Final Fantasy Countdown: Final Fantasy IV

I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen this scene … the airships that fly over the slightly tilted Mode7 map, the nasty black knight who steals their crystal from the people of Mysidia, the following monster attack. The first time around, the scenes were a real shock and a real revelation. The realization that the black knight in question is not the evil antagonist but the hero of the new fantasy adventure is one of the magical moments of their role-playing career, which was mostly still young in the early 90s, for not just a few players.

While most developers made the jump from NES to SNES, from 8Bit to 16Bit, primarily to drill out the graphics of their games and add the prefix ?? Super ?? to the game title. First, Hironobu Sakaguchi and his men invested the new, lavish hardware power in the plot and gameplay. The priorities at Square? back then still without Enix? were set a little differently at the time than they are today. Visually, Final Fantasy IV offers only marginally more than a clean 8-bit look, but in terms of content, Final Fantasy IV makes a huge leap forward.

No question about it, when it comes to the plot, Final Fantasy IV was groundbreaking. The transformation of the black knight Cecil into a noble paladin, the story of his best friend and rival Cain … a real classic. But while those two elements still work well today, most of the rest of the storyline is, well, more questionable these days. If you play Final Fantasy IV at this point in time, you quickly get the feeling that the developers had an approximate outline of the plot, but many other elements seem a bit arbitrary.

Rydia shows in the SNES versions what summoning spells looked like in 1991.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the permanent change of party members. The job system was put back on the shelf for Final Fantasy IV, every hero has his own role here. Monk, summoner, white magician, black magician, bard, almost all classes of the predecessor are represented.

But even if the party here includes five heroes for the first and only time in a Final Fantasy, that is of course not enough space for all the characters. And so it is happily switched back and forth. Heroes leave the party every few hours, often under dramatic circumstances, to be replaced by new characters. And although many a hero returns later, you have no control over the composition of your troops at any point.

The problem with this: The change of characters is celebrated here as dramatically as possible? it usually boils down to a hero sacrificing his life for a good cause. This may seem radical and shocking at first, but it soon starts to get used to it. And in the end everything is only half as wild anyway. Only one figure permanently blesses the temporal in Final Fantasy IV, all the others survive their selfless sacrifices unscathed and cheer the party on in the final battle. As progressive and ambitious as the plot of Final Fantasy IV was true in the early 90s, today you can clearly see that storytelling in the video game medium was still in its infancy.

The combat system has held up far better than the plot: Final Fantasy IV concludes with the turn-based battles and leads the ATB ?? Active Time Battle ?? a. The fight now takes place in real time and the heroes attack faster or slower according to their agility, powerful magic attacks take more time than fast sword blows and those who take too long will get one or the other hit from the monsters. The ATB bars, which mark the progress of the characters, are still missing in the original, but were thankfully introduced in most of the remakes.

The remake for the GameBoy Advance delights with prettier colors and more details.

Unfortunately, the rest of the game system is less interesting. Final Fantasy IV completely dispenses with a skill system in which the player has control over the skills he has learned. No jobs are learned here, no magic is learned via Magicite or materias are equipped. The only way to get stronger here is by collecting classic experience points. The level limits for learning more powerful magic are set, as are the characters’ individual talents. In terms of character development, Final Fantasy IV, together with the debut, makes it the most staid part of the series. At that time, the new combat system and the complex plot made up for it, today this penalty weighs more heavily.

There is nothing wrong with the music. Once again Nobuo Uematsu raised the bar for game music a little higher. The music was more varied, many pieces were more emotional and for the first time Uematsu began to work with leitmotifs for certain characters. And many a piece from Final Fantasy IV is now known and appreciated outside of the gaming community: The wonderful ?? Theme of Love ?? was placed on the music curriculum of Japan’s sixth graders in 2005. So it’s surprising that Nobuo Uematsu himself tells us that this particular soundtrack was a pretty hard piece of work. When the compositions themselves were already finished, several nights were worked through in order to elicit the right sounds from the new sound hardware.