In 1991, a new generation of Final Fantasy began. Final Fantasy IV was released in Japan this year, as well as the United States. However, for us Americans, the leap would be even more impressive than for the Japanese. This was called Final Fantasy II here on the Super Nintendo, as the actual Final Fantasy II and III didn’t come to America until several years later (or, you know, 16 years in the case of III.)
So while Japan was able to feel a slow increase in presentation and gameplay, everyone else was treated to a sudden ramping up four years later. Jumping from Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy IV provided a stark change of game design. Unlike seeing Square play around with story focus in Final Fantasy II, the United States went from the wide open world and barebones story of the original to Final Fantasy IV, which focuses on telling a story more than any previous title in the franchise at that point.
How did it go? Was it a decent change? By now, you know the drill so let’s find out. Here comes the story of Cecil!
Final Fantasy IV - July 19, 1991 (SNES, WonderSwan Color, PSX, GBA, DS, PSP, iOS, Android, Steam)
Platform used for review: PSP remake, 2011 and PC port, 2014 (screenshots from PC port. I lost my PSP charger and needed screenshots from later parts of the game which I planned on taking after beating it.)
“Orders may be orders, but this? This goes too far.”
Taking a cue from the second game in the franchise, Final Fantasy IV follows a more story-centric progression. In this entry, the story focuses on dark knight Cecil Harvey, captain of the Red Wings of Baron. As the king’s leading airship captain, Cecil is returning home after a morally questionable mission. He took control of one of the four Crystals from the small mage town of Mysidia, cutting innocent people down in the process.
This is where Final Fantasy IV’s story starts to stand up and take center stage. Cecil is haunted by what he was forced to do by his king. Upon returning home, he immediately voices his concerns. Instead of being the understanding type he usually is, the king is cold and accuses Cecil of being untrustworthy. For questioning the king, Cecil is stripped of his title as captain and becomes his errand boy instead. He’s immediately tasked with bringing a special ring to the nearby town of Mist.
This is where we meet Kain Highwind, leader of Baron’s dragoons. Cecil’s friend agrees that the king is much too harsh and hopefully this trip will put him back in the king’s good favor. On top of this, Cecil’s girlfriend and resident White Mage Rosa Farrell urges him to be careful, as does his engineering friend Cid Pollendina.
From here, the stage is set and things almost immediately go awry. Without going through the whole story piece by piece, it’s safe to say that Final Fantasy IV clearly had a lot of thought put into it. It naturally grows from “moral quandary” to a tale of redemption, and from there to a story of otherworldly proportions. There are betrayals, there’s love, there’s life and death, hope and despair. Square made the story very personal this time around. Instead of Final Fantasy II where people swap in and out of your party in the time it takes for a Pop-Tart to cook in the toaster, Final Fantasy IV takes time to build its cast.
Each character is memorable because they actually stick with you for a while. Some are in your party for a shorter time than others, but they all have unique personalities that help with character development so that you actually feel for them. Also, unlike Final Fantasy II, this game isn’t afraid to break up its main cast. Cecil is the only character who stays in the party 100% of the time. Sometimes, you’ll have five characters fighting at once. Other times, it’s Cecil alone. You never know where the story will go next, so it’s interesting to say the least.
Spoilers for the plot of Final Fantasy IV beyond this point! Skip past the line below to avoid spoilers!
The way the story weaves together plot point to plot point is great. It feels so natural to connect these personal stories to the overarching plot surrounding the four elemental crystals. You start by taking the ring to Mist. This ring is a trap and unleashes a bunch of Bomb enemies on the town, setting it ablaze. However, you killed the guardian of the town, the Mist Dragon, to get there. This was the summoned beast of the mother of a young girl named Rydia. Her mom dies in the blaze, and Rydia summons an angry Titan to split the earth in fury. Kain and Cecil are separated, and Rydia is stuck with Cecil. Soldiers from Baron attempt to kill Rydia, but Cecil finally decides to turn his back on his kingdom and defends her.
Soon, they run into a feverish Rosa, who went looking for Cecil and got lost in the desert. After curing her illness, they meet with an old man named Tellah, who is searching for his daughter Anna. He teams up with Cecil long enough to make it to Damcyan Castle, where Anna ran off to with her lover Prince Edward. They arrive just in time to see Baron’s airship fleet carpet bomb the castle and rush in only to find that they’ve stolen the Fire Crystal, and that Anna has died in the explosion. This sends Tellah into a blinding fury, which leads to one of the most unintentionally funny quotes of the series.
Tellah runs off to exact revenge on the mysterious Golbez, who Edward says stole the crystal. Realizing that they must protect the remaining crystals, the crew heads to Fabul to warn the kingdom. However, despite their preparations, Baron attacks and none other than Kain Highwind attacks Cecil. When Rosa attempts to talk him down, she’s kidnapped and the crystal is stolen by Baron.
