Written by Jeremy Yates
In this title, we revisit the world called “Blue Planet” whose existence is graced by the powers of Light and Dark crystals. The world was once in peril and the source seemed to be surrounded by semi-sentient, enigmatic crystalline formations. Certain beings existed who sought to use the crystals for evil.
It was in the original Final Fantasy IV that Cecil Harvey and his motley crew of companions solved the mystery behind the crystals and their cousins the Lunar Crystals. With these powers restored into the hands of the just and pure, the moon and its crystals departed Blue Planet’s orbit, embarking on a lonely voyage to unknown parts of the universe. Now that peace and harmony has returned to the land, the worlds’ heroes return to their lives to start anew under a unified alliance under Baron’s new king and queen, Cecil and Rosa Harvey. Just as this title suggests, 17 years have passed since the moon broke orbit and our heroes have started families and rebuilt their world that was once in chaos.
This title is divided into eleven “tales”. Each of the old characters will revisit places and reunite with familiar comrades from the original Final Fantasy IV, and new characters will be introduced such as the offspring of the original heroes. After a brief tutorial with Ceodore Harvey and cameo duo, Biggs and Wedge, the world is under siege by a seemingly familiar entity: another moon. From there, one is thrown into a series of events that inspires the player to find out about the strange happenings and occurrences assaulting the world and its populations.
For any fan of the original, it is a seamless and riveting transition from the original to this sequel, and this is an unusual feat for Square-Enix. For any new player to Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, the story is intriguing enough to keep them motivated. The entire game has a neat and original way of keeping a momentum going through a delicate balance of maintaining mystery and revelation. Along the way, questions are raised and answered but only enough to keep the player yearning for more.
The plot succeeds in capturing the player and includes questions that may have been unanswered in the original. This promotes a feeling of satisfaction for the classic fan and increases desire to see the rest of the game but with even more conviction. It helps to have played and been charmed by the cast and locations of the original to fully understand this.
FFIV: The After Years contains several cutscenes straight out of the original to offer new players a better understanding of the relationships and bonds created between the original characters. If anything, it is done well enough to give new fans of this game a desire to play the original. At the same time, it allows old fan to revisit moments that made them a fanatic in the first place.
One of the greatest aspects, in my opinion, was seeing the descendants of the old heroes and how they interact with each other and the original cast. Perspectives from all individuals are unique among themselves, giving each character well thought out and distinct personalities. The entire cast has something about them we can relate to. For me, this is a crucial element needed to immerse the player into the game. Toward the end of the game, all played characters are united giving the player a choice of which characters they want to progress and finish with. At that time, you can change your party set-up in any way you desire at nearly any given time. This allows weaker characters to rise to the occasion and bring forth powers that are sure to be needed during play.
Battle, whether a boss or random encounter, is designed to be difficult and one cannot simply spam “Attack” in order to win. Enemies are stronger and faster than what many are used to. Unlike many older Final Fantasy titles, elemental weaknesses, status ailments, spells and items are well-tuned when used properly and are essential for winning. This makes the game far more challenging and maybe even a little annoying. However, finding and exploiting the enemy weakness can be satisfying. Spells, abilities, and items that normally fall to the wayside are now important and effective. This tweaking helps strengthen characters like Edward who, in the original, was a weak and nearly useless character. Unlike before, he can be shaped into a serious asset for the party if one so desires.
Since the enemies are so amped up and vicious, being surprised or attacked from behind is pretty much a death sentence. It is usually best to “Run Away” or just wait a second to reload the game after the party falls. This is partly due to items and MP being a precious commodity throughout the game. Gil is the currency to purchase items, gear, and restoratives that never seems to flow deeply enough in your pockets. Therefore, keeping your crew alive can become a task in itself. Nevertheless, it ensures a challenge that keeps the player engaged and alert.
Aside from the basics of “Attack”, one may use other familiar forms of combat like magic use, summoning, and ninjutsu. You may also try to create a simultaneous, multi-player maneuver to unleash either devastation to the enemy or a boon for the party. This is called a “Band” and must be unlocked during game progression. It is delivered to its intended target via two or more characters and consumes MP to execute. The system is a fine display of character interaction and the bonds they show towards each other. Banding is also imperative, in several cases, to defeat foes and gives mundane combat a neat little spin.
To add more strategy and thought to combat, one must mind the phases of the Moon. The phases include: New Moon, Waxing Moon, Full Moon and Waning Moon. Each phase has an effect on the basics of combat; there is always one helpful and one detrimental effect in play. Helpful effects will double the power of the ability, while detrimental effects will halve the power of the ability. The four abilities affected are: Attack, White Magic, Black Magic, and special attacks (Summon, Ninjustu, Jump, Song, etc.). Keeping aware of the Moon Phase and the related effects introduces a strategic twist to help you succeed in an otherwise helpless situation.
Travel and exploration are done in overhead format, like the original. Eventually, the player will have access to all the old school methods of travel, such as chocobos and airships. No area is ignored and there are several new places to visit. All of them are packed with new and old treasures, hidden passages, unseen items, and familiar enemies. While this may be redundant for someone that is not a fan, it is a treat for hardcore followers and newbies. It is important to be diligent and thorough because this title has several points of no return. This has always been a problem for me since I have the mentality that I will be able to come back after a bit of progression. Not here. This game is heavily story driven and will occasionally do things to keep you focused on the plot with no derivation. While this might give the impression that the game is on a one-way rail, it does well with what is available to make it feel wide open in the exploration department. However, if you fail to find secret or hidden item you could be left wanting in the long run. To make actions matter more, it is possible to change outcomes as far as what abilities, spells, or even characters come into future play. If you feel like an important battle did not go right then it probably did not. Perhaps you should change one character for another or try a strategy aside from hard, fast, and continuous battle onslaught.
The game relies heavily on the influence of it’s musical score and sometimes that means none at all. This creates the atmosphere many have come to know, love, and expect from the original. Again, this is another reused element that will most likely be appreciated by old fans and new players alike. However, the music fits and is hauntingly beautiful, easily bringing a warm-fuzzy feeling to those that love the predecessor. This is a game designed to reminisce and dive into nostalgia along its journey. There are a couple of pieces of music that are new in this title, but in my opinion, they are not needed. I noticed a low-fidelity feel to the actual music and certain sound effects that occurred when FFIV: The After Years was ported from the mobile phone to WiiWare. While I did frown on this, it did very little to sway me from playing and appreciating this game.
The overall look of the game is very much the same. Most of the enemy, world, town, and dungeon designs remain the same but characters are given slightly more detail. It is nice because it shows that time has passed enough for the characters to change but not enough has passed for the entire world to look different. Yet, with a new menace unleashed on the world, who knows what changes may occur? Being familiar with the world as it was before will make detecting these changes far easier than for someone who is just starting their way through Blue Planet.
This is a game that I feel any old-school fan should play. Unfortunately, it is currently limited to purchase via WiiWare or Japanese mobile phone . Not only that, you will spend over $40 to get the complete game. In my opinion, if you plan to play this then it should definitely be played in full. Clearly, a must buy for hardcore fanatics of the original game. While it gets high praises from me, I still believe that newcomers will enjoy this one based simply on the unique and captivating story. If you can overcome the severely outdated graphics, music, and gameplay then I implore you not to hesitate and go download the full game as soon as you can.