Community Review: A retrospective look at Final Fantasy IV, by upmagic
(continued from previous page) ...where you do win the race, reach the next Crystal, and defeat Golbez in a clean fight, he takes it anyway.
But the silly drama plays to its advantage, sending you all over the globe - beneath its surface and atop its mountains - in a smoothly told tale that grants early access to airships, a hovercraft, and other forms of speedy travel. The pace of it all shuffles your battle party at every opportunity, and this character variety will revitalize your spirits before you trudge through another quagmire of constant battle transitioning. Cecil will first be accompanied by two spunky mage children, then a sappy bard that confuses enemies with his harp, before an airship mechanic that the story will later exchange for a disciplined martial artist.
Their move sets are varied but little of their talent is actually compatible with the unforgiving difficulty. The white mage, Rosa, has entire pages worth of support magic, but you'll only need to touch a handful of spells -- the healing ones. Half of the battles you trip over are "back attacks" or ambushes that give free volleys to your opponents, further requiring you to focus on nothing but rigorous upkeep. Bosses challenge how fast you can select heavy healing magic off the menus, where even attempting to revive a fallen ally may not be worth the time it lends to an actively turn-taking enemy.
In this manner, enemies force otherwise interesting characters to be seen merely as healing batteries or damage sponges. They become forgettable, and don't benefit from their lighting-fast introductions or attempts at dramatic sincerity, either. Meeting someone new is routinely followed by the heroic death of a previous comrade you were just getting comfortable with. This incessant depiction of noble sacrifice soon becomes unintentionally hilarious; watching sprites you barely got much use out of jump onto explosions and off ledges, crying to the success of Cecil's mission in a wholehearted failure to evoke something through their vain and sudden decisions.
The algorithmic emotion ends up falling in line with the numbers game that Final Fantasy IV truly comes off as: a hypnotic dungeon crawl where melodic themes nest in your mind as you work up a party worthy of presenting to the next boss. A well-mapped adventure filled with grueling struggle, it proves as addicting as it is unmemorable; a game where becoming a righteous Paladin is more meaningful for its addition to your banks of healing magic than as a turning point of the experience.
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