On the whole, I liked FFIV more than FFIII. FFIV had a more “grown-up” feel and the graphics were a few notches better than the previous game. Unlike FFIII however, there were no “jobs” as each character was assigned a role that couldn’t be changed. That part I kinda missed from FFIII as I enjoyed making different job combinations and seeing how each one affected the party and its progression. However, there were more characters in FFIV to choose from, so creating a team to your liking wasn’t much a problem. You got to explore, fight, and collect; there were more crystals to retrieve and there was an ultimate bad guy waiting at the end of the game.
What stood out in my mind was FFIV’s story, which I found easier to follow than FFIII’s story. Much of it took place on Earth (called the “Blue Planet”), with various fantasy elements that included an “underworld” inhabited by dwarves and a moon that was home to the Lunarians. The clan of good guys had to stop the bad guy who wanted to destroy the humans so his people could take over Earth. The game was populated with dozens upon dozens of characters, and your team eventually banded together to retrieve said crystals in order to save the planet.
All that I learned during the game. However, before I even put FFIV into the DS, I was very intrigued by the game’s back cover description:
Bid farewell to your bloodstained past.
Follow the dark knight Cecil––Lord Captain of Baron’s elite force, the Red Wings––as he embarks on a fateful journey riddled with trials, betrayals, friendship, loss, and self-discovery. Plagued with uncertainty over his monarch’s motives, can Cecil turn away from the path of darkness and destruction?
I always read cover summaries when I pick up a new game. Although they aren’t always helpful, I find them very interesting. In the case of FFIV, these few sentences made the game sound rather sinister. I like sinister. Was there hope for Cecil? I wouldn’t know until I started playing.
If I may digress for a moment, for the sake of comparison, what does it say on FFIII’s back cover?
A Tale Untold.
A divine balance is disturbed as darkness encroaches upon this world, and four chosen youths are entrusted with the final vestiges of hope.
Classic FINAL FANTASY gameplay is reborn in an adventure never before seen in North America. Using any combination of 23 available jobs, lead the four Warriors of the Light in a journey to restore the world’s balance.
Comminucate with your friends and unlock hidden challenges over Mognet using the Nintendo DS Wi-Fi Connections. Enlist the aid of allies, providing guidance to your party and support in battle.
Restore the light, return balance to the world.
Witness the rebirth of a new Fantasy.
When I read the FFIII description, I see a writer that was charged with both describing the game and playing up the DS’s abilities. The result is long, fair, but not overly interesting. The opening and second sentences are pretty vague – perhaps assuming that the player already had some Final Fantasy knowledge? If I was a brand new player, I’m not sure I’d be so convinced. However, the second and third paragraphs seemed to want to draw in that new audience, showing them the newness of this old game and it’s “multi-player” aspects. And at the end of the summary you’re told what to do: restore, return, witness. Eh, fine.
But as with so many things, less says more, which was why I found FFIV’s description so much more interesting. Let’s have some fun with a completely unprofessional and by no means authoritative textual analysis! (Oh yes, and SPOILERS ahead…)
Bid farewell to your bloodstained past.
Right off the bat, here’s the hook. Your character had a questionable past, and questionable pasts usually made for good gameplay. You knew your character would probably have to make some touch choices based on his past, which, in this case, seemed to have been pretty rough.
Follow the dark knight Cecil––Lord Captain of Baron’s elite force, the Red Wings
Ah, good, here’s a name and occupation for your character. Cecil, he’s a dark knight, the darkest of all knights, and he’s a Lord Captain nonetheless, surely the best rank of all captains. And we’re talking about the Red Wings, not hockey, but a special team from Baron, presumably Cecil’s hometown or a place that played some sort of the important role in the game.
––as he embarks on a fateful journey riddled with trials, betrayals, friendship, loss, and self-discovery.
Now that’s one hell of a journey, but it had to be right? It was fateful — momentous, significant, portentous, and all that jazz. FFIV was an RPG after all; we players expected nothing less than an all-encompassing story in which life hung in the balance and upon the shoulders of the one person who could save it.
Moving on, did we hit all the points of this fateful journey in the game? Let’s see…
Trials. Yep, and plenty. There was a plethora of monsters to encounter along the way, strangers to meet and win over, and lands to save. The battle system used in the game was easy enough to manage and similar to FFIII. There was also an “augment” system in which you could transfer abilities (temporarily, I think) from one character to another. I didn’t really make use of this system as I found it a little confusing. Even so, I still managed well throughout the game.
Betrayals. At the beginning of the game, Cecil was kicked out of the Red Wings, so there’s some betrayal there. (This leads to Cecil’s uncertainty that’s alluded to in the next sentence of the summary.) Cecil also had to deal with a whole town, Mysidia, that hated him because it had been previously attacked by the Red Wings. Cecil’s main friend, Kain, took a turn to evil, which lead to problems. So yeah, betrayal was covered.
Friendship. In spite of Cecil’s trials and tribulations, he still had and finds friends. I already mentioned Kain, but there was a host of other folks who help Cecil during his journey including a young summoner named Rydia, Yang the warrior monk, and twin mages Palom and Porom.
Loss. Some of his friends died. Yep. Sorry.
Self-discovery. Um…I guess? I’m sure Cecil learned a thing or two about himself along the way – he did have to overcome obstacles to become a Paladin (one of the game’s more important quests). He found love. He had to make some difficult decisions (based on his past? Maybe.) He fiound out that the primary bad guy was a family member. I didn’t perceive Cecil much differently at the end of the game than I did at the beginning. But then again, I was just a player trying not to fall asleep during the morning train ride.
And finally, Plagued with uncertainty over his monarch’s motives, can Cecil turn away from the path of darkness and destruction?”
This is the kicker, the sentence that drew me in the most. Was I going to have to make a choice between good and evil paths?? Was I going to have a say in Cecil’s destiny???
Eh, not so much.
FFIV wasn’t a moral game. Cecil’s path was coded from the outset – he was going to save the world and get the girl. There was never any real sense of impending doom or that my choices had anything to do with the outcome of the game. But I also read that sentence with the eyes of a modern gamer who had played through morality tales (e.g. Mass Effect). Morality in games is a fairly new thing. Older games are akin to movies – no matter how much you yell at the screen, the ending is always the same. So this final sentence was not about the player making a difference in the game but rather convincing the player to stick with the game to find out the ending.
Which I and so many others did, so it must have worked. FFIV is a solid RPG and a fine entry into the FF series. I guessed it paired well with FFIII, as much as a fine wine and some Cracker Barrel cheddar cheese might pair well. Not that there’s anything wrong with Cracker Barrel cheese – it’s one of the better cheeses one might find in the dairy section of one’s grocery store. And it’ll do if it’s all you got. But you’d probably rather have the wine instead.