Thursday, August 28, 2008

Final Fantasy VIII review

People expect more from Final Fantasy. The name alone has built up such a reputation that it isn't enough for a new game in the series just to be good -- it's got to be incredible or it will be considered a disappointment. Luckily Final Fantasy VIII surpasses even these incredibly high expectations and stands far above the pack as the best PlayStation RPG so far.

The long and intricate story line in FFVIII centers around love -- that's right, love. Before you run away screaming, let me assure you it's nothing that will make you cringe. FFVIII's overall plot is still appropriately exciting and action-packed; it's only later in the game, once you are really attached to all the distinct and complex characters, that the more emotional themes are gradually introduced. It's actually a refreshing change, and helps FFVIII avoid most common RPG cliches.

Graphically Square has outdone themselves again. Everything from the mind-blowing FMV (wait until you see the infamous dance scene) to the improved character graphics and animations, to the so-good-you-won't-believe-they-are-real-time spell effects are among the best visuals you will find on the PlayStation.

But, as we've said a million times (yet still get letters about), a 5/5 rating doesn't mean the game is perfect. The few gripes I have with FFVIII mostly have to do with parts of the battle system. Drawing spells from monsters over and over as well as watching the long Guardian Force attacks play out are necessary parts of combat that can get tedious, especially later in the game. Overall I still enjoyed the battles, and the new junction system is genius, but a few minor adjustments could have kept up the steady pace of the rest of the game.

Even with its quirks, Final Fantasy VIII is one of the few games I would categorize as a masterpiece. Forget that it's an RPG-- this is one of the most polished, vast and totally addictive games of any kind I have played in years. Square has somehow done it again.

Final Fantasy VIII

SquareSoft has always had a sure-fire hit when releasing any of their Final Fantasy titles, and Final Fantasy VIII should be no exception. The basis of a good RPG (role-playing game) has always been the story; spectacular graphics are secondary. Final Fantasy VIII's involved and interesting story line is filled with great twists, well-developed characters, suspense, and romance. As an added bonus, the graphics are beautiful. Everything--from the low-lit jazz club to the steam-filled railroad tunnels--is gorgeous and perfectly sets the mood and tone of a scene.

The game mechanics are standard fare for an RPG: acquisition of items and spells, turn-based combat, experience points earned in combat allowing advances in levels. From exploration to battles to dialogue, Final Fantasy VIII has it all. However, Final Fantasy VIII falls to that great weakness of RPGs: random battles. While necessary for advancing in levels, the battles occur with such frequency that they can grow annoying, making for a tedious game experience.

The epic storyline spans four discs--over 40 hours of gameplay--and is based around a mercenary cadet who finds himself caught up with an underground rebel faction. He winds up in a plot to assassinate the sorceress who has just seized power from the president.

You could complain of limited replay value, but this gripe is of no consequence: the game is such a satisfying experience, it doesn't require replay. Final Fantasy VIII is easily worth both the hype and the wait. You can't buy a much better game.

