It’s hard to imagine how a video game franchise with roots digging twenty three years deep into the soil of video game history can still put out a decent game. Games bearing the phrase “Final Fantasy” have been both fantastic and failures, to the point where any gamer worth their salt will approach them with the eyes of a skeptic. Despite all this, the development team of Matrix has teamed up with Square Enix to conjure Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, which plays like a modernized version of the classic JRPGs of past generations.
There will be nothing unfamiliar to players as they begin the game. It is surely no surprise that you will play the role of a bright-eyed, pre-pubescent boy who is tasked with finding the king’s daughter. As is true with most games in this genre, everyone seems to think this is a perfectly reasonable task to give a boy who is only 13 years old. As you progress through this quest, you will meet up with the other three titular heroes. Through an unexpected twist in the plot that had previously seemed riddled with cliches, everyone in your home kingdom has been turned to stone. The task of saving them falls on the main character’s young shoulders.
Character development is one of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light’s many strong suits. Right from the get-go when you are asked to give each of the four heroes a name, you are given a paragraph about their personality. You will find out simple things like their likes or dislikes, or more important things like their family background or their aspirations in life. This development progresses through the game’s story, which cleverly has characters joining and leaving the party, branching out on their own, and making new friends along the way. These facets of the story are handled incredibly well and somehow manage not to get muddled at all, which is a rarity these days — especially in the realm of handheld RPGs. It is easy to see that the developers wanted to make characters with some actual depth to them, and not merely have four human weapons with which to rain havoc upon the world.
At first glance, gameplay seems to be typical turn-based RPG fare. You will be asked to control anywhere from one to four characters as they journey between sparsely populated towns, bustling cities, and dungeons heavily populated with beasts on an overworld map. You will randomly encounter a wide array of monsters to battle. During a battle, combat has been boiled down to the bare bones necessities. You simply will select an action for each member of your party, and allow the AI take care of the rest. You do not select a target for any of your chosen actions; the computer selects the best target for your attack or the recipient of your healing items and spells. Many die-hard RPG players have already intensely grumbled about this system because they think it makes the game too easy, but it works flawlessly because there is really no reason to pick your own targets.
The reason your choice of targets doesn’t matter is because the real key to success in combat is based on two things: the hats your party is wearing and what types of elemental effects your gears and spells posess. Throughout your adventures you will earn different hats, or “crowns”, that instantly change a characters abilities and stats when they put it on. The crowns can be upgraded with the gems monsters drop when slain, and upgrading them yields new abilities and greater stat bonuses. This alone makes the gems more valuable than the gil you can sell them for, but once you reach a certain point in the game you can even use the gems to upgrade your other gear.
The aforementioned elemental attributes of gear and enemies is the other most important thing to pay attention to if you want to be successful at this game. For example, equipping a fire shield will make you more resistant to fire attacks. Also, monsters may be more vulnerable to some elements than others, so coming to the fight with the right gear can mean you are not only resisting damage, but are dishing it out in quantities 200% or higher than if your target was resistant to your attacks. Careful strategy and planning is needed, because each character can only carry 15 items at a time. Even spells take up inventory space in the form of tomes, leaving a typical mage with five or six slots open after all their equipment and tomes. These factors make the game much deeper and more difficult than it appears at first glance, and is sure to have even seasoned Final Fantasy vets scratching their head as they plan their boss strategy.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is one of the most artful and well designed games released so far on the DS. Cell-shaded graphics, story time stylized character models, cool spell effects, and superb camera work make for a completely immersive and endearing experience. The sepia-washed color palate used and the weird (but awesome) way you can see the curvature of the world as you’re moving around the map or a town lends itself well to the “storybook” presentation the development team wanted to implement. The music always has an appropriate tone to it and sounds adventurous without being intrusive. Battle sound effects are a little on the bland side, but they are up to par with the DS’s capabilities.
Trying to make something new in a genre that is as tried and true (read: stale) as a JRPG seems like a daunting task, but that’s exactly what the dynamic duo of Matrix and Square Enix have done with Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. This title takes some gameplay elements we all thought we were getting tired of, but beautifully simplifies them and interweaves them with a cleverly branching storyline so well that you’ll probably forget how much you hate the grinding and random battles. Don’t let the pretty graphics fool you into thinking this is a kid’s game, because it is in fact an excellent and well-crafted RPG that would serve well as an entry point into turn-based gaming, or be right at home at any Final Fantasy fanatic’s game library.
|Despite heavily used RPG cliches, the story is actually complex and well done. Characters have a surprising amount of depth, graphics are great, and it even has some local multiplayer options.||Seems a little trite at the beginning, 15 item limit is maybe just a little too difficult to deal with at times|
|Verdict||Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a well-made and well rounded game that would be fun for anyone with even the most remote interest in playing a turn-based RPG.|