As we reach the mid-way point in our series of grudge matches between originals and their remakes it’s now time to have a look at what one of the best RPGs ever made. and one of my personal favorite games – Final Fantasy IV, (or II depending on your system of choice). But no matter what system you play this installment of the Final Fantasy saga on you are in for one heck of a big adventure, filled with intrigue, great characters, stunning twists and plenty of epic moments, in short, the game is the very definition of an instant classic. So while there is no ‘bad’ way to play Final Fantasy IV we do have to ask the question, what is the best way to play this timeless game?
When it was originally release back in 1991, Final Fantasy II (USA) was a revelation for many 16-bit gamers. The game featured a sweeping narrative that gave many an early look at Square’s mastery of video game storytelling. At the time there weren’t many game studios that had the confidence to toy with the idea of killing off major characters or to completely pull the proverbial rug out from their players but Square went for it and established the Final Fantasy franchise as the home of some of gaming’s best narratives. For years Final Fantasy IV was often cited as one of the best games the series had seen, even when compared to other heavy hitters like VI, VII and IX and so when Square Enix revealed that the game was getting a full remake for the Nintendo DS fans were thrilled and the game once again became known as one of the best RPGs on its new home which is saying a lot considering how many great role-playing games were released for the DS.
One of the reasons why when it was first released Final Fantasy IV (which is what I call it from now on to avoid confusion) left such a huge impact was that us living in North America hadn’t gotten a chance to experience Final Fantasy II and III which were at the time only released for the Famicom in Japan. This leap over the original NES game were so sharp and impactful that it almost immediately established Square as the masters of the RPG genre, a title they would solidify with other SNES classics like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and of course Final Fantasy VI. But it wasn’t just the fact that it was such an improvement over the original Final Fantasy that made the game so great as Square had spent considerable time revamping what it meant to be an RPG. New battle tactics, job systems and progression systems all made their debut in this game, each of which would go on to influence another game from the studio.
So when the decision was made to remake the game for the DS, Square Enix knew they needed to do something special and go further than they had with their previous remake of Final Fantasy III, also on the DS. That game, while perfectly fine was unfortunately tethered to one of the least interesting games in the series, IV on the other hand got the works. Everything from new content, a complete artistic redesign, new FMV cut scenes, voice acting and new bonus features were crammed into the tiny DS cartridge which added up to one of the biggest, most expansive games the system got throughout its life. There was almost no comparison and it wasn’t surprising to see player put over 100 hours into the game.
When comparing these two versions it often comes down your personal preference in art style when determining which one at least looks the best. Final Fantasy IV on the SNES has that classic 16-bit RPG look that has now become iconic, so much so that many modern games are keen to emulate it while over on the DS, the new 3D visuals allow a lot more emotion to be conveyed than the old sprite work and help give the story even more gravitas than was possible on the older consoles. Personally, while I have an appreciation for both styles I do have to give the edge to the classic 16-bit game, albeit in the overall presentation department the superior game is clearly the DS game.
As I mentioned earlier, the DS game was jam-packed with all sorts of modern presentation elements. This included very high-quality (for the DS) cut-scenes, select voice acting for key scenes and more emotive characters that really drove the story’s more impactful moments home. It was clear that Square Enix had set out to make the definitive version of the Final Fantasy IV story and they accomplished that with such mastery that many players were disappointed when other games in the series, namely V and VI weren’t remade for the Nintendo DS.
Beyond the visuals and presentation Final Fantasy IV on the Nintendo DS also includes a host of new content ranging from fun little mini-games to whole new story elements that expand on the game’s narrative and help set the scene for the sequel, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. There’s really no denying the fact that the DS version is the more content-complete game and despite both editions of Final Fantasy IV being absolutely excellent we have to call it for the DS version – it really is the superior version in practically every way.
FINAL VERDICT – Final Fantasy IV (DS) is the better version
When comparing an original to its remake it sometimes becomes a battle between nostalgic and modern gaming and in the case of Final Fantasy IV it can be tempting to remember the original game as the ‘perfect’ version but any type of fair comparison will hand the win over to Final Fantasy IV on the Nintendo DS. That being said, there is no bad way to play Final Fantasy IV and anyone who considers themselves a fan of RPGs and just plain great stories needs to find a way to play this classic.