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A modern day review of Final Fantasy IV (FF II U.S. SNES edition)

Content of the article: "A modern day review of Final Fantasy IV (FF II U.S. SNES edition)"

First, a bit of background. Final Fantasy IV was released for the Super Famicom in Japan on July 19, 1991 and North America on November 23, 1991. It was the first 16-bit Final Fantasy and also the first in attempting a genuinely dramatic and mature narrative. Though it is not often thought of in this way, the game represents a rather large departure from the elements that made up the previous three NES titles and helped set a new foundation for future Final Fantasy games where character development, dialogue, and plot twists would become hallmarks for future installments. For a brief period of time, it is arguable that Final Fantasy IV stood as a gold standard for long-form storytelling in console video games. Though Squaresoft would inevitably raise this standard even further with successive titles such as Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV is an extremely important game in the history of console RPG's as it helped prove that video games could tell an engrossing story in such a way that added to the overall richness of the experience and helped pave the way for future JRPG's to explore storytelling in exciting new ways. This is probably Final Fantasy IV's most important historical contribution.

It is fairly well-known that American gamers didn't receive the same exact game as Japanese players. Instead, what we received was an "easier" game as Squaresoft believed that RPG's had not yet been fully embraced in the west and wanted to make the experience more accessible for those who were unfamiliar with them. There were also localization changes, such as the "Holy" spell being renamed "White" to avoid offending religious folks in the U.S.. Despite some of the inherent sloppiness of the translation, I actually prefer the U.S. version of the game due to the lack of "grinding" that is necessary to progress through the game. Because the game is a tad easier (but not easy), the player can pretty much fight the random battles they have to fight while they're exploring a dungeon, cave, or other locale and still be very much "on-schedule" level-wise without the need to seek out endless random encounters to level up. I actually have an old strategy guide for the "real" version of Final Fantasy IV that was released as part of the "Final Fantasy Chronicles" collection for ps1 and it suggests that all characters be around level 65 for the final boss fight. In the American version, all of my characters were just over level 50 and while it presented a fair challenge in the late stages of the game, I never felt the need to wander around and grind levels to beat any boss, as a change of strategy usually did the trick in overcoming the tougher boss fights.

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The story, despite its historical significance, suffers from "Seinfeld" syndrome, where if you're playing this game for the first time in 2020, you'll undoubtedly recognize many of the same story elements and tropes that dominated JRPG's thereafter, many of which you've probably already experienced. There's not much about the story that remains original nearly 30 years from its initial release. And yet, it holds up in large part due to the wonderful pacing of the game and also Nobuo Uematsu's brilliant, dream-like soundtrack that adds a near-perfect compliment to the game's narrative of personal darkness and redemption. I often found myself excited for the next locale just to hear the song associated with it, knowing I wouldn't be disappointed. There's not a single bad track in Final Fantasy IV, or even a mediocre one for that matter. If you've heard Uematsu's work before, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you're in for a real treat.

Locales are another thing that Final Fantasy IV does extremely well. You'll explore caves, castles, air ships, the inside of a mechanized giant, the earth's underground, and even the moon, among others. The scenery never really has a chance to get stale despite its simplicity because the pacing of the game keeps you moving quickly from one locale to the next, each one having a distinct aesthetic. Though the story is fairly simple by modern day standards (and really, even by 1999 standards), the game has the perfect length at around 20 hours for a first playthrough, making even the less exciting parts forgivable. Combat, while strategic, also has a "snappiness" to it where even the harder boss battles shouldn't take longer than 5-10 minutes. Because the game employs random encounters, a quick and snappy combat system is a must to keep the player from getting fatigued. On this front, Final Fantasy IV largely succeeds, though some people will be turned off by the encounter rate which can be quite high at times.

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There are a few problems with Final Fantasy IV that can't simply be attributed to "age", however. One of the more glaring problems is that when you enter a weapons or armor shop to peruse the goods, the game will only tell you if a certain weapon or piece of armor can be equipped by a character but not if it's any more or less powerful than your current piece of equipment. This can result in wasting fairly large sums of money on equipment just to see if it's any more or less powerful than what you already have. A quick view of a wiki can circumvent this but it's annoying to deal with. However, most of the best pieces of equipment are found in treasure chests scattered throughout the game's dungeons so while this issue is an annoyance, it's only mildly so and never really took away from the experience from my perspective. Money comes fairly easy in the game and you'll likely never face a shortage of it. Another problem with the SNES version is the lack of item descriptions. Sometimes, it isn't quite clear what an item or piece of equipment really does until you use it. This is fairly typical for older console RPG's and it would be improved tremendously throughout the 90's as JRPG's became more mainstream. Again, a mild annoyance but nothing (to me) that detracted from the overall experience.

I've recently been employing a review technique where I judge older games in the same way I would judge "indie" games by asking the rhetorical question "What if this game was released as an indie game in the year 2020?" Using this philosophy, I feel Final Fantasy IV is more than worth a playthrough from anyone who considers themselves a fan of Final Fantasy games or JRPG's in general. Final Fantasy IV is an extremely well-paced and aesthetically pleasing game that is perfect for playing for an hour or so before hitting the bed or just after work.

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