I made a bet with my friends that I could play Final Fantasy 1 through 10 in a year (just the 10 main titles). I've frequently made similar absurd claims and I always gave up (1 new JRPG a month, replay all of Kingdom Hearts, etc) but now that there are stakes, I feel compelled to finish. A link to my review for FF3.
Short disclaimer: Per the rules of the bet, I'm not allowed to use any QoL enhancements like auto/speed battle, max damage cheats etc. I did not do any of the "post-game" content available in the remakes.
I mostly enjoyed my time with FF4. I've started and stopped it several times throughout the years, always getting hung up on the end game where you go to the moon. I went with the complete edition on the PSP and just like the FF1 and 2 anniversary editions, really enjoyed the presentation. Captures all the charm that I remember from the GBA version while looking like something that belongs in this decade.
I say mostly enjoyed, because while the pacing was solid throughout, I just found the back half boring. I'm sure it was great for its time, but a lot of the twists and turns just fell flat for me. It's been said in other reviews, but the constant sacrifice of party members starts to feel silly, only for all of them to be invalidated by the end (except poor old Tellah). FF2 does this a lot too and while I didn't love the frequency, at least they stayed dead. Additionally the "I was mind controlled! Mwuahaha!" being used on Kain TWICE and finally Golbez as well was a bit much. Then there's the constant "nope, we got the crystal first".
The game has a fantastic opening few hours though. A stoic Dark Knight, using the powers of darkness for the "greater good", leads a fleet of airships. He soon begins to see the heinous-ness of his actions culminating in his unwitting massacre of Mist, taking on the sole surviving summoner as his ward. Eventually branded a traitor, he must contend with his hated reputation as he seeks redemption, finding it in the form of the Paladin class change. It's great stuff. We meet some silly characters along the way who come and go from the story in a very organic way. Sadly, shortly after this giant moment of character growth, the story becomes a strict "go get the crystals in the various dungeons" with way less charm than everything before it. It's not BAD, but it's not GREAT either. The Lunarian stuff is fine, but doesn't hold up as well today especially compared to the better implementation of a similar storyline in FF9.
Battle to battle gameplay is my favorite in this series playthrough so far. There's tons of magic, summons, and abilities to use and apply in different strategies. Until the final battles, I found myself utilizing a large range of options and it really helped keep things fresh. The ludicrous difficulty spike starting at the moon and continuing into the final battle was irritating. I didn't skip a single battle leading up to acquiring the Lunar Whale, and I was in my high 30's, low 40's for my party. It was a giant mood/pacing killer to have to grind it out for no good reason.
Equipment feels lackluster in this game. Going out of my way for Ragnarok or Masamune didn't feel worth my time when shurikens and summon magic still outclassed my basic attacks significantly.
Out of the entire series, player choice/customization is probably the most strict in this entry. This is not usually something that bothers me, but coming off of FF1 through FF3 where choice is the name of the game, it was actually a little jarring. All characters are locked into their classes, you cannot choose party members until very late in the game. Thankfully, the script does a good job of making sure your roster is well rounded most of the time, but I definitely felt hamstrung at times.
TL;DR Overall an enjoyable experience, but one I never held much nostalgia for and I unfortunately didn't walk away with any newfound appreciation for it. It has its place historically, but I won't rank it very high by the end. If I had to do so now, it would go something like FF2 > FF4 > FF1 >>>>>> FF3
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