Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light ReviewJoe Shaffer
I've been saying for a while that Square Enix should release a completely new Final Fantasy game with a retro vibe. As it turns out, such a title did come out a few years ago, so what did I do?
Buy it, put it in my backlog tote, and forget about it. For shame..... I should have liberated the game, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light from its confines sooner and experienced the greatness before 3DS became Nintendo's portable standard. I say this because it's a terrific title and doesn't deserve to be shoved into the darkest depths of my "play it ten years later" box.
The game doesn't rehash ancient events as a remake or reimagining might, but presents a fresh conflict and campaign. The first half of the title involves switching between four heroes at various points in the storyline, guiding them to a climactic event in which the quartet assembles for the betterment of their world, which has fallen under the grim shadow of an old, familiar foe. There's a tiny bit of exposition in the beginning, which kicks off with the warrior Brandt paying a visit to his king, discovering that the princess has been abducted by a witch, and receiving his majesty's blessing to kick some sorceress tail. Yeah, it's your typical damsel in distress setup, but the game evolves beyond that. You eventually unite with the princess' bodyguard, Yunita, and another combatant, Jusqua, before teaming with the royal one herself. As it turns out, despite her bratty attitude, she can hold her own pretty well.
Defeating the witch initiates the age old job system seen in several other Final Fantasy titles, but with some twists. For one thing, some of the jobs have been tweaked and are now based on a collection of hats your characters don. Fighter, for instance, is neither a primary job nor one that relies on swordsmanship. Rather, a fighter is the same as a monk in previous installments, meaning he causes more damage with his bare fists than with weaponry. Some support jobs that might've been considered somewhat worthless in earlier titles are actually quite useful this time around, especially the elementalist, who can dull or even nullify elemental magic by casting protective buffs and barriers on all of your characters.
Beefing up jobs no longer requires job points. Instead, you have to amass a healthy supply of gems to place on your hats. Should a hat receive all of the gems it requires, it will level up for that particular character and grant him or her new commands. The black mage, for example, receives a few commands that boost the effectiveness of his spells, as well as the ability to reflect magic back at opponents.
The jobs you select can make or break your performance in many circumstances. A good example: having an elementalist while fighting the boss Mammon pretty much renders her attacks null and void, especially if your party wields water-based shields. It's therefore best to experiment with various jobs by powering them up and seeing what the plethora of new commands available can do for you.
Once you've got that down, it's time to choose commands. One thing you should take into account is the new battle system, which involves the use of action points (AP). You see, the game doesn't have magic points or anything similar. Each character has up to five AP, which they spend anytime they execute a command, even "Fight." Costs tend to depend on your job, as casting white or black magic when you're not that particular color of mage expends an extra AP per use. Dread not if you run out of AP, though. You gain two per turn, plus you can use a "Boost" command to defend yourself for a round while replenishing your AP.
These two systems come together very well and present a mode of combat that's innovative to the series, yet it doesn't diminish 4 Heroes of Light's faux-retro feel.
All too often I hear this game being compared to Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, a title that serves as a beginner's RPG that offers little in the way of challenge or strategic gameplay. 4 Heroes, on the other hand, provides you with oodles of variables to consider and plenty of means to customize your party to your liking as well as to suit a new threat, not to mention a few challenging boss encounters. Yeah, this game is more about party building and rolling with the punches than it is about engaging in banal battles while fulfilling an everyday quest, as you do in the aforementioned spin-off, so I don't see how the two even compare.
Like any throwback worth its salt, 4 Heroes doesn't hold your hand. You receive some hints regarding where to travel to next in the campaign, but it's not always obvious. Of course, it doesn't involve too much guess work; just a lot of talking to NPCs. This is what older RPGs were all about. You didn't exchange stilted dialogue with some central character in a storyline cutscene who happened to hint at where you needed to mosey to next. Instead, you need to gather intel and rely on your wits.
If there's one complaint I have, it's that the game can be grindy at times. Occasionally you'll run afoul of a boss you can't overcome or equipment you can't afford and need to step back to grind or farm gems. Boosting your levels doesn't do you much good, since enemies scale according to your prowess. However, you stand only to gain by purchasing new equipment and spell books whilst leveling up your jobs, and that requires ages of killing and gathering gems (not to mention selling them for cash, since adversaries don't drop gil).
Visually speaking, the game could also stand to improve. Although Square tried to splice the old school look with newer visuals, the result of attempting to blend the two styles is a messy, pixelated pile of grossness. Herbage doesn't look lush so much as twisted and gnarled, and character models are dated well beyond what a DS title should feature. I know that this is expected from a wanna-be vintage game, but I wish that Square would have committed to one side and not so much to the other. Either give us 2D sprites, a la Final Fantasy IV, or produce more contemporary visuals. Meshing the two such as they did looks awful.
Regardless of those two hiccups, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a recommended title. It gives you old school concepts by refusing to hold your hand, telling a minimalistic story, and featuring a snappy, easy to use combat system. At the same time, there's strategic value in the many boss encounters the game has in store for you, bolstered by its robust job system and wonderful action point-based battles. It may not be the best new game to bear the legendary moniker, but it's still a huge improvement over some of the other Final Fantasy titles Square Enix has been cranking out.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.