Final Fantasy VII Review

So it's finally here. The most hyped-up, talked-about and eagerly-anticipated role-playing game in console history has finally arrived. I'm talking about Final Fantasy VII, of course, the game that was billed as "the greatest RPG of all time" before it was even released. And the big question: Does it live up to the hype?
Well, Final Fantasy VII is absolutely epic in scope. With a sweeping story line that spans three discs, the game makes the 40-hour completion time suggested by Square seem like an underestimation. A large map, with a wide selection of towns and cities, offers plenty of areas to explore for the intrepid adventurer. Cinematic sequences (including, but not limited to, fully rendered full-motion animation cinemas) advance the complex -- and sometimes surprising -- story. And several mini-games (like arcade fighting, motorcycle racing and snowboarding) offer light-hearted respite from the serious story line. But does it live up to the hype?
Well, as reported, the graphics are nothing short of stunning. The prerendered backgrounds provide some of the richest environments ever seen in a console title. The cinematic sequences segu´ almost seamlessly into actual gameplay, ridding the game of the unpleasant graphic dichotomy found in most cinema-laden CD-based games. And clever graphical tricks, like decreasing the size of the characters as they move from foreground to background, add to the game's visual depth. And the powerful summoning spells acquired as the game progresses are absolutely awe-inspiring, combining polygonal graphics with what appear to be beautifully hand-drawn special effects. But does it live up to the hype?
Well, the combat interface is cleverly done, with a "realtime" engine that is nevertheless turn-based. By turn-based, I mean that characters must wait for a Time meter to fill before choosing their attack, and attacks always occur in the order they are chosen, with no two characters (either friend or foe) attacking at the same time. This adds a level of urgency and excitement not found in most other RPGs.
But does it live up to the hype? Well, that really depends. I have to say that, now that I've been able to put some serious time into the game, I'm a bit disappointed. The most frustrating thing about the game is the surprisingly linear story line. Until gaining access to the game's vehicles (at least 15 hours into the game), players are basically forced to follow a strictly set path. Oh, you'll have the appearance of choices, in conversation and in travel, but explore the alternatives and you'll discover that there is really only one feasible path to take. This is doubtless the case because of the focus on the fully developed story, but it may bother gamers used to more wide-open gameplay. The inclusion of some truly challenging puzzles would have helped a bit, but these are scarce. To make things worse, at some points the translation from the Japanese appears a bit muddy, causing unnecessary confusion and clouding the fine story.
Don't get me wrong, this is a great game -- and I don't mean great like "Hey, great!" but great like Alexander the Great. I guess I was just expecting it to be a lot closer to perfect than it is. It's still a must-buy for any PlayStation owner; just keep in mind that you'll have to check a good deal of your freedom at the door.

Final Fantasy VII

The story of Final Fantasy VII centers around a solider named Cloud Strife, who joins forces with Avalanche, a group of resistance fighters, to take down an evil mega-corporation known as Shinra. (The fate of the world hangs in the balance, of course.) Truly epic in scope, this four-disc game requires a considerable amount of time to complete---this reviewer gladly gave up over 80 hours of his life to finish it. But it's definitely a rewarding adventure that every PlayStation owner should consider undertaking, especially since it's now one of the low-priced "Greatest Hits" titles.

Final Fantasy VI

