Of the first four games of the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy IV is the fourth Final Fantasy of the Final Fantasy series. Perhaps it is not coincidental then that the fourth Final Fantasy of the pixel remaster series – A series of re-re-re-re-releases – is Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster.

The plot is thus: Egad! Over yon hills lies a most desirous crystal the King of Baron lusts after. After its claim stained in blood by one Dark Knight, Cecil, and his airship crew The Red Wings, he finds conflict borne from conflict. Seeking answers from Baron King, he instead finds himself ousted from his post and relegated to the the dangerous job of courier. Together with his jumping friend Kain he heads off to deliver a package that will lead to a journey of discovery, redemption, righting wrongs and fighting for what is right to right the wrongs.

Final Fantasy IV saw Square move toward an overall greater focus on narrative and character development. People have motivations and desires that are more developed than previous games, there are various arcs, and some depth beyond the surface. It’s pretty simple and relatively primitive stuff – given the game’s age you’d hope that’d be the case – but it’s still effective. That said, the dialogue in this version of the game takes a bit of a dive.

I’m not completely certain, but the localisation feels like a step back from ones for some prior versions of Final Fantasy IV. It seems basic and stunted, almost as though the push for nostalgia extended to hampering characterisation and plot. Various tweaks over the various iterations of the game weren’t necessarily anything amazing, but there was enough to give characters a bit more depth. Here they feel more like caricatures. It’s a pointless step back as the updates to dialogue could easily remain whilst still heavily pushing nostalgia.

In terms of exploration, Final Fantasy IV‘s world is mostly linear. However here Square further developed their ideas for world design and so there’s more open space. It wasn’t necessary, but it helps make the world feel more like a world; there’s room to wander about but you’ll often find your destination easy enough. It’s not always the case and some areas don’t allow much room for wandering, but otherwise there’s a sense of openness here that’s appreciable.

Once again the towns feel more like towns, though it’s more in appearance than design. Most buildings are important which is fine, and there are people wandering about more often than not so it’s still a nice update. In terms of appearance there’s some variability which helps give a sense of diverging development among different locations. There’s some similarity, but the differences help to give the impression of a world with variation.

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The dungeons also see more development in that often they feel more fitting in the world. Of course they’re still dungeons and they feel much like dungeons, but they’re also feeling more like they belong to the world. There are few that have much complexity as it seemed like environmental design came first, but it’s not much of an issue as they’re often interesting enough. They’re also often brief enough to get through before a sense of dragging kicks in.

Combat is pretty straightforward; Die the enemy before they fell you. For Final Fantasy IV Square introduced the active time battle system, which involves waiting for a meter for each character to fill before using one of their abilities. It makes battles feel more… active… and it works well enough.

Square also eschewed character customisation and flexibility in favour of fixed roles. As characters level their stats improve and those who use magic gain new spells. Some characters have specific abilities; one might be able to jump and another might be able to throw items at enemies. Essentially there’s a place in combat for each character and they all do a thing that makes them useful. The roles also help further characterisation in a pretty straightforward, yet effective way which is just another nice little thing.

I’m not sure why, but Square Enix reduced the amount of exp required for gaining levels. As such, leveling up happens more frequently than in previous versions of Final Fantasy IV. It’s so frequent that you end up overpowering almost every enemy without trying. It makes me think of how the Pixel Remaster games could benefit from difficulty options. That said, leveling can function as a player-manipulated difficulty control. Generally if you’re just playing a game you should level at a rate where some sort of challenge remains throughout. That should be the baseline and your leveling rate shouldn’t actively remove challenge.

I’m not sure how it is for others, but the only time I had anything remotely difficult was during the final boss. However, that difficulty mostly was around spending turns reviving my party rather than anything else. Outside of the final boss there were times where relying on auto-battle was more convenient, but due to enemy composition I had to stay involved pretty often which was appreciable. At the same time, due to how easy it was to steamroll just about every enemy eventually battles became boring. It’s easy enough to even run from some battles and still have little, if any challenge.

Usually lack of challenge in game isn’t an issue so long as it’s not a byproduct. Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster‘s lack of challenge feels like a byproduct. I strongly suspect the original wasn’t designed with power fantasy in mind. I also strongly suspect there wasn’t much thought put into how changing exp requirements impacted the gameplay.

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In terms of presentation the game looks fine. It’s similar enough to previous editions, yet changed enough to feel slightly new. There’s a vibrancy to areas, characters and enemies look familiar; you get the idea. It appeals to nostalgia and does that well enough without feeling entirely “classic”. More importantly the soundtrack is pretty solid. Much like the previous soundtracks some pieces have additional sections. Here they fit more often than not, but more importantly the music overall is highly fitting of the experience. It just gels really well. That said, there some choices that are highly distracting, such as the the snare in the main world map theme due to its harshness and sudden cut. The same snare may show up in a later track but it blends in much better there.

The other one that comes to mind is a particular theme which now has added choral vocals. Whilst not quite at the forefront they still take a lot focus away from everything else on that particular track. To be honest, it seems really superfluous and not considered. It’s just verbose when the track was suitably dramatic without the addition. There are some other issues in places, but as said before, the soundtrack overall is highly fitting. It’s solid stuff and pretty well considered.

Of the six games, Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster might be the most difficult to recommend. In part that’s due to Final Fantasy IV‘s overexposure. Now to be fair it is a really important game for Square. Its focus on narrative and character development without pacing or gameplay suffering helped it and the company stand out in an (admittedly small at the time) pack. However, it might just be more exposed than any other Final Fantasy.

The reason why this is an issue is that this particular iteration needs to make a strong argument for itself. It does not. Why would I play this version over another? The main thing I can think of is lack of availability. The nostalgia grab is there; that’s part of the point of this one existing. Other versions offer the same without nostalgia being part of the focus. Ultimately this iteration plays fine enough. It’s competent and it represents Final Fantasy IV well enough, but you’re better off looking for a different version.

Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster is available on Steam and various app stores.

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