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Jahanzeb Khan
04 Oct, 2010

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light Review

DS Review | The heart of Final Fantasy.
There was a time when Final Fantasy was a series that only a select few knew about in the West, and it was an acquired taste. It used to almost be as niche and obscure as the Shin Megami Tensei series and Disgaea series. Things however soon changed with the release of Final Fantasy VII, because it was then when it became a massive commercial hit that everyone knew and talked about. Since then the series has become one of the best selling and well-known franchises in the industry, topping the charts and getting mass media attention. With the release of Final Fantasy XIII, a lot of fans have come to realise that the series clearly isn’t what it used to be because of all the big-budget production values, cinematography, androgynous and whiny male characters, simplified action-oriented battle systems and linear progression. Many people like to believe that Final Fantasy has ‘sold out’ and gone commercial, and has forgotten its values and beliefs. This brings us to the latest title, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light for the Nintendo DS, a game that is not a modern Final Fantasy.

The subtitle ‘The 4 Heroes of Light’ will sound familiar to veterans as the very first Final Fantasy too told a tale of four ‘Light Warriors’. The premise is similar in both games as these four chosen warriors/heroes must embark on a journey to save their world from evil and darkness. One thing worth clearing up is that Final Fantasy The 4 Heroes of Light is not a remake of the first Final Fantasy game, instead it is a ‘reimagining’ of the original title and some may even call it a reboot.

The game starts off much like the original Final Fantasy, a princess has been kidnapped and must be rescued by a young hero, but unlike the first game your adversary this time is a witch. Upon the witch’s defeat and rescuing of the princess, you will find the entire kingdom petrified as a consequence of the princess breaching her contract with the witch. The situation then prompts the 4 Heroes to embark on a journey to save their kingdom. However, these heroes are not like the calm and silent ‘Light Warriors’ who stuck together and worked cohesively as a team, instead they are irrational and for the first half of the game they have a very difficult time getting along and sticking together. So for the first part of the game, you will get to play from each individual Hero’s perspective and meet all sorts of characters. As the story progresses you will come to realise how they are destined for something great, and how the paths they choose help them in their quest to vanquish evil. The plot is very vague and the characterisation is light but effective, the story overall has a very traditional fantasy theme with mystical undertones.

The gameplay of The 4 Heroes of Light is as old school as its premise, a throwback to the traditions and conventions of the past, and the results are a mixed bag. One thing is for certain, the developers did not make any ‘mistakes’ with this, as all the design choices and systems in place are purely deliberate, with the aim being to capture that pure, unadulterated and classic Japanese RPG style gaming experience. For better or for worse, they succeed remarkably in this area.

  
Bringing back the Fantasy in Final Fantasy.

Bringing back the Fantasy in Final Fantasy.
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The game features a classic turn-based battle system that is even more limited and archaic than what we usually see. The first thing you will notice is that the game does not allow you to target your foes; instead, it features an auto targeting system where you choose an action/spell/item and then the game decides the execution for you, such as picking the enemy to cast the spell on and even picking the party member who gets to benefit from a healing spell. This creates a feeling of uncertainty like no other as you pretty much just get to pick actions and hope that the game implements them the way you intended to.

One interesting thing about the battle system is the Action Point system. Action Points are utilised in performing every type of action during battle, from casting spells to using items. You will need to pay careful attention to these points and rack up enough of these to use powerful spells and skills. It’s actually a fairly simple system to get used to and keeps the pace of battles consistent. The most ideal way generate these points is to use the ‘Boost’ (defense) command but there are other ways to generate points (such as with items). Overall, it works out much better than the traditional Magic Point bar system and really makes battles more exciting.

Then you have the usual turn-based battle norms. For example, you have no control over a character’s ability to dodge attacks as this happens purely on random luck. Overall, the battle system of The 4 Heroes of Light pretty much operates on sheer luck, with the player having limited control over the outcome of their actions.

In terms of character customisation, The 4 Heroes of Light has plenty to offer. Throughout the course of the game, you will be collecting enchanted hats called ‘Crowns’, and each Crown will grant a character with unique characteristics and abilities, for example, the Black Mage Crown will allow a player to cast stronger black magic spells at a reduced AP cost, the Bandit Crown will allow a character to steal and acquire better items from fallen foes and the Ranger Crown will allow a character to make better use of bow and arrows. There are 28 Crowns to collect and these can be upgraded using various gems that you will collect from fallen foes. All this will probably remind veterans of the deep and flexible ‘Job System’ of Final Fantasy V, and they will be pleased to know this new Crown system works just as well.

  
The crown system works as well as the job system.

