Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light Review «

When people hear that I’ve been playing the U.S. version of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light these past few weeks, they ask a single, universal question, almost without fail: “Did Square fix the item system?”
The short answer is, “No.” The item system hasn’t been fixed. The long answer is, “No, because it doesn’t actually need to be fixed.”

See, each of the game’s eponymous heroes is limited to carrying 15 items at any given time, which includes any equipped weapons, armor, and spells. So each character effectively has closer to 10 inventory slots apiece; mages have even fewer, since each spell in their repertoire is represented by an inventory-filling book as well. But 4 Heroes is a very deliberately designed game, one created with a specific aim in mind, and its much-reviled inventory system is simply an aspect of that design.

Fans of RPGs like Diablo, Nethack, Torchlight, or even Dragon Quest are probably wondering what the big deal is. After all, a limited carrying capacity is a concept that’s been with RPGs since the beginning. Some, such as Avernum, even impose a weight limit on what can be carried. It’s just a standard part of the genre, right?

The big deal is that it’s not a very Final Fantasy-like restriction. Limited carrying capacity means you have to pick your equipment carefully for the challenges ahead, and the Final Fantasy way is to load up on dozens of everything and be prepared for every eventuality at all times. 4 Heroes is a game where status ailments and other setbacks actually matter, and you need to make very difficult decisions about how best to prepare for them. In other words, the ostensible purpose of 4 Heroes is to recreate the spirit of classic Final Fantasy, but in practice the game has almost nothing whatsoever in common with the series’ 16-bit masterpieces. When it actually does resemble a Final Fantasy game, it’s usually one from the 8-bit era.

All of this is to say that 4 Heroes is a very good game, and a very interesting game, but it’s nothing at all like, say, Final Fantasy IX, which is what most fans would expect from a “retro” Final Fantasy. No, if 4 Heroes has any direct antecedent, it would be the Final Fantasy Legend titles for Game Boy (which, of course, weren’t actually Final Fantasy at all). Really, though, 4 Heroes seems to have been inspired by any number of other games outside its purported franchise. Its combat system, which doesn’t allow you to choose direct targets for your characters’ actions, is strongly reminiscent of Sting’s Riviera: The Promised Land, all the way down to the fact that the heroes’ seemingly random autonomous actions follow very predictable rules and can easily be guided by attentive players.

The spells follow Final Fantasy naming conventions, but their elemental relationships are closer to Chrono Cross’ triple elements pairs. There’s no such thing as a Game Over; a total party kill simply sends you back to the last town while penalizing you some of the gems you use for currency, weapon upgrades, and Job advancement. Even the game’s presentation doesn’t seem particularly Final Fantasy-like, with a distinct lack of dramatic cinema sequences.


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