If there is one company that is seemingly obsessed with remakes and re-releases, it’s Square Enix with their flagship Final Fantasy franchise. Every Final Fantasy game prior to the PlayStation era has been released time and time again with updates to the graphics, dialogue, and gameplay. This makes sense considering the rise of mobile gaming. Final Fantasy is one of the most profitable franchises as well with many completely unique titles, so it makes sense that Square Enix would want new gamers to discover their classics or fans to play them whenever. Turns out sequels aren’t an exception with the recent release of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years on iOS software.
While not particularly considered a classic in its own right, The After Years was a direct sequel to one of the most critically lauded games in history: Final Fantasy IV. If anything, this is proof that Square Enix still wants to keep that world alive in the public minds 22 years later. I have never played The After Years (though my interest is renewed now that I have access to the WiiWare version from 2009), but it’s not every day that a game from 1991 is in gaming news. As a longtime fan of this franchise, I’ve decided to seize this opportunity to talk about the highly influential and groundbreaking Final Fantasy IV, a title that has stood the test of time and has become a true classic.
In almost every aspect imaginable, Final Fantasy IV was a giant leap forward for the franchise. Outside of the fact that it was the first main series game to be released on the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System, it was dramatic storytelling at its finest. The story stars a man named Cecil who is stripped of his Captain rank after questioning his king’s motives for attacking civilians. His chance encounter with a young summoner named Rydia puts him on a journey across the Blue Planet and beyond to save the human race. Along the way, Cecil meets a colorful cast of characters, many of whom join him on his journey, and he casts away the darkness inside of him to transform from a Dark Knight into a Paladin. He battles his old friend Kain and a powerful sorcerer named Golbez, later revealed to be his older brother, to reach the true antagonist named Zemus. In the end, Golbez and Kain are redeemed from their brainwashing and Cecil is able to prevent mass genocide on a global scale.
One of the most repeated praises for FFIV regardless of iteration is its story. When you compare it to the first three titles, it’s the first one to have legitimate drama backing it. The original three Final Fantasy titles had you as a set group of heroes, unchangeable with the exception of the occasional guest character, fighting against some force of evil. You simply traveled from dungeon to dungeon with villages and kingdoms in between, fighting evil forces at every turn. Each character was as two dimensional as they come. FFIV however was a story about betrayal and redemption, anchored by a massive cast of twelve unique characters that each had their own unchangeable character classes. Gone were the changeable jobs of Final Fantasy III and the generic protagonists from titles prior. Each character had their own backgrounds and personal goals, such as Edge the ninja prince and Yang the leader of a highly regarded group of monks. It gave Final Fantasy a depth that it never experienced, and each following title (with the exception of Final Fantasy V), followed similar formats.
The gameplay also saw a significant overhaul. Random battles and quest completion to advance the story were obviously still present. What changed though was how each battle was done. For starters, you could put five people on your team as opposed to the usual four. Then you have the Active Time Battle (ATB) system which became a staple of the franchise. The ATB system made it so that each battle was done in real time and you put in orders in a turn-based format. If you didn’t act, the enemy would keep attacking you until you were dead. This made the many battles constantly flowing events that would require you to think on your feet. The removal of changeable job classes and addition of a massive cast changed how you set up your team too. Each character had unique abilities that would benefit your team in some form. This gave rise to team combinations and discussions about which set up was better than another. In truth, any combination can lead you to victory. It just impacts how easily you get there.
My own experience with FFIV was a bit of a roller coaster. Even though it was Final Fantasy VII that made me such a fan of this series, it’s very possible that my first actual foray was the American version of FFIV. Except in this instance, FFIV was released as Final Fantasy II in North America on the Super Nintendo. This was during that period when people outside of Japan didn’t really care for the series and the ACTUAL FFII and FFIII didn’t come overseas until much later. Truth be told, I wasn’t a huge fan of FFIV in my initial outing. I didn’t really understand the game and was very bad at it, getting to a particular point and then just giving up entirely. I was also very young. Not even the North American release of Final Fantasy Chronicles on the PlayStation in 2001 with FFIV and Chrono Trigger was enough to get me to beat the game. It was until the Game Boy Advance version in 2005 that I actually experienced the game for what it really was. During that time I had severely broken my leg and was laid up, and FFIV Advance was given to me as a gift to keep myself entertained over my High School’s mid-winter break. Over that week I beat the game multiple times with every team member available, and even repeatedly completed each bonus dungeon. With the exception of FFVII, it is probably the most complete Final Fantasy game I have ever played.
The After Years is one of the most ignored releases of this entire franchise. Despite being a sequel to one of the biggest games, it never became a huge release. It was always just…there. I was a bit surprised that Square Enix chose to re-release it in any form, but like I said before, it gives fans like me a chance to check out something they’ve never experienced. My own enjoyment of FFIV and the franchise as a whole is enough to get me to check out its sequel. Any excuse to experience a new journey with the same characters is fine by me. At the very least, this makes me want to go back and play FFIV again.