The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 1

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

So, let’s recap briefly.  Long after the original Final Fantasy IV release, Square decides to greenlight a remake of the game for the DS.  Seems straightforward enough.  But someone had an idea that tied into an experiment with episodic gaming.  What if there was a sequel, one that told a new story altogether?  What if players could download new installments as they came out, picking out individual episodes or watching the whole thing unfold at once?  What then?

Well, we don’t have to wonder; that’s what happened.  A new story was written, new characters created, and the episodes began coming out.  So here we are with the PSP version, which collections all of them into a single packaged form.  I mentioned back when I started the interquel between the two that I quite like the fact that rather than a straight sequel, this one puts quite a bit of distance between the events of the original and the events of the sequel; they’re connected by world and by several characters, but not by conflict.

At its core, the game is, as mentioned, an episodic outing, like -Interlude- only more so.  Each installment is a given character’s starring moment, with the characters only coming together in the finale; you can then import everything you earned from the earlier installments into the final outing, thus ensuring that progress in one carries over without the whole thing becoming a monolithic slog.  And they wind up being sort of like RPGs in bite-sized format, letting you get all the way through, level up, and beat the end… only to do it again with the next one.

That’s the ideal, anyway, and it’s a clever one.  How does the practice shake down?

We start with a little preamble on a pure blue screen, a bit of a callback to Final Fantasy I.  It also calls back to the idea of the twin moons in the sky, which only makes me think of Final Fantasy XIV, which I’ll get to in many, many years.  More relevantly, the prince of Baron is the focus of our first story: Ceodore’s Tale – The Last of the Red Wings.

Especially when they both have the personality of wet cardboard.

Parents just don’t understand.

Ceodore is on an airship headed to the Adamant Isle, with several of the soldiers mentioning that his father Cecil took the same trial back in the day.  Captain Biggs is apparently not particularly fond of Ceodore, which makes some amount of sense, seeing as how Ceodore is a prince and if anything bad happens to him it’s going to be Biggs’ ass.  Once the ship lands on the island, a brief explanation of the moon phases is given, followed by a chance to explore and… well, you know.  Pilfer stuff, go outside, grind.  Ceodore’s freaking level 1, dude.

Leveling a bit outside of the town is made substantially easier through the addition of a recharge point on the airship, and as I’m relatively certain Cecil mentioned the important of free recharge points to his son, I suppose this should qualify as the trial of a knight.  I went ahead and got him to level 10 before moving on; it felt nicely circular.  Then I went to sleep at the inn.  That advanced the state of the moon, and Ceodore set out for the grotto where Captain Biggs awaited.  After a bit more verbal abuse, it’s into the cave!

Yes, it’s as tutorial-cave-y as the first game’s passage the Mist, all right.  A quick pair of demo battles show off how Bands work (essentially, they’re multi-person techniques a la combo attacks from Chrono Trigger) and how the moon affects battles.  Then it’s the usual dungeon stuff without much else to be said.  Nothing in here poses much of a threat, even when Biggs and Wedge leave the party after the first area.

Interestingly, there are more save points in general here, but less impetus to use a Tent at every single one since that advances the moon.

At the bottom of the dungeon, Ceodore sees the chest containing the Knight’s Emblem, but it’s being guarded by a Sand Worm.  I say “guarded” only in the loosest sense, of course; it hits like a chump right up until the game is scripted to have it Whirlwind you down to 1 HP.  Biggs and Wedge rush in to help, but Ceodore insists the fight is for him and him alone, and he uses Awaken to restore his HP and get a stat boost.  (It’s sort of Terra’s Morph from FFVI in micro.)  Ceodore collapses, Wedge helps him get up, everything is super great.

With the trial complete, the group heads back toward Baron, with Biggs explaining that the emblem itself was nothing but a mummified rat’s tail.  (What is with this series and rodent tails?)  You know, the real test is of resolve, and so forth.  The conversation is cut short when monsters suddenly attack the airship, prompting another (fairly straightforward) boss-ish encounter.  The horde assaults the ship, while back in Baron Cecil does his usual “Rosa, you stay here while I go do man things” after the scene cuts over to a similar attack on the city.

Although a few minutes wandering the overworld did that pretty well, too.

“They only, you know, raised me with plenty of money and status so I could choose to be pretty much anything and had enough leisure time to train up my ability with a sword.”

Cecil starts getting into a few scripted battles, and while he doesn’t kill things in one hit he’s functionally invulnerable.  He saves a couple of citizens, fights off more monsters, and Rosa rushes up to try and help him.  Cecil agrees so long as she promises to run if necessary, for Ceodore’s sake.  A look into the sky shows that the second moon has returned once again, at which point the scene begins cutting between the many other cast members from the original game and showing their situations in brief.

Look, I don’t care for most of these characters, but I do think this is neat.  It has some extra impact if you’ve played the original, but it actually works even if you’ve never played Final Fantasy IV and just know that several of these characters adventured before.

Cid joins the party as well, and his beard now threatens to engulf small forest creatures.  The group then launches into a string of battles against monsters, each of which wears the team down a bit more.  It’s nicely handled, really – it doesn’t feel like the game is overwhelming you, but neither does it seem like your group is getting nervous over trivial foes.  Cecil eventually asks Cid to take Rosa and get to safety while he holds the monsters off as long as possible.  Then Bahamut flies down, carrying Not-Rydia with it…

Yeah, that’s not a fight Cecil can win.  Time to get roasted and take a dive, taking a moment to unequip his sword and shield first because of course we do.

The airship is taking heavy fire, and we see Ceodore get injured followed by Biggs diving on top of him as the ship goes out of control.  In the Feymarch, the Eidolon King and Queen send Rydia away before Not-Rydia arrives, declaring her intent to take the couple’s power and then petrifying them both.  The Tower of Babil reactivates near Castle Eblan and in the dwarven lands.

We cut to the airship wreckage, where we see that Ceodore has survived… but no one else has.  Biggs, clinging to life, flashes back to the opening of FFIV and serving under Cecil when he was still a Dark Knight.  He gives Ceodore an order as the last of the Red Wings – get back to Baron.  Ceodore acquiesces, apologizing for not being a better soldier even as Biggs apologizes for not getting his prince back to his home.

Title of this chapter seems pretty appropriate now, really.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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