Hello everyone, after a long little hiatus (over 2 months) I return from the ashes of holiday releases (which were a bit meh) and good old fashioned procrastination to deliver unto you the next installment of our trip in to the history of one of the longest running video game series ever. Today we talk about Final Fantasy IV.
A Note on Version Used
As with the previous entry in the series, I should take a moment to comment on the version used, the version in question being the PC version available from steam. As with FFIII, a large majority of the changes are either visually, the game having stylized 3d graphics, or mechanical balancing. Overall the effects are surprisingly similar to what I experienced in the FFIII remake. The story, which was already much more involved than 3, received a retranslation, and the inclusion of some implied events that weren't present in the original release. On the balancing side, it avoided the FF3 issue of making bosses massive bursts with multiple turns, however by trying to expand their gimmicks, they still managed to make them massive pains in the ass. One particular reworked boss fight in particular, was so massively infuriating that in combination with the holiday releases, resulted in the massive delay of this article. Whereas FF3's remake was mostly harmless, or had nice improvements, FFXIV's remake is a bit more of a give and take. In regards to the story, it has apparently fleshed out certain aspects of the story, giving insights into implied events from the original. Mechanically they tried to make boss fights and overall combat a bit more interesting, but more complexity can breed more frustration. Contrary to the ridiculous idea that more complex = better, that some gamers hold, sometimes it's actually the worst thing you can do without a proper reason.
FFIV Is A Game of Many Frustrations
Too Many Party Members
Have you ever contemplated what a good party size is for a JRPG? 3 and 4 are the standard and they work well. 2 is too few, you can't cover the physical/magical/healer spread, but what about 5? Well we can officially classify 5 as too many. Now i know what you may be thinking, "Really? one extra body crumbles your little house of cards?" well it does in conjunction with the first ever appearance of the ATB system. For the uninitiated, the Active Time Battle system, which has for the most part become part and parcel of the Final Fantasy series, from now on only being absent from FFX and it's MMO entries, is a system in which characters ability to act is dictated by the charging of a bar in real time. As soon as the bar is charged, you're up to the plate. Only one thing can go at once, but if you sit there, the enemies will keep on attacking instead of purely waiting for their turn in a deck of cards. Trying to observe the tide of battle and delegate proper actions to 5 party members whose turns come up in real time becomes an issue. You can set the ATB to wait mode, which pauses while in menus, but not when picking targets. No matter what you'll end up having someone with a full ATB and their thumb up their ass waiting for you to get around to issuing commands.
Now whether you're playing the original SNES version, or the PC steam version, you're going to run in to some problems with the implementation of the ATB system. Apparently in the original release, there is no visible ATB bar, so when will Cecil have his next turn? take a guess. It continues a long proud tradition of early installments really not giving enough information. Does your piece of armor or weapon have some special innate ability? yeah hope you have a wiki or find out on accident. If you're playing the PC version as I am, you'll have to deal with a laggy and unresponsive UI that i believe is a remnant of the iOS version. This results in even greater issues with the real time nature as fighting with the UI will slow you down, and those seconds add up. Given the choice between Cancer, or anything being ported from a mobile platform, well pick for yourself (enjoy that battle framerate by the way).
Too Many Boss Gimmicks
Whoever was in charge of the remake obviously wanted to try and bring a little complexity to the boss fights of FFIV. A noble goal to be sure, I'm beginning to have my fill of simple "tank and spanks". However as I alluded to earlier, complexity not guided by an even hand leads to disaster, and while no fight quite crosses the line (barring one special exception) the game plays very coy with it. The biggest problems often lie with the prevalence of counters. The idea of a boss replying to a certain attack with a free action isn't a bad one, the problem is when any action can illicit a reaction, and the varying degrees of dickery each counter causes. Fighting Cagnazzo as a part of the 4 elemental archfiends fight results in every attack being countered with slow. This doesn't really induce any additional challenge to the fight, just draws it out. On the other end of the spectrum is the Dr. Lugae fight (you're going to hear a lot about this fucker) responds to any damage with Hold (basically Stop) and if that hits your "healer" and reduces your ability to respond to his ridiculous AoE, leading to an instant cock block.
