We have finally come to the Super Nintendo Era of Final Fantasy games. This particular era holds a great deal of nostalgia for me as they really are the entries that pulled me into the franchise. With this entry, the Final Fantasy series grows into a rich tapestry of lore and story telling that really stands out from its predecessors. While Final Fantasy IV takes some of the tropes from the previous games, this one blows all of the other entries up to this point out of the water.
A story of adventure, excitement, betrayal and revenge, Final Fantasy IV (# II in the US) has the first dramatic plot in the franchise and is the first to use the active time battle system. Players control a diverse and extraordinary cast of characters as they once again band together to save the world from utter destruction.
Incredible Cast of Characters and Job Classes
Final Fantasy’s NES era is stuck with the same common problems: a lack of individualized characters and a deep plot. The system was held back by software limitations and the SNES was a good opportunity for Square to take the series to the next level. Final Fantasy IV is the first game in the series to feature complex characters and a dramatic story line. This entry is a grandiose tale using a few familiar story points, but in a refreshing new way.
Final Fantasy III’s individual job class system is re-purposed to fit each individual party member that comes and goes. Each character has a specific job class that he or she will master as a player continues through the game. This provides a strategic challenge as a player is forced to fight with different character combinations adding a new twist to the game design.
Unlike previous series titles, Final Fantasy IV breaks the “four” character formula and throughout the game, players can control anywhere between 1-5 characters at a time. Like Final Fantasy II and III, characters will join and leave the party. While the other entries had NPCs with crucial plot involvement, there wasn’t enough of a connection to really cause an emotional response. Final Fantasy IV, easily, has one of the most interesting and engaging plots of any Final Fantasy, though understandably it does get a bit elaborate.
The Crystal Sheds Its Light Silently: Plot Points
Our story begins with Cecil Harvey, Captain of the Red Wings, as he returns from his latest mission. As his crew reflects on the recent events, the story flashes back to the moment when Cecil and the Red Wings attack a peaceful town in order to obtain their water crystal for the Kingdom Baron. Right off the bat, the tone of Final Fantasy IV is established like no other Final Fantasy had before. We control a dark knight from tyrannic kingdom scrambling to collect the world’s crystals. As the story continues, Cecil is cast out of his role after he questions the King of Baron, the man who took him in. Cecil is forced to examine his own motivations and perspective on the situation. Together, with his friend and rival, Kain of the Dragoons, he must deliver a package to the village Mist in order to regain his position as Captain.
After a fiery development, Cecil is in a race for the crystals and in an attempt to stop Baron from destroying more lives. His quest takes him through many kingdoms fighting the man who replaced him, Golbez. Final Fantasy IV takes players on a journey across the face of the Blue Planet, up mountains, underground, through caves and even into outer space. The cast of characters is strong: a cowardly prince, a vengeful sage, twin magicians, the last summoner, a wise and strong monk, a smart-mouthed ninja, and a few more. Cid even joins the party as a clever airship engineer. These characters unite with Cecil in order to defeat the evil Golbez and Zemus in order to save the world.
Of course, there are plenty of twists and turns in this plot; it is emotionally driven and it is easy for players to get invested in these characters. Each character has motivation, growth, and it really provides a wonderful experience. It is definitely worth picking up and playing just for that alone. The plot of Final Fantasy IV really establishes the formula for all the entries that follow, providing a rich narrative and lovable characters. That being said, the only real complaint for the plot is that it does get overly complicated and outstretched. Granted, considering the previous entries, that tends to be a staple in Final Fantasy. There is a point where the plot goes a bit overboard, but it can be forgiven just because the rest of the game is so well put together.
What this game also does well is it establishes a motivation for all of its characters and it creates a solid villain in Golbez. From the moment he is introduced, Golbez is a force to be reckoned with. With previous entries, we are barely given a glimpse of the main villain, but Final Fantasy IV establishes its main antagonist pretty well. The final defining feature of Final Fantasy IV is the musical score. Nobuo Uematsu took video game music to the next level with this game. The “Theme of Love” is hailed as one of his best musical movements, but the game has many more memorable tunes. The score perfectly fits the tone of the story, successfully establishing each scene.
Overall, this was the game that set the standard in story-telling for the series.
Final Fantasy IV’s game play focuses on the diverse cast of characters in the game. Players traverse the world map, towns, and dungeons like the previous entries. Random battles function the same way, but different characters have specific ‘job’ abilities. The new battle system contains the active time battle (ATB) system, which has players working in real time rather than waiting for everyone to have a turn.
Each character class has its strengths and weaknesses; magic users tend to have less hit points, while melee fighters tend to have low agility. Characters gain abilities and stats as they gain levels, but unlike the previous entries, players can no longer purchase magic spells. Magic users learn their spells as they gain levels or as the plot progresses.
As stated earlier, the game is set up in a way that forces players to change their strategy according to the characters they have in the party. At one point in the game, the party has several wizards and one fighter, while at another point, melee warriors are in the majority. During these points in the game, the enemies the player will face may be tailored to test his or her skills in battle.
Final Fantasy IV’s battle system’s difficulty varies depending on the version. The version for the SNES for the United States has the difficulty scaled down, while the Nintendo DS version has veterans of the series scratching their heads. It makes for an interesting amount of challenge, but only depending on the version.
Final Fantasy IV is the game that changed the way players viewed the series. It truly started the SNES era off right with balanced battle mechanics, memorable characters, and an incredible story. It only gets better from here, YOU SPOONY BARD!