When Final Fantasy VI debuted on Super NES in 1994 (under the name Final Fantasy III), it was a thing of wonder. It also gave rise to endless debate: Was it the best RPG ever made, or was it a sloppy hack-job of a game? Did it have a brilliant English localization, or did Square U.S.A. butcher it? Was the massive cast of warriors impressive, or did the dozen-plus party members result in weak characterization and unbalanced skill building? In short, was it underappreciated genius or overrated crap?
There's merit to both arguments, actually, and you can be certain that the release of Final Fantasy VI Advance is bound to bring the whole brouhaha bubbling to the surface again.
Even the GBA version of the game is bound to irritate as many people as it pleases. As with Tose's previous Final Fantasy Advance remakes, FFVIA offers a number of improvements balanced by a ledger full of flaws. The game treats fans to new content -- several new Espers to teach you new magic spells, new dungeons full of new monsters, and new gear to use while exploring (but no new playable characters). Bugs and glitches have been tidied up. There's quite a bit of fan service in play, with appearances by both familiar faces and a monster infamously cut from the original version of the game. And the localization has been heavily revised, restoring the depth and nuance lost by necessity due to the space constraints of SNES cartridges.
But the sound quality has been severely compromised -- a real tragedy, considering that FFVI's score was among the best on SNES. Now it's staticky at times, slightly slow and out of tune at others. There's a touch of slowdown in places. A tiny hint of censorship has been imposed where it wasn't seen before. And the localization has been heavily revised, robbing the game of charm and quirkiness added by translators who had to make the most of limited space.
Still, even with these issues, FFVIA is the best GBA Final Fantasy conversion yet. The added content and revised script don't add as much as they did to FFIV, but that's mainly because it was considerably more polished on SNES than its predecessor. Meanwhile, the technical details come off much better. The Active Time Battle glitches have been ironed out, and the slowdown is mild. It's too bad about what happened to the music, but the fault there lies with Nintendo's cost-cutting hardware design.
As for the underlying game -- well, most gamers' minds are probably already made up as to whether they like it or not, and it's unlikely this new rendition will change that. As a masterpiece of a game with significant flaws, it has an impressive ability to polarize opinions.
FFVI has the distinction of being a transitional game, the keystone between the series' old-school roots and the stylized, cinematic style that became its trademark with FFVII. Its in-between nature is evident in the development staff; it was the first chapter headed up by FFVII/VIII/X/XIII director/producer Yoshinori Kitase rather than by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. It's evident in the story, a complex narrative told from multiple perspectives riddled with epic disaster and high drama. It's evident in the presentation, with graphics far beyond the primitive sprites and tiles that were typical of the genre. And it's evident in the gameplay mechanics -- especially in the way it's possible to turn everyone in your party into godlike bruisers without resorting to cheats or exploits.
These highs and lows are the result of the game's greatest strength: Its sheer ambition. FFVI was hardly perfect, but it aspired to be bigger, more epic, more involving, yet more accessible than anything that had come before. For all its flaws, it was precisely that. Console RPGs didn't catch on in the U.S. until FFVII came along three years later, but aside from the eye-popping graphics made possible by PlayStation, everything that would ultimately make Final Fantasy an international blockbuster is right here. And even the simpler graphics work to the game's advantage -- they're a fine example of the 2D art form, and they lack the excessive flashiness that bogs down 3D Final Fantasys.
FFVIA is a mostly great port of a mostly great game, and that makes it entirely worth having. If this has to be the end of the GBA's lifespan, we can't think of a better way to go.