Another end game boss, the CPU, was also redone to induce a little more danger to the fight. This was probably necessary as a quick look at the wiki shows a relatively toothless boss who had no attacks (unless you killed both his nodes) and the only source of damage was an add who did 10% of your HP damage. Rosa sneezes and heals 15% HP. But like the balancing of FF3's remake, it went a little too far in the other direction. It's first attack (before I had an opportunity to act) killed Edge, within two more turns it wiped my party.
The absolute WORST offender by far has to be the Dr. Lugae fight. This prick came closer to anything else in almost making me give up and was a major source of frustration. The big trick up this bastards sleeve is Reversal Gas, which, quite obviously, reverses damage/healing. This is a problem for 3 reasons. Firstly, he has MASSIVE party wide damage regardless of which state you're in, and if under reverse, your 3 melee and one Black Mage have a very hard time keeping up with, especially with magic charge time, which leads in to point two. The only way to not get owned is to lay down some massive magic, healing to damage the boss, and damaging to heal your party. Problem is, magic in FFIV requires additional charge time in addition to the character's ATB to move. The big massive Cure (or in this fight level 3 spells) require such a charge that in any boss fight, if it's the only thing that could save you, the boss might still get a turn in even if you cast it right after his big attack. The last problem is the fact that whether he uses Reversal Gas seems completely random. He could never recast it, leaving you stuck in a war of attrition that you can't hope to keep up with, or he could cast it right after you've input a massive cure on him (resulting in it truly healing him) or a Fire 3 to heal your party (wiping it instead). This is hands down probably the worst, most aggravating boss fight i've ever encountered in any Final Fantasy to date, and there's only two left that i haven't played.
Edge Sucks Ass (Until his ultimate armor which gives like 95% evasion)
Seriously the kiss of a kitten KO's this guy. Don't have Cecil with Draw Attack? Edge dies. Enemy has AoE magic? Edge dies. I fart? Edge dies (this was a major issue after i made Lentil burgers).
Final Fantasy IV Has One Thing That Completely Erases All These Frustrations
Final Fantasy IV represents the greatest steps towards a greater story focus that will come to define the future of the series. The main character Cecil, along with having some badass armor, is the most well rounded and defined character to appear in the series up to this release. Cecil is a character who had done obviously bad things in the name of following orders, and the game details his journey from rebellion to repentence over his actions. Over the course of the game Cecil will question what he has done, and will deal with the fact that what he does now doesn't excuse those actions. It's not necessarily the most unique character arc ever, but it's well done for a series that, to this point, has had barebones characters and plot. His interactions with the various party members helps define him, mainly his relationship with Rosa the White Mage and Kain the Dragoon (also sporting badass armor). I often hear of the death of Aeris in FFVII as one of the most shocking never been seen deaths, and while visually that's true, being one of the first games to really introduce people to 3D graphics, its quite amazing to see how willing FFIV is to take the knife to it's characters. There are some tragic deaths you'll have to deal with in the course of your journey to stop the main antagonist. Another nice aspect of the improved story is also the motivations of the bad guys. While the major twist would today be seen as a bit cliche, it reveals the first major character that is bad beyond virtue of being a massive Dick, while still being a big enough Dick to truly enjoy hating.
That's not to say that the plot is without it's mishaps however, there are definitely a few potholes in this road of plot. One of the major issues is that near the end, the game that built up some tragedy, kind of cuts its own feet off by wiping said tragedy off the table. To engage in some slight spoilers, Cid jumps off an airship in midair with a bomb in hand for the express purpose of going kamikaze on a pursuing Air Ship. He should have rained upon the ground in a million tiny pieces. He survives. Another character whom seemingly sacrificed himself for the greater good also appears to have survived, although his circumstances are a lot more plausible. By the end of the game, you realize very few horrible things that happened to your crew actually sticks.
