Final Fantasy is experiencing an identity crisis at the moment, swinging from the extravagance of XIII to the simplicity of Crystal Chronicles. It’s fair to say the series has lost some of its focus.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a return to the franchise’s roots. It’s a back-to-basics JRPG in a traditional fantasy setting, full of cute characters, random battles, and a sprawling world map to get lost in.
Everything here has been streamlined to boil the series down to its core assets, and it’s this simplicity that lends the game its greatest strengths, but also saddles it with its most glaring weaknesses.Haste
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light really smacks you around the face with its brisk pace. Within minutes of loading up, you’re jostled out of bed, flung at the feet of the King, and told to rescue a princess from an evil witch.
No tutorial, no opening cinematic, just you charging across the world map towards a dungeon. It’s a hideously unoriginal setup, but this game isn’t out to surprise: just to deliver a tight, fun RPG experience.
On your rescue mission you meet you a surly, silver-haired magician called Jusqua. Together, you bump into Yunita, the princess’s headstrong bodyguard. The princess in question is a shallow, spoiled white mage named Aire who, once rescued, completes the titular foursome.
Once the wicked witch is defeated and your team’s together, you’re awarded your first crown.
Crowns make up the game’s class system, effectively giving you themed hats to put on your characters, each with a unique set of perks and pitfalls.
There’s a black mage’s crown that boosts the power of offensive magic, a bandit crown that allows you to steal items from foes, and a merchant’s crown that lets you search for secret gems while battling.
There are 28 crowns in total, and switching your character’s ‘hats’ to suit each challenge is the key to success.
With your heroes all hatted up you head back to town, ready for some serious battling.
And battle you will. The 4 Heroes of Light’s random encounters come thick and fast. They also use the new ‘Action Point’ battle system, which means you have to save up Action Points over a few turns to use more powerful moves, rather than having a finite stock of Magic Points as in previous titles.
This further simplifies things, and not stressing about whether you can ‘afford’ to cast a spell is nicely liberating.
Unfortunately, the battles also throw up The 4 Heroes of Light’s most irritating flaw: the lack of target selection.
Whether attacking, using items, or casting spells, you never get to choose exactly who your actions affect. Some of the auto targeting is sensible - always healing your weakest ally, for example - but it’s much harder to be tactical when attacking, often leaving some hulking Minotaur unscathed while you send a ten foot fireball towards a nearby mouse.
It’s an understandable decision, given the game’s simplistic approach, but one that does much more harm than good.
It’s a minor gripe that you eventually learn to work around, though, and the game more than compensates with its looks.
The presentation here is a loving, pastel-coloured nod to the storybook look of DS Zelda titles. It works well, especially in the towns, where there are neat touches like wind rippling through grass.
Another huge plus is the inclusion of genuinely refreshing side-quests. At one point your character is turned into a cat, allowing you to speak to animals as you hunt for a cure, while a later section sees you running a village’s shop in a mini-management sim.
These twists never push the game far from its RPG roots, but they’re unpredictable enough to keep you guessing until the next dungeon.
Unfortunately, guessing is something you’ll be doing a lot of. The 4 Heroes of Light’s greatest drawback is the lack of hints.
It’s clearly an intentional move towards old skool exploration, but it leads to hours of aimless wandering about the map, looking for the one villager who’ll trigger the next quest.
Given the amount of hand-holding in other areas of the game - notably combat - this is an oddly harsh thing for Square Enix to have done.
Ultimately, The 4 Heroes of Light is full of strange contradictions. On one hand, cutting the epic plot and angst-ridden characters makes it feel like a knowing affair for RPG veterans.
On the other, cutesy visuals and baby-proof combat pitch it at a younger audience who may struggle with the lack of hints and steep difficulty.
It’s still a polished, involving and hugely charming game, but one that serves to illustrate Final Fantasy’s ongoing identity crisis.
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