I know, I know; another Final Fantasy re-make? Hardly inspiring stuff, right? Well, maybe not, but it’s hard to argue with the quality on display here. Although inevitably dated, Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection is nonetheless home to a structurally simplistic, but surprisingly layered plot, a solid active-time combat system, a genuinely likeable cast and visuals that have been masterfully updated for modern tastes while retaining the classic feel of the original SNES release.
While Final Fantasy IV was last repackaged for the DS as recently as 2008, and with completely revamped 3D graphics no less, I would argue the case for the more classically tinged enhancements of the PSP version to be the superior option for both long standing fans and newcomers alike. And with the addition of The After Years (released for the first time in the west in 2009 for Nintedno’s Wiiare service) and the PSP exclusive, Interlude, thrown in for good measure, Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection really does feel like the definitive version of this much loved classic.
Although Cecil, Final Fantasy IV’s key protagonist, may not share the same level of recognition as the Cloud Strife’s and Kefka’s of this world, he is still one of the more interesting leads in the Final Fantasy series thanks in part to his chequered past as an honour-bound Dark Knight fighting for personal redemption and his place amongst a sizeable and diversified ensemble cast that does a great job of enhancing the vast game world in which Final Fantasy IV and the After Years are set. Not only is the ensemble cast essential to delivering depth to an otherwise rather simple tale, but the fate and often surprisingly dark outcome for many of these characters helps set FFIV apart from its immediate peers.
There is little doubt that for those devoid of nostalgia’s warm embrace, FFIV Complete Collection will likely prove somewhat old fashioned and at times even slightly archaic in comparison to many modern releases, but even for those not already versed in its charms, there’s still enough magic to be found in FFIV’s core design to win over at least a few modern day gamers.
Beyond the aforementioned story and cast, it’s FFIV’s combat system that is most likely to prove the games biggest draw to those potentially put off by the ever increasing levels of real-time combat in many of today’s JRPGs. Although traditional in respect of being a classical turn based system, the active-time combat means that the clock is always running, thus putting extra pressure on each member’s combat option. This inevitably adds a great deal of pressure and tension to what is often described as a rather pedestrian mechanic, and as someone who often yearns for a return to the turn-based battles of yore, a chance to revisit Final Fantasy IV’s superlative battle system has proved something of a treat.
The brilliant cast of characters and their unique skill sets, the vast world to explore and the array of imaginative enemies found in FFIV will keep you busy for longer than most games. But when you take into account the inclusion of the full sequel, The After Years, and the PSP exclusive Interlude, which fills in the gap between IV and The After Years while also delivering a further 3-4 hours of gameplay, FFIV: Complete Collection really does deliver a huge amount of bang for your buck.
Sure, the fact that so much of The After Years is spent retreading dungeons and areas from the first game is a bit of a disappointment. And while it’s story never quite matches IV’s, it’s still a consistently entertaining ride that is helped further by the chance to revisit IV’s major characters 15 years after the original and its improvements to the already stellar battle system.
By adding the ability to choose between moon phases and band abilities, The Later Years adds a much appreciated extra layer of tactical depth to combat while keeping the core of what was great first time around. Depending on the phase of the moon, combat and magic skills will differ in their effectiveness, thus making strategic planning of when to take on some of the major boss battles all but essential. Bands on the other hand encourage experimentation due to unique friendships forming in battle that can unlock further bands essential to later game success.
By keeping to the original game’s roots, Square Enix has managed to retain the original’s visual charm while fine tuning enough to make it visually appealing to today’s gamers. Sure, the CG cutscenes do look a little out of place next to the old 2D sprites, but they’re still hugely impressive in their own right and admittedly help to bring the story and characters further to life. The whole package delivers well over 70 hours of classic JRPG gaming, and while it won’t win over any of the doubters, it’ll certainly prove hugely entertaining to fans of the series and those looking for a return to classic JRPG mechanics.
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