Retro Review: Final Fantasy IV

by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

Retro Review - FF4 - Title

This was the beginning of a lifelong love.

I wanted to get back into the swing of things with something a little more relaxed. And today we’re going to talk about one of my favorites of all time. At some point, I plan on coming back and taking off the rose-colored glasses, but for now, let’s revel in something good and pure. Fun fact: Final Fantasy 2/4 (heretofore known as 4) was my very first SNES game. I was living with my Uncle, and he rented me a SNES for reasons which I cannot remember, and I picked Final Fantasy 4 as the game I wanted to play for the weekend. I didn’t get my own SNES for several years (around the era of Donkey Kong Country/Final Fantasy 6) so this was a hell of a treat. This was around the time of the Nintendo Power issue that featured the game (and coincidentally, the night I told my mother that this is what I wanted to do with my life) and I was hooked for life.

Retro Review - FF4 - Something Evil

I sense it too, buddy.

It was a story that compelled me and drove me to want to see more. It wasn’t my first RPG, but it was very close. If I had not received Dragon Warrior 1, it would have been! In my first playthrough, I only got as far as Cagnazzo (Cainazzo in America) and did manage to beat him. But it took me the whole weekend to get that far. Every accomplishment made me feel proud like I was really unraveling this story and all of its secrets. There’s a surprising amount of twists and turns even in that short amount of time. You find out your government that you’ve been serving is corrupt, you wield a blade of darkness and evil, turn to the light, help an old sage find his granddaughter, mourn her loss, and meet up with a vast cast of characters, even in this first couple of hours. Though another fun fact, my first completion of the game (around middle school, thanks to Rohner for letting me borrow his copy), I had about 79 hours. Nowadays, I can get to the end-game in probably 12 hours if I really push.

Retro Review - FF4 - CPU

I died so many times in this area…

Final Fantasy IV is a game of learning experiences. It doesn’t “teach” you what to do, but you learn by making mistakes. Going to the Underworld to visit one of the many caves for a sidequest? It won’t tell you that you need to cast Float on the party, but you’ll learn from the many damage tiles, and the enemies that cast “Quake”. The game won’t tell you that Odin is weak to lightning per se’, but there are hints that allude to it. You learn by failing, and it’s pretty damn wonderful. From casting Wall during the optional Bahamut fight, the order of the CPU battle and more, having a game that doesn’t flood you with stupid, annoying tutorials is pretty great. You get to immerse yourself completely in the world. No “Hey, you can press X to do this” nonsense.

Retro Review - FF4 - Zeromus

Ah, fate …

This is also the first RPG to use the ATB (Active Time Battle) system, where you wait your turn and pick your action in real-time. This is one of my favorite systems, even if I almost prefer turn-based simply because I multi-task a lot. But for sheer fun, ATB is where it’s at. There is a whole host of issues with this game though. I love it, but it’s flawed, deeply flawed. When you pause in the SNES version, the game keeps on going. You can’t take actions, but the enemy can. I went to eat with my family and had to pause during the Asura fight. I came back to find that I had died and lost something like an hour and a half’s worth of work because I didn’t save. There are pieces of equipment that don’t trigger their special effects, or the Avenger glitch (does not update stats and leaves you with whatever you had before, just to name one bug), the Lunar Whale Glitch (When leaving the Lunar Whale, entering Lair of the Father and leaving, you can lose the Lunar Whale. It will be on the map but if you’ve walked around too much, you can get lost forever as you have to trace your steps back). There is a host of bugs and bad translation errors, but it still makes the game very enjoyable. Hell, some of the bugs are even useful, like the Doom Bug/Item Duplication Glitch.

Retro Review - FF4 - Yang

Yang! No! Damnit! Why couldn’t we leave Edward?! Oh.. nevermind.

The story is what really sold me though, so let’s go back to that. It hearkens back to the traditional “get the Crystals, save the world” gimmick, but it’s so much more than that. On the moon, the evil Lunarian Spirit Zemus is corrupting people, and bidding them do evil acts in order to resurrect his full power. Golbez, his agent is also seemingly capable of doing this. But at the start, it’s just Baron Castle’s king bidding Cecil Harvey collect the crystals for an unknown purpose. It unfolds like an onion! It has a love story (Cecil and Rosa), betrayal, jealousy, death. Lots (and I mean lots) of main characters either perish or seem to. Whether they do or not, I won’t say. It’s love and loss, redemption after a life of darkness, and how there is hope, even in the darkest moments. It’s a beautiful story, well told, even with the garbage censorship and translation errors all too common in the 90s.

Retro Review - FF4 - World Map

It’s also a vibrant, beautiful world for this era.

This was also the first game I played with such a diverse cast. Instead of generic characters like in Final Fantasy 1, these characters had depth, reasons for being, reasons for doing what they did. It was really quite wonderful. Even the villains had interesting bits. Rubicante for example had a moral code and refused to fight the party when they weren’t at 100%. So he’d full restore you both times you fight. He also learns a lesson from his defeat. He realized that going alone isn’t going to work, and he had to have the help of the other Four Fiends of the Elements to succeed. Dr. Lugae is an amoral crackpot that ruins a kingdom for the sake of his own scientific research. He kind of reminds me of a slightly more evil Professor Farnsworth. Even your own party members aren’t pure, innocent and always fighting for good. Edge fights for revenge, Rydia lost her village to the main character Cecil, Palom and Porom are really redacted at first. Tellah wants the forbidden power of Meteo to avenge his daughter. They really run the gamut of emotions without it being stale or poorly written.

Restore the Light: 5/5

Retro Review - FF4 - PSP

PSP Version

This was an RPG well-made and a story well-told. Final Fantasy IV came to America at a time when RPGs were neither popular nor well-received, but it did well anyway. I’m a little biased I’ll admit because it came at a time when I desperately needed it. One of the reasons I play RPGs is that I loved reading, and this was an interactive story for me to take part in. At this time I was moving far too frequently to keep friends, especially pre-internet days. Despite this, it’s a game I can pick up and play anytime and be happy. I might even do it on Bottom Tier sometime soon. It had a variety of remakes, and they were all solid (even the PSX one). If I could get a version that combined the visual quality of the PSP version with the bonus content of the GBA version, that would be heaven. It even received a solid 3D remake with voice acting! That one was considerably more challenging, but all around still held true to the spirit of the game despite all the changes to the mechanics/gameplay. If you want a gripping story, moments to make your eyes water, and your heart soar, you owe it to yourself to play Final Fantasy IV. The ideal versions, in my estimation, are SNES (retranslations if you can find them), PSP, GBA (inferior music but fun extra content). This gets high marks for really being where the RPG revolution really began in America. A constantly rotating party of interesting characters, tons of secrets, the story, the music, everything about it is endearing.



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  • Mike Guzman

    I’ve never tried the GBA or PSP versions. What do they add?

    • Ragachak

      The GBA version adds a bonus lunar dungeon where you can pick your party I believe, as well as some other extra dungeon stuff. PSP doesn’t add anything new (unless it’s the complete edition that has the other games), but it’s prettier.

  • Shinobi Gatana

    I have never played any Final Fantasy prior to 7… please don’t murder me…

    • Ragachak

      Nah. But you should definitely play them.

  • Matt Blaylock

    FFIV was by far my favorite until tactics.