We've already seen companies like Capcom and Konami resurrect classic franchises on the WiiWare service, many using the classic 8 and 16-bit visuals found in the original titles to give them even more retro appeal. So it should come as no surprise that Square Enix has also seen fit to bring back their classic 16-bit era Final Fantasy world on WiiWare, complete with matching visuals and game play. But does this nostalgic release live up to the high standards of the Final Fantasy name, and will gamers be willing to shell out their hard-earned Nintendo Points for so many add-on packs in order to get the full RPG experience out of this release?
Fans of the original 16-bit Final Fantasy titles will feel right at home with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years as much of the title's game play techniques are taken directly from those two releases. While the majority of the look and feel of the game is taken directly from the original Final Fantasy IV and the Active Time Battle (ATB) system from Final Fantasy VI also makes a return, giving the combat engine a slightly more intricate feel to it. What this means is that you have to wait for your character's ATB gauges to fill up before they will be available to use in battle each turn. You can choose to have the game stop time during battle selections or keep time flowing in real time. As with most early Final Fantasy titles, combat is menu-driven and allows your characters to unleash both physical and magical attacks at enemies. Some enemies are more vulnerable to certain types of attacks and it's up to you to figure out which form of offense works best in any given situation.
You'll move around on the Field Map where you'll encounter random enemy attacks as you travel from place to place. You'll even be able to use vehicles like the Airship or Chocobos to move around the Field Map with a bit more speed and purpose at certain times throughout the game. As you travel from town to town, you'll have to take on various challenges and tackle the game's many dungeons. You'll also have to spend some time leveling your characters up and purchasing better armor and weapons if you're to have any success against some of the game's tougher enemies. As you'll quickly find out, the difficulty level in the game doesn't take long to ramp up.
While Square Enix managed to keep many of the original game play elements from the 16-bit titles intact in this new release, they also included a few new elements to liven things up. One of these is the Moon Phase function. Time is kept throughout the game using various phases of the moon. These phases also affect your physical and magical abilities as well, so you always have to be aware of what moon phase you're currently playing under when you take part in battle. Another new element comes in the form of the Bands attack. These special attacks involve multiple characters and can be particularly effective against large groups of enemies. You'll learn some of your Bands as the game progresses, but you can also try various combination of characters and battle commands to stumble upon new Bands during battle. Once learned, you can then make use of these Bands at will during combat as long as you have enough MP points to execute them. So as effective as the classic game play system is, these new additions do a lot to add a nice layer of freshness to the overall experience. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even get three other players to take control of each one of the other characters in your party during battles and have a little cooperative multiplayer action.
This main game is the meat of the story, but if you want to experience everything the game has to offer, you'll have to purchase the add-on Character Tales in order to experience the storyline in its entirety. While this offers a huge amount of added game play to the main title, it will also cost you an extra 300 Nintendo Points per Character Tale, not to mention another 800 Nintendo Points for the final story add-on. That means if you want to play through every part of the game, it's going to cost you a whopping 3700 Nintendo Points to do so - certainly not cheap considering this is, after all, a WiiWare release.
The visuals in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years look like they were plucked straight out of the 16-bit era, which is a good and bad thing, depending on your viewpoint. For some gamers, the nostalgic look of the game will be more appealing than to those who've become a bit spoiled with the recent updates that have appeared on the DS system. It would be difficult to fault Square Enix for keeping with the classic look considering that's really the main draw of this release in the first place, but a bit more visual flash still might have been nice. There are at least a few interesting special effects strung around various part of the game, so they tend to keep things interesting during those times when certain sections start looking a bit bland.
Final Fantasy titles have long been revered for their amazing musical scores, and while there are plenty of the classic Final Fantasy tunes strung throughout this title, the original compositions lack some of that catchy appeal found in the retro tracks. There's plenty of variety in the musical pieces, with everything from uptempo numbers during battle to some of the more moodier compositions during some of the more dramatic moments of the game, but ultimately they just feel a bit uninspired and generic at times. It's nothing to get overly bent out of shape over, but it's something that seems to stick out when compared to the amazingly high quality soundtracks of past Final Fantasy titles.
Fans of the 16-bit Final Fantasy releases should find plenty to wrap themselves around in this continuation of the Final Fantasy IV storyline. The game offers quite a bit of length and game play for your 800 Wii Points, but having to purchase additional packs in order to enjoy the side stories is obviously going to rub some gamers the wrong way, especially considering that there are eight additional packs to buy in order to wrap up the entire story line. If you appreciate retro visuals and 'traditional' RPG game play then this is obviously a game you'll want to consider, but those of you looking for a more modern Final Fantasy experience might want to spend your hard-earned pennies elsewhere. The classic game play elements on display here might prove to be a bit too simplistic for modern RPG fans, even with the new game play additions.