Let’s be honest, would you be surprised if Square Enix announced another Final Fantasy IV remake? What is it about this entry in the Final Fantasy franchise that compels Square Enix to release six separate updates and a sequel? How many RPGs do you know of are available to play on nine separate platforms?
If Final Fantasy IV were a professional athlete, he (or she!) would be under all sorts of investigations for PEDs. Let’s take a look at Final Fantasy IV’s evolution before we decipher what it is that makes this game stand out amongst other classics:
- Final Fantasy IV Easytype (SNES) – Weapons, armor, spells, and accessories were buffed.
- Final Fantasy IV (PSX) – Nearly identical to the original JP version. FMVs added for opening and ending sequences. Some QOL changes like dash and quicksave also added.
- Final Fantasy IV(WSC) – The Wonderswan Color version added nothing new, just featured enhanced graphics.
- Final Fantasy IV (GBA) – More aesthetic enhancements and revised script. Dummied out spells were re-added. Two new dungeons (one mid-story, one postgame) were added.
- Final Fantasy IV (NDS) – The first version I played, and also my favorite from a gameplay standpoint. Added voice acting, in-game FMVs, an extended plot, and a revamped battle system. Worth noting is a particularly awesome QOL change: After you choose an action, a second ATB bar fills on top of the first one that shows when the action will take place.
- Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Wii) – Sequel to Final Fantasy IV set 17 years after the main story. Introduces Band Attacks, basically combo-techs from Chrono Trigger. Though it takes double-tech and triple-tech further, allowing for four and even five man combination attacks.
- Final Fantasy: The Complete Collection – Features yet another Final Fantasy IV remake. Also features The After Years as well as an “Interlude” chapter.
Is It The Story?
Whether I cast myself into Square Enix’s shoes or go by my own opinion, it’s difficult to conclude that the story is Final Fantasy IV’s “secret sauce.” Now don’t get me wrong: the story was good, the characters were great, and the OST still gets some burn on my VLC player today.
The storytelling improved dramatically as the franchise went on. But Final Fantasy IV’s story can barely hold its own against Final Fantasy VI, let alone the six storylines that follow. I don’t think the universal enjoyment of the game lies solely in its story.
Is It The Music?
Final Fantasy IV has eight or nine tracks that fall into the “was I just humming _____ for the past three minutes?” category. Don’t believe me? Alright:
- The Overworld Theme
- The Cave Theme
- Long Way To Go (Plays when Cecil tells the elder of Mysidia he wants to become a paladin)
- Tower of Zot (The opening of which doubles as the Four Fiends sh*t talking theme)
- Battle with Golbez’ Four Fiends
- Dancing Doll Calcobrena (or Calbrina, depending on the translation)
- Land of Dwarves (The Underworld Theme)
- Town of Illusions (The Eidolon town)
- The Magical Ship Theme (or The Lunar Whale, depending on the translation)
- Theme of Love (Cecil x Rosa moments)
- Giant’s Dungeon (way deep into the Lunar Subterrane)
If music was the greatest reason, why re-release the game? There would be several remasters and re-imaginings of the game’s OST. Four versions of the OST and Philharmonic Orchestra performances of the game’s music don’t count as several in my book, so the jury is out on this one.
On a serious note though, music has never been much of a factor in remakes. Chrono Cross would be on its fourteenth remake right now.
Is It The Gameplay?
If we continue our process of elimination, gameplay is the last category standing. But our deductive game isn’t done yet! A secondary source may be needed for this research, but as far as I’m concerned there was nothing groundbreaking about the field/town/dungeon portions of Final Fantasy IV.
Before I zero in on the battles, let’s remember that Final Fantasy IV was remade because it’s an awesome game in general, and that this is a fun exercise that highlights its strengths!
Final Fantasy IV provided the 2nd most amount of fun I’ve ever had with a turn-based battle system. I have strict criteria that may differ from some other players. I define a good turn-based battle system as one with the following traits:
- Engaging – Varying effort levels required depending on the situation. Every boss fight requires your attention.
- Scalability – Strength increases are balanced towards a constant level of moderate difficulty. Health points aren’t always the primary indicator that “monsters are stronger here.”
- Smooth – The inputs are fast. Battle transitions and the victory screens are quick. You’re going to see hundreds of victory screens, and the only time you’ll stop to look is for an item, level up, or your first time fighting the monster. Those screens better move quickly!
Deviating from a three or four-man party was bold. The decision for Final Fantasy IV to have a five-character party presented two challenges: Can you provide enough characters to maintain a strong variety? Also, can you balance monsters around (what is usually) four damage sources and one support mage?
Square Enix took those challenges and suplexed it. The playable character count is high enough that it would have been cool to traverse the final dungeon, “Kefka’s Tower” style. It’s a shame that the one Final Fantasy that could use multi-party dungeons doesn’t have it. The only thing stopping players from Final Fantasy VI Solo Terra runs is the fact that she’s forced out of your party at a couple points.
As far as monster balance is concerned, Final Fantasy IV gets it perfect. Even before the sharp difficulty spike in the Lunar Subterrane:
- Epic boss fights are actually epic (at least in the JP / best version of Final Fantasy IV)
- Puzzle bosses seem impossible at first glance
- Battles are relatively fast, and monsters can kill you as fast as you can kill them
Those three qualities are ramped up even higher in the Lunar Subterrane. The final boss should top bosses before, omgwtf the Ahriman dooms my party how do I win, and… Behemoths. Endgame in most RPGS is a time to faceroll every battle. In Final Fantasy IV you’re still making decisions:
- Attack with my absurdly strong Excalibur?
- Support Rosa’s healing efforts?
- Throw a Fuma Shuriken?
- Mirage? (OP spell)
- Is a monster weak against one of my Ninja spells?
- Attack? Aim?
- Heal the party?
- CC the enemy? (Most CC spells have a 100% hit rate on all monsters)
- Buff our party?
- Phoenix Down?
Quite a refreshing selection when compared to Final Fantasy VI:
In conclusion, Final Fantasy IV got remade so many times because it’s a hell of a game. Credit is given for being the first epic RPG, and for pioneering the Active Time Battle System. Not enough credit is given for setting a standard for balance in an RPG. It didn’t take up to half a decade for Square Enix to throw balance out the window in favor of flash and pizzazz with the battle systems seen in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI.
You know how the story goes from there.
Oh look my Knights of the Round summon is finished.