Game Time: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (DS)

Ladies & gentlemen, I am about to discuss the most disappointing game I ever played.  When I pre-ordered FF4HL, it came in the last week of October; I asked my family to hide it during November so I could spend my free time doing NaNoWriMo and not being distracted by a new game in one of my favorite franchises.  When I finally did get a chance to play it come December, my disappointment was almost a tangible creature.  I pictured it taking on a physical form, staring at me & my DS as I played, and asking "Why are you still playing a game that seems like it's going out of its way to punish you?"

After about a month of trying & failing to enjoy FF4HL, I listened to this little gremlin and gave up.  I don't feel right reviewing a game I haven't finished unless it's to recommend it (which will be coming next week), but I feel the need to warn people away from this game.

The plot is fairly straightforward - four heroes are chosen to be the champions that will save the world from a burgeoning darkess; they will use a collection of customizable jobs to do so while growing on their journey.  When I first heard about it, it sounded like a new take on FFV.  But first, let's discuss the play system.

First off, you cannot save on the overworld.  Demerit #1.  You can only save in any place - dungeon, town, etc. - by finding the traveling adventurer and telling him about your adventures.  So if you miss this fellow anywhere in your journeys & get a game over or forget to charge your DS & have to shut it down, you've easily lost a lot of progress.  But this is the least annoying thing.  Demerits #2-6 are far worse. 
  • #2 is the AP system, where you need at least one of five Ability Points you generate in combat to perform even the most basic actions; if you don't or if you fail to have enough AP built up to perform a much-needed action (like reviving the teammate who has the elemental attacks a boss is weak to), you will need to waste a round to Psyche Up & give yourself another point. 
  • #3 is the fact that the computer chooses who a given attack or ability targets, and either it is incredibly stupid or actively hates the player.  It's practically guaranteed that the healing spell will not hit the teammate whose health is in the critical zone and that the magic spell you cast will not hit the opponent who's weak to it.
  • #4 is the jewel system.  In lieu of gil, battles earn you jewels, which you then use in different patterns to upgrade the Crowns that bestow the different jobs.  However, there are two problems with it.  First, you will never get the jewels you actually need to upgrade the Crowns you have to adequate levels; you will need to horde jewels of any given type because once you enter a new area, you'll never see them dropped again (jewels are the only items not affected by #6).  Second, the shops still require gil, so you will need to sell your "excess" jewels if you want any equipment upgrades, so you're basically screwed.
  • #5 is the ridiculous trickle with which you get your Crowns.  The first one you get basically exists to allow your characters to flee from battle.  That's it.  After the next boss, you get just the White Mage Crown, and the boss after that yields just the Black Mage Crown.  The Crowns come in sets of two after that, but compared to the "tier" system used by FFV (where each crystal gave you a cluster of jobs that started as basic & grew steadily more specialized), it's just another source of frustration.
  • #6 is the inventory - or lack thereof.  Each character can only hold 15 items, which includes their equipment & any spells they might need as well as items.  Any back-up items you might want to carry you'll have to leave in a warehouse in a town.  And you need some ridiculous items - someone decided that having you buy torches to explore the dungeons would be not obnoxious.  The only reason this inventory exists as it does is to keep you from being adequately prepared if you didn't want to use magic to do all of your healing - and leave you with no AP for any upcoming battles, either.
The cast doesn't exactly make you want to spend too much time with them, either.  Your "main" hero, Brandt, is just kind of a moron, and he doesn't really change during the course of the game.  Jusqua starts as an asshole and apparently softens ever so slightly into a mere jerk.  Yunita has crap self-esteem, lets everyone walk all over her, winds up homeless & in rags when left to her own devices, and never learns to stand on her own or see her own value.  About the only main character who is developed is Princess Aire; she starts the game as a really arrogant & selfish brat, but after being ditched as too mean by Jusqua of all people & being turned into a stray cat, she learns some humility and becomes a better person.  But she is the only one of the main four to have any real development.  The minor characters are mostly flat, except for Roland, whose depths fuel the plot.  But when you have a not-terribly-likable cast in a plot that just kind of putters around even after the first act, you aren't about to suffer through the gameplay to see how they fare.

So let's see - you have a play system that's the definition of "artificial difficulty", artificial intelligence that doesn't seem to be on the player's side the majority of the time, a finance/upgrade system that is punishingly half-assed, an inventory system that seems designed to punish players who like to be prepared, a save system that's decidedly unfriendly for a handheld console (and has none of the "it's a port" excuses that the Dragon Quest games do), and a cast that isn't particularly endearing.  But there has to be something I like, right?  Well, yeah, but compared to the demerits, it's not that much.

About the only thing I like is the visual stylization.  Running on the Matrix Software engine (a lot of DS games I've played apparently do), the designs seem to have been inspired by The Wind Waker.  Everything is very stylized and charming (except for some really hideous monsters, which I'm sure is intentional), and the backgrounds look like colored paper cut-outs when on the overworld or looking in the distance.  The Crowns are very different and unique, from Bandits who dress like Zorro to Black Mages in Edwardian riding gear to Musicians who look like majorettes.  It's a very likable package that makes the contents that much more disappointing.

STAR RANK (because all reviews, by law, must break down to easily-numbered items):
Gameplay: 1 out of 5
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Story: 2 out of 5
Characters: 1.5 out of 5
Overall: 2 out of 5

Recommended?: Not unless you like artificial difficulty and a cast that's mostly devoid of development.  Honestly, I'd say buy the game guide used on Amazon; you get to appreciate the wonderful design sense and imagine that such a neat job system was implemented in a game that wasn't designed to frustrate all but the most pig-headed of players.  I'm sure the only people who toughed the game out to the end were the people who wanted to write its TV Tropes page, which is the only sane reason for anyone to do so.


  1. I'm afraid I don't have much to say about these posts - I don't have the hand-eye coordination or the patience to be much of a gamer - but (as always) I quite enjoy your writing style.


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