Having already had success with its two previous Final Fantasy DS remakes, Matrix Software decided to take a fairly different approach for the brand new and completely original Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. While some of the basic gameplay elements were carried over, the game received a fairly significant visual makeover, not to mention a host of new gameplay twists to give it quite a unique look and feel. Now the only question is, what will fans of the previous titles think of this radical reworking?
If you've played any of the two previous Final Fantasy titles on the DS, you should feel right at home with the basic layout of the game. As with most RPGs of this kind, you'll spend a lot of your time moving around on the world map, doing battle with a constant barrage of random enemies in order to earn gems and experience points for your characters. Along the way you'll visit many towns and dungeons where you'll be able to outfit your characters with better equipment and talk to people in order to gain valuable clues for your adventure. You'll even be able to see the time change from day to night and back frequently as you travel around the world map, something that can not only affect what monsters you'll face, but what shops will be open in towns at various times of day and night.
The biggest gameplay twists would have to be those found in the game's combat system. While it's still completely turn-based, your characters no longer have the ability to target individual enemies or use items and spells on individual characters in your party. Instead, you're given a basic set of three commands: Attack, Boost and Items, to choose from along with a host of spells and special abilities that you can set up. Every action you take will cost you a certain number of Action Points, and given that your characters only have a limited number of them available, you'll have to be careful what actions you choose during each round. You can choose to Boost during a round which will increase that particular character's number of Action Point, and as a general rule the more powerful the special ability or spell is, the more Action Points it costs to perform. You'll soon find that this system requires a great deal of balance and strategy in order to be successful in battle.
As with most RPGs, you'll be able to constantly upgrade your character's equipment throughout the game, but there's also a new feature called the Crown Job System that adds in an interesting twist. As you progress through the game you'll gain new Crowns that can be worn by your characters. When you place a Crown on a character it adds special abilities to their arsenal. You'll even be able to upgrade these Crowns, not to mention certain pieces of equipment, using various types of gems that you collect by defeating enemies in battle. Each time you upgrade a Crown, it will make a new ability available that can be set up and used. You'll have to experiment with different Crowns in order to find the ones that work best for your current situation, not to mention chase down specific gems needed in order to upgrade them.
If you're feeling a little lonely on your adventure, you can even stop by a Wireless Hub in towns you visit in order to play a multiplayer game. This can be a fun way to get other local players involved and is a great way to earn Battle Points that can be spent on useful items and equipment, some much stronger than you'd be able to purchase in regular shops. It definitely gives you some incentive to try the mode out, especially early on in the adventure.
Some fans will find the simplified battle engine a bit limiting at first, but it's really something that you'll have to warm up to as the battles become more intricate and challenging. The game's difficulty does spike quite often throughout the game, so you will have to spend some time level grinding and earning money for better equipment from time to time. Fortunately, the controls are extremely smooth and responsive and the ability to use the touchscreen for most of the game is a nice feature, although one that doesn't always work as intuitively as the standard button controls do. The developers have put together a very solid gameplay system, bit it is one that gamers will have to become familiar with before they'll truly begin to appreciate it.
The best way to describe the visual experience in the game is to liken it to a storybook. The game features a very colorful cel-shaded look that really makes the world spring to life. Everything you see looks almost like it was hand-painted directly onto the screen. Even the characters show a nice level of detail and animation, although gamers more accustomed to the 2D look of many DS RPGs might find them a tad blocky in their design. The developers have been able to include a ton of variety between the various areas you'll visit throughout the game and you'll rarely see the same visual stylings twice. It's clear the team wanted to create a very unique visual experience to go along with its innovative gameplay designs and it goes a long way in carrying the light-hearted theme the game employs.
Final Fantasy games have always been well-known for their amazing musical scores and The 4 Heroes of Light is certainly no exception. You'll get a wealth of synthesized musical tracks throughout your adventure and each one seems to fit the area it's being played in to perfection. Everything from soft ballads to up-tempo battle themes, there's something for everyone's taste in this game. It's easily one of the better Final Fantasy soundtracks, and hands-down the best available on the DS system to date. It might have been nice to have a little voice acting to further bring the game's storybook world to life, but it's difficult to complain given the high quality of every other area of the game.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is certainly an interesting experience when it comes to many of its unique gameplay mechanics, but the game's overflowing sense of charm and hardcore level of challenge make it an irresistible experience for seasoned RPG fans. Sure the game does simplify many of the traditional RPG elements a bit, but those who'll give it a chance and learn how to put them to good use will likely find a game that's every bit as strategic and challenging as past turn-based RPG offerings, maybe even more so. At the very least you'll get to experience one of the most engaging Final Fantasy story lines the series has seen, not to mention one of the most exceptional RPGs available for the system.