Final Fantasy IV: The After Years Review: Derivative, but a welcome surprise nonetheless

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years Review: Derivative, but a welcome surprise nonetheless

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years allows the player to return to the enchanting world of Final Fantasy IV—a realm steeped in nostalgia and adventure. The sequel takes you beyond the original tale, introducing new characters, challenges, and dungeons to unravel. In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will explore the battle system's strengths and weaknesses, delve into the intricacies of the story, appreciate the art and music that breathes life into this game, and share my opinions about the game's diverse cast of characters. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... a Final Fantasy IV: The After Years Review: Derivative, but a welcome surprise nonetheless.

Battle System - 8

This game has a pretty fantastic battle system because of the game’s awesome customization system, which I will cover in a moment. But outside of that, I love that there are five playable characters. The original Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy Dimensions, Lost Odyssey, and Blue Dragon have some of my favorite battle systems of all time, partially because having five characters strikes the perfect balance of strategy—without too much restriction. More RPGs need 5 or 6 character parties. Just saying. This game also has 22 permanently playable characters… and 30 total! This allows for an insane amount of variety—so what’s the problem with this battle system? Because it just wasn’t implemented well enough, specifically in the Crystals chapter. If the Crystals chapter was so much longer (I’d say about triple the length, at the least), there would have been so much more time for experimentation! Overall, if the whole party were together for so much longer, I’d consider giving this a 9 or daresay a 10. But as-is, without enough time to truly experiment with this battle system, I unfortunately can’t place this any higher on this list.

Story - 6

On its own merits, each tale is a good time. The overarching plot is mediocre but decent enough to warrant a game. The Creator plot is intriguing enough, but the Creator is not nearly as compelling of a villain as Golbez was. This game has great moments, such as the airship crash in Ceodore’s Tale, Ursula’s coming of age story in Yang’s Tale, Leonora becoming a mage in Palom’s Tale, Kain becoming a holy dragoon in his tale, and so much more. The moments, quite frankly, are so much better than the sum of their parts. All in all, this would probably deserve a 7.5, so why so low? Well, this category loses points because of being underwhelming and, as much as I hate to say it, offensive. This could’ve been so much better for being the sequel to the game that revolutionized good storytelling in JRPGs. It would’ve been a phenomenal story if the chapters were just the set-up for the characters and the characters came together for a solid 30-40 hour story—a story exploring the emotions and new lives of the characters in a way that was just as grand and compelling as the original Final Fantasy IV. Scrapping the Creator’s story would allow for something so much more. I’m okay with the individual chapters rehashing the previous game and paying homage to the original by hitting some of the same plot beats for nostalgia—I mean, most direct sequels do that in some way or another. Simply put, the main cast needed a lot more time together, developing alongside each other. Imagine how the game could’ve been if Golbez were interacting with Harley, Luca were friends with Tsukinowa, and Izayoi were besties with Rydiaas. It wouldn’t be easy for them to make a fantastic story with twenty-two characters, but it’d be more than doable—if Suikoden and Chrono Cross could do it, so could a sequel to one of the greatest Final Fantasy games ever. I truly believe this game could’ve been one of the best games in the series if they had created a beautiful sequel with an amazing story. It is just so sad how much missed potential there was here. It is so unfortunate that Final Fantasy IV fans across the globe were stoked to see their favorite characters come back in another fantastical adventure. It is so sad to see the game that started RPG storytelling not have a sequel with an even more remarkable story. Overall, I don’t hate this story. I’m not mad at it—I’m just disappointed with it, like a mom after her son steals a Kupo Nut from the cookie jar.

Music - 7.5

This is a solid soundtrack with a ton of the original Final Fantasy IV songs and 13 new songs! However, it is just more Final Fantasy IV music, and as I said in my Final Fantasy IV Review, I’m mostly indifferent about the original Final Fantasy IV tracks. Are they marvelous and well-crafted works by Nobuo Uematsu? Obviously. But personally, this soundtrack didn’t resonate with me all that much. I don’t dislike the music here, but I don’t love it all that much, so…

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: The After Years 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 - 10

This is my second favorite cast from any Final Fantasy game (I’ll talk about my favorite in a different article, don’t you worry!). With the amazingness of the original Final Fantasy IV cast and tons of new characters like Ursula, Leonora, and the Eblan Four, this is an excellent character cast. With so many lovable characters returning and decently developed new characters, it’s hard not to adore this character cast. If you have played this game, you know just how fantastic all these characters are. If only the rest of this game were this good… then it’d be one of my favorite RPGs of all time…

Customization System - 8

At its core, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years isn’t extraordinary—it’s not that big of an upgrade from Final Fantasy IV. Sure, there are new characters with a plethora of abilities outside of the typical White and Black Magic, but the basic customization system is basically the same… or worse, depending on the version, because there are no Augments here at all. At face value, there doesn’t seem to be any more here than old versions of Final Fantasy IV, but two standout flourishes add a lot of depth to this customization system: 1) moon phases and 2) Bands. The moon phases are fantastic throughout the entire game, with the different phases buffing or debuffing the following four categories: physical attacks, White Magic, Black Magic, and special attacks—as well as debuffing its opposite. Moon phases add a ton of strategic depth, as you will always need to alter your strategy to play optimally! And through Tents, you can change your Moon Phase on the World Map or at save points! So that’s pretty great. But even better are the bands, combo attacks akin to Chrono Trigger’s dual and triple techs. These bands can dish out massive damage and/or change the tide and tempo of battle! There are so many awesome Bands like Makeshift Cannon, Final Fantasy, Advent Phoenix, and the most notorious, Vibra Plus! I have to give this an 8 instead of a 9 or 10 for a few reasons: 1) it is still relatively simple, with no real skill equipping or unique statistical tweakers like the Materia or Junction system, and 2) the awesome Bands are very underused since the Crystals chapter is much too short and so many Bands become useless at that point. I love this game’s ideas, but as aforementioned, the customization system was made much less good by its lack of length and complexity.

