After bringing us modern versions of the original 8-bit Final Fantasy trilogy, Square has finally gotten around to bringing us what we’ve all been waiting for. Final Fantasy IV was a breakthrough when it originally arrived on the Super Nintendo. Where previous games in the series got by with a small, generic cast, and the barest skeleton of a story, Final Fantasy’s 16-bit debut finally explored what Square could do in terms of storytelling.
Like the Android release of Final Fantasy III, this is an enhanced port of an existing remake already released on the Nintendo DS. This DS treatment rebuilt the entire game from the ground up with 3D graphics, rewritten dialog, and scripted cut scenes for key events. While I wouldn’t say it brings the game up to modern standards, it certainly moves it a generation or two ahead of where it was.
Even on Android, this wouldn’t really pass for a modern 3D game. The polygons are blocky, and the textures are unfiltered, leaving them full of jagged edges like you’d expect on the original PlayStation. Despite this, it’s still by far the best looking iteration of the game yet. Many of the textures are much higher resolution than they were in the DS version, and the screen resolution itself is as high as your device allows. The menus and interface elements have been completely remade for this new version, and everything looks crisp and clean. Even on the DS, Final Fantasy IV had made some strides over Final Fantasy III, with fewer 2D props populating the 3D world.
But what stands out most, perhaps, is the rewritten script. Final Fantasy IV was a major shift in tone for the series. It was not only darker with a denser narrative, but it put the emphasis on character for the first time. Unlike the generic avatars of the previous games, each of the party members has unique personalities, relationships, and back-story. They’ll have conflicts, form friendships, and evolve as the story goes on, and it moves the game along in a way the earlier titles never could. All of this story has been rewritten, which makes a huge difference, especially in light of the infamously poor localization suffered by the original. Key scenes have even been voiced (in English) and help lend a cinematic feel to these moments.
Despite its graphical and narrative advancements, Final Fantasy IV does make a few concessions in its gameplay, and sadly, none of these have been remedied here. Final Fantasy III introduced its famous Job System, which allowed players to change character classes, and in turn affect that character’s development. In FF4 each character has a fixed class that never changes. In an effort to bring back as many of those unique classes as possible, Square added a very large cast of characters that come and go at predetermined points, but you don’t have any control over your party or their classes, removing a key strategic element from the game.
This remake remains very close to the pacing of the original 16-bit release. In Japan, the game shipped with two versions, Hard Type and Easy Type, with the American release staying closer to the latter. Both settings are available here, but even the easier setting may try the patience of those accustomed to newer games. You’ll have to spend a bit of time leveling up before pretty much every new dungeon you enter, and when new party members join (a frequent occurrence) they almost always need some grinding to get them in fighting shape.
This means a lot of time in battle, of course. FF4 introduced the series’ now-famous Active Time Battle system, in which meters fill up in real-time to grant players their turns. The combat remains pretty shallow for the most part, especially in your typical dungeon battle, and you’ll likely use the auto-battle option most of the time when leveling up. Unlike the Final Fantasy III remake, however, auto-battle doesn’t actually speed things up, so this doesn’t help to relieve the tedium of leveling as much as it did in the FF3. The Active Time element further exacerbates this, ensuring you’ll spend a lot of time watching meters fill up too slowly.
Many of these shortcomings were addressed in Final Fantasy V, which, incidentally, is due for its own remake on Android later this year. Until then, however, it’s hard to ignore the many strong points of FF4. The presentation and graphics are undeniably the best the series has seen on mobile devices, and that production value really benefits the storytelling. Where FF4 biggest flaw is simply that it is sometimes too faithful to the original, and anyone nostalgic to relive the classic will find no better way to do it than this.
Final Fantasy IV is bigger and more epic than any of its predecessors, with a much better story, and this Android treatment is its best version yet. Impatient new-school gamers should watch out for its slow pacing, though.