Final Fantasy V Advance for Nintendo

Final Fantasy V Advance is now available to handheld gamers! Five characters try to save the world from an evil sorcerer known as Exdeath. Train them for a wide variety of job classes, then lead them into battle to use their special abilities and skills. A host of brand-new elements have been seamlessly merged with the original game, providing unexpected surprises for longtime fans. With new dungeons, new job classes, and other exciting features, both old-school players and newcomers can enjoy this genre-defining Final Fantasy title in a portable format!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Final Fantasy III Review

Remakes and rehashes are more or less a given these days -- if you make a good game, you can rest assured that 10 years down the line, someone will dump it onto a collection at worst, totally recreate it at best. Ah, if only we could force publishers to maintain a level of quality on par with Final Fantasy III for the DS. Then all these trips to the retro-gaming well would feel less like crass opportunism and more like enshrinement of the classics.
FFIII is no mere pile of throwaway shovelware; it's a total re-creation of an 8-bit game, largely faithful to the source material but thoughtfully retooled in places to play better. And look better, too -- this is easily the best-looking 3D you've ever seen on the DS. It probably helps that the director of the original game, who clearly wanted the new version to be the definitive version of his baby, supervised the DS remake. And for the most part, his efforts have paid off.
FFIII, of course, has never made it to the U.S. before. (The game most Americans know as "Final Fantasy III" was actually Final Fantasy VI, which will be making its way to the Game Boy Advance in due time.) Aside from brave importers and certain emulation aficionados, American gamers will find this remake to be, in effect, a brand-new Final Fantasy title.
It is, however, a decidedly early Final Fantasy title, even with its pretty 3D graphics and soaring remixed soundtrack. Back in the day, the even-numbered FF installments were daring experiments in storytelling and character development, while the odd-numbered chapters emphasized combat and skill-building. FFIII falls very much into that mold, which means that certain elements may seem somewhat dated for those weaned on the post-FFVII games. Combat is turn-based, the plot is almost an afterthought, there are no extravagant FMVs during the course of the game, magic skills are strictly regimented. And mid-dungeon save points? Not a chance.
This is an RPG for dedicated RPG enthusiasts. Many gamers will give up after being annihilated by random encounters in an out-of-the-way corner of the second village; others will despair at being wiped out by powerful bosses after 30 minutes of dungeon exploration and no opportunity to save. Even those who make it to the end may be put off by the enormity (and difficulty) of the final dungeon, where more than a dozen insanely powerful bosses highlight constant encounters with random enemies that are nearly as tough. There's not much story to reveal; the four party members have been given names, backgrounds, and inklings of personality, but there's not much more to the whole thing than a steady march to the final boss.
FFIII's real carrot-and-stick device is the Job system, which players may recognize from such games as Final Fantasy V and Tactics. In effect, characters can be freely reassigned a different character class at any time; these range from the basics (Warrior, Monk, White Mage) to more esoteric roles (Geomancer, Scholar, Evoker). This is the Job system's primordial form, lacking the mix-and-match options of the later games and rewarding consistency rather than experimentation. The more you use a job, the more powerful it becomes -- but even by the end of the game, you probably won't have maxed out a single one. Additionally, there's a penalty for swapping jobs; moving into a new job halves most of your stats for a few battles. The system has been tweaked and improved over the version that appeared in the original game, but it still feels limiting at times.
Maybe FFIII's greatest disadvantage is really just a matter of timing: It's bringing up the tail end of this fall's Final Fantasy blitz, which means it arrives within two weeks of FFXII and FFV Advance -- both of which, unfortunately for FFIII, are better games, with far more depth in story and gameplay alike. It feel particularly limp coming so soon after FFV, which essentially perfected the Job system while sporting a significantly more developed plot.
But it's important to appreciate FFIII for what it is -- a slice of history and a missing piece of a blockbuster series. Hardcore RPG players may enjoy it more than modern Final Fantasy titles, thanks to its emphasis on skill development and combat. Casual players may find themselves surprised by how addictive simple level-grinding and monster-slaying can be. There's a certain satisfaction in seeing your juiced-up Monk land 28 hits in a single round, and FFIII delivers that thrill in spades -- and there's enough challenge to make it a necessity rather than overkill. The result is one of the best portable RPGs to date, and a fine example of how to remake a classic.

