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Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection
Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
They just don't make them like they used to. That simple phrase usually means one of two things about the person using it: he is either an elitist or simply waxing nostalgic. In the gaming community, the phrase can be a good thing or a bad thing. While it's true that videogame sequels are often marked improvements over their predecessors, they are sometimes not. It's my opinion that the Final Fantasy franchise jumped the shark quite a while ago. Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection is a fantastic yet oddly sobering reminder of that. It's my second favorite game in the series (second only to Final Fantasy VI), and it has aged remarkably well. An extra helping of content and a fresh coat of paint should go a long way for Final Fantasy fans, making The Complete Collection a must-own for any self-respecting PSP-owning role-playing fans out there.

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection tries to hit the middle ground between the original Super Nintendo release and the much more recent DS remake. Ultimately, it ends up closer to the Super Nintendo visuals, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The sprites are more detailed, and the environments are sharper and more colorful. Spell effects and the occasional full motion video are about the only next-gen characteristics, and they look great without compromising the nostalgic simplicity achieved by the visual style.

Let it never be said that Nobuo Uematsu isn't a musical genius. While his work with Final Fantasy IV isn't as breathtakingly gorgeous as his work on VI and VII, it's still very much a force to be reckoned with. This story knows no bounds when it comes to raw emotions, and the soundtrack always perfectly accentuates each character's struggle. The best part of the sound design is Square Enix's decision to give you a choice between the original arrangement and an updated version.

Ah, Final Fantasy. In the past, it was the gold standard for inconsistent storytelling. Before you strike me down with your Muramasa replica, hear me out. When a Final Fantasy story works, it's top of the class. However, most of them take implausibly bizarre detours in the home stretch, usually resulting in a disjointed, uneven (but still good) experience. The tales told in Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection do indeed fall prey to this phenomenon, but the characters are memorable and the stories are well-told. That makes the shortcomings easy to overlook. The Dark Knight Cecil's quest for redemption runs the gamut of human emotions; at any one given moment, it can be funny, sad, exciting, and poignant. More often than not, however, it's a complex mix of any of those four. However, as is the case with most Japanese role-playing games, the real joy lies in getting to know the cast of characters. Final Fantasy IV's cast is superb, from the immeasurably awesome dragoon Kain to the honor-bound monk Yang, to the beautiful summoner Rydia, to the dynamic duo Palom and Porom, to the best Cid in franchise history. The dialogue is snappy and entertaining, and even the instances of poor translation are endearing. My handle for this site is proof enough that I'm a fan of shoddy translations; imagine the grin that spread across my face when the sage Tellah bellowed the immortal phrase "You spoony bard!"

The second of The Complete Collection's offerings is an intermission piece of sorts called Final Fantasy IV: Interlude. It isn't very long, and doesn't amount to a whole lot more than fanservice; after all, everyone and their grandmother seems to have been coronated by the end of the original game. Narrative flimsiness aside, it should please fans of the series who are looking for a reason to return to this world.

The final piece is Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. Originally released as a Wii-Ware game, The After Years follows the exploits of Ceodore, the son of Cecil and Rosa (who are now King and Queen of Baron). Though it's closer in length to a full-fledged sequel than Interlude, The After Years doesn't have much spark to it when compared to the original. However, an intriguing new gameplay mechanic helps it stand on its own.

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection offers a potent but consistent challenge. Unlike the grind-heavy Dragon Quest games, these games encourage sound tactical thinking. It's always a good idea to experiment with your enemies; each one has its own weakness, and each one usually does a good job of finding yours as well. Tactics alone won't win every battle; making sure you're well-supplied and equipped goes an awful long way, as well. And if push comes to shove, you can always pad your level with a bit of experience grinding -- if you really need to. Luckily, Square Enix has added a wonderful mechanic to help alleviate the pain associated with grinding.

Game Mechanics:
In terms of gameplay mechanics, Final Fantasy used to fall into the "if you play one, you play them all" category. Of course, it doesn't anymore, but that's beside the point. Up until Final Fantasy XI, each game used the same turn-based battle system, give or take a few special tweaks. You queue up a series of physical and magical attacks (or buffs) while doing your utmost to keep your party of up to five from biting the dust. The number of abilities you can learn through leveling up ensures depth and longevity, and learning how to put each of them to good use is extremely gratifying. Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection revolves around a game from the franchise's earlier years, so things are relatively simple -- as long as you're only taking the original Final Fantasy IV into consideration.

Different approaches have been taken to experience grinding over the years, but few of them are as successful as the one implemented in Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. By simply pressing the Select button during battle, you will simultaneously accelerate the speed of the fighting and set each party member to execute physical attacks. If you're strong enough and don't mind using some restoratives every now and then, this is an ideal way to work your party up to the right level.

The moon plays a large role in Final Fantasy IV's later hours, and it plays an even larger role in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. It's a battle condition system that's somewhat reminiscent of Chrono Cross's element system. As the moon goes through its phases, certain statistics are cut down or buffed. There's a time for physical attacks, and there's a time for magical attacks. It's a clever system that forces you to plan carefully and execute consistently. Another new feature for The After Years is the Band attack, which seems to be loosely inspired by Chrono Trigger's Combination attacks, but isn't quite as robust or interesting.

The PSP certainly doesn't lack for remakes, but Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection proves that that isn't always a bad thing. There's a ton of content on this little UMD, and though the components aren't as consistently fantastic as the main course, it's still easy to recommend to any role-playing fan. You can't call yourself a Final Fantasy fan without experiencing this adventure at least once.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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