Final Fantasy IV Advance «

If there’s ever a gaming equivalent of “Masterpiece Theater,” I certainly hope that Final Fantasy IV will merit an episode. Packed with more drama per megabit than anything since 1989’s Phantasy Star II, Square’s first 16-bit RPG broke new ground with its storytelling, epic scope, battle system, soundtrack, graphical effects, and interface design. It was a revelation at the time, and still sticks out as one of the series’ finest — some would say the finest. As such, it’s great to see it hit the GBA in mildly enhanced form.

Final Fantasy IV puts you in the role of Cecil, a dark knight from the kingdom of Baron who’s commander of the Red Wings, Baron’s royal air force. The Red Wings have been raiding peaceful cities to steal mystical crystals, and no sooner does Cecil voice his objections than he’s stripped of rank and ordered to deliver a mysterious package to a nearby village. Bad things go down, Cecil rebels, and an epic plot is set in motion.

Drama, circa 1991

Before Final Fantasy IV, most RPGs were more about dungeon-hacking than drama, so if you don’t approve of today’s story-heavy shenanigans then you know what to blame. Taking cues from the disturbing sci-fi nightmare that was Phantasy Star II, FF4 continued to introduce genuine emotion into RPG storytelling. Love, sacrifice, anger, more sacrifice, betrayal, and yet more sacrifice (are these people suicidal?) await, all acted out by cute little super-deformed sprites. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but take my word, it was riveting to this 13-year-old back in 1991. Today, it’s easier to recognize it for the basic melodrama that it is, but there’s no denying the game’s likeable cast and that exuberant feeling of high adventure which is rare in even today’s RPGs.

Final Fantasy IV Advance is also enhanced by a newly retouched translation. The SNES version that hit America in 1991 was actually a toned-down version for younger folk, so FF4A features a lot of dialogue bits and gameplay details that will seem new to many players. It’s nice to finally play the “real” game — it’s sort of like a director’s cut with newly restored footage. It’s a bit more difficult overall, too, which helps address one of the kid version’s shortcomings.

Don’t worry, the gameplay’s pretty good, too. FF4 introduced the Active Time Battle system, which would appear in every subsequent Final Fantasy. It adds a sense of real-time danger to the combat, giving fights a faster, more chaotic feeling. For a 14 year-old game, the interface is surprisingly advanced and easy to use. There are also a lot of nicely designed towns and dungeons with fun secrets to find. FF4 remains an extremely breezy, enjoyable RPG.


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