Wow, my first game in a good while that I know people on this board have actually played. Too bad I hated it.
There are two different ways a video game can be hard, speaking in broad generalizations. One way is to make obstacles carefully around the rules of the game, which challenge you to either perform technically precise, or think of a clever strategy to succeed. The other way is to just make the obstacles absurdly difficult in spite of the player’s preparation, or perhaps due to sloppy game control. Guess what? Final Fantasy 4 on the DS manages to have intentionally absurd challenges AND poorly refined game mechanics.
A bit of a history lesson on FF4’s battle system: Final Fantasy 4 was the game which originated the Active Time Battle system (ATB), where all characters and enemies acquire turns based on how fast they are, rather than everyone on the field having an equal amount of turns. The charge time before acquiring a turn is usually indicated by a gauge which fills up over time. The Final Fantasy ATB systems have always given the options to allow time to stop while choosing spells, items or targets (called ‘wait’); or to have time run continuously (called ‘active’). The only other things you need to know about FF4’s combat are that some characters are fighter types or mage types, and you can have up to five party members at once. It might sound lame these days to talk about it as if it’s such an amazing thing; however, this was groundbreaking back in 1991 - bet it.
That being said, ATB has always been a fundamentally flawed system. If you grind too much, you get way too many turns. If you’re well-prepared, you can give orders faster, and the faster you give a command, the quicker a character gets their next turn. The bottom line is, it’s easy to steamroll any enemy in an ATB system. I challenge ANYONE to find an ATB-type system where this isn’t true.
…Except for Final Fantasy 4 DS. I suppose it’s only fitting that the progenitor of the ATB system would be the game to reinvent it. So, why, then, did I write such a hateful-sounding first paragraph? Simple: FF4DS has several minor annoyances in gameplay, and it went WAY over the top in creating most of its challenges.
Let me start by explaining the main addition to FF4DS’s gameplay: Augments. Augments allow a character to learn a new skill. You gain new augments by completing certain tasks, stealing them from enemies, and getting them from non-permanent party members after they leave you for good. You can get additional Augments from non-perma party members by giving THEM a specified number of Augments. This allows you to customize your characters to an extent. Augments, by the way, are one-time use.
There’s just one problem with the Augment system: The game does NOT explain to you how to acquire Augments. When you first learn about them, it says some vague crap like “Look around, you never know where you might find them!” That’s bull. You MIGHT think to steal them from enemies, or you MAY think “Maybe I’ll get an Augment from completing this task?” However, I can’t believe that ANYONE would think, “Man, maybe I’ll get more Augments from this character if I GIVE them some!” Part of the reason you wouldn’t think that is because that’s just retarded logic. Another reason is because you don’t know for quite a while that you can get Augments that way. If you’ve played FF4, you would even think to NOT give them Augments, because you’d just lose them!
The most frustrating thing is, the concept of giving non-perma members Augments to recieve more isn’t a bad idea. There are actually several mediocre-or-worse Augments that you could hand out to those characters, no sweat! But, let’s pretend you didn’t read this review before you played the game…you probably would have never tried that if you’ve already played FF4.
Now, onto the nitpicks about the gameplay. Let’s start off with the most comical trouble: You can get into random battles by walking into walls. This does get frustrating in a practical situation, however, when trying to navigate through hidden passages. You’ll be trying to feel your way through, and you’ll get into random battles very frequently without covering any ground.
Another thing that bothers me: Touch screen functionality. Or rather, that there is none. Normally, I think of touch screen functionality as a gimmick, but it could have been very useful in FF4DS. The reason? When two characters have acquired a turn simultaneously, you can press the Y button to switch characters without performing an action. However, you don’t choose which character it switches to. Imagine how obnoxious that is, if you have five people who have a turn at the same time, and you need to kick of your assault with a specific action…and it gets to the character you need last. This situation happens more than you might think. For example, how about when you get a preemptive strike? When you get a first strike, you really ought to strike FIRST, right? However, because of this archaic ‘Press Y all day to switch characters’ mechanic, it’s not uncommon to see your enemies attack you first, EVEN during a first strike. It would be so easy to implement, too: The touch screen already displays all the names of the party members in large boxes that would be easy enough to just TOUCH. Why didn’t they throw that in?
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the game is this: When your character acquires a turn, if you accidentally pick the wrong spell/item, and press the cancel button, it takes you back to the FIRST menu, and not the spell/item list! This really sucks, because spell and item lists are crazily long, and even though you can manually sort them, it takes a lot of time to select a spell. Mess that up more than once in a row on ‘active’ and you’re screwed. It’s easier to make that happen than it seems, too - mostly because FF4DS will not accept inputs from the D-Pad that are TOO fast. So, the game, in some strange way, actually PUNISHES you for trying to act as quickly as possible. Kind of ironic, huh?
The last unrefined-gameplay gripe I have is a very strange one. In FF4DS, some actions require charge time, like spells. Also, there are some actions, like physical attacks, that freeze every gauge until the action is completed, whether you’re playing on ‘wait’ or ‘active’. The strange thing is, though, there are some actions that DON’T freeze the gauge…like spell animations.
