Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Game Review: Final Fantasy IV Advanced

I've always been fond of "Final Fantasy IV" - it may not have achieved the level of intricacy and complexity found in the series' later installments, but there's something to be said for presenting an epic, globe-spanning, coherent adventure with relatively well-rounded characters and an excellent soundtrack, at a time when such things weren't exactly commonplace in the genre.

That said, there's never really been an English version of the game that could be considered "complete". The original SNES release, dubbed "Final Fantasy II", was a hack job, heavily censored and badly translated, with numerous aspects of the game deleted for simplification. The Playstation version, released in "Final Fantasy Chronicles", had a better script and restored most of the edited content, only to fall victim to the platform's limitations by requiring load times at practically every turn.

"Final Fantasy IV Advanced" is, I believe, the game "Final Fantasy IV" was meant to be. The script is excellent, with some new lines added to shed more light on characters' motivations and personalities; gameplay has not only matched the original Japanese version but exceeded it; character portraits have been added to dialogue exchanges, adding a bit of color to them; and the bonus content is worth every minute needed to earn it. The only problem is that, like "Dawn of Souls", airship travel tends to be a bit frustrating because the buttons stick more often than not. Small price to pay.

The real draw here, at least for veterans of the original game such as myself, is the extra material. Specifically, there are three major changes which take place towards the end of the game (and after it). Upon completing the penultimate dungeon, five former party members become available for recruitment, and you can mix-and-match to build your own fighting force for the final dungeon. All former party members will be at a level approximately equal to main character Cecil, so there's no need to go EXP-hunting.

Once a new team is assembled, you'll have the option of exploring a new dungeon, the Cave of Trials, built exclusively as an armory for your old teammates: superior armor is scattered throughout the cave, while the deepest part of the dungeon holds five powerful weapons guarded by five powerful monsters. If you can defeat them, you'll find that even the puny bard Edward will be able to hold his own against advanced enemies.

Upon completing the game, the Lunar Ruins will be unlocked. Much like the Souls of Chaos in "Dawn of Souls", this post-game dungeon is enormous and somewhat randomized, overflowing with dangerous monsters you won't encounter anywhere else and containing equipment that will turn your party members into nigh-unstoppable powerhouses. Unlike the Souls of Chaos, though, the Lunar Ruins are actually a lot of fun to explore, largely due to the immense variety of activities (good thing, since you have to go through it at least two and a half times to get to the end of it). Sure, some floors are the typical hack-slash-find-exit affair, but others require you to punch a combination on floor tiles scattered throughout, or to catch a toad that's teleporting around the screen. Also, each and every character has a trial to endure, ranging from a running a gauntlet to investigating a murder to proving your worth as a paladin by doing good deeds; the trials culminate in confrontations with a Lunar Summon (similar in concept to the Dark Aeons of "Final Fantasy X"), after which you'll receive an ultimate weapon or an item that upgrades your character in some way (ie: Rosa's White Ring changes the Pray command to Miracle, providing much more potent free healing, while Kain's Dragoon Gloves allow him to Double Jump).

In short, "Final Fantasy IV Advanced" offers the best version to date: not only are the script and gameplay in top form, but beating the game is, in a way, just the start of the adventure. Definitely worth the time, whether you've conquered this particular Final Fantasy before or not.

As an aside, this game marks the first time I've ever defeated a superboss; the Brachioraidos is to FF4 what Ruby Weapon is to FF7 (or Penance to FF10 for the more modern crowd). How powerful is it? Its lair is home to an NPC who desperately warns you to avoid the monstrosity stomping across the screen (yes, they gave the Brachioraidos its own map sprite). I was very, very lucky - Kain's ultimate weapon randomly casts Tornado (an HP-sapping spell), and he struck first, the spell was cast, and the next blow destroyed the fearsome creature. Like I said, pure luck; I have no doubt in my mind that I'd lose ten rematches. :)