Later in the story, Rydia is thrown overboard a ship during a violent storm as Leviathan attacks the ship. This leaves Cecil alone and shipwrecked right beside Mysidia. Of course, everyone there recognizes and shuns him for what he did. Desperate to find a way back to Baron and overcome with guilt and anger toward Golbez, he begs the elder for a way out. The elder tells him to reach the summit of Mt. Ordeals, where he must shed his dark knight ways and become a Paladin.
I know I said I wouldn’t go through the plot point by point and I won’t anymore, but here it’s important because I wanted to show the stories of each character in relation to the overall plot. Each person experiences their own story and development, far more than any other game in the series up to this point. The story isn’t just affecting Cecil, it’s affecting everyone in the world in serious ways. Tellah’s incredible rage over losing his daughter eventually kills him as he tries to cast the ultimate magic Meteor on Golbez. He weakens Golbez, but the toll is too much and Tellah passes away, his goal unfulfilled.
Rydia is taken in and raised by Eidolons in the Feymarch after going overboard. In the Feymarch, time flows differently and when you meet her next, she’s a fully-grown adult summoner. Kain is brainwashed by Golbez and admits that it was easy for his mind to be taken over because of his jealousy of Cecil and Rosa. The war for the crystals takes its toll on everyone and Square makes it a point to show its impact on the world this time around.
Also, the twist that Golbez is Cecil’s older brother feels slightly forced in my opinion. It’s not really a bad twist, just that it feels a little cliché. Then again, that’s after decades of seeing it in other media, so I can’t really say how it seemed back in 1991.
What always surprised me more than that, however, is that all this revolves around moon people! Yes, the reason for all of this is the villain Zemus of the Lunarian people. He wishes to eradicate life on the Blue Planet so that he can populate it with Lunarians. Other Lunarians attempt to stop him, to no avail. This leaves it up to Cecil and his remaining team to take him on, before he finds out that his own father was a Lunarian who fell in love with an Earth woman.
All this is revealed at a natural pace instead of me blasting through it in one paragraph, but it’s insane to see the shift. You start with a normal fantasy tale, only to end up literally going to space! It goes from fantasy to sci-fantasy and it all simply flows together. It’s very impressive to see when you play!
Suffice it to say, Final Fantasy IV truly shows that Square wanted to tell a story this time. It’s still about crystals like previous titles, but it’s so much more than that. You get to feel the struggle of each character. Everybody has a story to tell, and Final Fantasy IV wants to let them all tell us. They did a fantastic job with this game’s plot.
“See how it shines!”
Final Fantasy IV was the first title in the series on the powerful Super Nintendo hardware. Because of this, the team at Square was able to push the graphics of the series to new heights. Instead of the 8-bit works from the Famicom, Square worked with 16-bit graphics. These, along with a much larger palette of colors, made Final Fantasy IV far more vibrant and colorful than anything seen before.
The extra horsepower of the Super Nintendo helped with backgrounds, too. Previously, backgrounds during battle consisted of mostly black screens. There were some very simple background effects in play, but it wasn’t until Final Fantasy IV where the battle took place in actual environments. To show off their ability to create such graphics, Final Fantasy IV has you battle on grassy fields, large mountains, near lava, and even crazier environments. Each setting has a certain mood to it, and each one pulls it off great!
In battle, attacks and summons now feel even better. Being on the NES, the spells and summons felt like they lacked “oomph” to them. This time around when you crash lightning upon someone, it’s much more detailed and gives you a satisfying blast of light as it zaps enemies.
The PSP version’s graphics are even more gorgeous, having been completely redone for the new collection. Each spell and summon feels intense and unique, with later spells feeling much more dangerous than lower-level ones.
However, the screenshots I’m mainly using are from the 2014 PC port. Much like the version of Final Fantasy III I played, this port is from mobile phones, which itself is a port of the DS remake of Final Fantasy IV. Also like the previous title, this remake uses full 3D models. Thankfully, this version looks much better than Final Fantasy III in my opinion. Despite being on the same hardware, the art style looks much improved! I’m happy to say that no matter how you play the game, Final Fantasy IV looks great. If I had to pick a favorite for graphics, I choose the PSP version. However, any version’s graphics range from good to great. No big surprise from Square!
“You spoony bard!”
Along with the beefier graphical abilities of the Super Nintendo, it also boasted an improved sound chip. With this, composer Nobuo Uematsu crafted a much more ambitious score for Final Fantasy IV. The battle theme is energetic, the boss theme is imposing, Golbez’s theme is dark and sinister. The perfect track accompanies every scene, from the hard trek of Mt. Ordeals to the calming moments between Cecil and Rosa.
