FFIV grabbed my interest when I realized that the protagonist was a terrible bastard. Cecil, a Dark Knight that commands the king’s fleet – begins the game invading and robbing weaker kingdoms for their precious Crystals by order of the King. He expresses doubt regarding the King’s judgement but continues to follow orders anyway. Eventually Cecil’s actions unwittingly result in the deaths of many innocents.
I had just come off Final Fantasy III, and though fun in it’s own right, was incredibly safe and death was rare. FFIV kills many of it’s main characters.
I quickly became invested and kept playing because I wanted to see what would happen next, and not because of compulsion or grinding (though FFIV has some elements of that). I cared about the fate of the inhabitants of the world….
….for about 90 percent of the game. The final act kind of throws all this away for what appears to be a safe resolution. Still 90 percent is good going. And it’s not all dark and miserable for it’s own sake either. There are lighter elements and moments of levity as the game remembers that it can be fun without having to compromise it’s drama.
Mechanically, FFIV is as ‘Final Fantasy’ as you can get. Random turn based battles happen as you explore dungeons and the overworld, with regular pit stops in towns and castles to rest, buy armor and weapons, and stock up on items.
Regular fights aren’t too complex, but most enemies will have some weakness to exploit or mechanic to work around. Most of the bosses pose a very pleasant (and considerable) challenge with wild card spells that require you to plan ahead, fail, adjust and repeat, with great satisfaction on the killing blow.
I found that I needed to grind to level up new party members at times, and some fights had so few tactics that I could use the ‘Auto-battle’ feature’. Such repetition was seldom however, and never so bothersome to cause too much frustration as I always felt that I was progressing a definite journey that would reach and end. Overall, the game plays solidly. Nothing to blow you away but fun enough to engage with while the story drives you forward.
Again with the Crystals
Which to summarize: The King of Baron has ordered the invasions of nearby kingdoms to steal their Magic crystals. The protagonist Cecil, follows these orders until the king’s new found lust goes too far.
We follow Cecil as he faces challenges alongside those he has harmed and how he reconciles his actions and attempts to redeem himself. Each support character has a back story related to this overall plot and are pleasantly relevant to Cecil. These support characters aren’t very deep, but I appreciate that they have a good reason for being there and, are likeable for the most part.
I will avoid specifics so as to not spoil, but the final act disappointed me. Not that the game does anything terrible, but it seems to get cold feet.
The not so Good Stuff
We learn (out of the blue) that Cecil has a hidden heritage, destined to fight on the side of good, just before a new antagonist literally falls out of the sky for the climax.
Imagine if at the end of Return of the King that Frodo found out that Aragon was his cousin, and this (somehow) was why he had the power to get to mordor. Imagine Aragon only learns of Saurons existance right as Frodo arrives at Mount Doom.
Cecil’s persuit of the established protagonist would have been reason enough on it’s own. He was stripped of his command by his king, tricked into performing genocide and had his kingdom destroyed by an intelligent manipulator.
Cecil’s final ‘revelation’ about his destiny seemed unnecessary at best (he doesn’t gain any extra power), and insulting at worst. As if the writer said ‘wait, we never told the player how special they are!’.
I liked the protagonist because he WASN’T special. Cecil was a regular flawed guy who got manipulated and tricked like any normal person would. He then struggled through failure repeatedly until he and his party became stronger to reach the end. This hardship is undermined when the ‘Harry potter-esque’ – ‘you are special because we say you are’ element is shoe horned in. FFIV cops out of the death too, as many of characters killed are magically resurrected with weak justification.
But Worth a Lash
I’m still giving this a recommendation though. The Tone spinning finale wasn’t a deal breaker (and made sense in it’s own convoluted way) and the majority of my time with Final Fantasy IV was more pleasant than not, which is what you want for game that lasts about 40 hours.