Final Fantasy IV DS
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
It's not often than I'm truly impressed with the graphics on a handheld console but I have to admit to being completely impressed with the quality of the graphics in Final Fantasy IV. I didn't play the original release of the game on the SNES but I did play the version that appeared in the Final Fantasy Anthology that was released here in Europe for the original PlayStation console. Out of curiosity I decided to run both the PlayStation and DS versions side by side and to say the DS version looks much better is an understatement. Of course Final Fantasy IV on the DS has much more going for it than just a visual upgrade. The game is seen by many as not only being the defining game in the series but of console RPGs in general.
The storyline in FFIV revolves around Cecil, a noble dark knight of Baron. Cecil has been a loyal servant of his king but of late he's been uncomfortable with the rather callous and barbaric methods his king has employed in search of four all-powerful crystals. As soon as Cecil begins to question the methods his king is using he's stripped of his position as Lord Captain of the Red Wings of Baron and sent to unwittingly deliver an explosive ring to a town called Mist. The quality of the storyline is impressive and is never bogged down with any trivialities. The storyline is also enhanced by having some genuinely unique and interesting characters that don't just feel as though they are there to make up the numbers. In fact the quality of the storyline and its characters is superior to those in many games since the original release of Final Fantasy IV.
So how does Final Fantasy IV on the DS differ from the original version? Obviously there's the graphical upgrade but that's not all that's different. To begin with you have the ability to quicksave anywhere you want which means if you just want to play for ten minutes you can (the game comes with three save slots and you can also save at save points and anywhere on the world map). The game has fully-voiced cutscenes which look very impressive and I'm pleased to say that they are subtitled. When you bring up the menu (by pressing the X button) you'll get to see what one of your party members is thinking which I found to be a really nice touch and at times it provides you with some rather useful information. The game uses the Active Time Battle system (where your characters can carry out their actions once their gauge has filled) and there are six different speed settings meaning you can tailor the speed of the battles to suit yourself. This is important because as you probably all know, with the ATB system your enemies will continue to attack you if you dilly-dally with your decision making in battle. You can opt for a more traditional turn-based feel to the battles by selecting 'Wait' rather than 'Active' in the settings menu if you wish. The moogle Namingway isn't just here to allow you to rename the members of your party. In fact you'll see him in several places as he travels the world and changes his job whilst remaining rather useful on occasion. You're also given rewards for fully exploring every map which is a fine addition and encourages you to explore every region in the game.
One of the more interesting additions to the game is the augments. These items are given to you by departing party members and you'll also come across them during your exploration of the game world. The augments essentially allow you to give a character of your choice additional abilities that they would otherwise not be able to acquire. This adds both a customisation element to the game and an additional layer of strategy (particularly as you can only use them once) which is certainly welcome. The game also has a multiplayer element. During the course of the game you'll have the opportunity to train a summoned Eidolon called Whyt by completing an assortment of mini-games when you visit the rather large Fat Chocobo. You can also customise the look of Whyt too, if you wish. As well as using Whyt in the single-player story you can take him into a wireless multiplayer battle (support for two players only) if you wish.
Whilst there have been some alterations made from the original version of the game, it's to the developers' credit however that the game's difficulty has not been softened. This does mean that it can be frustrating at times however. As with most of the Final Fantasy series, random battles are on offer early on in the game, so you can end up in battles that you have no chance of winning. Thankfully you can save anywhere on the world map so by saving your game regularly when travelling from one town to another you can prevent yourself from losing too much progress. You will need to have an effective strategy against the difficulty enemies in the game and at times the challenge can feel a little brutal when compared with more recent console RPGs. That said however, you do have a greater feeling of satisfaction when overcoming a genuinely difficult opponent. The DS version certainly seems to be more challenging than the version of the game that appeared on the original PlayStation and the boss battles are certainly more fiendish than I remember them.
We've already commented on much better this DS version of Final Fantasy IV is than the original version and the presentation of the game on the whole is top notch. The 3D graphics are as good as you could hope for on the DS and the game's cutscenes are excellent. I particularly liked the way the key characters were introduced with the character name placed alongside the character. Quite a bit of the dialogue seems to have been rewritten (essentially conveying the same meaning however) and seems more natural. An intelligent use has been made of both screens with the touch screen used to display maps for the most part but you can also use the stylus to play out the Whyt training mini-games with Fat Chocobo. You can choose to move around using the stylus if you wish but I honestly found the traditional directional pad control to be more comfortable. The game has no problems for deaf gamers. As we've already mentioned the cutscenes are subtitled and the thoughts of your characters are shown in text. All other dialogue is in text and the game conveys other information through visual means such as the ATB meters, status ailment icons and numbers to show you how much damage has been dealt to both your enemies and your party.
Square Enix have certainly been looking after DS gamers and Final Fantasy IV is another top notch RPG for the handheld that no fan of the genre should miss out on. The graphical revamp the game has received is truly impressive but it's the quality of the storyline and the characters that make this an RPG that every fan of the genre should own. If you are into RPGs then the chances are you've already played an earlier version of Final Fantasy IV but the DS version is still worth owning as it's the best version of the game to date. If you haven't played the game before then it is certainly a must own game as you're not only getting an RPG of extremely high quality but you'll also experience one of the most influential console RPGs of all time.