasy IV that doing anything but playing the music at full blast with headphones on is boarder-line criminal.
The track “Theme of Love” has even been taught to Japanese school children as part of the music curriculum. It is only fitting I should leave that for your listening pleasure. Preformed by an live orchestra, no less.
Fortunately or not, depending on your point of view, the mixed-bag voice acting from the DS remake does not make a return. Cutscenes are entirely played out in text boxes with sprites moving about the screen, just as they did in the original version. This was almost certainly an artistic choice given the capacity of the UMD vs the DS flash format. Should you wish to do so, there’s even the ability to switch back into the Super Famicom Sound Format on the fly! Purists have nothing to complain about.
Final Fantasy IV is an old-school RPG in every sense of the word. You’ll be encountering random battles to build up experience points and currency. You’ll have to manage HP, watch out for status ailments, carefully oversee MP usage and use strategy in each battle you face, particularly with bosses. When you encounter new towns, the first order of business is usually to buy upgrades for your weaponry and armor. Final Fantasy IV employs a limited inventory system of only 48 unique items total, requiring careful item management not typically seen in modern RPGs.
While much attention was focused on the story and music, Final Fantasy IV was a huge generational leap forward in it’s gameplay as well. The first in the series to offer a large cast of playable characters, Final Fantasy IV was also the first to use the real time active battle system called Active Time Battle that made it stand out amongst all traditional turn based RPGs. Instead of monsters and the player characters each taking their own turn in a ridged manner, enemies may attack while you scan through menus or focus on casting spells. This dramatically increases the speed of battle, and also makes them more realistic. This system would go on to be adopted by nearly every Final Fantasy sequel to follow.
Unlike the job system used in Final Fantasy III, IV’s characters come in pre-set classes, which affords them special unique abilities that no other character has. For instance, Cecil starts out as a Dark Knight, who has powerful melee attacks and the ability to sacrifice HP to damage all enemies. Kain is a Dragoon, and has the Jump command which allows him to leap high in the air and deliver a powerful downward strike with his spear. Rydia is a summoner, Yang can kick all enemies at once, Rosa is a healer, and so on.
Each character always has certain strengths and weaknesses; for instance, Rydia and Rosa can cast powerful magic spells but have rather weak physical attacks and low physical defenses. Yang is a very powerful melee fighter, but cannot cast magic at all. Like other Final Fantasy games, characters gain new, more powerful abilities with battle experience. Magic is classified as either “White” for healing and support; “Black” for offense; or “Gray” for summoning monsters. Those who can wield magic learn new spells at fixed levels or certain plot points.
Although the cast of playable characters eventually swells to a total of twelve, the game is structured to only allow players to have up to five characters at any one time. Final Fantasy IV accomplishes this through key plot points where something happens to one or more of your current party members to allow for a gap when a new one shows up. This occurs fairly frequently throughout the game, meaning the characters you’ve grown attached to, spent hours leveling up and spend exorbitant amounts of money on equipment for will just up and leave when the plot dictates. The replacement characters are often as good if not better, but I still feel this is a slight blemish on an otherwise fantastic game. The only other major flaw I have with IV is as you play, your next goals are occasionally left vague or may even be downright confusing. A player’s guide is highly recommended to get the most enjoyment out of the title. The excellent guide for Final Fantasy IV Advance is particularly useful, as nearly everything in the PSP version is the same as the GBA version.
The controls work wonders here. the analog stick can be completely ignored if you choose and everything else is laid out in logical manner.
Analog nub: Movement, scroll through menus advance text box
D-pad: Movement, Scroll through menus, advance text box
Δ: Open menu
L: Switch visible character, hold with R to run from battles
R: Switch visible character, hold with L to run from battles
Select: In battle, trigger auto-battle mode
Availability & Price
Final Fantasy IV The Complete Collection is available both on UMD and on the PSN. Expect to pay between $30-40 for it, which is a steal considering you’re getting three RPGs for less than the price of one.
By the beginning of 1991, Squaresoft, once in danger of bankruptcy before pinning all their hope on the success of Final Fantasy, was flourishing. Final Fantasy II had sold well and Final Fantasy III proved to be even more popular. Even the western world had shown interest in Square’s games when Final Fantasy 1 became fairly popular outside of Japan. Square soon announced two more Final Fantasy titles – one for the flagship Famicom and another for the highly anticipated forthcoming Super Famicom.
