The Magical World of Final Fantasy IV


Final Fantasy IV header The Magical World of Final Fantasy IV

Every couple of years I find myself replaying Final Fantasy IV. Part of the reason is a steady stream of remakes coupled with a bit of nostalgia, but an even bigger part is that FF IV is actually a really good game.

Like many RPGs, FF IV is an abstraction of a fantasy world. Its planet is peppered with just a few notable locations, and each of its kingdoms comprises only a handful of houses. Beyond these somewhat awkward limitations, though, the setting is structured in a very interesting way.

Final Fantasy IV intro The Magical World of Final Fantasy IV

It begins!

The feudal world is pretty standard, but it’s also infused with numerous traces of human religion and mythology. The summoned monsters include deities from Norse, Greek, Hindu and Arabic legends, and there’s even a couple of weapons made famous for being wielded by Arthurian and Japanese heroes. None of these elements are logically tied together, but they represent iconic touchstones of many cultures, ensuring that most people who play FF IV will find aspects of it that are familiar yet mysterious.

The game’s own original mythos also revolve around crystals and the moon, both of which contain a plethora of mystical associations. While all these elements might not make for the most original setting, they do create an aura of magic and intrigue that’s more universal than the series’ later focus on hyper stylized aspects of Japanese pop culture.

Final Fantasy IV After Years The Magical World of Final Fantasy IV

FF IV proved popular enough to warrant a a few small sequels -- a rare occurrence for the series.

FF IV’s world does not change based on the player’s choices, but its storyline fuels numerous large-scale events: Leviathan attacks and sinks a ship, dwarf tanks battle an invading force, the Giant of Babel wrecks havoc on the planet’s surface, etc. A further sense of life is added to the overworld through various modes of transportation: yellow and black chocobos, the hovercraft, and three different types of airships.

On a smaller-scale, the towns are filled with their own personal touches. The citizens of Agart ponder the legends of their subterranean ancestors while bomb shards are scattered throughout the ruined village of Mist. The towns are populated by a sparse cast of supporting characters, but each locations has its own distinct layout and overall feel. Many are also associated with individual dungeons and offer unique items for sale, promising exotic upgrades just around the corner.

Aside from facilitating a varied pace and providing background depth, towns also help to make the setting come to life. By physically travelling from one location to another, the player discovers the layout of the world and how to orient himself within it. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a much more immersive approach than a linear series of videogame levels. Simply put, the cohesiveness of the world anchors the player and helps to suspend his disbelief.

Final Fantasy IV treasure town The Magical World of Final Fantasy IV

Finding hidden treasures in towns and dungeons is always fun.

The dungeons are also varied, but they don’t rely on dubious one-time gameplay gimmicks common to current day JRGPs, e.g., sneaking into a guarded compound. Since the game’s story dictates which characters are in the party at any given time, the treasures in each area are also conveniently synced with the player’s troops.

In addition, the dungeons contain lots of secret passages and some unique attributes — e.g., the damaging tiles leading to Feymarch that require Float to be cast on the whole party, or the Lodestone Cavern where wielding metal equipment brings instant death — but the greatest variety comes through in the battles.

And FF IV has a great battle system.

Final Fantasy IV rubicante The Magical World of Final Fantasy IV

Rubicant, the gentlemanly boss, heals the entire party before entering combat.

Each character’s profession is reflected in combat, bringing together story and gameplay. Kain the Dragoon utilizes massive aerial attacks, black and white mages cast offensive and defensive spells respectively, Edward the bard-prince strums along songs of dubious usefulness, etc.

These abilities come into play against a variety of enemies, all of whom are imbued with a certain sense of personality. Some foes are resistant to magical elements, others counter physical attacks, and a few even inflict punishing status effects (like the swamp hag surrounded by giant frogs that cast toad at the end every turn, morphing the party into a group of feeble amphibians).

Final Fantasy IV sisters The Magical World of Final Fantasy IV

The Delta Sisters do a great job of teaching the player about the Reflect spell and how to use it to launch powerful attacks against other reflect-protected enemies.

