Posted on December 23, 2017
Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV
Final Fantasy IV (abbreviated as FF4 for the Japanese version and FF2 for the Western version) is an absolutely incredible RPG that influenced an entire generation of JRPGs, and dare I say, even the generation after. Final Fantasy IV is arguably the first JRPG (maybe even just RPG) to truly express emotion not only through deep, meaningful dialog, but also through a mix of music and character animations that finally show human-like movement and expression.
Score – 34/40
Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 9/10
Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Turn-based)
Platform: Super Famicom / Super Nintendo
Release Date: JP: July 19th, 1991 / US: November 23rd, 1991
Length: 25～40 Hours
Table of Contents
Final Fantasy IV SFC/SNES Review
Since Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II as far as all of us westerners were aware of at the time) was my first RPG (at age 2!), I figured i’d make it my first review! Considering the fact that I recently beat FF4 again, i’ll be able to take an objective look at the game instead of judging it based on nostalgia from 25 years ago.
Final Fantasy IV is the first entry of the Final Fantasy series released on the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo, meaning the overall quality of the game took a huge leap over the previous three games in the series. Squaresoft was finally able to implement even more of their creativity with the help of much better graphical and musical capabilities, plus a lot more cartridge space to fill the game up with much more content than what was possible before. Did Final Fantasy IV leave a lasting impression, solidifying Final Fantasy’s place as a mainstay in RPG history? Let’s find out!
If you’re interested in what I think about FF5 and FF6 too, check out my reviews for Final Fantasy V/ファイナルファンタジーV and Final Fantasy VI/ファイナルファンタジーVI!
If you’d like to see some cool Japanese exclusive FF4 guide books instead, you can find my overviews of the entire set below:
The story in FF4 is a story of betrayal, revenge, love, and saving the world. While overdone now, this kind of story was still fresh during the time of its release. Just so I don’t spoil very much, i’ll just summarize the first couple of hours worth of gameplay. This might contain extremely light spoilers!
The game begins with a cutscene showing some airships led by a Dark Knight named Cecil Harvey (セシル・ハーヴィ, Seshiru Haavi), who is a Dark Knight sworn under the King of Baron, that seem to be going on some sort of raiding mission. Cecil and his army proceed to steal some sort of crystal, which looks to be like the main goal of their mission.
Upon returning and delivering the crystal to the King of Baron, Cecil and his childhood friend Cain Highwind (カイン・ハイウィンド, Kain Haiwindo) are ordered to deliver a package to a nearby town called Mysidia. Upon arriving in Mysidia, the package explodes, killing everyone in the town except for a girl named Rydia. Cecil and Cain had no previous knowledge of what was actually in the package, so in order to make up for what they had done Cecil and Cain take Rydia to a nearby town so she can rest, where they are ambushed in their sleep by soldiers sent by Baron.
Cecil understands that he has been betrayed by Baron, so he sets out for Mount Ordeals where he believes he can find another crystal similar to the one he retrieved for Baron. Originally thinking that if he could get his hands on the crystal he’d have a chance at getting revenge against Baron, Cecil’s change of heart gets recognized at the top of Mount Ordeals, which leads to him changing from a Dark Knight to a Paladin!
Further into the game, without spoiling anything else, the player will realize who is pulling the strings and why they’re after the crystals. The quest leads characters to the ends of the earth, as well as a couple of other very unique locations. The story is filled with twists and turns, with plenty of “emotional scares” that eventually force you to start questioning whether things are really happening like they seem to be. Final Fantasy IV has a very memorable story, especially when you consider just how early in the SFC/SNES’s life-cycle it was released (mid 1991 in Japan)!
There’s still a lot more to the story than what I went over above, so definitely look forward to everything else the story has to offer! In the mean-time, let’s take a look at the characters you’ll meet along the way!
Final Fantasy IV actually has a fairly large cast of characters. Your main party consists of 5 characters at a time, but characters come and go quite frequently. Let’s check out who you’ll meet along the way!
