Final Fantasy IV 25th Anniversary | The Defining RPG: A Final Fantasy IV Retrospective

By Aria DiMezzo 19.07.2016 2

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No article discussing Final Fantasy IV would be complete without mentioning that it was called Final Fantasy II in the U.S. because the actual Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III weren't localised and brought overseas, causing Squaresoft at the time to skip over them for western audiences. While these games have since found their way to worldwide releases, it's ironic, given how perfectly the game showcases the evolution of the role-playing genre, that even the game's name would change. On its 25th anniversary, Cubed3 takes a look back at the past to explore Final Fantasy IV's legacy and evolution.

Final Fantasy IV on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System marked a huge shift for role-playing games, away from blank-slate player characters distinguished only by their names, and toward character-centric stories of true characters that players would get to know over the course of an adventure. While this may not have been the first game to do it, it was certainly one of the more popular ones, as the Final Fantasy name carried a lot of weight even back then. The result was staggering, and every RPG to come would follow inexorably in FFIV's footsteps by telling stories where seemingly real people dealt with seemingly real struggles.

The Active Time Battle system was also introduced, as Squaresoft bravely worked to redefine the battle system with each installation, to keep players from fighting battles using the same rules and mechanics. Although it began as a basic system with hidden gauges that yielded easily predictable turn orders, aficionados will spot the ATB underlying the battles, which at the time added a new twist, particularly in regard to spellcasting, that helped keep battles engaging. Would Rosa be able to cast Cure before Rubicante annihilated Cecil?

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It was glorious, but not perfect. The battles had five characters taking part in each one, and this made them really slow. In more recent years, it is commonly asserted that the U.S. release of Final Fantasy IV was a localised version of Final Fantasy IV Easy-Type, but the American version actually fell somewhere between Hard-Type and Easy-Type, though it leaned toward the easy side of the scale. Given that most people didn't have access to the Internet, no one really minded at the time, and the main gripe was that the game removed players from the party to fit with the arbitrary party size limit in absurd, cheesy, and often entirely unnecessary ways.

Never before, though, had we followed a Dark Knight as he struggled with inner demons, fought valiantly, proved himself to be a good person, and redeemed himself to become a Paladin who could battle the true darkness threatening the world. These are tropes we have seen and heard thousands of times since, but never had we experienced them so expertly through a video game, and superb compositions by series composer Nobou Uematsu heightened the experience so that it was something any RPG fan could love.

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Then Final Fantasy IV was re-released onto the Nintendo DS, causing some confusion among gamers. The graphics had been overhauled, and the entire game remade in 3D, but was it merely a graphical upgrade? Absolutely not! In keeping with their tradition of implementing new ways of character growth, an Augment System was added, which was a brilliant feature that completely revitalised the game. Passable voice-acting accompanied an improved (if somewhat hammy) script, a specialised summon for Rydia was thrown in, and the size of the game was effectively tripled by New Game Plus Plus and bonus bosses that provided plenty of reasons to replay a third time.

This version has since been ported (with minor changes, such as Rydia's summon Whyt not appearing in the iOS and Android versions) to mobile and PC, and it's hard to see how the game could possibly get any better. In fact, Final Fantasy IV just might be the best game available on mobile devices (until Pokémon Go came along and redefined what a "mobile game" even is)—it's that good. The only real complaint is that there is no in-game help on how to acquire the many Augments, or how the various Augments affect stat growth past Level 70 - a shout-out to the original SNES version, where characters randomly gained (or lost) stats by levelling.

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So beloved was Final Fantasy IV that it is one of the few games in the franchise to receive a sequel, though radical departures from the original (and from the remake, for that matter) regarding gameplay mechanics and story structure left many uninterested. Considering that nearly every aspect of its story has since been done to oblivion, it may be hard for younger gamers to see why it was ever a big deal in the first place, but the shift from featureless protagonists to authentic characters and invention of the ATB system are not insignificant steps forward. The original's battles have not held up particularly well, as players have no control over character growth, but this problem was solved with the remake's Augment System.

Not for many years and the release of Final Fantasy VII would role-playing games take such huge leaps forward like those taken by Cecil and his friends, and the core game evolved beautifully to keep up with the times. There's no reason today to revisit the original releases on the Super Nintendo, and RPG plots progressed enough that Final Fantasy IV's is quaint in comparison, which landed the remake in strange territory. It holds up well and is tremendously enjoyable, but there's nothing in the story or mechanics that will truly astound a modern audience. As a standalone game, Final Fantasy IV is great. As a symbol of how RPGs have evolved over the decades, it is phenomenal.

Box art for Final Fantasy IV





Turn Based RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (1 Votes)

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To date, this is still my favorite Final Fantasy game, with VI coming in a very close second.  

Being in Europe, and the first Final Fantasy released here being FF7, I can't appreciate the classic FFs as much as others, but clearly FF4 was something special at the time. I bought the PS1 compilation of FF4 and 5, and seem to recall reaching an area where you'd have to walk over lava-like floor that would damage you. I wasn't sure if I was wandering into a completely off-limits area too early in the game, but I don't believe I finished that version.

I bought the DS remake and remember it getting insanely tough once you reached the moon, but with a little helping hand, managed to beat it in the end. Not sure I'll ever replay it, but FF6 is one I would definitely like to replay properly one day.

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