On top of all this, Final Fantasy IV marks the first appearance of a special battle theme. The Battle With the Four Fiends, as you might guess, plays during one of said battles. This would start a trend in the series: for a special or recurring boss, a unique battle theme would play. Battle With the Four Fiends does a great job exemplifying the intense struggle of the battle.
The sound chip allowed for a much larger range of simultaneous instruments and musical effects. Uematsu was quick to use a large portion of them in making the soundtrack. It only takes a few small comparisons to show to prowess of Final Fantasy IV’s music.
Compare the boss theme from Final Fantasy III, which was Nobuo Uematsu’s third attempt and mastery of the Famicom sound chip …
… to his first attempt using the Super Famicom’s new sound chip with Final Fantasy IV:
The styles are both upbeat and energetic, but with the addition of several new instruments able to play at once, there’s a clear upgrade that just wasn’t possible on the Famicom. In fact, this can be shown off even further with the final boss themes. Once again, compare Final Fantasy III’s exciting final boss theme …
... to the magnificent work he did with the next game:
The quality of the instruments is much higher and the constant energetic beat is much more intense with the new sound chip. Combine that with larger sound files allowing for longer melodies and you have a recipe for greatness. Needless to say, the music of Final Fantasy IV is stellar.
“No more holding back, Cecil. Fight to win this time!”
Not content with being more of the same, Final Fantasy IV continues the constantly-shifting identity of the franchise. This first 16-bit entry introduced arguably the most well-known battle system of the franchise.
The Active Time Battle system, or ATB for short, would end up being a mainstay for the series for seven main titles following Final Fantasy IV. On top of that, it’s used in countless spinoffs and sequels. I think it’s safe to say that the battle system used is a success!
So what is the big deal? What sets it apart from the previous three titles? Well, the answer is simply … time. During battle, each character has what’s called an ATB gauge. It’s not visible in the original SNES version, but it appears in all other versions of the game. This little gauge affects a lot of stuff. When it fills, that character can select the action they want to do. This also applies to enemies.
The ATB system is messed with in many different ways. If multiple characters are ready to attack, you can swap between them with the press of a button. This offers a degree of strategy, as you can plan your attacks however you want to. Once a character’s attack is completed, their ATB gauge resets and they must wait for their turn again.
In addition, the game has casting times as well. Depending on the spell or summon’s power, it takes longer to cast. All of these rules apply to enemies as well, and there’s a lot more to the ATB system on top of everything else.
For instance, Haste no longer affects how many times you attack an enemy. In other games, casting haste would make you hit the enemy more times for more damage. Slow status would lessen the amount of hits you do, and Stop simply paralyzed you. In Final Fantasy IV, things work very differently. In fact, you no longer do damage based on the number of hits you do. Instead, Haste increases the speed of your ATB and spellcasting gauges, Slow slows it down, and Stop works essentially the same by freezing your ATB gauge so you can’t do anything for a time. Admittedly, this feels a lot more natural; when looking back on previous games, Haste would make you hack and slash an enemy 18 times in quick succession before moving onto the next character’s action. Even for a series as fantastical as Final Fantasy, that sounds kinda ridiculous.
Another major change in Final Fantasy IV is reminiscent of Final Fantasy II, where the cast is predetermined. There’s no build-a-character or job system in Final Fantasy IV. As with FFII, the reason for this is because of the focus on story. By creating characters themselves, Square was able to shape their relationships and friendships in a unique fashion to craft a strong story.
Moreover, each character is even more unique than in FFII. In Final Fantasy IV, every character has unique stats and equipment. For instance, Cecil can only use swords, Kain can only use lances, Rosa can use bows or staffs, etc. This helps further distinguish each character, and I think it’s a good change!
While there’s no job system to speak of, each character takes the role of one or two different jobs. As mentioned previously, Cecil is a Dark Knight. His skill is much the same as in Final Fantasy III: he can cut a portion of his HP in order to do big damage to multiple enemies. Rosa is the white mage of the group, Kain is the leader of the dragoons so he can use his Jump command, Rydia is the summoner, and so on. It’s interesting because it keeps things from getting too stale. As characters shift in and out of the party, you get to try out plenty of new jobs and abilities. It’s rather exciting to see what you’ll get to use against enemies next!
All these gameplay changes help Final Fantasy IV feel fresh and exciting. While it may have the same spells and summons from other games in the series, the new battle system keeps things interesting. The different characters and jobs keep your party fresh, and overall I think Square did a fantastic job for their first SNES foray.
“But man is a creature seldom sated, and he was quick to dream anew.”
Final Fantasy IV, unlike previous titles, has a bevy of extra content to explore. You can do sidequests to try and get different summons, such as Leviathan, Asura, and Bahamut (of course!). There are quests for awesome weapons as well, alongside the best armor.
