Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection Review
Final Fantasy IV isn’t the most beloved of Square’s RPGs, but it's up there. Most fans would probably consider it in the top three or five, keeping company with the likes of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. From an American perspective, it was one of the first console RPGs to offer more than a long, slow grind for experience points and gold. It introduced an epic story, fleshed-out characters, and the non-stop pace that would come to define future Final Fantasy adventures.
That prestigious reputation makes it hard to look over this remake and tell what’s wrong with it. Final Fantasy IV with sharper PSP graphics? How could there be any problem with that? As it turns out, bringing a classic game like this one into the modern age of technology isn't so easy--especially when it gets stuck halfway through the process.
This Complete Collection is a bit of a complicated package. For starters, it includes the original game, made over with higher-resolution graphics. The old adventure also features a re-arranged soundtrack, but players can toggle back and forth between the new music and the original tunes. Tacked on the back end of the quest is a higher-res version of The After Years, a sequel adventure of sorts that was originally designed for Japanese mobile phones and later re-released in for Nintendo’s WiiWare download service. Finally, a gallery mode gives fans some extra material to peruse: high-res versions of Yoshitaka Amano’s character designs and promotional artwork, a sound test, and other nifty little odds and ends.
It’s an awful lot of content, to be sure. The original game is the real core, though, and this PSP remake doesn’t do it any favors. The new graphics look sharper, but they don’t actually look any better.
The character sprites are the most obvious problem. They look like … well, like 16-bit sprites that have been awkwardly jacked up to a level of resolution that they were never designed for. Technical limitations helped define the visual style of the Super Nintendo game. In their original form, the character sprites were carefully crafted to use exactly as many pixels and colors as the hardware allowed. Each dot’s worth of detail was placed precisely where it needed to go. A stylistic quirk like the garish, big-headed character proportions came about because that was the best way to draw expressive faces within those constraints.
Trying to breach technical generations just makes the sprite artwork look blurry and indistinct. Suddenly there’s no reason for why all the characters are designed and proportioned the way they are. A related problem affects many of the town and field backgrounds, which were originally drawn with proportions and layouts that would give as best an impression of three dimensions as was possible at the time. Throwing them into a higher resolution spoils the effect, and determining how the different layers of background fit together has a nasty tendency of straining the viewer's eyes.
A few aspects of the visual makeover aren’t a complete wash. The monster graphics, for instance, actually look good. Since they were originally drawn in a more realistic, painterly style without any unusual proportions, the high-resolution upgrade doesn't distort them. Nobuo Uematsu’s remixed music is a welcome addition, too, although old school fans may be happy to stick with the 16-bit soundtrack, which still sounds absolutely beautiful.
As a package, though, this Complete Collection is a hard one to recommend. The After Years, perhaps the PSP version’s biggest unique selling point, isn’t any great shakes as a story, and the high-res makeover gives it some of the same visual hang-ups as the central quest.
Since gamers have several choices in revisiting the original game, you might not have to endure these disadvantages. There are at least four different ways to play Final Fantasy IV out there, not counting the dusty old Super Nintendo cartridge: a Game Boy Advance version, a Nintendo DS remake, a Wii Virtual Console download, and the PlayStation Final Fantasy Chronicles compilation. The last one is even still in production, unlike a lot of classic PlayStation RPGs. (Import freaks may also pipe up about the Japanese mobile phone and WonderSwan Color versions, but we trust that the point is made.)
All of those other versions, by and large, leave the original game alone, and it’s a better experience that way. Final Fantasy IV is an adventure that doesn’t need any help surviving the test of time.