Not long after I finished FFIII on the DS I jumped on the remake of the fourth installment, originally released for the SNES way back in 1991. And even though the remake of part III proved to be a real benchmark release, SquareEnix set a whole new standard with this game. It reminded me of the SNES days when every new Square game seemed to push the boundaries further and further.
The Final Fantasy IV DS remake is quite interesting to behold. Where the original adaptation for the West was under heavy fire for bad translations and simplified gameplay, the DS remake is more true to the original Japanese version. This means it's somewhat harder to complete but boasts a better script and dialog.
Most of the game stays close to the original though. Only minor story tweaks and additions were made and the battle system remains faithful to the original. Some small but welcome updates were made to keep better control of your experience level and stats which really eases the task of equipping your characters and leveling up. Another addition was made in the form of Augments which add to the tactics used in battles and makes the game a tad more diverse, though for the bigger part of the game you can really do without them.
Final Fantasy IV remains a strange game, story-wise. Characters keep appearing, leaving and reappearing throughout the course of the game. There are only five character slots which are filled most of the time, but in the end only five characters will make it to the final boss with no user interaction to affect which five characters this will be. At least this makes the gameplay somewhat more diverse as many characters will come and go, each holding their own techniques and stats.
Visually the upgrade is really remarkable. Not only is the whole world translated beautifully to pretty detailed 3D environments, there is even room for brief cinematic interludes sporting an actual dub. Very cute to see all that happening within the little DS. Visually it is a big step up from the already lush looking FFIII remake and considering the size of the game it's a little miracle SquareEnix was able to cram all of that into this little cartridge.
The score too has received a very nice upgrade though battle music does tend to become a little tedious from time to time. It sure beats the original score but I did find myself muting the music from time to time, especially when leveling up or traversing big dungeons.
The difficulty level is considerable yet not all that balanced, which is where the only real flaw of the game lies. The start is pretty simple and most parts early on are a relative breeze. This makes that you can tackle most quests without too much tactical musings, experience you will lack later on in the game when the difficulty level picks up. And when you're being beaten to a pulp after 30 minutes of dungeon exploring, it is too late to start pondering about the use of some spells you have in your inventory.
In true FF fashion the games becomes really hard when you near the end, with the final dungeon being nothing more that a large collection of mini-bosses. Seeing that they appear in simple random encounters doesn't make it any easier either. Still, the final boss is doable and there are at least some save points nearby, something which was lacking in the remake of part III.
It is good to see that SquareEnix freshened things out where needed, but left the core of the game untouched. It is still the old FF IV but plays a little smoother, has more variety and just looks a whole lot better, making it really a different experience to game through. I guess that is also the reason why I'm not half as excited about the Chrono Trigger remake.
In the end I spent about 55 hours slaving away at this game, including all sub-quests and some mini games, which is great value for money if you ask me. The game looks lush, sound great and is a big improvement over the old version, but still manages to remain very close to the original in feel and atmosphere. Again SquareEnix shows us how remakes should be done and I'm glad they chose the Final Fantasy franchise to demonstrate it.
Still not convinced? Check the Final Fantasy IV DS trailer.