It's a fact: Square really wants you to play Final Fantasy IV. Once known to us American gamers as Final Fantasy II, this Super NES game has been remade countless times on a bevy of different consoles. No matter if you own a Game Boy Advance, Wii, WonderSwan or PlayStation, you have access to one of the greatest role-playing games of all time.
With all these remakes and re-releases, it shouldn't surprise anybody that Square has a brand new version of Final Fantasy IV for Sony's six year old PlayStation Portable. What is surprising is how this remake has nothing to do with the polygonal re-imagining Square released a mere three years ago. Instead this is a brand new remake, featuring traditional hand-drawn sprites and the overhead perspective you expect from a 16-bit role-playing game.
Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection is more than just a remake of a twenty year old Super NES game; it's a comprehensive package featuring exciting extras, remixed music and two brand new stories that expand an already epic storyline. While I can't guarantee that Square won't decide to remake this classic a few more times in the future, I can say that this is (for the moment at least) the definitive version of Final Fantasy IV.
In case you have ignored the re-releases over the last twenty years, Final Fantasy IV tells the story of a young soldier named Cecil. A member of the Dark Knight brotherhood, our hero realizes that he's been on the wrong side of the battle and must help defeat a madman who is using mind control to collect all of the world's precious crystals. It's up to Cecil and a colorful cast of supporting characters to save the world and live happily ever after.
This 2011 remake may have high definition graphics and a remixed soundtrack, but it's the same old 16-bit Final Fantasy game you remember. Old school fans will recognize many of the twenty year old RPG trappings, including annoying random battles, turn-based combat, an archaic save system and a steep challenge. Thankfully the story is compelling enough to make up for some of the more outdated issues.
Final Fantasy IV proves the importance of a strong cast of likable characters. Instead of creating generic warriors based around a few simple classes, the 1991 game offered a great cast that fit into the full narrative of the story. Cecil has an emotional character arc, not something you saw in a lot of role-playing games of the era. Because characters are constantly coming and going, your party of five is always in flux. This means that you'll get to know a lot of cool characters, including a few that won't make it to the end of this adventure.
The character interaction may not be as novel as it was twenty years ago, but it still remakes incredibly effective. The game has been rewritten, though it's hard to tell if it was done for this remake or one of the dozen other re-releases. This PSP remake also features a few cinemas sprinkled around the story. They are short scenes full of action, usually something blowing up or a flying ship racing towards something. These cinemas don't look particularly good, especially in comparison to the rest of the game.
While the updated graphics and sound are great, the real draw of this Complete Collection is the addition of Interlude and The After Years. While these additions are a far cry from the length of Final Fantasy IV proper, they do add some wrinkles to the story and gives fans of the series some much-needed closure. The first expansion is Interlude, which reunites the cast and lays the ground work for the second, more substantial episode. Even though Interlude is only a few hours long, I had a good time digging deeper into the memorable cast of characters. And besides, who doesn't want to go on another adventure with Cecil?
The After Years takes place nearly twenty years after the first game. With brand new abilities and a brand new story, The After Years works as a sequel to Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy IV-2, if you will). You play Ceodore (the son of Cecil and Rosa) as he and a color cast of warriors take on a lot of the same bosses and bad guys. There's a new story here that involves a second moon showing up and crystals, but it's largely there to make the player revisit familiar locations and fight through previously used dungeons.
Thankfully The After Years does offer some new techniques to the mix. Now players can perform multi-person attacks in the middle of battle, similar to what we've seen in newer Final Fantasy games. There's also a brand new day/night (of sorts) to contend with. Players will want to pay close attention to the phases of the moon, as they can impact the random encounters in substantial ways.
These are welcome additions that help set this game apart from the 1991 original, but they aren't enough to overcome the game's glaring problem. As much as I want to love The After Years, far too much is recycled from the original Final Fantasy IV. I didn't find the characters or the story compelling enough to make me want to replay the same dungeons and locations. It's nice that it's here for collectors, but it's certainly not the reason to buy Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection.
The good news is that players aren't forced to replay Final Fantasy IV in order to unlock Interlude and The After Years. Both episodes are available right from the start, though anybody new to the game should start at the beginning. The game also offers a few fairly typical unlockable prizes, such as artwork, a full enemy guide and two versions of the music. Considering how strong the game's soundtrack is, I was happy that I could replay any song I wanted right from the main menu.
The fact that I was able to get sucked into the story after what must be a dozen or more play-throughs is a testament to how good Final Fantasy IV is. By the end of the game I was not only overlooking things like random battles and a limited save system, but embracing them. While I still love the PlayStation 1 and 2 era, there's something simple and clean about these older 8- and 16-bit adventures. I may be in the minority, but I would love to see Square develop another numbered Final Fantasy game using this retro art style.
Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection won't be the last re-release of this classic game, but it's definitely the best version of the game available. While some may prefer the new-fangled polygonal graphics of the Nintendo DS remake, I have always been partial to the classic 1990s look. With an amazing story, tons of content and good looking graphics, The Complete Collection is the definitive version of Final Fantasy IV. Hopefully now Square will be able to move on to remaking Final Fantasy VI.