Developed by: Matrix Software
Published by: Square Enix
Platforms: WiiWare, PSP, Windows, Mobile
Feeling Like: Curtain Call
Eric reminded me once that the hardest thing to do, as an artist, is finish. A lot of creative people have innovative ideas, but never put pen to paper. Life gets in the way and projects suddenly find themselves behind groceries, picking up your parents from the airport, work and exhaustion on the priority list. By some miracle, some things do get finished. But when and how to stop?
There’s no set finish line to any story. Books, movies, television and video games are at the mercy of corporate interests and public interest. Stories that you thought had wrapped up in a neat little package can be usurped and used for some kind of marketing fodder with little notice given. That doesn’t mean that the expected sequels are going to be awful by default, it’s just another layer of challenges added. Can you make a sequel, epilogue or spin off work? One of Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 basic rules states to “Start as close to the end as possible.” But how to tell one of history’s greatest writers that video games don’t adhere to the same rules as…well, anything else?
Case in point – Final Fantasy 4: The After Years. The title makes me wince. The After Years? You couldn’t just go with Final Fantasy 4-2? And before you say how ridiculous that sounds, Square-Enix has already done that twice with Final Fantasy 10 and Final Fantasy 13, so don’t scoff just yet.
But Square-Enix backed me into a corner. I LOVE Final Fantasy 4. You’ll be able to read about it eventually, once I go get groceries and pick up my parents from the airport. It’s the very first RPG I ever played. It introduced me to the fundamentals of what would quickly become my favorite genre: experience points, a massive cast of characters, unforgettable melodies, consistent melodrama with mind bending twists and all the dungeon crawling and loot snaring you can ask for. It’s still considered one of the top examples in its field and a massive improvement from Final Fantasies 1/2/3.
So 17 years later, they decide to release an episodic (blech) “sequel.” For all the uncertainties I had, the nostalgic draw pulled me in and refused to let go.
There’s quite a lot to cover. The lunar cycle in the game alters how your characters fight. There’s combo attacks. There’s gorgeous FMV sequences, where I get to see the old gang again in a way I’d only dreamed of before. My boy Yang, practicing karate. Palom and Parom, the mage twins, plotting destruction. THE BIG WHALE (it’s an airship, but also a whale…in the sky).
The episodes break up the action by featuring a specific character. I was never particularly drawn to Ceodore, but it was fun to hear the Red Wings theme and see the old locations with updated graphics. Much like when I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I couldn’t help but smile at any reference I first viewed in the early 90s.
There’s a few highlights that earned my satisfaction beyond nostalgia. The Mysterious Girl’s theme is unbelievably good and is easily one of my favorite video game themes ever. It could easily pass for being a song from the original, full of dread and unique sounding chimes. Outstanding.
This isn’t a pint sized adventure either. The main quest is absolutely massive. While it doesn’t have the same punch as the original, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the sheer gall of some of the story points. I will mention that there are quite a lot of forced fights, and more than a few that you’re required to lose. Boo.
The writing and progression of the plot is quite blunt, but then the 1991 version wasn’t exactly drenched in nuance. I appreciated that the cities had (mostly) the same layout, design and theme. If I visited Fabul and didn’t hear that kick ass theme, I’d have quit in disgust.
It’s here I have to stop, because I don’t know when and how else to. I’m still not entirely convinced that Final Fantasy 4: The After Years needed to be made. The developers certainly added in a few unique gameplay elements and there’s effort swarming all over the title, to be sure. However, I can’t help but think this started out as somebody’s fan fiction that somehow got a budget. In the end, I’m glad they didn’t finish the story with the original, but I can’t recommend it to anybody but the most hardcore fans of Final Fantasy 4.