セシル (Seshiru, Cecil) – Cecil is the commander of King Baron’s “Red Wings”, which is essentially Baron’s Air Force. Cecil becomes a Dark Knight by the orders of Baron, which causes him to lose all sense of kindness, and because of this he can’t reciprocate Rosa’s feelings for him. Nobody can see his suffering and anguish due to his face being covered by his helmet.
カイン (Kain, Cain) – Cain is Cecil’s best friend and fiercest rival. Cain is a descendant of a Dragoon bloodline. Although most soldiers from the Kingdom of Baron are turned into Dark Knights similar to Cecil, Cain is allowed to become the only Dragoon in the entire kingdom. Cain is very calm and collected, and might have some sort of hidden feelings for Rosa.
ローザ (Rooza, Rosa) – Rosa is a beautiful White Mage who was handpicked by King Baron himself. Rosa has deep feelings for Cecil, and although she chose to become a White Mage to help the Kingdom of Baron, her true reason for learning the ways of White Magic was to eventually be able to help Cecil.
リディア (Ridia, Rydia) – Rydia is a young woman from the village of Mist, a village who’s residents are all Summoners. With the help of her mother’s bloodline, Rydia is also able to cast magic. One might not be able to tell at first, but Rydia is one of the bravest adventurers in the party and her immense power makes her a big asset to the party.
テラ (Tera, Tella) – Tella is one of the most renowned Sages in the entire world. Tella has always strived to learn the absolute strongest of magic, but recently his age has gotten the best of him and he’s not able to harness as much magical power as he used to be able to.
Tella seems to lack any sort of sympathy or emotion at first glance, but whenever something related to his daughter Anna happens, he becomes overwhelmed with emotion almost to the point of not being able to control himself. There appears to be some sort of deep connection between Tella and the magical town of Mysidia.
ギルバート (Girubaato, Gilbert) – Known as “Edward” in the English version of Final Fantasy IV, Gilbert is the Prince of the desert kingdom Damucian (Demacia in the English version?). Although Gilbert comes from a family of royalty, he despises being destined to inherit the throne, so he decides to go his own way and become a Bard. Gilbert’s songs become world famous thanks to his beautiful singing voice. When things get rough, Gilbert’s weak spirit means he’s quick to panic and lose all focus.
ヤン (Yan, Yang) – Yang is the leader of the monks of Fabul. Rather than focusing on mental training, Yang decided to put all of his effort into training his body and muscles. Nobody is stronger when it comes to attacking with claw-type weapons.
パロム・ポロム (Paromu & Poromu, Palom & Porom) – Palom and Porom are twins from the town of Mysidia who both possess the ability to use magic. Though both can use magic, Palom has the ability to use Black Magic, which coincides with his mischievous and prankster-like personality, his sister Porom can use White Magic, which also coincides with her more proper and focused personality.
シド (Shido, Cid) – Cid is an Airship Technician for the Kingdom of Baron. He’s quite a stubborn worker, but he enjoys the company of younger people, which makes him a bit charming in the eyes of the party. Since Cid only has a young daughter, he takes Cecil under his wing and treats him as if Cecil were his own son.
エッジ (Ejji, Edge) – Edge is the Prince of Eblana, who has taken the path of the Ninja. Though extremely confident in his own abilities as a Ninja, Edge is quick to respect and befriend anyone who helps him in overwhelming situations. Especially if you take into consideration his position as royalty, Edge has a pretty bad mouth and isn’t afraid to use it. Edge looks at Rydia quite often, but probably thinks nobody notices…
That covers the “main” roster of characters you’ll come across in FF4. This game definitely has a much bigger cast than FF5, but even with 10 main characters, FF6 still beats it by just a few more characters! This list doesn’t cover all “playable” characters in the game though, so there are still a few things left than will surprise you by the end!
Each character in the game has quite a bit of character development. Characters like Cecil and Cain definitely have the most development, but even the characters that get introduced much further in the game have a lot of things change from the moment they’re introduced til the final battle. For some players, you might end up liking characters that you originally hated at the beginning of the game by the end of the game.
One of the best things about the character development is that it doesn’t all come rushing in at the end of the game. There definitely is a lot of development that happens around the end, but the game is really good at pacing the story elements and character relationships, so there’s always a good flow on stuff coming in that should keep you glued to the story and each individual party member’s endeavors.
