Final Fantasy IV Review: Super solid, but not quite sensational

Final Fantasy IV Review: Super solid, but not quite sensational

Step into a world where the lines between light and darkness blur, redemption takes center stage, and a classic tale of heroism unfolds—that is the epitome of what Final Fantasy IV is. This game was the pioneer for what we now know as narrative-driven RPGs, and this game is not only beloved by millions of RPG fans, but it also started one of the greatest RPG renaissances of all time. In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will attempt to do justice to reviewing this fantastic game in a multitude of different categories: from its captivating story, its awe-striking artistry, its serene soundtrack, and its intricate progression system. Without further ado, RPG Ranked presents: a Final Fantasy IV Review: Super solid, but not quite sensational.

Battle System - 8

This game has an excellent battle system because, well, this game has a fantastic customization system (as long as you play the PSP and 3D versions)! I love the five-member cast that constantly shifts and changes. I adore the Auto-Battle system in the 3D versions; it adds a lot more depth than it seems at first glance, as you can use it to gain a sixth ability if used correctly! With 12 awesome playable characters, this battle system is relatively robust! Though a simple battle system, at the end of the day, Final Fantasy IV has an excellent battle system.

Story - 8

As the first RPG to ever really have a story, this wasn’t incredibly revolutionary, and while simplistic at times, it still holds up to this day. Before I get into what I love about the story, I have a few flaws with this game that hold it back from a perfect score. First of all, the sheer amount of unnecessary fake-out deaths here is pretty offensive. I would’ve loved to see this change in the remakes since these characters coming back to life meant very little to the plot, but that would ruin the customization offered by switching characters or the Augment system… so in the end, I can’t complain all that much. I loved Final Fantasy II’s meaningful deaths, so this was a little annoying. Having a significant emotional core of the story revolve around drawing on emotion before pulling multiple bait-and-switches lessened the story’s impact. Palom and Porom’s deaths were perfect, showing that even the innocent can die in the fight against evil. I think Yang shouldn’t have died because that was a stupid way to boot him from the party, but instead, I think Edge should’ve died taking down Rubicante or Dr. Lugae, and Yang should’ve joined back with the party for the final dungeon. I think he is the only character who should’ve had a fake-out death because that fits with the silliness and absurdities of his character. Yang was just so much better as a character than Edge, in my opinion… but I digress. Even with all these emotional issues, the game has a couple of emotional deaths, so I can forgive it. Of course, this would all completely contradict Final Fantasy IV: The After Years… so in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to take any points off for these questionable deaths.

Anyway, let’s move on to some other issues in the story. Firstly, Cecil, while a great protagonist, stops growing as a character after a certain central plot point at Mount Ordeals, making him a pretty stagnant character by the end. Secondly, as aforementioned, Yang probably should’ve been an endgame character. Thirdly, Zemus was a rather lame villain, and they could’ve had a more extraordinary villain than Zemus… like maybe even Kain or Fusoya. While this again would mess with the sequel, analyzed on the game’s merits, there were a lot of missed opportunities here. However, with all these flaws aside, this game still has an amazing story. Seeing Cecil’s character grow from a Dark Knight to a Paladin was fantastic, and it is still entirely compelling each time I replay this game. Cecil and Kain’s rivalry for Rosa is equally disheartening and engaging, and since Cecil is the apparent winner (I mean, protagonist plot armor, am I right?), seeing Kain’s grief over the fact shows his humanity. All of Rydia’s backstory and her Feymarch storylines are awesome! Tellah and Edward’s eventual respect for one another after the loss of Anna? Beautiful. Tellah’s sacrifice was amazingly crafted (even if it was not nearly as good as Galuf’s death in Final Fantasy V). Palom and Porom’s antics, clashing personalities, and eventual decision to turn themselves to stone were incredible (albeit depressing) moments. Everything involving Yang? Pure gold. Going to the underworld and the moon for the first time? So cool. When Golbez was revealed to be Cecil’s brother? Epic. Truly, I adore the story told in Final Fantasy IV, and it is one of my favorites in the series, even with its flaws.

