When the Final Fantasy VII PC port was finally released on PS4 at the end of 2015, I was excited to finally play it for the second time since the original PS1 release back in 1997. Over the years I’d seen more and more criticism calling it overrated and was eager to see for myself how it aged.
I was surprised to find it held up extremely well, and I possibly enjoyed it even more as an adult, understanding the twisting story of a broken hero.
After beating it (and realizing I had never seen the ending until then) I caught Final Fantasy fever and started grabbing the older titles I missed. It even inspired me to make an ‘Evolution of Final Fantasy video.
I didn’t have the time to go through them all, but still enjoyed sampling the first few hours of tone, characters, story, and gameplay tweaks in an ever changing series.
Final Fantasy IV
Owning a Genesis, I could only listen to my friends with envy as they described the gigantic adventures they had with FFIV and FFVI. VI gets more attention for its epic story, memorable characters, steampunk world, and cinematic presentation, but IV hooked me faster and harder than any other in the franchise (except for VII’s opening bombing run of course).
Like VII, IV starts off in medias res, although you don’t gain control immediately. A fleet of airships opens the game and a soldier tells of the impending arrival to Baron. The hero Cecil’s first line is the conflicted “Yeah…”, not the gung-ho battlecry we expect. The seeds are already sewn for dissent as the soldiers struggle with the morality of stealing a crystal from innocent people.
A sepia-filtered flashback shows Cecil and his guards bullying a much smaller group to take the crystal. It’s primitive, but effective
We’re used to playing the hero, so this is immediately different and intriguing. Cecil’s redemption from dark to light is the heart of the story. He is stripped of his command for questioning the King’s methods, and soon after unknowingly commits an atrocious act due to the King’s treachery.
You basically play as Darth Vader on a quest to the light. It’s awesome.
To avoid spoilers I’ll keep my praise vague.
The theme of redemption runs deep. Characters are deeply written, evolving beyond their emotional baggage to do the right thing. If you thought the character deaths in VII were ground-breaking, get ready for some serious sacrifices here.
The battles are fast-paced, the enemy sprites are large and detailed, and the linear story moves at a peppy pace. VI has more polish and a wider scope, but the characters of IV resonated much deeper and more immediately with me. The first act is a masterful setup with a fabulous early climax that I highly recommend everyone experience even if you have no intention of spending the dozens of hours necessary to complete the entire game.
The SNES version has great music the script is poor and the game is missing a bit of content.
The PSX port has a rewritten script much more faithful to the Japanese story, as well as ‘memo’ saves on the world map. The GBA version has weaker sound (by no means bad) and a few bugs, but includes the Lunar Dungeon missing from the SNES.
Many praise the PSP’s as the definitive version. The visuals are updated but stay true to the original intent.
The DS on the other hand, was home to the 3D remake. I’d give this a whirl on a second playthrough to see the changes, but I’d much prefer my first experience be as the programmers intended.
Catching up with the classics
I love going back to the classics I missed. They’re not just important building blocks to gaming today, as many still hold up, and they’re cheap as hell. I always had FFVI on my list, but was so blown away the first few hours of IV that it’s become my second favorite in the series (so far) and I just had to share the experience.
Have you played IV? I always love reading a ranking of the series and reasons for placement if you feel obliged.
My ranking (of entries I’ve played enough of)