Although Final Fantasy IV is a solid and entertaining RPG experience, everything that comes after the game feels like it shouldn’t have been included at all.
Square Enix is famous for releasing updated versions of their classic games on a regular basis. But how can the memories in your mind compare to the reality of a re-release? And if you’re replaying a game that’s old, how can the developer introduce some improvements without ruining the experience that purists expect? The Complete Collection compiles the entire Final Fantasy IV story-line, but while the core game is a solid and entertaining RPG experience, everything that comes after it feels like it shouldn’t have been included at all.
As its name suggests, the Complete Collection features the entire Final Fantasy IV story-line which includes Final Fantasy IV, a short interlude and an episodic adventure called The After Years. Apart from featuring the entire story, The Complete Collection has a gallery mode where you can see illustrations or watch the opening movie and at almost any point during the game, you can alternate between the arranged or original music and more. But the most noticeable change is the graphical overhaul. Unlike the PSP version of Final Fantasy III, The Complete Collection features two-dimensional visuals and they look remarkably well thanks to the PSP’s pristine screen. Additionally, some of the most iconic sequences have been recreated in glorious CGI which makes them even more memorable and eye catching.
So what can you expect in terms of story? As in most Japanese role-playing games from the 90’s, not much unfortunately. In Final Fantasy IV, you assume the role of Cecil, a knight who is sent to look for a legendary set of crystals. After Cecil unintentionally destroys an entire village, he decides to create an alliance to fight against the evil ruler that sent him on such a profoundly immoral quest. As you can see, the narrative is nothing special and always feels serviceable and generic. There are also stereotypes and cliches proper of the JRPG genre, better illustrated by the phrase “You Spoony Bard” which was popularized by an internet meme.
The story might be boring, but the gameplay has some innovations. Final Fantasy IV was the first game in the series to introduce the Active Time Battle system (or ATB for short.) In previous Final Fantasy games, characters took turns to attack, but in Final Fantasy IV, each character has a bar that needs to fill up before they can perform an action. Naturally, this makes the battle system faster and more dynamic than ever before.
Overall, the new gameplay system works really well, making fights fluid and dynamic. Unfortunately, the beloved job system from Final Fantasy III is nowhere to be seen here (this system allowed individual party members to adopt a specific job and you could train them however you wanted,) which is definitely a shame. Instead, Final Fantasy IV has a handful of pre-set characters that are well-balanced right out of the gate. There’s a summoner, a black mage, white mage, ninja, tank, warrior and so on. While this doesn’t provide the level strategy of Final Fantasy III, the game keeps on your toes, especially during boss battles. During these instances, you’ll need to figure out the most convenient tactics, using the characters you have at your disposal.
The gameplay system might be refreshing, but Final Fantasy IV isn’t without some problems. After important fights and events, some of your characters will suddenly leave your party and if you don’t remove their equipment before they go, you’ll lose all those items forever, even if the characters end up returning to your party eventually. To be fair, this used to be a problem in previous Final Fantasy games (particularly in the third entry in the series,) but it’s unfortunate to see it here once again. As a consequence, if you don’t follow a detailed walkthrough, you might suddenly lose a character and all your best equipment along with them. Also, like most JRPGs from the 16-bit, Final Fantasy IV is challenging, but the most annoying part about the game is that some elements feel really antiquated. A clear example is that when you select an item or a spell in battle, you have no idea what it does, since the menu doesn’t provide information about them.
The Complete Collection comes packed with content. It took me around 25 hours to complete the main adventure, but take into account that I missed some side-quests. On top of that, this version comes with an interlude and an episodic series called The After Years. As its name suggests, the Interlude is a short story that ties Final Fantasy IV to The After Years. Unfortunately, the two-hour adventure reuses environments from the Final Fantasy IV which totally diminished its impact.
The After Years, on the other hand, is a series of episodes set seventeen years after the events of IV and while it borrows a lot of content from its predecessor, the episodes have some new mechanics. For instance, during combat you need to take into account the phases of the moon and according to each phase, certain attacks or spells will be more or less effective. So during full moon, for instance, black mages will do more damage. There are also multi-person techniques called “Band Moves” that take place when you have specific characters in your party.
The After Years has eight stories and each of those stories puts you in the shoes of different protagonists. This episodic content are long and boring and I’d be surprised if it keeps anyone’s attention for long. It’s a shame that Square Enix forces players to play this pointless grind in order to understand what happens after the events of the original game. Even after playing a handful of episodes, I had no idea where the story was going. So after a few hours of tedium and frustration, I decided to quit the game for good and while that means I’ll never see the “true” ending of the game, I rather play something else in my collection that being exposed to the high encounter rate and repetitive nature of The After Years episodes. But that’s not all, the narrative feels disjointed and adds nothing to the new universe and on top of that, the episodes recycle a lot of content from the base game (including maps, visual effects, art assets, music enemies and so on.)
Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection is an accurate name for this compilation, but ironically, the additional content harms the experience. Final Fantasy IV is a great game that stood the test of time and if you like the JRPG genre, you’ll enjoy every hour of it. Unfortunately, everything that comes after the game (read: the Interlude and The After Years) is a pointless waste of time and I bet you’ll have more fun reading a Wikia instead of playing that extra content.