Final Fantasy II for the SNES was my first RPG, and one of the few games still capable of filling my organs with
warm, squishy nostalgia. Screenshots? Warm, squishy nostalgia. Game music? Warm, squishy nostalgia. 2D
character sprites? Warm, squishy nostalgia. The last 10 years' worth of Final Fantasy IV remakes were glorified ports, safely leaving my
nostalgia-reflex intact, but now I hold in my hands Final Fantasy IV DS: a true remake. The screens and music will be reworked. The
sprites will be gone. I powered up the DS, confident that this game would be great, but unsure as to whether it would bring back happy, naive
childhood memories, or feel like a new game in a familiar world.
Many of the improvements are clear in the opening cutscene. While the graphics engine looks nearly identical to Final Fantasy
III DS, more attention was paid to the characters' textures. Kain and Cecil's level of detail is much better than the costume-swapping generic-faces in
Final Fantasy III DS. Also bringing the game to life is a completely retranslated script. Not only have Cecil and King Baron's
lines been updated since the GBA remake, even NPCs sputtering two sentences about how overworked they are do so with with a new and
improved wording. I was immediately pleased. To further my pleasure, I replayed the opening of Final Fantasy IV Advance, and my, oh my,
oh my -- the new translation is leaps and bounds better than the previous one. The GBA translation took the infamous gibberish-speak of the
original and upgraded it to something that made sense. The DS translation takes the obnoxiously slangy, five-word-long-sentence filled
translation of the GBA version and corrects it to something closer to the quality of Final Fantasy XII or Dragon Quest VIII.
"Square Enix has managed to take a very old game and make it feel very new; returning purchasers will not feel as though they have bought the same game two or three times already."
Apparently, with the ability to speak proper English comes the ability to feel. Cecil, Rosa, and Kain are more human in
the first five minutes than the entire cast was in all of the SNES version. Screenshots of the cutscene with Cecil sitting on his bed and the
two moons visible through the window in the background were some of the first to circulate when the game was announced. This entire scene,
rendered with the in-game engine, is artistic, sad, and touching. What was once a handful of awkward sentences with stunted dialogue is now a
fully fleshed out, cinematographic cutscene.
Gushing fanboy approval of the new translation complete, I can move on to the rebalancing of the character statistics and resulting change in difficulty level.
Merely walking from Baron to the Mist Cave, an endeavor previously best skipped via chocobo, will now take the player
multiple excursions and some levelling up. Imps do not deal a pitiful 5 HP damage as they once did. Cecil does not get three attacks for each
enemy's one. The increased challenge continues after Rydia joins the party. These opening battles are hard, death can come quickly, and level
grinding for a short while is necessary. Rydia starts at a much higher level than before -- she begins at level two in the GBA remake -- and
quickly becomes a handy ally in battle. By the end of the Underground Waterway, the difficulty panned out and felt more appropriate for a modern JRPG.
It is possible that the arduous nature of the first hour of play was just a personal shock to me; I usually have Cecil toss Rydia's unconscious body over
one shoulder, Tellah's over the other, and then tank his way through the first couple dungeons. While this unrealistic scenario is no longer
possible, the rebalanced character growth allows previously useless companions to now be valued assets.
The game's many changes are nearly too numerous to list in this impression. Rydia now has a customizable eidolon who can be used in
battle in place of her. The familiar is upgraded through Brain Age-inspired minigames. Rods now raise intelligence. Staves raise spirit.
Rydia, a mage, can no longer use bows and arrows. The player can fill out automatically generated maps in dungeons for rewards. Some items
permanently teach characters new abilities. The bottom screen shows a map of the area, which is helpful because the new isometric viewpoint is
more zoomed in than the old 2D top-down view. The 3D character models stick closely to the original Amano art rather than the 2D sprites. It is a
nice touch, although it gives Rydia a crazy green afro. Some cutscenes have voice acting, and, considering that it comes from the sub-par
DS speakers, it sounds very clear. The voice acting itself is high quality too. The music, however, suffers from the DS' limitations.
Generally, the more orchestrated and grandiose a piece is, such as the music in the introduction video, the more muffled and awful it sounds.
Simpler pieces, like the dungeon music "In the Darkness" and the pretty "Theme of Love" fare better. Either way, all of the sound is
significantly improved over the dreadful music in the GBA version.
A few hours in, Final Fantasy IV DS definitely plays like a new game in a familiar world. Although the battle system
is largely the same, it, like the translation, has been completely reworked so that the gameplay feels different. By my experience
so far, Square Enix has managed to take a very old game and make it feel very new; returning purchasers will not feel as though they have
bought the same game two or three times already. There is more here than a new translation and extraneous endgame content, and I am looking
forward to discovering what new surprises await further down the road. It still manages to push my nostalgia button too; seeing Octomammoth in 3D made
me tear up due to an overload of warm, internal squishiness.