What are the ramifications of this? I’ll give you an example of when this comes into play: In the final dungeon, there is a boss that casts Reflect (a spell which causes other magic to bounce off of a target) on itself, and then all your party members. This enemy is also susceptible to the spell Stop. So, how do you cast stop on it? Easy: Wait until the monster casts Reflect on your party, and then bounce Stop off of one of yourparty members. So, you wait until you see the monster cast Reflect, and immediately cast Stop on one of your party members.
Now, after casting Stop, if you don’t perform ANY actions with ANYONE, your caster with be 3/4 through the charge time for casting Stop, all which happened during the spell animation for Reflect. However, if you then take actions with all your characters during this time, your caster’s gauge will freeze multiple times, making it so that they will be 1/4 through the charge time or less by the end of the Reflect animation. This is yet ANOTHER instance where the game PUNISHES you for acting swiftly and decisively.
Think about that for a second. FF4DS, a game with the ATB system, has measures in effect that punish you for acting as quickly as possible. Now, this isn’t necesarily a bad thing, either. In fact, as I will tell you in a minute, FF4DS has some COOL measures in effect that encourage you to stop and think before making actions. However, three of the four points above feel like a bunch of (in)convenient accidents (let’s face it, they probably were), rather than deliberate attempts to make you strategically stop and think about what you’re doing.
You wanna know the craziest thing, though? I haven’t even gotten to the worst part. Everything I’ve mentioned so far can definitely take a game that would otherwise be great and make it mediocre; but, I must concede that none of the things I’ve listed are truly deal-breakers. If this next point doesn’t dissuade you from playing the game, then nothing will:
In Final Fantasy 4 DS, the most bosses have specific counter-attacks to physical and magic attacks. This, in my opinion, is AWESOME. Bosses have a certain probability of counter-attacking, and they usually have two stances where it will be safer to attack in a certain way than it would usually be. This is undermined, however, by one small problem: Magic in this game is too powerful. What a small problem, but what a HUGE impact it has on the game! You see, at around the halfway point of the game, most bosses have some sort of ultimate (magic) attack that hits EVERYONE, and will KILL everyone in one hit except the main character, Cecil. It doesn’t matter if they’re at full life or not, they’re GOING to die.
This was intentional, and here’s why I know this: Near the end of the game, you get a character in your group for a short while. This character’s stats do not raise at ALL when they gain a level. This character also gets one-shotted at max HP by both of the bosses you fight during their tenure in the party. That, to me, is a clear admission that somebody thought this was a GOOD idea.
Even worse? Sometimes, the ultimate attacks aren’t even counters; they can just USE that attack! There were a few bosses that kick off the fight by doing their ulimate attack, killing off four of my five party members before I did ANYTHING. As soon as they got another turn, they’d use it again. I don’t even want to recount some of the STUPID shit I had to do to beat bosses like this, but suffice it to say I probably shaved a year off my life by just being to stubborn to stop playing the game.
To wrap up my feelings about the gameplay: It’s crap, and they almost single-handedly ruins the experience. It sure as hell wasn’t the graphics or the music, which were certainly up to snuff. A lot of sound effects, graphical effects, and music were carefully crafted to remind you of the original game in the best way possible. This was, without a doubt, the best part of FF4DS.
Because seriously, it wasn’t the story. The story always had a cool premise to it: You’re Cecil, the captain of a fleet of flying ships run by Baron, a strong military nation. Baron is seeking out the world’s four elemental crystals for some reason unknown to Cecil, and they’re taking them from other nations by force. Anyways, some things happen, and as a result, Cecil is relieved from duty, and is eventually forced to confront the terrible actions being commited by his kingdom and joins the fight against Baron.
Now, this hasn’t changed one iota; however, the localization sports some really haughty (for lack of a better word) English that would be hard for a child to read. What’s wrong with this, you say?
FF4’s story is very childish. I played through it when I was six and understood perfectly what was going on. And seriously, so many tragic scenes in this game that are painfully contrived. Who do you think would would be affected the most by these scenes, regardless of their quality? A child, who won’t say “Well, the emotional appeal of this scene was diminished because this character wasn’t developed, and bla, bla, bla.” Just as well, many of those said ‘tragedies’ were miraculously (i.e illogically) reversed, in ways that would make you cringe if you saw it happen in a modern RPG. Who do you think that’s going to have the best impact on? A kid, who wouldn’t be so critical of such things. And who will best appreciate that the ending of the game has all the characters get together for a happy party? Yep. Final Fantasy 4 is a children’s story, through and through. For that reason, the haughty dialogue feels really contradictory, as if they’re trying to make it into some dark affair that it clearly isn’t.
For someone who wants a reasonable, exciting challenge, Final Fantasy 4 will eat you up and spit you out, because it was made for the ‘hardcore’ audiences. Even still, I think it’s tragic that people will overlook all the above gameplay hiccups, simply because it’s a Final Fantasy game. In my professional opinion, you should take the 40 dollars that it costs to buy this game and use it to buy ice cream; it tastes better than FF4DS, you can enjoy it with your girlfriend.