maanantai 27. syyskuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy IV Advance (2005)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 2005
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Square Enix, TOSE
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

"Coooc coooc!" "The giant's intimidated!" "You spoony bard!" "HE went on the Blue Planet and GAVE BIRTH to you, Cecil!" "Death only fueled Zemus' hatred!" I can picture a montage of the North American version of Final Fantasy IV in fancy, artistic black and white, with "Theme of Love" playing in the background, but I can't think of a way to cover up all of its artificial mistakes all the way to its U.S. title. The game is a definite milestone in the history of role-playing, but I think we can all agree on the awful quality of the English translation, made by a Japanese guy of all possible choices. Well, in 2004, Square and TOSE began to bring back the first two trilogies in the Final Fantasy series, minus Final Fantasy III that was still left as it was and didn't see a remake, or a non-Japanese release, at that, for a few more years. They started out with the critically praised release of Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls; in 2005, it was time to bring back the game that truly revolutionized Japanese console role-playing as we know it... as well as English language. Final Fantasy IV is back, rewritten and mechanically enhanced to meet today's standards. Unlike the Dawn of Souls bundle, Final Fantasy IV retains its difficulty level, and some additional challenge is brought in by an unlockable extra hard dungeon for enthusiasts, as well as a superboss dungeon added to the main game. So, is it good? What do you think? Of course it is. It comes with some price, but it's Final Fantasy IV, presented as what it was meant to be.

Backtracking to the darkness, and then to light again

Baron is the most powerful military nation in the world, and its formerly noble king has suddenly taken it upon himself to enforce his rule by assigning his elite forces, the Red Wings, to rob other regions of the world of their precious elemental crystals. Cecil Harvey, a dark knight and the captain of the Red Wings, does not know what the crystals exist for, but he has his fill of the king's brutal greed and stands up against him, getting demoted in the process. The king then sends Cecil and his best friend, the dark dragoon Kain, to deliver a ring to a nearby village inhabited by Callers, people graced with the amazing talent of summoning phantom beasts of the underground. Unbeknownst to both men, the ring contains a fire spell potent enough to burn the village down. A child named Rydia survives, and in her sorrow and anger, she summons a creature that splits the earth beneath the two friends. Out of guilt for killing her mother, Cecil takes Rydia with him to grant the little girl a new chance at life. However, as it turns out, it is Cecil himself who is on his way to a whole new life. It is time for the dark knight of Baron to truly redeem himself and boldly rise against the true evil threatening the whole planet.

"Short work"? "Back safe"? Come on, Cid.
You've been here before.
First and foremost, without further due: the plot, and the way it is presented to us. Phenomenal. Kisses, hugs, and then a few more kisses to whoever rewrote the whole dialogue to uncover everything that used to be so cryptic, and senseless. Some old lines have been left in, but just as beloved in-jokes. I just finished the original Final Fantasy IV for the very first time in my life (Zeromus is no pushover, by the way), and I was certain that when I'd take on this version right on its heels, I would be tired of it after an hour, if I lasted even that long. I still had, not just the localization, but the game's most frustrating dungeons drilling a hole in my skull from the inside, as well as my near two hour showdown with the final boss. After playing for, say, 15 minutes, I was hooked again, because it's clear from the very start that this game tells the story of Final Fantasy IV about a million times better than the original. The characters are way more consistent in their emotional displays, they speak like "normal" human beings, and even all the bits of dialogue that have been removed altogether are paid back in full with some supplemental dialogue, that helps in developing the plot further and closer to the epic drama Sakaguchi intended to present when he made this game. I find myself not caring for the severe censorship anymore; maybe I never did, I just wanted to see a version of Final Fantasy IV that made sense. And here it is. Besides, the censorship policies are a little different than they were 14 years back, luckily so.

