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Reviving a nostalgic fantasy

Final Fantasy IV's mobile remake resurrects the best-loved RPG adventure, but whether or not it lives up to the name of its original is a matter of taste

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First released in 1991 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the forth installment of the world’s best loved Role Playing Game series, Final Fantasy IV holds a special position in the heart of those RPG aficionados whose gaming life didn’t begin with the invention of PlayStation, and whose love affair with the genre didn’t begin with the slightly overrated Final Fantasy VII. 

Final Fantasy IV came with groundbreaking innovations that would transform the course of the genre forever: brand-new 16-bit graphics and the ATB (Active Time Battle) system, with the plus point being its character-driven plot and the dramatic storyline. The trials of friendship and a heartbreaking love triangle between the three main characters is epitomised in the soundtrack that, with the exception of only Final Fantasy VI, is difficult to match.

The opening sequence sees Dark Knight Cecil commanding a Red Wings airship.

With its popularity evidenced in the spin-off sequel Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, coupled with the fact that the remake of its three predecessors have been released earlier, it was just a matter of time before this epic journey would be remade, or ported, onto the digital platforms du jour _ iOS and Android, although this new edition is basically an enhanced version of the Nintendo DS version.

Released in December last year, the mobile version of Final Fantasy IV comes with new features such as voiced characters during FMV cut scenes and selectable levels of difficulty. The storyline remains the same, as well as the ATB gameplay, meaning that idiots like me who sometimes rely on the "walk-through" in order to play the game will continue to find the guides available on the internet for the SNES or DS version usable. Added fun comes with the new map system where the player will receive a special prize for completing a a dungeon, floor by floor, as well as the three major world maps: the Overworld, the Underworld and the Lunar Subterrane.

For those unfamiliar with this game, Final Fantasy IV follows the adventures of Cecil Harvey, a half-human half-Lunarian (oops, pardon my spoiler!) who's adopted and raised as a dark knight by the King of Baron alongside his childhood friend/rival Kain Highwind and their love interest, Rosa Farrell. With the king's sudden change in character, commanding Cecil to attack and seize the elemental crystals, which are the treasures of other lands, the young knight begins to doubt his monarch and foster father, the meaning of fighting, and the righteousness of being a dark knight. We control Cecil and his allies through trials and victories, and witness his transformation from the guilt-ridden, self-doubting dark knight to become the world-saving Paladin.

The pixels of Shiva leave much to be desired

In terms of gameplay, this remake of the classic is a challenge in terms of control precision. While the joystick or button-based controls require players to press "OK" as confirmation for all actions, the touch screen can be tricky. A slightly misplaced press could lead to a wrong move, or direct your attack to the wrong target. This could even be detrimental. I actually hit my own allies with the strongest spell a few times.

Of course, such mistakes wouldn't be a serious matter if you are talking about modern RPGs with relatively easy gameplay compared to these old ones. Final Fantasy IV is considered the hardest by many. I play this iOS version while also playing the world's favourite Final Fantasy VII on my PSP at the same time. And I must admit I was knocked out in the very first dungeon, and I wasn't even on "Hard" mode, which is believed to be closest to the level of the original.

On the contrary, I played through Final Fantasy VII without ever seeing the "Game Over" screen at all _ not until I hit on an optional Superboss out of curiosity, that is.

Basically, the difficulty of this game derives from a few particular factors. First, the monsters are quite monstrous, compared to the default level you start the game with. Second, your money reward for winning battles is small compared to your in-game cost of living (good weapons, armour, potions and cures). Third, you level up pretty slowly compared to how your level can rise to above 50 out of 99 for Final Fantasy VII even before your finish the first disc of three. Next, IV is an old-school RPG with a strict job system, and one of the strongest attacks that can deal hits on multiple targets like magic is not yet proliferated, not until Final Fantasy VI.

In this strict job-class system of a game, you enter a fight basically with one sword fighter, one white mage, one black mage, one dragoon and one ninja or fist fighter. Here in IV, your strongest black mage, the summoner Rydia, has disastrously low HP and she could be killed in one hit by a strong boss. This forces the player to plan the battle carefully with a good strategy. The only consolation is that, with the game being on an advanced platform, it takes much less time to download the saved game after you're killed, compared to playing a game on a PSP, which can take a few minutes to reload.

Now, let's get to one of the most debatable topics _ the graphics. First, it's an enhanced version of the DS release, although you cannot say the enhancement makes much difference. The pixels are quite hideous at times, especially with the summons, considering you are working with a platform where you can watch those disaster scenes in Hollywood flicks with little distress.

The same goes with the 3D characters. While the 16-bit sprites of the SNES era leave much to your imagination, the 3D characters simply destroy your imagination altogether with the knight, white mage, sage and ninja being reduced to disproportionately childlike figures. Take the scene when Rosa visits Cecil in his bed chamber the night he returns to Baron Castle early in the game, for example. Those revealing, otherworldly outfits _ a trademark of early Final Fantasy _ simply made you think: "Oh girl, just don't walk randomly into a man's room in your mother's honeymoon night slip!" They are cute, but for me, I'd rather have either sprites or realistically proportioned characters, or the romantic scenes would look utterly like a Christmas school play.

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