The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 14
It’s all over but the shouting now. If you’ve managed to build a party that could reach this far into the final dungeon of The After Years, you’ve gotten everything on lockdown. Time to wrap up what has been one of the most bizarrely drawn-out sequels in the franchise, which is saying something when there are only three games in the franchise that have had actual, direct sequels at all.
The problem I have, of course, is that there are really two stories being told through the game. The first is the overarching plot regarding the Mysterious Girl, the Crystals, and so forth. That’s about 50% interesting and 50% rehashes. The second, though, are the individual stories with bits of character development and so forth. For reasons known only to the designers, the conclusion basically abandons those individual stories altogether, despite the fact that the individual tales sort of left them halfway to being finished. Instead of bulking out this conclusion with those smaller resolutions, well, you read the last column. It was bulked out with 20-odd bosses.
I don’t doubt that the designers had considered just moving on through games, but no, it’s time to reach the final destination of the game. The next few floors are technological and polished, still contributing to the feel that this game is some strange hybrid of Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy, but after just a bit more exploration the group runs into the Mysterious Girl yet again. And while we’ve gotten most of the Eidolons back, there’s one obvious one missing.
This Bahamut fight could, in theory, be difficult. However, with Porom’s dualcast and the sheer power level of the group now, he’s not all that bad. With all of the Eidolons freed under Rydia, Leviathan and Asura jump in and manage to help Bahamut break free in the end. Stepping beyond, we encounter the only enemy in the last portions of the game – endless copies of the Mysterious Girl, the Maenads. We soon come to a hallway through of Maenads, speaking without drive, and then encounter a room full of Maenads sleeping in pods.
Congratulations, guy. Someone said “we need a sequel to Final Fantasy IV” and someone said “can we do Rei Ayanami but a villain? That would be good, right?” And then everyone let you do that. This is what was made here. Great job.
We encounter a child Maenad, who robotically asks for orders from Rydia, which confuses her. The next room in contains the planet’s Crystals and several more Crystals, which is… disconcerting, yes. Retrieve the crystals, then it’s time to follow a quick enemy-free march to the bottom of the depths where you meet the Creator. According to him, he’s the source of the Crystals as keepers of wisdom, records of evolving life, blah blah blah. Long story short, the world is a petri dish, the planet of FFIV wasn’t doing well enough, he’s shutting the experiment down.
It’s a good enough bit of backstory, but it kind of contradicts what was already established with the last game. The Creator goes on to explain that he comes from a race that had sought a new planet but had continually refined itself, culminating in his efforts to try and figure out how his race should have developed instead of how they did. You know, usual boss-fight preamble. The first several fights are thoroughly underwhelming, until we finally reach his major what-the-hell-is-that form after several previous battles.
The game then… recycles the climax of the first game. People pray, crystals light up, use the crystals, yes. All of that.
Beating up his final form feels, well, like a generic final boss. He has some big impressive attacks and all, but they’re not really distinct or unique. It feels a bit unfinished, I suppose, a big bad to have a big bad. He’s also not too hard, especially with Porom’s Dualcast support and his love of changing his elemental weakness, which I will note I’m not trying to hit in the first place. He’s a perfectly acceptable last boss, but he doesn’t feel nearly as connected to the story as the villains of the first three games.
Once the boss is down, the moon starts collapsing, at which point the group starts fleeing while periodically fighting off the Creator. (It’s not hard, he lost most of his attacks and largely hurts himself.) The gang meets the Maenad child from before as the Creator attacks again, and then the Maenads suddenly band together to fight off the Creator for the group. The various Maenads you encounter tell you to take the child, that the child represents them, and that they’re aghast at what the Creator has done. If you feel like you kind of walked in late to a film, I don’t blame you. It’s a neat sequence in theory, though.
Eventually, the Creator dies again, thanking the group for reasons not terribly well explained. I think the idea here was that the Creator was happy to be freed of the endless destructive experimentation, but it’s never really established.
Back on the Blue Planet, there are apparently no long-term damaging effects caused by the near-collision of the new moon with the planet and the dissolving planet somehow flies away instead of, like, exploding. Then it’s time for endings. Leonora returns to Troia but hints that she’s not ready to be an Epopt yet, while over in Mysidia the Elder leaves the town in the hands of Palom and Porom. Leonora shows up and says she’s left the Epopts behind, instead choosing to train and become a sage herself. It’s actually a nice bit of character development, the sort of smaller personal story that the game seemed to be hinting at originally.
Luca and Cid get a minor epilogue that doesn’t say much of anything about them, sadly. Ursula is training under Yang, Edward and Harley are still doing like they do in Damcyan, Edge continues to ignore his ninja. In Mist, the Maenad girl has been named Cuore and is living with Rydia, with Edge heading over to visit as if nothing has happened. Last but not least we head back to Baron to see Ceodore and Cecil sparring until Kain breaks up the match, with Kain acting as the new Red Wing captain in charge of Ceodore.
Oh, and Golbez is out in the Lunar Whale being all lonely and isolated, because that’s great. The Red Wings are off to help the nations of the world rebuild after Baron and the moon bashed them about again, and the ending is finally here. In other words, the conclusion of the story has almost everyone in exactly the same place as they started, which makes the past several hours a complete waste of time! How great.
Honestly, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is a mixed bag in a lot of places, and not just because the whole thing circles around to nothing. The early hints at being a game focused more on smaller, personal stories erodes pretty quickly in favor of a plot that retells the original game rather weakly, and the fun echoes of the original quickly fade away in light of trotting out setpieces from the original over and over. The episodic format is really keen in theory, but in practice it just means that the plot as a whole winds up taking place over a week or so of in-game time.
In places, it’s a lot better than its predecessor. Most of the second generation characters are more interesting than their predecessors. If anything, the need for an overarching plot tying everything together hurt the game as a whole, because it meant that we were focused on rehashed points rather than getting to explore the lives of these characters seventeen years later.
So that’s Final Fantasy IV as a whole. It’s not great. It’s not terrible, either, but unfortunately it lacks what made its predecessors so unique and nifty. Rather than being series defining, it mostly just solidified stuff in the lore of the franchise, and its sequel kind of ambled around until it hit its running time. Some moments of brilliance, but not nearly enough.
You honestly don’t need to play it at this point, because there are later titles that do everything this one did, only better and with more panache. It doesn’t have the charmingly broken qualities of Final Fantasy II or the flashes of inspiration in Final Fantasy III. If not for when it came out, it’d be entirely forgettable, something that makes it a rarity in the series. But at least it wound up giving me Ursula and Luca eventually, so that was pretty great.