Since the story dictates the party’s makeup, the player is often forced to switch up his tactics. A single fighter with 3 mages must keep them all in the back row so they can safely launch their powerful spells, while 3 fighters and a single mage have to preserve MP for healing or make more liberal use of Osmose/MP restoring items. The items are also great as they represent a steady stream of collectibles that are actually useful in combat. They give each character something to do even when they’re facing a foe that’s immune to their innate abilities, providing some extra options for what would otherwise be boring battle scenarios.

The combat encounters are never puzzles with a single solution. The player can simply gain enough levels to overpower the enemy, but he can also utilize various strategies that might prove effective, e.g., the undead are extremely weak to phoenix downs/elixirs/healing magic, but they’re also susceptible to fire and can be dispatched with simple physical attacks. Of course daring players can simply choose to run away from standard encounters and only fight the bosses, but it’s a bit tricky to pull off.

Final Fantasy IV moon The Magical World of Final Fantasy IV

A pretty obvious spoiler: you end up going to the moon!

The internal logic of all the items, spells and abilities is quite consistent and gives depth to the world, but it also shines through in other areas of the game. My favourite example of this is how often spells are cast outside of combat (especially considering the abstract nature of the battles and how separate they are from the rest of the game): Palom and Porom use the petrifying “Break” to turn into statues and save the party from a deadly trap, Rydia melts a blockade of ice once she gets past her traumatic aversion to fire spells, the citizens of Mysidia exact revenge on the protagonist by turning him into a pig and other “polymorph” critters, etc.

FF IV is a relatively simple RPG by today’s standards, but its overall structure still holds up. In fact, I prefer its setup to most current entires in the genre, but if you want to (re)check it out, I’d first recommend reading up on the various version differences. Whichever one you choose, though, you’ll get a nice little world to explore.

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  1. #1 by justradek on October 17, 2010 - 1:28 am

    [SB] The magical world of Final Fantasy IV. – http://www.significant-bits.com/magical-

  2. #2 by TellahLover on October 16, 2010 - 10:17 pm

    Tellah was the best and having him not be able to cast Meteor because he never had enough MP was a cool touch!

  3. #3 by TellahLover on October 17, 2010 - 10:35 am

    It’s also impossible to say anything about Final Fantasy without arguing over which one is better so I’ll just say it – VI then IV then VII.

    • #4 by timminy on October 17, 2010 - 11:50 am

      you have nostalgia for the SNES ones while I have nostalgia for VII as it was the first one I played, and still the one I enjoy the most.

    • #5 by TellahLover on October 17, 2010 - 12:02 pm

      See!

  4. #6 by Martin Boussard on October 17, 2010 - 12:04 pm

    Cool, now do one of these for FFVI/FFVII/Chrono Trigger etc! Im sure some points would be common but it could be worth a shot!

  5. #8 by Pluto249 on October 17, 2010 - 12:22 pm

    so which ff is your favorite and which version of 4 is best?

    • #9 by The Management on October 17, 2010 - 2:00 pm

      I enjoyed VII despite its flaws, and I’ll always have a soft spot for IV, but VI is probably my favourite.

      As for which version of FFIV is the best, well, that’s somewhat subjective. I’d recommend the GBA release simply as it retains the quick pace and feel of the original, but with a bunch of new extras.

  6. #10 by richtaur on October 26, 2010 - 7:12 pm

    This is one of my all-time favorite games. I beat the original 4-5 times and many of the remakes as well (recently the DS version). Good stuff!

  7. #11 by evilseven on December 15, 2010 - 4:58 pm

    That is really an excellent and original article! I enjoyed reading it very much. And as Mr. Boussard already mentioned, it would be cool to have this for other games as well.

    • #12 by The Management on December 15, 2010 - 5:11 pm

      It’s somewhat difficult putting together an article on what makes these games stand out as it’s often a plethora of virtually unrelated points. Like I mentioned above, I might do another one of these if I ever replay more nostalgic RPGs, but it’s a rather time consuming endeavour.

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