Another problem lies within the fact that the main cast is quite large, but not all of them really shine. The "main" trio is well done, with Cecil as front and Rosa and Kain being acceptable supporting characters. Edward and Tellah have a nice sub arc detailing their shared loss that works along side cecils journey. The problem is nobody else really shines through. Yang, Edge, Cid, Fusoya, Porom and Palom all have their moments, they aren't horribly flat characters by any means, but at times compared to Cecil it tends to feel more like they're warm bodies meant to fill out the 5 man band that is your main party. FFIV plays fast and loose with who is in the main party at any one time and you wouldn't be quite wrong to say these characters are partial filler as circumstance demands. Rydia, the young girl Cecil meets early in her journey, is kind of in a weird middle ground. Initially she appears to have major significance, being the last of the summoners. She does do a good job as being a testament to Cecil's actions, and attempts to redeem himself by protecting her. The problem is at one point she is separated from Cecil, and before rejoining basically gets hit with a sexy aging ray before becoming mostly just another party member. The fact that the game presents her initially as a powerful but young child, then feels the need to bring in said sexy ray (complete with Edge hitting on her) feels a bit...weird. Something about it just kind of rubs me the wrong way.
The Continuing Improvement of The Series Marches On
Regardless of the long ramblings of negativity I've launched in to for every entry, beyond a few major grievences with 2, the series continues to improve in certain (sometimes small) ways as we move on. Final Fantasy IV was, once the rage died down, quite an enjoyable experience. If you don't want to waste time going all the way back to the first entry for the complete experience I'd easily say that this is the entry for any newcomers to jump into. Final Fantasy IV is closest to the overall paradigm for the rest of the series, with the least amount of early installment shenanigans. When i look in to discussions of pre playstation Final Fantasy, two titles are inevitably mention, IV and VI (interesting how that works isn't it?). So suffice to say I was a bit hyped to finally play IV, which turned out to be a perfectly good game...that being said I'd also say that it didn't really live up to the hype. Even taking all the misteps of the remake out of consideration, what we have is a game that, beyond the nice step up in characterization, for the most part, is kind of treading the same path outlined by previous entries. While the big twist changes how we view the bad guy, it doesn't really change the overall dynamics of the plot. Viewed in the context of the world in which it was originally released, I'm sure IV was a major deal, and looking back I definitely enjoyed it more than i felt at the time. But overall nothing really shocked me or gave me a real "OH SHIT" moment in terms of gameplay or story, once the majority of Cecils transformation from Dark Knight to Paladin are complete, it mainly falls back in to the Good Vs Evil save the crystals path. I generally look at how I consume content as a subconscious indicator of how much I really liked a game, and FFIV didn't always manage to keep me 100% engaged. On one hand we could lay the blame on the changes of the remake, on the other I could say that mechanically it would have been a bit bland without the increased boss tricks, as frustrating as they can be. To live up to the hype, IV would have had to make me say "Fuck Far Cry 4, Fuck DA:Inquisition, today i'm playing FFIV" and it just didn't quite make that mark. However that doesn't take away from my assertion that FFIV is a Good Game. I'd actually say it's probably the best so far, and I'd not blink an eye to anyone who told me that it was their favorite installment.
Looking To The Much Quicker Future
With IV in the bag we now move one step closer to more modern entries, and closer to Final Fantasy VI, an entry so often hyped and loved, that I'd be lying if I said it doesn't put me in Extra Critical mode, which I often do when finally partaking of something so many people just can't wait to tell everyone how awesome it is. But before we get there, we have to work through Final Fantasy V, an entry that being bookended by the most cherished 2D entries, often seems to get lost between the cracks in FF discussions. The good news is, due to a ridiculous amount of overtime (seriously i've been sitting on the outline for this article for almost two weeks now) I'm actually already almost finished with V, currently having unlocked 6 of the 12 sealed weapons. While FFIV may not have reached the hype I had, it certainly raised the bar, and it'll be interesting to see how FFV stacks up. That's it till next time, as usual jump in to the comments below and let me know how you personally felt about IV and the overall progression of the series so far.