Game Time: Final Fantasy IV The Complete Collection (PSP)

We finish out Final Fantasy Month with something that's always a bit tricky for me to write - a glowing review.  Like most people on the internet, I find it both easier and more entertaining to be negative.  But this game is one I would recommend to anyone who isn't a hopeless fratboy gamer, and I'm not sure I can find the words to describe how much I enjoyed it.

I speak of a game for, of all systems, the PSP called Final Fantasy IV The Complete Collection.

If you remember earlier in this month, I stated how much I enjoyed FFIV.  This game includes a version of the original game that combines the different additions from the GBA remake with a new graphics system (fuller, richer pixellated images with some modern effects on spells & summons), a complete collection of the WiiWare series The After Years, and a short Interlude chapter to bridge the two games & foreshadow the new threat.  I won't give a review of the original, and since I'm going to assume familiarity with it story-wise, there will be spoilers ahead.

Fifteen or so years after the original game, the second moon returns, now a deep blood red.  Baron has started to take the crystals by force again, with King Cecil apparently under the sway of a mysterious girl who vaguely resembles Rydia.  Speaking of Rydia, it's thanks to this girl that she can no longer reach her summons, who are now under the girl's command alone.  And in all of this, people everywhere from Damcyan to Troia are trying to continue rebuilding and living their lives.  Each chapter reveals where certain characters from the original game are now and introduces new characters, fleshing out the Blue Planet's history & setting that much more.

First thing, and this might be my age showing, the pixel graphics in this game are gorgeous.  Every character is detailed & distinct even in the reduced overworld/non-battle view, and in battle, they all have distinct poses & movements (for example, Rosa & Porom can both use Pray, but they have very different poses to do so).  When more modern effects are added to the spells & summons, they blend in nicely.  Graphically, the whole thing is a nice reminder that "pixellated" shouldn't automatically equal "ugly & inferior" in gamers' minds, which it too often does.

Second, the gameplay remains mostly the same, but it has two new additions that make a huge difference.  There's the lunar system, which changes the phase of the moon whenever you rest at an inn or use a tent before a save; the phases affect whether your attacks, thrown attacks, white magic, or black magic are strengthened or weakened, but luckily this also applies to enemies.  It adds an extra degree of strategy - you might not like using an extra tent to get to the phase where black magic is stronger, but if it makes a boss fight all the easier, it's worth it.  There's also the Band System, which is the single best addition to gameplay in the game.  Reportedly, people who worked on Chrono Trigger worked on After Years, with this addition being the most evidence of their involvement.  Basically, anywhere from two to all five people in the party can combine attacks to do special attacks; the more people involved, the longer a Band will take & the more specific the party arrangement will probably be.  But since you don't get to use summons until late into the game, these are more than a worthy addition, and the emphasis on characters present to pull them off keeps the theme of "deep bonds" from the story still vital in the gameplay.

There are also many new characters joining the existing cast, with some receiving more development than others.  Ceodore, as your new default hero, fares pretty well in development, but it takes several chapters to see to fruition; Luca the Dwarven princess, Yang's daughter Ursula, and Troian trainee Leonora fare better, however, since they have character arcs that take a clearer path than his.  However, some of the new characters that you'd think would get more development fall by the wayside; these include Edward's secretary Harley (who you think would get more time than she does if she's his new love interest) and Edge's four ninja students (who are mostly one-note but still strangely likable).  But that is to be expected when you have a high number of additions to an already sizable cast.

The existing cast really fares the best.  Out of all the returning characters, I'd say that Kain and Golbez are handled with the most finesse, as both go through unique redemption arcs.  Cecil has a similar "mirror" arc about whether ignoring your darker personality traits for a decade or so is really that healthy.  Edward & Edge mature as leaders, Rydia becomes more mature & focused, even the Archfiends get moments when you realize that they aren't one-note monsters.  Palom & Porom have initially confusing arcs, but with some thought they made more sense to me - Palom is a surly ass because he is always being simultaneously coddled & held to crazy expectations as a prodigy, while Porom has spent her entire life as part of a partnership & isn't sure she can handle standing on her own.  In short, it fails to fall into that "future sequel" error of ignoring or marginalizing the heroes of the original.

I only have one quibble with this, and that's that some of the redesigns are... odd.  I was most bothered by Porom, who has shifted so much that I thought she was a new character.  And things that look fine in the battle sprites or portraits might look funny on the overmap sprite; Palom in particular has a white patch in his hair that appears to be a giant anime sweatdrop in that form.  But if the only complaints I have are design choices, that's not a big deal at all.

Actually, I do have one source of irritation, and it is in absolutely no way part of the game itself or on Square Enix's head.  There is NO reliable, quality game guide for The After Years portion.  Bradygames opted not to release one, saying that you should just use one of the FFIV guides - thus ignoring that there is another game & a half in this edition that they haven't covered.  And while GameFAQs has a good-quality walkthrough for the Interlude, the one for The After Years is GARBAGE.  The writer chooses what to cover based on who has the most raw attack strength, the detailed item & equipment info is AWOL, and his boss strategy for every single one is "hit it till it dies".  You wanna know how to keep Golbez alive?  How to not be forced to scrap Luca's dolls?  Whether Gekkou should aid the monks against the Mysterious Girl?  Too bad!  These characters aren't munchkin-tastic enough for the FAQ author to bother telling you how to save them & keep them in your roster.  In fact, in all three cases, I found out what to do from TV Tropes.  So my complaint is that there's no reliable place to turn for answers in the game if you get stuck.

But the poor decisions of Bradygames & lack of quality control at GameFAQs do NOT change the fact that this is an AMAZING game.


STAR RANK (because all reviews, by law, must break down to easily-numbered items):
Gameplay: 4.5 out of 5
Graphics: 4.5 out of 5
Story: 4 out of 5
Characters: 4.5 out of 5
Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Recommended?: Hell, yeah!  Unless you're allergic to any game that's deliberately retro in styling or menu-based combat that makes you, like, plan and stuff (in which case, I wanna know why you're reading this review).  Since the PSP is being phased out, you can probably get both it & this game for cheap.  Or just play the version on the WiiWare stores.  Either way, if you like old-school Final Fantasy, you really should make a point to play this game or The After Years in some way.

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