Final Fantasy IV was announced and teased in Japanese gaming magazines with preview articles that promised the much beloved job system from Final Fantasy III would return, this time with even more classes such as Cook, Priest, Carpenter and more. A single screenshot accompanied the articles. Years later, it was revealed this screenshot was simply a mock-up and the project had been canceled early in development before graphic tiles were even created. Squaresoft had decided to focus all their attention on only one new Final Fantasy and make it for the launch of the hotly anticipated Super Famicom.
Upon its release, Final Fantasy IV quickly became one of the most popular launch titles and best-selling RPGs ever, beating out even the Dragon Quest titles. The decision to localize the game in time for the North American system launch was issued, and the colossal task of translation and localization began.
Due to the late arrival of Final Fantasy 1 on the NES in America, coupled with the fact that RPGs were not popular in the west at the time, Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III would not be released outside of Japan until many many years later. Final Fantasy IV was to become the new Final Fantasy II.
After the Super Famicom/Super NES release, Final Fantasy IV would see ports on the PS1 coupled with Chrono Trigger, the Japan-only handheld the Wonderswan Crystal,the Gameboy Advance, and finally the 3D remake on the Nintendo DS. The PSP version most closely resembles the GBA version, complete with its bug-fixes, new translation and bonus post-game dungeon.
In 2009 a pirated Famicom conversion of Final Fantasy IV surfaced out of China, thus bringing the 1991 magazine article’s prediction of Final Fantasy IV on the Famicom bizarrely true. I can’t imagine why it was made now, but hey, gotta love pirates.
I haven’t played the pirate myself yet, but from what I’ve seen, it looks like it’s actually playable and might be half-decent. Considering the limitations of the Famicom coupled with spotty programming, and the obvious fact that the game is completely in simplified Chinese, I don’t think I’ll be picking up a copy anytime soon though. Still, you have to admit it looks interesting!
- The definitive version of Final Fantasy IV offering the best visuals and the most touch-ups of any version of the classic to date.
- An extremely emotional, detailed fantasy story. RPG plotlines don’t get much better than this.
- The most beautiful arrangement of the classic score yet
- By far the best looking version of the game. The game’s still almost entirely 2D, but all sprites have been redrawn and look absolutely stunning.
- The battle system has been tweaked to me more in line with the battle systems of Final Fantasy V and VI
- Short, nearly non-existent load times
- Interlude and After Years is the icing on top of an already delicious cake.
- At $30 for three exceptional RPGs in one, this is one of the best deals of the year
- On occasion, you will be left wondering where to go next. Use a player’s guide.
- Some difficulty spikes that require level grinding to surmount
- Far too many random battles
- The plot of the game dictates when party members come and go, so characters that are holding expensive gear or you spent a good deal of time leveling up may simply up and leave. This has always been a thorn in the game’s side in my view.
- When new characters are introduced, they are almost always under leveled compared to the rest of your party, requiring you to level grind enough to make them useful in battle
The first modern Final Fantasy game fits the PSP to a “T”. I can only hope that Square-Enix will remake Final Fantasy V and especially Final Fantasy VI on the PSP with the same beautiful attention to detail as they’ve done with Final Fantasy IV before PSP support dies. This is easily one of the best games on the PSP. Even if you’ve experienced Final Fantasy IV in another version, the Complete Collection is still worth buying for Interlude and the After Years. I would even go as far to say this is a game worth buying the handheld for. There aren’t many other RPGs that even come close to matching the brilliance of this collection.
Given how late Final Fantasy IV The Complete Collection was released into the PSP’s life, I fear history will forget about it and it may soon turn into a hidden gem on the system. Don’t let that happen. Go out and get it today before it becomes rare and overpriced on ebay!
Platform: Sony Playstation Portable
Release Date: April 19, 2011
Also from the developer: Final Fantasy VI, VII, Chrono Trigger…I mean c’mon..it’s Square.
Also try: Final Fantasy VI, V, Dragon Quest, most other old school RPGs
Game Length: ~30-40 hours
Buy/Skip: Buy! It’s a fantastic deal.