The one thing that I find the most crucial about the new localization is that the characters are developed properly. Whereas they originally shouted out irrelevancies or just plain stupid things, or repeated some other character's name over and over again in different tones, they use all that time to make their true opinions on the state of things heard, as well as tell a little more about themselves, serving themselves a great favour as characters. Those who are playing Final Fantasy IV for the first time get the privilege of knowing more or less important plot details right off the bat: it is explained why Kain is a dragoon instead of a dark knight like his best friend Cecil, but still pledges loyalty to the king. It is also revealed right away that Cecil and Rosa's relationship is indeed romantic and has been for a long time; Rosa even became a white mage just to take care of her significant other. It is also explained a hell of a lot better that Rydia's mother doesn't actually die in the fire, she dies because Kain and Cecil kill her assigned phantom beast just before they arrive in the Village of Mist. These kinds of small tweaks alone make Final Fantasy IV Advance so much more comfortable to play than the original U.S. version of the game... but about 60%-70% of my feelings towards the game still lie in the depths of actual gameplay.

"Coooc"? No, it's "Kweh". And Kweh here's
gonna kick your ass.
The graphics have not been enhanced as much as one would immediately think after seeing the new opening cutscene. Everything from sprites to facial portraits - which appear during choice dialogue as well, like in the Dawn of Souls version of Final Fantasy II - and environments are smoothed out with a larger palette, triple buffering, and enhanced shading. Some of the portraits have been completely redrawn, or remodelled from their original look. Kain looks quite interesting... like in "woke up after the worst lizards of my life at 6 a.m. and was late for work" type of interesting, but all in all, they look quite cool. The font used for everything besides general dialogue is extremely weird, though - very thin, narrow and hard to make out from the small screen. The musical score is partly recomposed - which practically means that it's just layered differently, and it's a bit more diverse-sounding, so don't wipe your ass on the theory, purists. Wipe your ass on the quality of the music instead. It's indeed true that I actually enjoyed the original songs a lot better. The battle theme, as well as the traditional Final Fantasy fanfare, sound like they're played with off-key horns through a bent, hollow pipe. It's annoying, and just think about how many times you're going to hear these two songs during the course of the game. Unbelievable. First, they absolutely nailed Final Fantasy II's soundtrack, but when it comes to something that was originally ready to be released on a CD, even in its original 16-bit form, they suddenly started to suck. Well, the music itself doesn't "suck", that's for sure, just the remix, but sound is still by far the biggest element of disappointment in this version of the game.

To review the basic gameplay elements of Final Fantasy IV, I advise you to refer to the original game's review. I don't find it very ideal to go over everything about the game again, just the good enhancements and modifications they made to it, as well as some annoying things remaining, and unfortunately, a few notable glitches - mmm, glitches. The first thing you'll probably notice is that almost all of the items have different, long names (as do enemies, spells and equipment), and there are more of them, for example Heal has been changed to Remedy, and it's quite a rare item, whereas in the original game it was the only item you could use to heal any status effect and therefore, a very common one; this time, each status effect has its own corresponding healing item. Mallet for Mini, Antidote for Poison, Echo Herbs for Silence and so on, including my clever favourite: Diet Food for Piggy. The menu is no longer a mess. It's still surprisingly hard to manage the front and back row, but the inventory is no longer limited, items stack automatically, and whether you're buying equipment or changing it, it's clearly indicated if the weapon, armor or accessory you're examining is stronger or weaker than your current piece. An addition to the main menu is brought in, a feature called Quicksave, which isn't a reliable way to save the game. You should only use it if you must quit the game in a hurry. It's a temporary memory file that is erased after you load it once, so saving on a five minute interval like in Dawn of Souls is no longer an option; the actual Save Points still exist. There's an in-game bestiary found in Configuration as well, like in every remade Final Fantasy game since the late 90's.