Now that we know who we’re dealing with, let’s see what the game has to offer in terms of gameplay!
The gameplay in FF4 is quite traditional in terms of early JRPGs. If you’ve ever played an SFC/SNES era JRPG you’ll have absolutely no issues understanding what’s going on. Movement takes place on the overworld map, inside cities, and inside dungeons. Players can walk around and talk to NPCs in town to buy equipment and items, as well as figure out what’s happening in the world around them.
Battles are turn-based, but use an ATB (Active Time Battle) system. This means that even though combat plays out in turns, if you wait too long to use an action, the enemies will keep attacking you. So while it’s not 100% turn-based (where nothing will happen as long as you don’t finish your turn), it can feel that way once you get used to the menus and can finish your turns quickly. There is a “Wait” mode option that will change battles to true turn-based combat, but even with the “Wait” mode selected, battles against bosses who have time-based abilities (charged attacks and whatnot) will automatically switch back to “Active” ATB temporarily.
Final Fantasy IV is one of the more “vanilla” feeling Final Fantasy games in the sense that each character has a defined class, which determines what equipment they can equip, what Special Abilities they can use, as well as what types of spells they can cast. In earlier Final Fantasy games, you almost always had some way to customize your party – be it by choosing your own characters classes or choosing how to level up your stats. In Final Fantasy IV however, everything is pre-determined.
You can’t choose any classes and there’s no way to customize any characters other than their equipment (each character basically has a “Best” piece of equipment for each slot, so every player will most likely be using the same stuff at the end of the game), and there isn’t any way to change party members to your liking (members come and go based on story progression, so your final party members are pre-chosen).
I don’t really consider this a bad thing, but this does make it so any time you run into a boss or something you can’t beat the ONLY thing you can do is level up for some extra stats. The overall stream-lined feeling does make it so you have a whole lot less room for player error (as opposed to something like Final Fantasy V/ファイナルファンタジーV where you have the freedom to change classes if you get stuck, but then you also have to worry about what stats each class gives on level up if you’re focused on min/maxing). I personally don’t mind having everything pre-determined in an FF game every once in a while (basically only IV and IX are this way), but I do think Final Fantasy IV has the easiest battle system to jump into if you’re not very experienced with JRPGs!
Next we’ll talk about leveling up. Players grow stronger by killing enemies and gaining stats after leveling up. Stats are allocated automatically, so there isn’t really any customization to be had, like I mentioned above. Levels do make quite a difference later on in the game, though. Levels later on usually give close to 100hp each (the caster characters usually get around 50-70), which is very important for the last boss.
One thing i’ll talk about later on – there are two Japanese versions of the game. The “original” version and Final Fantasy IV Easy Type, which is essentially Final Fantasy II in the West. While the difference isn’t quite Elnard/The 7th Saga エルナード levels, the western version of Final Fantasy IV can be beaten about 20 levels earlier than the Japanese version, on average.
This is more of a tip than anything else I guess, but the difference in difficulty really hits you in the face when you reach the last dungeon. While most Final Fantasy games make it so you can basically kill all random encounters in the last dungeon with a single turn of auto-attacks (i’m looking at you Final Fantasy VI/ファイナルファンタジーVI and Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces: Limited), Final Fantasy IV is much closer to something like Dragon Quest I & II (Dragon Quest 2)/ドラゴンクエストI・II (ドラゴンクエスト２), where the trek from the final save point to the last boss is designed to be a resource drain.
The western version of FF4 can be beaten at around level 45-50 without any major problems, but the Japanese version can’t be reliably beaten until your party is basically ~level 70. Even at level 70 you’re going to get wrecked by most monsters in the last section of the game, so you’re better off just running from everything and healing inbetween fights.
Since it’s way easier to explain gameplay with a video, I recorded a short video showing the basic gameplay loop. It’s not much, but this should give you a fairly good idea of what to expect while playing Final Fantasy IV! Check it out below!
Hopefully the video above gave you a decent idea of what it’s like to play the game. Anyways, let’s see what the game has to offer graphically!
