When Final Fantasy IV was originally released in 1991 it was a landmark for the Japanese role-playing game genre in the series that, along with Dragon Quest, had come to define it.
By way of example, Active Time Battles – a system of turn-based combat that would grace every subsequent Final Fantasy in some form or another until FFXI - was first seen in its most recognisable form here.
The totally customisable job system of the three previous titles, which would return in FFV, was skipped for the fourth outing, which instead experimented with dedicated character classes spread across a multitude of heroes that join and leave your party.
Narrative, key audio elements, detailed playable character backgrounds: Final Fantasy IV is where fans of the series go to witness the true beginning of the franchise they know and love today.An ultimate Final Fantasy
It's only natural Square Enix would wish to capitalise on this goodwill and the title's historical importance by expanding its story and modernising many of its elements for a noughties audience.
In 2008, Square Enix released The After Years, a collection of stories that document the lives of the original's cast several years after its climactic ending.
And now along comes Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, bundling both FFIV and FFIV: The After Years onto a solitary UMD, in addition to including a special interquel set between the two.
This, therefore, is the most complete compilation of a saga spread over several in-game years and nigh on 100 hours of game time.
One element that remains standard across all three offerings is the artwork. The sprites are lovingly redrawn and reinvigorated from the Super Nintendo originals, injecting much needed clarity to the character design.
Opponents are still disconcertingly larger and better rendered than player controlled avatars, and portraits during speech are completely stationary with no sign of intention or emotion, but these are Final Fantasy traditions and the fans won't even notice, let alone care.
The soundtrack is another high point for fans of more classical Final Fantasy fare, rearranging the SNES offering's scores with real instruments. Though there is the option to switch back to the original audio, these remastered tunes – and special effects – are far more pleasing to the ears of an audience spoilt by surround sound and CD quality audio.
Of particular note is the victory theme, which hits new levels of glorious regality and pomp, befitting of a story so obsessed by royalty and bloodline.
Final Fantasy IV remains otherwise untouched in its core systems of play. This is the overworld-, dungeon-, random battle-focused original with a fresh lick of paint.
Of course, this also means that those as yet uninitiated with the FF series will need to learn the basics rapidly, and players that simply don't like Square Enix's brand of fantasy won't be persuaded by this largely cosmetic update.
Random battles still occur far too frequently, but a super slick game engine initiates combat at a stellar pace and brings a much needed injection of speed to the often lacklustre everyday engagements.
A very simple initial boss encounter also provides newbies with a little advice on how to defeat these more technical encounters, which is a very welcome bit of guidance as end of area bosses are stumbling blocks on progress.
Band? Moon? Who could say no?
The After Years introduces an additional status modifier that is based on the phases of the Moon.
When the Moon is full, physical attacks do less damage, indicated by the attack command font colouring turning from white to red. Black magic in this phase is boosted (indicated by green text), different phases have different effects, and keeping these factors in mind can optimise battle strategies.
Characters have access to a Band ability, too, in which co-ordinated assaults between emotionally connected team members can multiply a single attack's damage.
The individual setup of each title is also handled maturely by the developers. FFIV starts like any other Final Fantasy with a central character recruiting others and gradually building his powerhouse team through a combination of grinding and adding individuals with already impressive statistics.
The After Years wipes the slate relatively clean, but gives you control of strong heroes early to ensure the attention of veterans isn't lost to the chore of rebuilding a party.
The episodic nature of the plot also keeps perspectives fresh, and if you've already invested in the surviving members of the first outing you'll be glad to see familiar faces regularly.
The interquel episode picks up very quickly from the first, and as such your adventurers are already in full control of many, if not all, of their abilities, quickly dispensing monsters that would prove troublesome at such an early phase of any other JRPG.
Worth the Gil?
With so much game content, along with individual bestiaries and galleries, this release stretches the limits of the term 'value for money', though the experience itself very rarely alters.
There's still a lot of grinding out encounters and traipsing through often complex dungeons, and the plot payoff isn't necessarily worth the investment of time.
The fourth Final Fantasy may have been lauded upon release for advancing plot elements of the genre, but it's 2011 and narrative has the ability to go much deeper into character profiles than that displayed here.
The sequel and intermediary episode don't fare much better, hammering through dialogue and scenes that could have been explored much further.
An impressive and suitably epic outing for one of the most important entries in the FF canon, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection is an old game and its venerable sequel repackaged for their new home on what seems the king of the JRPG machines, the PSP.
The inclusion of the interquel will sweeten the deal for FF fans and this is certainly the ultimate version of the now sweeping FFIV epic, but no quarter has been given to open the experience up to new players, restricting its appeal to the crowd that have been eagerly awaiting its release anyway.