July 31, 2008

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Final Fantasy IV (DS)
Square/Matrix Software, July 22, E10+
By Glenn "Airship Captain" Given production@hippopress.com

The makers and re-makers of Final Fantasy III gussy up the second-most-legendary Final Fantasy of the series for a remake of 2005ís Game Boy Advance remake of 1991ís Super Nintendo classic (where it was called Final Fantasy II), Final Fantasy IV. And yes, this is not the last Final Fantasy. (Note: that joke is funny for all gaming dorks by congressional mandate.)

You know what, Iím gonna go out on a limb and recommend this obvious scramble for filthy lucre. Why? Because Final Fantasy IV is the best FF game ever. Thatís right, Aerith dies, Sephiroth is a dainty emo-princess and donít get me started on that ridiculous rabbit-eared whore from FFXII.

For many of us FFIV (or FFII depending on locale) was the seriesí entry point, a meticulously crafted RPG with pathos, strategy and world-shattering epic consequences. The DS remake retains the active time battle system from the first iteration of FFIV and plays out nearly as the original did. Your characters still unlock specific abilities at specific levels in an unwavering path toward the now familiar role-playing archetypes. And the story, now more of a concern than the leveling grind of other RPGs, dictates your party makeup. Fans of the original SNES cartridge will be taken aback to see that the DS outing is far less forgiving of mistakes. Returning fans will also find a staggering amount of voice-acting (not all good) as well as full-motion video, a handful of stylus-driven minigames, and the new augment system. In this latest feature, players can customize the skills of party members by transferring abilities from one character to the next. Most frustrating is that some of the hardest encounters of the game are made tolerable only by the augmentation of temporary characters in specific ways only vaguely hinted at. But, if Iím playing through this title for the third time, I suppose the general difficulty should be expected. Itís good to see the cold hard heart of a serious RPG restored to a treasured story, and to have that fascinatingly evil slab of Nintendo-phernalia in my back pocket. A- ó Glenn Given