The graphical quality in FF4 is nothing to scoff at, considering it was released within the first year of the Super Famicom’s life-span. While the overworld environments aren’t extremely detailed, the towns and dungeons look quite nice. Liquids are animated, the colors are bright, and dungeons sometimes have a scrolling background that gives the impression of height and depth.
Character sprite animation isn’t super detailed, but sprites do show emotion. Cheering or preparing to embark will warrant an arm being raised in the air. Expressing sadness will show the character lowering their head. Battle animations are also fairly good. Weapons each have their own distinct model shown while attacking. Different swords will show different cutting/slashing animations when attacking enemies. Monsters are quite big, so monster sprites have a nice level of detail to them (especially bosses!). Abilities such as magic, summons, and character specific skills have great animations. AoE Black Magic looks really great, often resulting in magic taking up the entire screen (and doing tons of damage to boot)!
Battle backgrounds reflect the type of area you’re currently in (forests, deserts, caves, castles), so fighting always feels fresh. A certain battle even has an animated background while fighting (very nice quality), which is something that you just didn’t see back in the day. There’s honestly nothing that I can go back and look at even today and criticize, especially knowing that this came out within the first year of the system’s launch.
Environments are also fairly diverse. Some dungeons have a similar “feel”, like a basic cave or whatnot, but even though they’ll share the same tileset, they’re often have different color schemes (instead of brown dirt, some will have blueish dirt), or different things like scrolling backgrounds or waterfalls. I didn’t go through any dungeons and think “not again…”, until the very end when 3 different “mini dungeons” shared the same tileset as the final dungeon. The mini dungeons only take about 30 seconds each to walk through, so I don’t really count those as anything major.
Towns also usually have the same feeling. Most buildings or castles resemble each other, but things like what types of NPCs live in the town, what types of canals or forests surround the city, and things like that help keep stuff fresh. For the most part, you won’t be spending much time in cities anyways, so even if you do eventually feel that stuff is starting to feel “same-y”, you’ll probably already be pretty close to the end of the game so you won’t have to worry about it much longer.
Next up, we’ll take a look at an area that Final Fantasy IV really excels at – Music!
I can go on for days about the music for pretty much all old-school RPGs. JRPGs in particular just had a way with midi music that can’t be replicated today. Nobuo Uematsu was always able to do so much with so little during this generation. He was able to go on to make unbelievable music as technology became more sophisticated, but even during the early years of the SFC / SNES, he was able to create some tunes that have most likely stuck with the players who played FF4 when it was first released up until now! Based purely off of timelessness, i’ll recommend a couple of the classics!
First up we have the theme for the Kingdom of Baron. This is something you’re gonna be hearing quite a lot in the beginning, and each time you hear it it’ll pump you up and make you ready for your next adventure outside of the kingdom!
The next song is one you’ll run into a bit later in the game. You’ll be listening to this for a while because this song plays in a dungeon with a few different floors you’ll have to traverse all at once. I personally don’t see that as a bad thing at all because they chose an excellent song to accompany the dungeon-crawling!
Outside of these, just for the sake of musicianship, i’d like to recommend Troian Beauty, which is the theme for the town of Troia. What a beauty it is! You shouldn’t be able to make something like this with midi! Not only is it a great composition, but the song fits the atmosphere of Troia so well, you can just sit in town and enjoy the song for hours at a time!
The music is varied enough throughout the game to keep each area fresh and unique. A wide range of instrumental sounds are used, which can sometimes lead to a couple of weird sounding songs. The worst offender here is probably the theme for the town of Mysidia, which is a song that I could only describe as a mix of xylophones, drums, and what might be a dog “woof”-ing every few seconds. My description can’t do it justice, so here’s the real deal…
The town itself is a bit weird, so the music is actually pretty suitable I guess!
Putting the actual OST aside for a second, one cool thing I think I noticed was that the battle theme has a bit of echo added to it while fighting inside dungeons, which makes it sound like the music is actually in a cave. If it’s actually true, I think that’s a pretty nice extra detail!
Overall, the Final Fantasy IV soundtrack is definitely a grand slam right out the gates of the SFC’s lifespan. It’s an awesome indicator of what’s to come in terms of future Squaresoft releases on the platform, not to mention a very clear sneak-peak at what to expect from the following FF5 and FF6!