Final Fantasy III

After sixteen long years, Final Fantasy III finally sees an official release outside of Japan. However, unlike previous games, Final Fantasy III has been completely reworked. This is more than just a port with enhanced graphics. Final Fantasy III includes some new secrets and side quests in addition to its graphical overhaul. Final Fantasy III may be just about enough to please some hardcore fans, but was the wait really worth it? Well, yes, but the game isn't perfect. The storyline of Final Fantasy III is entirely too simple. The crystals are losing their powers and there are only four warriors that can come forth and save the world from falling into darkness. Sixteen years ago this was a pretty standard story, but when compared to your average RPG today, and current Final Fantasy games, the storyline to Final Fantasy III is a joke. There's nothing in this story that screams epic, and the characters involved aren't developed very well. Luckily, we can let it slide because its sixteen years old. Gameplay wise, Final Fantasy III is pretty similar to most RPGs of today. You'll go roaming through dungeons and towns getting into random battles. There are a few quirks to the game that the DS utilizes. You'll find moments where you'll have to zoom into certain objects for you to examine. It should also be noted that you can use the touch screen almost exclusively in the game. Using the stylus you can make your character run in the direction you want him to, by gliding it across the screen. Taping on things makes your character examine it, and ultimately this is how you open chests and talk to people. It works out, but it feels really clumbsy at times. If you're looking to get through a dungeon with little hassle, just stick to the directional buttons. To its credit, though, using the stylus makes menu navigation much faster, but for the most part, the stylus controls just feel tacked on. Combat is traditional turn based combat. There's no ATB gauge like in later Final Fantasy games. In each round you will choose all the commands for your characters to do, and then watch a round of battle take place. It's simple, but isn't always fun. Mainly because Final Fantasy III is a challenge. If you began with some of the later Final Fantasy games, then this installment may be a little too difficult. Sometimes combat is unforgiving, especially when faced with bosses that attack twice per turn, and have the power to take out a character in a single shot. Even worse, the encounter rate is pretty high and running away from battle is often a wasted effort because you'll fail so many times trying to do so. You'll probably get wiped out just trying to run from battle and failing so many times. There are several moments when you'll be forced to battle for hours just leveling up. This is fine for those used to old school RPGs, but many RPGs of today do not put so much emphasis on leveling up, and it may try your patience after a while. It's great for people looking for a challenge, at least, but for some it may be a bit too steep. The job system is interesting. As you go through the game you'll get crystal shards that allow your characters to use certain jobs. Each job has its own set of abilities that can be learned with it. For example, White mages specialize in the healing arts, black mages in attack magic and red mages can do a little bit of both. You've also got other classes like warriors who can take damage for other party members, thieves who can steal and much more. There are 23 jobs in all. The jobs you choose for your characters also have an impact on your stats. Mages, for example, don't have a lot of strength but they excel in magic. Also, as you gain levels, you'll also gain job levels. So it's not only important to make sure your characters are at a good level, but also at a good job level. There is a slight problem with the job system however. It isn't nearly as varied as it could be. As you go through the game you'll gain more and more jobs that ultimately replace the older ones. In the beginning you'll get a Blackmage; as you progress you'll get a Sage, who is capable of doing everything a Blackmage can do. Thus, later in the game, many job classes become obsolete. It's really hard to compliment the games variety when later on many job classes are more of the same thing. So while the job system is interesting, later games such as Final Fantasy V execute it much better and with more variety. The game looks absolutely stunning, at least for the Nintendo DS. It is by far one of the best looking out there. There are some moments where it looks pixilated, but you can't deny that the game just looks good regardless. The movie sequences are also really pretty to look at and they run surprisingly well. In battle is also fantastic. Your enemies sport some amazing detail and so do the backgrounds in battle. On the whole, the game just looks good. Perhaps the only fault of the graphics is how restricted the animation of characters and enemies are in combat. Your characters won't physically go up and strike an enemy. Rather they just step forward and swing. Very similar to how the Final Fantasy games of the NES worked. It's strange to see, but you'll quickly get used to it. Another thing that seems kind of strange, though, is that the top screen throughout most of the game remains blank. All the action takes place on the bottom screen. There are few moments when the top screen actually displays anything. You'll see the world map as you travel the overworld and while you're in towns. There are certain moments where the top screen has text, or shows an important story sequence, but that's usually about it. Other than that, when trumping through dungeons (as you do often) and in battle (as you also do often) the top screen remains blank. There's nothing wrong with it, but it feels very awkward to play a Nintendo DS game where the top screen is blank. They could've used it to display dungeon maps or enemy information or something. The top screen has no impact on gameplay whatsoever. The music in the game is pretty good, though. It's not as good as other games in the series, and there are some tunes that just aren't great, but the music is by no means bad. There's no voice acting in the game, really, but we can let that slide. Audio wise, the game is good. Final Fantasy III is a pretty satisfying experience for any Final Fantasy fan looking for a good challenge, and to see how far the series has come. However, it may also shed a little too much of its old school charm in some areas, particularly its unforgiving challenge. Still, it's worth it for Final Fantasy fans who want to see just how far the series has come. The Good +Finally a chance to play Final Fantasy III +Great visual look +Good music +The job system is interesting +It provides a good challenge +A fair amount of secrets and sidequests The Bad -The story is not all that great -For some the game might provide too much of a challenge, to the point of frustration -High random encounter rate -The job system is interesting, but there's not nearly as much vareity as one might expect from it -Throughout most of your adventure the top screen is just... blank... for a Nintendo DS game this just feels awkward