For the love of God, WHY?
The classes haven't changed much except in name. Final Fantasy X introduced the term "Summoner" properly, and this much better word replaces Rydia's old class "Caller". "Next caller!" "Hi, this is Pete from Minnesota..." All of the characters do have "new" abilities, though, carried over from the original Japanese game. Cecil's D.Knight form is granted a special command of it's own, Dark, which unleashes a special attack on all enemies. Very useful against those annoying Goblins in the beginning of the game - however, it reduces Cecil's HP by 30, possibly hinting that Mr. Harvey was never intended to be a Dark Knight. Even Edward, as annoying as he still is, has a Heal ability, which makes him a tad more useful in battle than before. After a certain point in the storyline, you can switch party members manually this time around; between those that are still alive or otherwise capable of joining the fight, of course. Playing the original game, I found myself missing this feature, but then figured the original party which you used to beat the original game is pretty much irreplaceable, so it doesn't have much use on my account. One more, lengthy sidequest for mega-powered weapons is added into the mix, and it can be accessed right after the same point you can change party members for the first time. An extra hard dungeon in the vein of those in Dawn of Souls, labelled Lunar Ruins, is accessible after Zeromus' defeat.

The ATB has changed to a more modern form, with time bars. Now a spell like Haste really makes a difference unlike in the original, and you can always keep track of whose turn is coming up. You can also change the Battle Mode to Active if you wish, which of course means that enemies will attack even if you're still browsing for the best method of attack, or an item to use. Setting it to Wait or Active is everyone's own business. Some dig the mother, some the daughter. Or both. The battles are just as challenging as they were in the original. Constant physical attacks may have worked in Dawn of Souls, but not in this game. Every enemy has a distinctive weakness, which is very cool. However, the battles in the U.S. version of the game feature the most glitches - mmm, glitches. They were indeed fixed in subsequent releases. Some characters are randomly granted two attacks in a row, which is actually a glitch that works for the player's benefit, of course. On the other side of this coin we have a minor lag between commands and their execution, which doesn't bother me since at least I personally suffered - that's SUFFERED - of the lag in the original, it wasn't this minor. There are two glitches that I do find annoying, and you might also be able to imagine how annoying it is that long-range weapons work on random. Rosa is by all means an archer, and she's in for the most part of the later half of the game. About 60% of her attacks simply won't work, and you'll find yourself wasting buckets of fine arrows. Even the attacks that work are weak. I've checked: this is a severe glitch, not some inane way to raise the difficulty level of the game. The second thing is, that it's hard to control fast-paced battles. For example, if you try to attack all targets instead of just one with any spell, the digital pad randomly locks up and during a hasty fight set to Active, you can't be sure if you nailed all the targets or just one. This lock-up also affects menu browsing, and flying airships.

Yep. I still fuckin' hate that spoony bard.
Well, that's about it for the notable changes, if we don't take into account the ability to run instead of tread slowly through dungeons and cities, and the disposal of big training houses on the behalf of small tutorial rooms located in basements of some other houses. Like in all the other remade Final Fantasy games, there are many minor modifications made to names, numbers, enemies' attributes and so on, which I'm sure die-hard players will pick up on the go.

Like I said, the game itself is not any easier or harder than before. It's a bit more dynamic, so if I absolutely have to compare the game to the original, I'd say it's a bit easier. However, the extra dungeons are not to be taken lightly, and they have to be considered parts of the game, so then again, the game would seem a bit harder due to the fact that you can still actually break some bones just by cringing upon entering the Lunar Subterrane, feeling a little too confident about yourself, and especially when you uncover the secret terror of what fighting the big cheese of the game is like. Then again, Zeromus can't necessarily be classified as a difficult boss, more like a puzzle. However, this little nitpicking won't help you a whole lot if you lose to him.

Final Fantasy IV Advance
is the excellent game in the greatest form I've played it in; probably not ultimate, though, since I have a personal issue with handheld games, and the almost same version of the translation is available for the PlayStation. I can't punish the game for all of its glitches, since most of they're only present in its first version - that's right, the game was released in the U.S. first, how generous of the Japanese. However, the worst glitch, the long range fuckery, remains. The presentation of the story is so much better and the user interface is so much less of a mess than in the original game. Purists might have some sort of a beef with me over the rating and how it compares to that of the original, and I absolutely don't care, but I must criticize the music myself, so I guess I'm not ALL alone in the midst of those bloodhounds.

Graphics : 8.0
Sound : 8.0
Playability : 8.9
Challenge : 8.3
Overall : 8.8


GameRankings: 83.24%

Ei kommentteja:

Lähetä kommentti