Thursday, June 14, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 4

INTRODUCTION: The city state of Baron is aggressively expanding its territory...  NO!  Come back!  This is different, I promise...  By stealing the world's crystals (stick with it!) using their superior military might, particularly the feared Red Wings airship squadron.

The captain of the Red Wings, dark knight Cecil, who is also the adopted son of the King of Banon, starts to question his father's orders after a brutal raid on the magicians' village of Mysidia, and is stripped of his rank and sent to investigate the summoners' village of Mist - accompanied by his best friend, the dragon knight Kain.

On arrival, he discovers they have been tricked into destroying the village, and is determined to protect the last remaining summoner, a child named Rydia.  What he discovers about his heritage will lead him on a personal quest for salvation, then forward to battle an other-worldly threat.

RELEASE: 19 July 1991, Nintendo Super Famicom (JPN); 23 November 1991, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (USA, as "Final Fantasy 2"); 27 February 2002, Sony PlayStation (EU, remake)

MY FIRST PLAY: 2002, when the PlayStation remake hit these shores.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia

REAL WORLD: The fourth Final Fantasy game was originally planned for the Fmaicom, with Square deciding to develop NES (FF4) and SNES (FF5) games simultaneously.  Whilst the NES version was cancelled, it was allegedly around 80% complete and some of the ideas therein were used for the now re-purposed FF5 on the SNES, which is this game...  And was therefore retitled as FF4.

Everyone straight?  You won't be in a second.

In North America, this was released as Final Fantasy 2, since 2 and 3 didn't make it outside of Japan.  The version originally released there is known as Easytype, as the developers felt the game was too unforgiving for Western audiences and reduced the difficulty of some battles and sections.  So obviously that makes Japan's eventual FF5 America's eventual FF3...  Right?...

Stay tuned!

THE GAME: In what can be seen as a combination of FF2 and FF3, there are specific characters, but each of them has a specific job, meaning what your party can do is defined by who is in the party at that particular time, which in turn necessitates the use of a number of different strategies throughout the game.

And what a cast of characters!  Even compared to FF 2's partically-revolving roster, there's a ton of different characters, most of them mapped closely to one of FF3's jobs - so you have a dark knight, dragon knight, summoner, white mage, sage, bard, monk, another white mage (you'll need it), black mage and ninja, plus an engineer (just a fighter who uses a wrench rather than a sword, really) and...  Well without giving too much away, a sort of baldy, beardy guy.

So that's twelve characters - and whilst you essentially follow the arc of Cecil, Kain and Rydia (plus Cecil's love interest Rosa), each of them gets enough fleshing out to make them seem like a living, breathing character, with their own vendettas, romances, tragedies and obsessions driving them on through the story.  Oh, and you can now have a maximum of five characters in the party as opposed to the series' standard four.

This is also the first outing for the Active Time Battle (ATB) system - apparently inspired by Formula One, someone call Engine Blood! - which transforms a strictly turn-based game into something more dynamic.  A bar next to your character's name gradually fills, and when it's full they can take an action.

It's a small change, but it does introduce a new level of strategy, as you can time events to chain with each other, rather than just entering your actions at the start of the turn amd watching them play out in an only semi-predictable order.  It was so well received that the series would not return to a purely turn-based system until Final Fantasy 10!

Courtesy Square Enix, via Wikipedia.
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: MP system, essentially the same as FF3.  However, mages now learn spells by levelling up - aside from a few of the Summon spells, which are either gained by defeating the summon monster in battle or finding rare items.

MUSIC: "Welcome To Our Town" is a lovely little tune played upon...  Well...  Being welcomed into a town, really.  Ahem:


End game.  'Nuff said.

MEGABOSSES: Bahamut would seem to somewhat fit this bill, as an unnecessary fight against a very difficult enemy that nets you a great reward - the ability to summon Bahamut, the God of The Summons himself.  There's a ton in the remakes though, including Proto-Babil on the 3DS, and Zeromus EG on GBA.

REMAKES: Much like its predecessor, an eventual 3D remake graced the Nintendo DS, but us European proles didn't have to wait until then to play it - the 2002 PlayStation port, which is a pretty straight port, warts and all, was our first opportunity, and came bundled with FF5 as well.

The definitive edition for me is the GameBoy Advance version released in 2005/06, which adds extra dungeons and the chance to use characters in the latter part of the game who had left your party permanently in previous versions.

WORST BIT: That bloody magnetic cave where everyone has to use non-metallic equipment or be paralysed.  I hated that bit.

BEST BIT: There's two parts in the game, which to save spoilers I'll just say are "when you meet the dwarves" and "when you find the final airship" where the scope of the game world widens unexpectedly.  And this happens TWICE, for heaven's sake.  Much like the previous entry, it's jaw-dropping that this could even fit on the cartridge.  Either that or "YOU SPOONY BARD!!!", anyway...

This is a superior entry in the canon, one that capitalises on the jump in technology to provide not just improvements in graphics, effects and sound, but an overhauled combat system, bigger gameworld and more absorbing story.  FF4 still commands a great deal of affection amongst fans - and for very good reason.

Join us next time for the next exciting instalment - quite literally, as we jump ahead to The After Years!

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