Flashback Friday – Final Fantasy IV

“Justice is not the only right in this world…someday, you will see.”

Is it II or IV? The arrival of Final Fantasy VII prompted this question when it hit North American shores…and everyone also wondered what, after III (VI), had happened to IV, V, and VI. Back in 1991, Final Fantasy IV was treated as the spiritual successor to the original Final Fantasy. Eventually it was clarified that it was IV all along—the rest of the games had simply not been released, left out of the NA list.

I’d played a few RPGs up to that point, including the original, but nothing captured me quite like this. The game designers set out to create a game with dramatic storytelling that had never been accomplished previously. In a large part, in my opinion, they succeeded. Cutting the game’s dialogue by 25% helped them create a fast-paced, concise storyline that kept me intrigued.

The storyline stands out, but the characters really steal the show: mysterious Kain, moody Cecil, hot-tempered Rydia, the irrepressible Edge…unlike the previous Final Fantasy games these character contained diverse, complex personalities. They each had motives and back-stories that drove the main plot.

While dispensing with such traditional things as throw-away, name-them characters, the designers did lift some elements from predecessors such as the character classes of Final Fantasy III (i.e. Edward and his Hide ability) and the Four Fiends of Final Fantasy I (i.e. Rubicante).

Other, more specific, things that pleased me included the battle with the Evil Wall (as it came closer and closer to my party I could feel my anxiety rising), climbing through the Giant of Babel, and the ‘going to the moon’ (conceived of before many other games). But easily my favourite was Cecil’s quest up the Mountain of Ordeals. Gorgeous landscape. Emotional impact. Story-turning events. Perfect.

And no article on Final Fantasy IV is complete without mentioning the music. “Theme of Love”…”Troia”…”Mount. Ordeals”…all these add to the courageous, heroic atmosphere of the game.

A few things did detract from the game. The ridiculous rate at which characters came back from the dead totally squashed any chance I’d feel real sadness at their demise. And while the tight storyline enhanced the game in ways more than took it away from it, it would be remiss of me to ignore the resulting linearity. In order to keep the gamer travelling with the story, many areas of the game are restricted: a double-edged sword.

Many might not remember but there was once a contest held by a now-defunct video game TV Show asking: “Where is the Crystal Sword?”. That particular riddle kept me and my brothers searching for quite some time. Also notable is that the Active Time Battle (ATB) came about from one of the game designer’s observation of race cars. He envisioned a battle system with a more immediate sense of danger, having the enemies take their turns even if I hadn’t selected commands for my party. It added a flavour of urgency lacking in the previous games. It would take several more paragraphs to expound on Final Fantasy IV’s many unique qualities and quirkiness (including Cecil’s favourite magazine!).

Final Fantasy IV will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m embarrassed and proud to admit I wrote stories, drew comics, and created D&D characters modelled after the characters in the game. If that doesn’t tell you how much I treasured this game I’m not sure what will!