My Review- Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (DS)
Role-playing video games have come a long way since their inception with the Wizardry and Ultima games. We now have the ability to create vast worlds, weave epic tales, and spend millions of dollars on cinematic presentations. Despite all of these advances, it never hurts to remember ones roots- console RPGs owe a lot to pen-and-paper games like DnD, and today’s multi-million Final Fantasies, Star Oceans, and Mass Effects owe a lot to classic NES, SNES, and Genesis RPGs. Square Enix, a respected RPG developer with more than a decade’s worth of fantastic titles under its belt, attempts to revisit this lost age of swords-and-sorcery with Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, a game with retro mechanics that pay homage to Phantasy Star, Dragon Warrior, and the older Final Fantasy titles. Did a developer now infamous for flashy and over-the top cinematics succeed in crafting an adventure in the spirit of the classics, or does the game fall short of the mark?
The story in 4 Heroes of Light is very simple, using a lot of RPG clichés established by others from the SNES days. On Brandt’s fourteenth birthday, he is sent to meet the king of the small kingdom of Horne in order to become an adult. Upon arriving at the castle, the King implored Brandt to save his daughter, Aire, from a witch who lives north of Horne. Brandt, his friend Jusqua, and Aire’s bodyguard Yunita, manage to save Aire and defeat the witch, but the witch places a curse upon Horne and turns the village’s inhabitants to stone. With a few words of encouragement from a mysterious talking crystal, the four children set out on a grand adventure in the hopes of finding a way to lift the curse from their home.
As far as plot goes, everything in the game has been done before. However, while the narrative may not be the most enthralling, there is one thing that the game does extremely well- it’s charming. The game’s story, world, and characters simply ooze charm, which provides a nice change of pace from the brooding and dark sensibilities that Square Enix usually incorporates into their games. This is a game from a lighter time, where all a band of adventurers needed was the presence of an evil demon in order to go questing, although the lighthearted tone is often at odds with another aspect of old RPGs that Square resurrected with 4 Heroes of Light- challenging gameplay. Speaking of which…
The gameplay in 4 Heroes of Light isn’t a vast departure from the original Final Fantasy. The game actually plays a lot like the DS remake of Final Fantasy III. The biggest new addition is the presence of an active point system- each character has five action points, and each command takes up a certain number of those points, with stronger abilities taking up more. The points replenish one by one each turn, and there is a ‘Boost’ command which forfeits a character’s action in order to raise their AP more. The caveat is that you cannot pick what a character’s ability will target, which makes it harder to implement higher-level strategy- a mage’s Cure spell will target the party member with the lowest HP, which may not be the person you need cured. The time this became a major issue was during a battle with an enemy who could change the elemental weaknesses of each of his three sections- my characters would only target one section until it was dead, and if a character had the wrong elementally-aligned weapon, he would inadvertently heal the enemy. The battle system isn’t perfect, but it is fast paced, which makes random encounters less tedious. Enemies drop more experience the higher your character’s level is, which makes level grinding painless as all enemies, weak or strong, drop the same amount of EXP. There are only two or three puzzles in the whole game, but they are complex brain-teasers nonetheless.
The gameplay of 4 Heroes seems a lot like old RPGs, but it comes with a few old-school hindrances that can be frustrating. For one thing, you have a limited inventory of 15 items per character, which INCLUDES your spells and equipment, which makes inventory management an arduous chore. There is no way to navigate the world map quickly until late in the game, when you gain the option to ride a dragon, which drags out the early (and more frustrating) portions of the game. It is also difficult to figure out where to go- the old ‘talk to everybody’ rule is essential. At one point, I actually had to turn the game off because, when I did events in the wrong order, the game refused to let me progress until I went al the way back through a challenging dungeon, talked to a particular NPC, and then did the whole thing over again. Bosses are brutally difficult, requiring you to wear the gear that resists their elemental attacks if you want to succeed, although leveling up can usually overcome these hurdles. In an improvement from FFIII, there are save points right before each dungeon boss.
Easily the best thing about 4 heroes of Light is the Crown System, an upgraded version of the Job System from Final Fantasies III and V. Each crown is a class a character can learn, and switching classes is as simple as wearing a different crown. You earn gems in battle that fit into slots on each crown, and when all the slots are full, the crown levels up and the character earns a new ability for that class. Each crown can be upgraded three times, and some of the higher-level abilities are essential to beating the game- for instance, the highest level ability for Black Mages, Magic Might, is a non-elemental attack that hits all enemies for a few thousand damage, and the Miracle spell for White mages fully restores all party members and cures all status ailments. Experimenting to find the best party is a fun part of the game- my final party consisted of a Hero, a Black Mage, a Wayfarer, and a White Mage. There are also more than a dozen unlockable classes throughout the game in optional dungeons.
The gameplay in 4 Heroes of Light will appeal to any fan of old-school RPGs, but younger or less patient players may be too frustrated.
Casting aside the look of the DS remakes, 4 Heroes opts for a colorful visual style reminiscent of a pop-up book, making the whole adventure seem like a story being read aloud. The colorful visuals look great, although sometimes can be confusing- with no map in dungeons, it is easy to get lost in repetitive corridors.
The music is simple, catchy, and generally lighthearted, hearkening back to the classic soundtracks of Final Fantasy or Breath of Fire. The dungeon music is a noticeable low point, as the same two tracks are used in EVERY dungeon, which includes such odd places as the insides of a giant whale. The game’s main theme will refuse to leave your head hours after you finish playing.
Had this game been released on the SNES, it probably would have become a cult classic. Square has proven with this game that they haven’t forgotten their roots, and makes me excited for what the RPG-makers will create next. Unfortunately, the game has numerous flaws which are inherent of it’s retro style, but if that doesn't bug you, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a charming adventure well worth your time.