Thursday, June 21, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 4 - The After Years

INTRODUCTION: Seventeen years later, King Cecil and Queen Rosa reign benevolently over Baron, and their son Ceodore struggles with his privilege, being as he is of both royal, mystic and alien blood.  Millennials, eh?  Anyway, off he goes to get his Proof of Knighthood and start his progression through the Baron Army.

Unfortunately whilst he gets the job done, the Red Wings, and Baron itself, are set upon by monsters, and a new moon appears in the sky - a portent of ill times to come.  Bahamut descends from the moon with a mysterious girl who resembles (but isn't) Rydia, and shit gets real in a hurry, with the Tower of Babil going berserk again and mysterious girls invading the Feymarch and stealing the eidolons.

Rydia herself is visiting the Feymarch when this happens, and when monsters attack her, she is rescued by Luca, the daughter of the king of the dwarves, whose fascination with dolls has made her an effective if creepy engineer, and with the mysterious girls trying to claim the dark crystal, the two set off to intervene, when a man in black introduces himself - but is he an old friend, or an old enemy?

RELEASE: 18 February 2008, mobile phones (JPN); 1 June 2009, Wii Ware (USA); 5 June 2009, Wii Ware (EU)

MY FIRST PLAY: I think around 2010, as I didn't monitor Wii Ware very closely and couldn't play it on my phone at the time.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia

REAL WORLD: Capitalising on the success of their first episodic mobile game, Final Fantasy 7 Before Crisis, Square decided to revisit the characters of fan favourite FF4 and tell the story of what happened after the world-changing (and world-saving) events of that game.

It was released as thirteen chapters on mobile phones and nine on Wii Ware, each containing one character's story (though often featuring cameos from some others), with the final three chapters dealing with the band getting back together and battling the new threat to their planet.

THE GAME: One of the problems with tackling this one out of release order is that I have to type the phrase "this game sees a return to the Active Time Battle (ATB) system" when we were actually only just talking about it last week.  Slight spoilers, but ATB was old news when this came out - as was 2D, the battle menu and even random encounters - so this is a nostalgia piece designed to grab older players, plus new players on mobile, due to the relative simplicity of the game engine.

There are some change though.  Moon Phases, of which there are four, affect battle damage for certain types of attack, and can be cycled through by staying at an inn or using tents, which is an interesting if completely unnecessary mechanic, which I frankly largely ignored by using tents until I got to the phase I wanted.

There's also a ton of new character.  It being seventeen years later, Cecil and Rosa's son Ceodore and Yang's daughter Ursula (who is absolutely excellent, and almost game-breakingly brilliant at higher levels) are of an age to be involved, as is Luca.  Palom and Porom are grown up, Edge is training four new (and pretty rubbish) ninjas and Edward has a secretary who gets involved in fights for some reason.

The bonds of family, friendship and camaraderie are reflected in the very good and fitting new feature of Band attacks, whereby having certain combinations of characters in your party gives you access to group attacks that are generally much stronger and more spectacular than most other attacks.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: Exactly the same as FF4, which is horrendous if you're trying to bulk out a blog post...

MUSIC: I was tempted to put "Welcome To Our Town" again to show how far things had moved on in terms of technology, but here's a tune that will send a chill down your spine after a little while playing the game - the "Mysterious Girl Battle Theme".  You'll be hearing it a lot, and it's never a good sign:


Most of the endgame takes place on an artificial moon and the final battle is against god.  God is an alien, by the way.  So yeah, we're right up there with this one I'd say.

MEGABOSSES: Well this is awkward - the main superbosses in this are from FF5 and FF6...  Whaaaat?  Without wanting to go too far into the specifics, there is a plot development that ambitiously tries to link the worlds of FF1 through to FF6, which makes a fair bit of sense when it's explained.

This gives us a section of the game spent battling bosses from the NES and SNES years, some of which must be defeated - but others, like Omega and Shinryu (FF5) and Deathgaze (FF6) are optional challenges, as indeed they are in their original games.

REMAKES: A graphically superior version was released for the PSP in 2011.  Which was pretty quick, really.

WORST BIT: The episodic nature of the game can be a bit of a pill, especially if you were waiting for the next one to drop.  All you can do once an episode is complete is continue to play it for extra loot, which is a really good idea if you can stand it, because there is grinding a-plenty to be done if that's your aim.  And that equipment will be obsolete within a couple of hours of starting the last episode anyway, so...  Yeah.

BEST BIT: It's just really nice to revisit the cast of FF4 and see what everyone's up to.

I really enjoyed this, though it is a bit of a curate's egg - a 2D classic Final Fantasy game with the graphical and musical trappings of modern technology.  If all you're after, as indeed I am, is more Final Fantasy in its previous inimitable style, this is a perfect, albeit largely pointless, diversion.

Join us next time for an end to the employment crisis, an Omega lacking an alpha and, of course, to see more Butz.

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