Music - 7.5

My second least favorite mainline Final Fantasy soundtrack, this game still has a fantastic slate of songs, from the banger that is the Red Wings theme to the beautifully written Theme of Love, from Golbez’s intense and atmospheric boss theme to the tranquil Rydia’s Theme. As much as I think this is a perfect soundtrack for the game that was made, it isn’t precisely a soundtrack that I pull up and listen to when I am listening to video game music. Truly, I don’t dislike this soundtrack at all, but I don’t adore it like some of the other Final Fantasy soundtracks.

Art & Graphics - 8.5

I might be the only one on the planet saying this, but I like the 2D and 3D versions of Final Fantasy IV equally—this is especially the case in the graphic department. They are both rather beautiful games, but they still can’t compare to some amazing artistic graphics of games like Persona 5, Sea of Stars, or, dare I say, Final Fantasy Dimensions II. I love the graphics and style here, but it can’t be scored any higher than an 8.5.

Characters - 9

I love the characters in Final Fantasy IV. Cecil goes from a misguided, anti-hero Dark Knight to a pure and holy Paladin. Cecil’s rival and good friend, Kain, is in cahoots with the main antagonist. Rydia is a little girl mage who grows up to be a mature, womanly summoner. Tellah, the old man, is out to avenge his daughter, Anna, and Edward, Anna’s husband and the ever-iconic spoony bard. Rosa is Cecil and Kain’s love interest and a kind and loving White Mage. Yang, a high-ranking Fabulian monk with ounces of delicious suave. Palom and Porom, two very young and eccentric twin mages-to-be. Cid is the iconic engineer and the first playable Cid in the series. Edge a ninja who wants to kill Rubicante for his foul deeds. Fusoya, a mysterious Lunarian with access to all magic. And, of course, the antagonist, Golbez, who is as dark, edgy, and awesome as possible, with some excellent late-game plot twists. There’s only one reason I can’t rate this higher—it is completely overshadowed by the character cast of the sequel. That roster feels much more lovable and complete as a whole, and it’d be wrong to give this any higher than a 9 when that roster simultaneously exists in this world.

Customization System - 9

Most of the 2D versions of this game? They have a pretty simple customization system—each character has their own abilities like White Magic, Ninjutsu, and Jump, and by the end? You can change your characters at any time in Mysidia. This system would probably get somewhere between a 6 or a 7 on its own. But the 3D versions? I’d give them a perfect 10—so it averages out to a solid 9. I mainly wanted to discuss the 3D versions here, as manipulating the Augment system is entertaining and exciting. You can find Augments in two ways: 1) as shining spots throughout different areas of the game or 2) after you give a temporary character an Augment, they then give you another  Augment at the cost of the first one. This is a very cool system, and it makes the game incredibly replayable! I love combining abilities like Omnicast, Doublecast, and Piercing Magic on Rosa to make her the perfect buffer. I love combining abilities like Jump, Focus, Darkness, Limit Break, and Adrenaline on Kain to dish out up to sixty-four times damage—that’s absolutely insane. Giving Rydia Dualcast, MP +50%, and Fast Talker will make her the ultimate overpowered DPS. Giving Edge Phoenix, Bless, Bardsong, and Hide can make him the leading secondary support character. Giving Cecil a Cursed Ring, Reach, Draw Attacks, Counter, and assign ???? ’s Love to said Counter can make him dish out vast amounts of damage while nullifying all single-target damage. On top of all this, each augment can increase your state development, adding an extra layer of strategy—do I get better stats but have weaker arguments, or vice versa? While this isn’t the best customization system in the series, it is far more replayable than any other because it evolves every playthrough. Not many games give you an everchanging customization system like this… this is like some robust legacy board game stuff. In my opinion, this customization system makes Final Fantasy IV the most replayable game in the series. Sure, the Materia system and the Esper system might be more in-depth, but the fact that this system carried me through three playthroughs to get to Proto Babil and I still wasn’t bored? That’s something I couldn’t say about any other Final Fantasy game. In summary, while the 2D versions don’t have the most outstanding customization, I adore the Augment system; therefore, this category scores a 9 out of 10.