Sidequests - 4

Okay, the sidequests in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years aren’t horrible—they are just mediocre, so few and far between. Tail collecting, challenge dungeons, a few superbosses in the final chapter, and a slog of a sidequest in the Troia Club. Tail collecting is basically glorified grinding; that’s precisely what Palom’s membership cards sidequest is as well. The challenge dungeons were a fun way to utilize your characters outside of the main story and push them to their limits in battle, but unfortunately, this was only a feature in the 2D versions of the game. And the superbosses in the two versions? These are the only differences that salvage this score from a 2 or 3 since this game offers some fun superbosses—and each version has different ones, making both versions worth a playthrough! Overall, these aren’t good sidequests, but they aren’t the worst I’ve seen.

Locations - 3

I hate to put this at such a low score, but it was a given in my eyes. More than 90% of the locations in this game are just derivative, as they were already present in Final Fantasy IV… and come back here with little to no changes. The new locations can be counted on one hand—a deeper level of the Adamant Isle Grotto in Ceodore’s Tale, the Adamant Isles Forest in Yang’s Tale, the Impact Crater in Edge’s Tale, the Tower of Trials in Palom’s Tale, and the True Moon in the Crystals Tale. And I’ll have to admit, the first two of these locations sucked, so those brought the score down even lower. With only three new, slightly meaningful locations, I can’t give this anywhere close to a high score. Why on earth would I? While I like the idea of Palom teaching Lenora, the Tower of Trials wasn’t precisely super outstanding or novel as a dungeon. The Impact Crater was a neat location story-wise, but it isn’t something I even remembered was in the game until I did the research for this review. The only exceptional new area was the True Moon, the second moon never visitable in Final Fantasy IV. This is one of my favorite areas in the Final Fantasy IV duology, which saves this game from having a 1 or 2 in this category. This area allowed for a bombastic finale that ended this otherwise mediocre game with a bang. While I liked the True Moon, this game’s dungeons are damn-near derivative. I guess I’ll give it 3 points for the 3 new locations then because that’s how scoring works, right?

Quality of Life - 6

There weren’t any nasty glitches or mistakes in this game. The game wasn’t abominably slow or offensively dragged on—quite the contrary. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years loses one of its points because of its balancing, requiring certain characters in the Crystals, Part 1—not a very good move. This made these few characters completely over-leveled in comparison, making the idea of everyone coming together so much less impactful. On top of that, characters like Cecil, Calca, Brina, and Leonora need an obscene amount of catch-up to be worth using. And worst of all, in the 2D versions, you can potentially lose characters like Calca, Brina, Golbez, and the Eblan Four! You can replay the tales, but who wants to do that? However, I didn’t take more than one point off this because, to be brutally honest, I am actually a fan of grinding and min-maxing, and I really liked how I got to grind up my 22 characters and master them in the final dungeon. In fact, I got all my characters to level 99 (yes, even Calca and Brina, who are widely considered the worst characters in the game). Another two points are taken off for the backtracking through previous areas, as while that can work in a game like Final Fantasy X-2 (as much as I hate that game, I’ll give it credit for its excellent use of previous areas from Final Fantasy X), it doesn’t work at all here. While I initially wanted to keep that flaw only in the dungeons portion, this is such a massive issue that it also needed to be addressed here. The final point is taken off for the point of no return, which means once you get to the moon, you can’t go back… and that is very frustrating. Gosh, Square Enix, if you give the players the same old world of Final Fantasy IV, at least let them explore it with the whole party! I am pretty positive this was fixed in the 3D versions (take that with a grain of salt), but still… that’s two versions of the game (likely the two most played versions, mind you) with this flaw. Also, one mixed aspect: the final dungeon was made much shorter in the 3D version, which was a negative for me but a positive for many… not an issue, but just an acknowledgment. Overall, while this game has some severe problems, this game is very polished and free of glitches, so I believe a 6 is the perfect score for this category.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 6
Overall Score: 67%
Letter Rating: B

I enjoy Final Fantasy IV: The After Years enough to say good things about it and enough to recommend it to fans of the original. However, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t by far the most derivative game in the entire series. Without the proper pop to distinguish it from its far superior predecessor, it feels like more of the same—yet worse. While I absolutely do not regret playing (and 100%-ing) this game, I would never pick up this game for a second playthrough unless Final Fantasy IV spontaneously ceases to exist. While this game was a worthy addition to the Final Fantasy library, and I am incredibly grateful it exists, it can only truly be recommended to Final Fantasy IV lovers. And luckily? I happen to fall into that group.

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Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (PSP)
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Steam)

Primary Version: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (iOS)