The crown system works as well as the job system.
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The game is structured like a typical Final Fantasy title, with several towns and dungeons to explore, an over-world and even special modes of transport such as a ship and a dragon. RPG fans will find the structure of the game to be very familiar. The towns of the game are large and diverse enough considering it is a DS game, but a lot of time will be spent crawling through monotonous dungeons. As typical as the design is, it suffers from one really annoying flaw that plagued RPGs of the past, which is a lack of clear direction. Throughout the course of the game, you will constantly scratch your head trying to figure out what exactly needs to be done in order to progress the story, and in one section you will likely find yourself running around a town trying to figure out what needs to be done, only to find that you need to ‘talk’ to a cat three times in order to actually progress. The game will drop very vague hints and so it pays to talk to every possible NPC to figure out what to do next.

One interesting component of the game worth mentioning is the ability to transform into animals. It doesn’t grant any new combat abilities, but it does allow you to talk to animals and access new areas. It really makes things interesting. The in-game world also features a few interesting mini games, such as being able to run your own store to earn extra money.

In terms of difficulty, The 4 Heroes of Light is actually fairly moderate, and if you happen to get wiped out during battle, you won’t get greeted with a game over screen, instead you will be taken back to town and only lose some of your gems. However, one design choice makes things quite inconvenient and that is the restricted save system. The 4 Heroes of Light offers only one save slot and there isn’t even a quick save option, something that portable RPGs should ideally have. Another thing that gamers will be annoyed by is the extremely limited inventory capacity that characters have.

The 4 Heroes of Light offers a lengthy quest that is just about the same length as a typical Final Fantasy title (the game doesn’t actually keep track of your time spent) but hardcore players who wish to max out all the crowns and collect all the weapons will get much more out of it.

  
Dragons... you fight 'em and you ride 'em.

Dragons... you fight 'em and you ride 'em.
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Graphically and artistically, The 4 Heroes of Light is really unique and unorthodox. The game has a very fairy tale-like aesthetic and colour tones are very grayish and bright. It actually looks a lot different from the Final Fantasy remakes on DS and is one of the best looking DS games you will see courtesy of its fully 3D world, impressive textures and effects. The character designs are unlike anything you’ve seen in a Final Fantasy title, but the usual super deformed template is still there. The music of this game is fantastic, wonderfully orchestrated and maintains a consistent medieval flair. Overall, The 4 Heroes of Light has a uniquely beautiful fairy tale like aesthetic backed by an impressive graphics engine and stellar music.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light succeeds at what it was meant to do, to recapture and re-imagine the true spirit and essence of Final Fantasy. The only main gripe that most gamers will have is that the game brings in too many outdated design choices such as auto targeting, but these choices in the end are deliberate and are imposed on the player to give them that authentic and traditional Japanese RPG experience. For what it’s worth, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is the most ‘pure’ Final Fantasy title to come out in a long time…we haven’t seen a Final Fantasy title with this much heart and purity since Final Fantasy IX.
The Score
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light successfully captures the pure magic and essence of Final Fantasy. It is a game that is true to the heart and soul of the franchise, for better or for worse.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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6 Comments
3 years ago
Rad review! I've been looking forward to this game, so cant wait to get a copy.

I don't understand why they would create an auto targeting system! Talk about stepping backwards. It sounds like something that would just frustrate the hell out of me.
3 years ago
I loved the Japanese version of this game, although I do have to admit the lack of direction made it sometimes confusing as to what to do next icon_neutral.gif I didn't find the auto targeting system all that annoying though, it added another layer of strategy by taking that power out of your hands and you had to make decisions around the fact you couldn't choose your target...
Can't wait to grab the English version after Uni is over, time for 100% understanding icon_biggrin.gif
3 years ago
The only things from this review I think would really annoy me are the limited inventory (I wanna horde lots of crap, dammit!) and the lack of a quick save. Still, I think I have enough RPG fun to keep me going for a while, so I don't think I'll pick this one up. Looks good, though.
3 years ago
I kinda want this game cause it looks gorgeous, but the "Oldschool traditional jrpg" really turns me off.
3 years ago
Great review, Jahanzeb. It answers pretty much all my questions about the game, and I have to say that I don't think I'll be rushing out to buy this game any time soon. I might possibly buy it one day in the future, but it's not a day one purchase.

FF doesn't mean the same thing to me as it once did ... and even if this is a throwback to the original games in a number of ways, it feels like it's too much of a throwback ... and as if it's a game that has arrived a little too late for me to take much interest in it due to the fact that the series has left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

Still, not all is lost, it's not as if we're hurting for other RPGs to lend our time to.
3 years ago
PALGN wrote
The 4 Heroes of Light offers a lengthy quest that is just about the same length as a typical Final Fantasy title (the game doesn’t actually keep track of your time spent)
The game actually tracks time. You have to talk to Cid in Horne and he'll give you the details.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  08/10/2010 (Confirmed)
Genre:
  RPG

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