Final Fantasy has been changing a lot recently. XIII went very linear and made some changes to the combat system that fans were not happy with. If you are one of those fans, the kind of JRPG player who longs for the old NES and SNES days, then maybe Square Enix has an alternative for you with Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. Rather than another updated port or spin-off in the fanbase-dividing Crystal Chronicles series, 4 Heroes is a completely original adventure. It’s also very, very old-school, harkening back to the early days of Final Fantasy when brutal, unforgiving gameplay was king and you didn’t play as whiny tweens with self esteem issues. Is this a good thing? Well…
It really depends on whether you like these older elements or if you think they should get out of the way. To make an analogy, I’ve been playing first-person shooters almost since before I could talk, so I still enjoy the tension of scrounging for medpacks and hording them in my inventory. As a result I love in-depth healing menus like the ones in Snake Eater and Deus Ex, and I think recharging health is a lazy cop-out and just one of the many ways Halo has cheapened the FPS genre. 4 Heroes of Light has many JRPG analogues to that, several bygone elements it retains and tries to mix with modern simplifications.
For starters, 4 Heroes drops you right into the thick of it with a simple introduction to the story and not the barest hint of a tutorial. In classic RPG fashion, your character Brandt wakes up on his birthday and heads to the castle to be officially recognized as an adult, but ends up getting a desperate request from the king to rescue his kidnapped daughter. Along the way you learn that a witch is terrorizing your village, and soon the rescued princess and a couple other burgeoning young heroes have joined in your quest to vanquish this evil. It’s a simple tried and true setup in both story and basic gameplay. This would be fine if the game eased you into the more complex mechanics it offers, like the boost attacks and crown system, but from the get-go you’re pretty much on your own.
This raw start can be a problem if you were expecting a game with difficulty on par with the recent Final Fantasies. While 4 Heroes isn’t nearly as soul-shredding sadistic as many of Atlus’s hardest of the hardcore RPGs, it does skew more toward the Persona area of difficulty. You’ll enter many a dungeon woefully outmatched and will be subsequently forced to retreat, regroup and rethink your strategy. Half of this difficulty level is just the game’s good old fashioned retro chops, but the other half has to do with some questionable design decisions.
Like the classic Final Fantasies there are lots of random encounters, but it gets to the point where it’s just annoying at first. Eventually you’ll learn that constantly battling smaller enemies is crucial to winning the game. That’s right, you guessed it—4 Heroes is old-school in that way: you need to do some genuine grinding to get through tough bosses. If you’re used to that you’ll feel right at home, but personally I left grinding behind a long time ago; the minute I stop playing a game is when it starts to feel like more work than my job.
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