Final Fantasy I & II Dawn of Souls

Final Fantasy I & II Dawn of SoulsOther (Nintendo)

Funny thing about handheld systems: time has not really been kind to the two games contained in this collection, unless you're playing them during an otherwise dull car/bus/plane trip. A quick ten minutes here and there leavens even the most tedious level-up marathon, when the alternative is to stare out the window at the wing and engine.
True, "level-up marathon" is probably a harsh description for Final Fantasy I and II, but there's no denying that they hail from the days when you didn't have a great deal of control over how your party developed, a trend that you can just see beginning to happen here. At a time when most console RPGs provided you with preestablished characters with a linear stat and skill progression, FFI did give you the unusual freedom of allowing you to populate your party of four with whatever combination of the six classes you want; nothing will stop you from stocking up with four black mages, if you're feeling masochistic.
If you are foolhardy enough to select that kind of party, this version of FFI is more accommodating than the original. A subtle rebalancing of the magic system makes magic-users much more useful than the original game, but not as ridiculously overpowered as the recent Final Fantasy Origins for PSone. Those games used the "X number of uses for Y level of magic" system, borrowed from Dungeons & Dragons, which is easy to unbalance: the original game gave you too few, and the PSone remake was overly generous. The Dawn of Souls edition replaces this with a proper MP system, so that you can't use Cure 1 40 times and Cure 3 20 more.
The MP issue is the biggest change to FFI's battle system, but it's not the only overhaul the game received. There are four new elemental dungeons to try your hand at, each of which is unlocked after beating one of the four fiends. For those who've memorized every in and out of the main game, these will be the big draw: each one is populated with new enemies (which are just palette-swapped versions of regular ones, but still neat) and guest-star bosses from Final Fantasy III, IV, V, and VI. Even better, the structure of the new dungeons seems drawn from the old Final Fantasy Legend Game Boy titles: they break up the action every few floors with a crazy rooms filled with scholars and libraries, or a flooded village where you have to get around by canoe, or even areas based on the world map where you need to raise the airship in order to find the exit.
There's also new content in Final Fantasy II, but since it's new story sequences instead of new gameplay scenes, it won't mean as much to you if you didn't already play the FF Origins version of the game. And if you didn't, we don't blame you, since it's probably the most irritating and vaguely-defined title in the series.
The good news is that, like FFI, the Dawn of Souls version of FFII has been rebalanced to make it more playable. The game features a "common sense" but ultimately strange experience system thanks to Akitoshi Kawazu, who remains at large in the development community. The way your party members develop is based on what happens in battle; if they use swords a lot, they'll get better with swords. If they take a lot of damage, their HP will go up accordingly. Using spells will cause the spell levels to rise, and so on for most of the statistics in the game.
Previously, the problem was that each statistic required so much in-battle use to improve that the only way to get anywhere was to exploit a glitch in the game or attack your own party members. With Dawn of Souls, the "experience" for each stat has been reduced to sane levels, so that you can more or less stay au courant with the enemy's levels by proceeding normally through the game. That's not to say the vagueness is entirely eliminated, though -- my problem is that without any feedback as to how close you are toward leveling up a statistic, it can feel like treading water a lot of the time. Since leveling up is best done in short bursts during transit, it's not a good sign when you can stop playing and have no idea what you've just accomplished, if anything.
FFII lets down the side a little, and even with the bonus content, these aren't really the best RPGs on the system. But they've historic games, and they've been buffed up to the best they'll ever be, so if you're a fan of the genre, it's a nice little package you'd do well to check out.

Final Fantasy IV Review

Final Fantasy IV Review By Jeremy Parish

For as many times as Square Enix has remade, rereleased, or otherwise reissued its seminal role-playing hit Final Fantasy IV, you'd think you could easily point to a single version of the game and say, "Yeah, this is the best one. No question." In a perfect world, that single, ultimate edition of the game would, in fact, be this high-end DS re-creation. It really ought to be. All the elements for greatness are in place.
To wit, the development team at Matrix has reworked the tech from the 2006 remake of Final Fantasy III to add a 3D coating of freshness to the 17-year-old RPG, almost certainly pushing Nintendo's handheld to its limits. Despite the fact that FFIV features more characters onscreen at a given time -- the standard party size is five to FFIII's four, and enemy ranks tend to be much fuller -- the graphics are more detailed and colorful. The brief, noninteractive cut-scenes sprinkled throughout the game look even better than that, and they include full voice acting, too -- no small feat for a DS title. The English script has been overhauled yet again, taking the dialogue one step further away from the awful, incomprehensible mess that American fans had to wade through in the Super NES days, back when we called the game Final Fantasy II.

The gameplay's equally removed from that watered-down version of the game, boasting the full challenge level of the Japanese original. And then some, really. Matrix clearly took into account that they'd be selling this game to fans who've played the various versions of FFIV through the years and know the adventure inside and out; in addition to tweaking the overall difficulty level to the point that you're practically guaranteed to die the moment you set foot in new environments, they've also revamped the game's legendary boss encounters to punish those who fall back on old tactics. You'll probably struggle through certain battles with only a single ailing warrior left standing, and you will be proud, because at least you survived. This is the expert version of FFIV, and the demanding gameplay should be a welcome improvement for serious fans.
Balancing the odds somewhat is a new bonus character-tweaking option called Augments. An Augment is effectively a secret skill that, once earned, can be given permanently to a single party member. Essentially, Matrix is compensating for the fact that FFIV is the single most linear game in the Final Fantasy series, with no room whatsoever for customization: Your party makeup is prescribed at every step, and character skills are predetermined by each member's fixed class and experience level. Rosa's always going to be a White Mage, and she'll always learn the Curaga spell at level 45, no matter what. But give her the Bardsong Augment, for instance, and she'll have the ability to buff the entire party with stat or health boosts at no magic cost. It's a nice way to expand the skills of the preset party members while retaining certain tactical options once temporary allies vanish forever.