The new summons are interesting because on top of the obvious ones in the game, Final Fantasy IV has several lesser summons for Rydia. The game never explains it, but certain enemies have a low chance of dropping an item with their name on it. When used, it gives Rydia the ability to summon them in battle. These include the Goblin, Cockatrice, Mindflayer, and Bomb enemies. While not the best attacks, it’s very cool to see these hidden summons since they’re so rare!
In terms of other content, there’s also the quest to get Adamant Armor, the best in the game. I’m going to warn you right now, unless you have the patience of a Half-Life 3 fan, do not attempt this. It will make you insane. No, I did not get the armor, but I did try and I am not a saner person for it.
To get the armor, all you need is a Pink Tail to take to a blacksmith. Seems easy enough! Go into a dungeon, find a chest and voila, good armor.
However, of course it isn’t that easy. See, Pink Tails only drop from Flan Princesses. These enemies can really mess you up, and they’re only found in the final dungeon of the game. If you have any of the ports past the PlayStation version, however, there is an extra dungeon where you can find them.
Not that it’ll do you much good, as Flan Princesses only have a 1/64 chance of spawning. It’s a lot, but hey, it’s the best armor. So you walk around and finally find a group of the monsters, only to kill them and find … no Pink Tail. Why, you ask? Did I forget to mention that the Pink Tail only has a 1/64 chance of dropping from an enemy that only has a 1/64 chance of appearing in the first place?!
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Unfortunately, to get the Adamant Armor you must do exactly that. The reason being, for those not mathematically inclined, is that those numbers are a lot bigger than you think. It means that every random encounter has a horrifying 1/4096 chance of ending with a Pink Tail in your inventory. For reference, you are almost as likely to get hit by a car (1/4292 chance) as you are to get a Pink Tail. Good luck, you maniacal psychopath! This madness puts you on special lists!
In the GBA version and PSP versions of the game, Final Fantasy IV has a bonus dungeon called the Lunar Ruins. This is a randomized dungeon with plenty of tough challenges and enemies. At the bottom is the Brachioraidos, the strongest superboss in the game. The point of the Lunar Ruins is to get a bunch of loot such as gil, megalixirs, and more. The Brachioraidos drops the Hero’s Shield, which is the best one in FFIV. However, you’d better be prepared, as he can absolutely destroy you without proper planning!
In the 3D remake and its ports, there are no Lunar Ruins. However, there are a bevy of changes. First is the Augment system, which gives characters equippable abilities to use in battle. You can find these in the world and through sidequests. Depending on how you use them, you can exchange or upgrade them for other Augments. It also has a New Game Plus system, where you can go through and keep your augments for two additional playthroughs before you must start a new file.
The reason for this is to build up your party for the showdowns with Geryon and Proto Babil, the 3D version’s ultimate superbosses. Of the two, Geryon is the easiest and you can fight him with the proper setup and levels in the high 70s. To have a chance against him, however, you need to do a second or third playthrough to have the proper augments. Proto-Babil, on the other hand, is the ultimate test of Final Fantasy IV. Needless to say, if you’re not facing him with third-playthrough augments with everyone’s stats at max, you won’t even stand a chance.
As you can see, you get a base level of extras no matter how you play the game. However, depending on the version you play, you get different extras. Only one has actual NG+ support, but your mileage may vary on the type of replay value you want from Final Fantasy IV!
The Final Word
“I… I know my path now.”
It’s safe to say that Final Fantasy IV was a huge step up for the franchise. Square wanted to impress with a new generation of Final Fantasy and they succeeded in my opinion. Everything has come together fabulously in this gem of a title. The graphics were stunning in the 90s and still hold up today. The remakes make them look even more gorgeous.
The music is awesome, as expected from Nobuo Uematsu. This one stands out though, as it has the power of the SNES sound chip behind it. This makes the music richer than ever before! On top of that, the new combat system is a clear success. There’s a reason Square used it so many times after Final Fantasy IV.
The game also rewards exploration. The various sidequests and hidden summons are exciting to mess around with and search for. The remakes add a ton of extra stuff, which is different depending on the version you choose, setting them apart from one another. However, as I mentioned, there’s a limit to the sanity of these quests. Just … don’t grind for Pink Tails. I’m begging you, it’s for your own good!
The original Final Fantasy is a great game. II is average, maybe above average for me. III is good, but with a lot of flaws surrounding it. In all honesty, I would say Final Fantasy IV is the first great entry since the original. People say that the SNES era was the best for Square. I suppose we’ll be finding out in the next few months. Time to see Final Fantasy shoot for the moon!
Despite all the naming mixups between the Japanese and American releases, this is not the second entry in the franchise. Check out our other articles here!