Sidequests - 8

Final Fantasy IV has a ton of awesome sidequests, and I think it should be ten out of ten in this category… but somehow, every sidequest in this game has some slight annoyance that brings it down for me. Secret summons able to be found as early as the first hour of the game, even before you can get a Summoner? So cool! Oh wait, you must grind for an eternity to get them… never mind. A ton of collectible, colorful Rat Tails that can be traded in to receive top-tier equipment? So cool! Oh wait, you also have to grind an eternity for those. The Excalibur being forged, that can’t be bad, right? Sadly, it is—you must wait for it to finish forging. Going to the Feymarch, Land of the Summons, the origin of Queen Asura and King Leviathan? Oh wait, you have to go through an annoying dungeon in which you cast Float over and over and over again. The Sylph Cave? You get to see Yang alive, get a new summon, and get the most potent throwing weapon in the game! Oh wait, you have to trek through hell and back in my least favorite dungeon in the Final Fantasy series. Lunar Ruins? You get to unlock the hidden powerful abilities of every character in the game and fight the hardest superbosses! Oh wait, you have to beat the game multiple times and repeatedly exit the dungeon to change your party. Cave of Trials? You unlock the ultimate weapons for the non-Big-Five party members… but you must go through multiple times because Cecil can’t be removed for some gosh-darn reason. The Geryon and Proto Babil fights? You have to play the game two or three times, respectively. I love all these quests dearly, but as a whole, they are too flawed to score anything above an 8 on the scale.

Locations - 8

I have the same issues with Final Fantasy IV’s locations as with its sidequests. Every dungeon is cool in concept, but many are incredibly annoying in execution. I’ll first highlight the best dungeons and then explain the bad ones. My favorites are as follows: the Tower of Zot, a very climactic dungeon with awesome bosses and emotions; Lunar Ruins, the place where you unlock the true power of each of your characters and fight the most challenging bosses in the game (’twas sad we didn’t get to see this in the 3D version... if only a condensed version focusing around the Big Five); the Giant of Babil, a short yet super eventful dungeon with two of the best bosses in the game and very iconic scenery; Mount Ordeals, one of the best areas in the Final Fantasy series in terms of plot, character, growth, and meaningful boss battles; the Tower of Babil, and iconic and fun dungeon in every way of the word and a very important dungeon in the plot; and lastly, the Lunar Subterrane, a fabulous area that ends the game off with a bang. However, there are some horrendous dungeons too. The Underground Waterway, a long and convoluted MP-draining mess of a dungeon; the Lunar Tunnels, nothing areas to pad out the game’s runtime; Eblan Cave, a rather bland and drab dungeon that is a bit excessive in its abuse of the game’s hidden passageway mechanic; the Passage of the Eidolons, a dungeon that relies way too heavily on its Float mechanics; and Sylph Cave, my least favorite dungeon in the series, as aforementioned. While the good outweighs the bad here, these dungeons aren’t good enough to deserve a higher score on this list.

Quality of Life - 8

For the most part, this game is mostly free of glitches… it has much less than, say, Final Fantasy V or Final Fantasy VI. It runs well and doesn’t feel slow, something many RPGs have an issue with. However, some archaic features are present, such as limited inventory space (in the 2D versions), only being able to swap out party members in one location (2D), or not at all (3D). Also, each remake continues to add features but gets rid of other features, which is embarrassing for Square Enix. While this gives the incentive to play the three definitive versions (PSP, DS, and Pixel Remaster), it was lazy and annoying. For example, the Pixel Remaster had no Augments or party switching—two elements that add infinitely more depth to the game. Overall, this game runs consistently, but some questionable design choices plague this game.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 9
Overall Score: 83%
Letter Rating: S

This SNES classic remains a shining example of how RPGs can blend storytelling, compelling characters, and innovative gameplay mechanics to create an evergreen gaming experience. While Final Fantasy IV isn’t perfect and doesn’t reach the heights of the masterpieces that have since innovated using the legacy this game created, I highly recommend this game to any RPG enthusiast or casual RPG fan.

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Final Fantasy IV (SNES)
Final Fantasy IV (GBA, new)
Final Fantasy IV (GBA, used)
Final Fantasy IV (PSP)
Final Fantasy IV (DS)
Final Fantasy IV (Mobile)
Final Fantasy IV (Pixel Remaster)
Final Fantasy IV (Pixel Remaster collection)

Primary Version: Final Fantasy IV (iOS)