Unfortunately, Augments also cut right to the heart of what makes this version of FFIV less than definitive; they're a poor substitute for the solution proffered by Square Enix's last remake of this game, Final Fantasy IV Advance on the Game Boy Advance. There, players were given the option to join up again with all but two of their former comrades and tackle the final dungeon (along with several bonus areas) with a completely flexible party. It was, in every way, a better approach than simply carrying over some of those forgotten characters' abilities -- especially since maxing out Augments is a maddeningly counterintuitive process. Want the best possible skill selections, an absolute necessity if you hope to defeat the new ultimate secret monsters? In that case, you'll need to be prepared to squander the best Augments you earn during your first playthrough or two on temporary characters so as to reap the benefits in a subsequent trip through the game. And Augments are permanently set once distributed, so you'd better hope you can parse their vague in-game descriptions and give them to someone who can actually make use of them.
What's that, you say? Why, yes, Square Enix did license an official strategy guide! Funny you should ask.
So do these failings in FFIV DS make FFIV Advance the definitive edition of the game? Ultimately, no -- despite sporting some minor visual tweaks over its 16-bit predecessor and offering a wealth of great late- and post-game bonus content, the GBA release was poorly programmed and suffered from some maddening glitches that screwed up the timing of the active-time battle system. The DS remake not only cleans up those problems, it even goes an extra step by offering info on how quickly a character will execute a command. Even so, battles still don't feel quite as snappy as they did on the Super NES. The change to 3D visuals brings with it a slight touch of sluggishness; more significantly, the DS is constantly struggling to keep up with the sparkly visuals, so menu navigation feels ever so slightly off. It doesn't spoil the game or anything, but it's never satisfying to lose a tough battle just because the game couldn't keep up with your input.
It probably bears mentioning that the GBA version of the game is less than three years old, which leaves one with the sensation that Square Enix has headed back to the well a bit prematurely. If they'd waited a couple of years until the DS' inevitable successor arrived, they could've given the GBA edition a bit more breathing room and put together an even more impressive-looking version of the game that doesn't feel like it's about to burn out the system's processors. Take into account the fact that the DS is fully capable of playing GBA carts anyway, and this new remake feels, well, unnecessary. (Of course, there's no reason to assume we won't see yet another remake of the game on the next DS anyway.)
So what's to be done with this version? It's not a bad little game -- it is, after all, an upgraded version of a 16-bit masterpiece -- but it's needlessly redundant for anyone who picked up FFIV Advance. Of course, die-hard Final Fantasy fans will want to test their mettle against the crazy-hard new difficulty level while checking out the new voices for old favorites: Cecil is appropriately wussy, Kain sounds as tough as you'd expect, and Golbez now sounds like Darth Vader instead of just looking like him. But everyone else might want to wait it out a few years for that inevitable, definitive next-gen remake. When it comes to Square Enix, what goes around comes around. And around. And around.

Final Fantasy IV (Nintendo DS)

Final Fantasy IV for DS is a must-play for those looking to jump into the best-selling RPG franchise in the world. Four elemental Crystals, each possessing awesome power, lie scattered throughout the realm. However, men are quick to covet things that offer strength, and easily corrupted by the might that they possess. Seduced by the promised power of the Crystals, the kingdom of Baron begins employing unprovoked force to seize them from peaceful nations. The dark knight Cecil - Lord Captain of Baron's elite force, the Red Wings - is ordered by his king to obtain the Crystals, but soon begins to question the monarch's motives. Stricken with grief at his own actions, yet burdened by his loyalty to his country and his personal sense of honor, Cecil at last decides to turn from the path of darkness and destruction. Enraged, the king accuses him of disloyalty, strips Cecil of his command, and sends him off to slay a mysterious beast that lurks in the nearby Valley of Mist. Cecil embarks on a fateful journey that will bring trials, betrayals, friendship, loss, and self-discovery. Train and customize Whytkin by playing a variety of mini-games and challenge another player to head-to-head battle via local wireless connection