With so many great games on the E3 show floor, it was difficult to find the time to get in some solid playing time on them all. But of all the titles I was fortunate enough to get to play during the E3 show, it was Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light that I found myself going back to time and time again whenever I had a free moment in between booth visits. I think I actually even sprinted there a couple of times without fully realizing I was doing it and the Square-Enix reps threatened to close the booth entirely if I came back one more time.
The same team that developed the Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV remakes for the Nintendo DS have come together to develop a brand-new and completely original Final Fantasy title for the system. And while there are certainly similarities between the remakes and this new game, for the most part they've managed to create something so unique and enjoyable that it's not really fair to even compare the two.
The first thing you'll notice about The 4 Heroes of Light is the unique storybook visual style the game makes use of. It's a bit of a cel-shaded look with very soft pastel colors used to bring the scenery to life. It's actually quite stunning to look at and gives the game a fresh visual approach that really draws you into the game's world. The characters and enemies once again use a similar 3D graphics style like the one used in the two Final Fantasy remakes, but there seems to be a little more smoothness and detail in this newest title. Even the backdrops seen during combat feature a nice level of polish that even further draws you into your surroundings.
As if a brand new visual style wasn't enough of an improvement, the game's musical score is equally up to the task. There's still plenty of orchestrated musical tracks to go around, but there are also a lot of soft string-based music that tends to increase the range of moods you'll experience during your travels. The voice acting is extremely well executed and adds a personal touch to the storyline that's unfolding throughout the game. In all honesty, about the only complaint to be found with the audio presentation of The 4 Heroes of Light was having trouble hearing it clearly with all of the outside noise of other E3 titles blaring in close proximity to the Square-Enix booth.
It would have been quite easy for the developers to just stick with the familiar combat system already used in the previous Final Fantasy remakes, so it was a nice surprise to see so many new gameplay elements brought into play for this new release. While the combat system initially feels a little bit too simplified, you'll quickly find out just how deep it can be as you get further into customizing your characters using the Job Crown System. What this does is allow you to outfit your characters with special hats that can be customized with gems in a wide variety of ways, each giving your characters varying types of special attacks and magical skills. With an almost limitless number of ways with which to customize your characters, you'll soon find out just how integral this part of the game can be when it comes to readying your characters for combat, especially against the game's tougher enemies and bosses.
Another unique feature of The 4 Heroes of Light is the ability to bring in up to three more players for a little multiplayer action. The gameplay remains fairly similar to the single-player system, but it's a nice touch for players who like to get their friends involved in the action, not to mention can make traversing some of the game's more difficult sections a bit more manageable.
There's no denying the familiar feeling the game has and gamers who've played either of the previous Final Fantasy remakes should have no trouble at all jumping into the adventure. The battle system is extremely intuitive and easy to navigate, as is customizing your character's weapons, armor, and Job Crowns, leaving you more time to concentrate on the game's challenges instead of fumbling with a bunch of clunky menus and play controls. All in all, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-playing RPG available on the DS and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light could end up being one of the finest role-playing experiences to hit the DS and a fitting way to begin closing out a DS RPG library that's featured some truly amazing adventures. Now comes the grueling wait for its October 5th North American release date.