In 1991, Square-Enix, then called Square, released the fourth part of their Final Fantasy series. It followed the story of Cecil, who, at the beginning of the game, is the leader of the greatest air fleet in the world – the Red Barons. All is not well in his kingdom, however, and his King’s sudden and unexpected turn to take over the crystals in the world. Realizing he can’t do such horrible acts, Cecil begins his journey of redemption, which ultimately leads him on the path to saving his world. State-side, we got this game as Final Fantasy II, and it ended up being a major overhaul of the game systems of Final Fantasy before it. I’ll spare you all the details of the confusing timeline of the series in general beyond that.
Final Fantasy IV eventually was remade multiple times on multiple systems. Its current incarnation was released on the Nintendo DS in 2008, and it was its most revamped version yet. The addition of CGI scenes dot the game and add to the story, and, most notably, the sprites of the first game were given a 3D treatment. For the most part, it was a great adaptation, and was well received by fans and critics alike. It’s not surprising that with such a successful venture, the company would continue to look for ways to milk the success.
Thus the creation of the game’s sequel, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, was made and put out on the Wii’s WiiWare. Set eighteen years after the first game, the series follows the son of the original main protagonists of the story, Cecil and Rosa, Ceodore. While the world finally found peace after defeating the threat of Final Fantasy IV, it seemed that it was not meant to last, as monsters invade the lands again and a new evil threatens to destroy everything. It’s up to the returning characters from the first game as well as a few new faces to stop the new evil facing their lands and bring peace back to their world.
Instead of linear gameplay, the story in this game is told in episodic chapters, each following a specific important character in each chapter. The chapters are then told in their point of view and eventually tie in to the main story of the game. Unsurprisingly, almost all of them follow familiar characters from the first series, all of which have grown up considerably in the eighteen year gap. It makes the storytelling very interesting, as the player is taken to the ending of the game from all angles, each episode furthering the plot a little bit instead of the usual formula of a straight story with a couple of branching side quests here and there.
Also new to the game are two new battle features: bands and lunar phases. Bands are essentially something like Chrono Trigger‘s double and triple techs, in which multiple characters can perform certain powerful moves together, which use up their turns. The player first has to figure the combinations out – only characters close to each other can do these bands – and then they can be easily used after at the cost of MP. Most bands are extremely useful, creating moves that do massive amounts of damage when its needed. It makes for an interesting gameplay mechanic, and certainly adds to the game in a positive way, unlike the lunar phases.
The lunar phases, or “Ages of the Moon’, as the game calls them, is likely one of the most annoying aspects of this game, despite it fitting in decently with the plot. Basically, every lunar phase affects your battle menu, either boosting or weakening commands. One phase, for example, boosts magic while weakening attacks. There are other combinations for each phase, but something always suffers while another is boosted. In theory, it is presented as something that can really help you in battle. However, in practice, it becomes highly troublesome when you realize you have to keep using Tents until it’s the phase you need to defeat bosses. In some chapters, it can make the game nearly unbearable. Rydia’s chapter suffers, for example, as for part of the game you only have a choice of a magic user, and start off with very little items. While it can be worked around, you can bet it’s a headache when you have to waste items just to get what you need. Not even the fact the moon phases effecting monsters as well makes this system fun to work with. Had they made it so the player couldn’t change the moon phase through use of tents and cottages, I think this may have made the game more challenging. As it is, though, the system is basically begging to be misused and thus makes it fairly pointless.
Unfortunately, the graphics aren’t much to look at either, which is partially because this was originally released as a mobile game in Japan. It’s because of that that the game is made to look like the original, which wasn’t all too special visually-wise. While I must admit I find it a nice nod to the original, I realize I am not actually Wii’s main focus group. Younger generations were likely introduced to the original game through the newest DS title, which was, as stated before, in 3D. The fact that the DS game looks better than its’ Wii sequel makes it look bad in general. Why they did not release this as a DS game, I don’t know, but it’s a setback that may make the game not worth buying to some.
Unlike many game sequels – included Final Fantasy‘s own X-2 – I also don’t think this game can hold well on its own. If you didn’t play the first game, you likely will be lost, as it definitely assumes you know what happened before with little handholding involved. What’s more, a lot of things are definitely a lot of callbacks to the original game, including some of the new characters, and they will be missed entirely. The game also borrows a heavy amount from the original in terms of setting, which is about the only thing I will really complain about – after eighteen years, it isn’t crazy to think they could’ve made new towns to explore. They didn’t seem to put too much work into that aspect of the game.
The price, too, is an issue. As much as I enjoy the episodic storytelling, I don’t enjoy paying 300 Wii points for each part. After the initial 800 Wii points, the rest of the game must be bought piece by piece. In the end, the price goes from eight dollars to thirty-seven if you buy every part, which you basically have to if you want to see the whole story. While I certainly have no problem paying for games, unfortunately I can’t say this game is worth that amount, especially considering its predecessor’s DS remake wasn’t much more money and boasted superior gameplay. This, too, may turn people off from getting it.
Overall, I have to say the only people I recommend this game to are big fans of the original, like myself. I doubt I would have liked this game at all had I not played the first game. While the storyline is sometimes choppy because of the episode format, the ride itself is very enjoyable and engrossing if you know what’s going on, and the characters are well written for the most part. The other reason I caution people who haven’t played the first game is because of the price. A good portion of the game unfortunately will be lost to new players because the game heavily relies on the original storyline. One good thing I will point out, however, is that the first eight dollars you spend on this game does give you three chapters. These three chapters essentially showcase the game, its overall plot, and everything you really need to see to see if you’ll like the game. If you can drop the cash and are curious, I definitely suggest giving it a try, especially if you enjoyed the first game. All but one part has been released as of this article, and the final part is slated to be out on September 9th, 2009 in the United States.