East vs. West
The SNES was really bad when it came to Japanese versions of games being quite different from their western counter-parts, and FF4 unfortunately is no different. If one wanted to be really picky, you could even say us westerns got a completely different game! There’s some truth in that, but to say it’s completely different would be a bit of a stretch. As I stated just briefly above, there were two versions of FF4 released in Japan. Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy IV Easy Type.
Easy type is, as you might guess, an easier version of FF4. FF2 in the west is basically FF4 Easy Type, and that can be proved by looking at the changes between the versions. FF2 also had some of its own changes, but it is for the most part Easy Type. The changes can be pretty drastic, so i’ll go over some of the major ones.
- Difficulty – This doesn’t necessarily mean that monsters were nerfed or anything like that, but the Japanese version of the game had separate items for all types of status effects as well as Remedies, but Remedies are super rare in the Japanese version. Ethers are the same way, very rare to find, and with the rate at which you’ll have to cast magic to heal yourself late-game, it’s actually really difficult to replenish MP in this version. This is not even a concern in the western version.
- Secret Paths – While not a super important aspect of the game for the most part, the secret pathways in dungeons are visible in the western release with a slight blueish color. All of the “important” pathways are still invisible, so it’s not too much of an issue, but all pathways are invisible in the Japanese release.
- Censorship – Nintendo had quite a hard-on for censoring things that honestly would never have caused much of a problem in the first place. Nintendo, for some reason, felt they had to censor anything religious in their games outside of Japan. So while not really a gameplay or balance issue, little things like “Pray” being called “Wish”, or the white magic spell “Holy” being renamed to “White”. Another thing that might have to do with censorship is the legendary “You Spoony Bard!” insult from Tella.
The Japanese language allows for the use of what could be considered bad language in the West, but it doesn’t quite carry the same weight. Japanese games can be rife with aggressive and insulting language, especially if there are characters with rough or strong personalities. Well, in the Japanese script, Tella is a bit of a bad-ass old man, opposite of his more reserved “elderly” personality in the western script.
Instead of telling Gilbert (Edward in the Western version) that he’s a “spoony bard”, he basically says something along the lines of ” I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you for what you’ve done! “. This turns what can be considered a bit of a “humorous duel” in the Western version into an extremely emotion skirmish in the Japanese version. Nowadays things would probably get localized mostly straight across, but back in the 90’s, even having “damn” or “hell” in your game was enough to actually raise hell, so sadly English scripts during this time were usually the result of quite the butchering.
- Weapon Balance – Various weapons had their stats adjusted in the Western version, leading to more powerful weapons. This means there is less of a need to level-up in order to progress, and some of the weapons get pretty strong close to end-game.
- Magic Balance – Cast times were reduced by half almost entirely across the board. This allows magic users to be quite powerful, being able to cast spells twice as fast than in the Japanese release. This coupled with Ethers being easily obtainable means that magic becomes very strong in the later parts of the game.
Should you play it?
Absolutely! Any fan of JRPGs new or old should have a blast playing this game! Final Fantasy IV is easily one of the best entry points into both the Final Fantasy series itself and the entire JRPG genre.
There aren’t too many gameplay systems that you’ll need to keep up with, there isn’t any real decision making when it comes to characters/party composition, and the story really picks up about 25-30% of the way through the game, with an ending ending that will really catch you by surprise!
Which version should you play?
Any version of FF4 should be great! While I can’t really see any reason to play Easy Type over the original if you plan on playing a Japanese release, there’s not really anything missing from the Western release. Of course, you can’t go wrong playing the Japanese version if you have the ability to. The Western version does of course have the butchered script which changes how some characters/scenes were actually meant to be, but unless some of the stuff in the censorship section is a dealbreaker, the script changes alone aren’t enough to really change the entire game.
Final Fantasy IV is a game that set the standard for all JRPGs that followed on the SFC/SNES, so if you want to to see what helped start it all in the early 90’s, look no further than Final Fantasy IV!
Final Score – 34/40
Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 9/10