Final Fantasy IV came Stateside in 1991, though at the time, Americans knew it as Final Fantasy II. It pushed the RPG forward in terms of graphics, sound, storytelling, and gameplay. Though the North American release was heavily edited and made easier, it’s a classic in every sense of the word. FFIV has also been re-issued and repackaged in the PlayStation compilation Final Fantasy Chronicles, Final Fantasy IV Advance on the GBA (similar to the Japan-only WonderSwan Color version), and finally remade in 3D for the Nintendo DS. Then finally a sequel was developed for Japanese mobile phones in 2008, which became known as Final Fantasy IV: The After Years in 2009 and ported to WiiWare for a larger audience. The result is a nostalgic thank-you note for fans and refreshing trip down 16-bit memory lane…but not without a price.
This WiiWare game is set 17 years after the original, as an older version of the first cast mingles with some new characters, like Cecil’s son Ceodore, the main character. Yet this didn’t come as a full adventure, but rather episodic-blocks, featuring each character taking on a different quest in the same world. They relate and intertwine of course, but only at the end does everyone gather for a unique finale. Spoiling anything would be a great disservice to anyone interested, so I will be brief.
The second moon has reappeared in the sky and strange events are now happening. Our heroes fear what this means, and choose to investigate the Crystals once more. The classic characters return in new form, and it’s great. It’s almost like reliving the Super Nintendo era, lots of good memories! The original IV was just so awesome that anyone who experienced it would undoubtedly remember some of the shining moments.
TAY is a complete throwback to the 16-bit classic, so the presentation is appropriate for something of Super NES caliber. That means no fancy CG cutscenes or voice work, just text boxes and a more timeless aesthetic. It’s also easier to swallow the retro approach because this is downloadable. Just look at Mega Man 9. Still, there’s one huge problem. The After Years is episodic, and each runs 800 Wii Points, amounting to $37 worth of them if you purchase the whole package. That’s incredibly steep, and unavoidable if you wish to play the whole game. It would be one thing for this to be a full RPG and Square released sidequests as DLC…but no, each quest must be purchased individually. They’re short too, clocking in at about two hours per. Finishing one only sets in the frustration of needing to drop more cash. It’s like reading a book with missing chapters, or seeing the always annoying “To be continued…” at the end of anything. The entire game is now available, so luckily no more time has to pass for further content.
Still, the plot is well-told. The staff really knows how to create intricate characters. They may be archetypal but are still easy to identify with. The writing is quality, and something always keeps the narrative interesting. Fans of FFIV won’t hesitate at all to push forward, as the different chapters have so many crisscrossing stories, flashbacks, and charming bouts of character dialogue.
The gameplay is much like you’d remember, albeit with additions. This is still a standard JRPG. Characters visit towns, buy/sell items and equipment, talk to NPCs, explore a world map and dungeons and so on. Combat is turn-based, and centered on the Active Time Battle system (progress bars decide turns). Each character is armed with special skills for combat. It’s straightforward and simple to understand. The new elements are the lunar phase effects and Band system. Because the moon is integral to the plot, it’s also a gameplay highpoint. There are literally phases that make the celestial body change. The phases affect certain abilities positively and negatively. At some points, magic is stronger and physical attacks become weaker. This increases the challenge because you may have to shift strategy depending on the current phase. The Band system, on the other hand, likens to a combination technique. When two characters have a budding relationship, they can team up with their skills a la Chrono Trigger. But it’s more complicated because you have to choose who will pair up, and hope that it’s a success. If so, a new attack is unleashed and forever available.
Unfortunately, some aspects may frustrate you. Random battles return, and can make dungeon-crawling miserable, despite this being a classic RPG mainstay. At least many of the maps are taken directly from FFIV. There are plenty of new regions to explore though, so TAY isn’t a total repeat. Second, the encounter rate is high, and can prove exasperating. Those who grew up with JRPGs probably won’t mind this, but to be fair, it’s just another borrowing of the original template. The game is just fun, and the battle system classic. The additions fit in well with the original design and heighten the ‘cool’ factor. Some battles are really tough later on too, which is a bonus for retro enthusiasts.
The presentation was ripped right out of 1991, yet enhanced to look and sound cleaner. The graphics are intentionally dated like in Mega Man 9, but it’s all about nostalgia. There’s a huge difference between a jumbled mess of pixels and a well-designed game, and The After Years looks great with its retro aesthetic. Some will embrace that, others won’t. The soundtrack is also interesting. Junya Nakano composed slight rearrangements of the original OST by Nobuo Uematsu, giving it a somewhat different feel but still 16-bit. New tracks appear as well, and mesh with the rest just fine. The original content retains its classic feeling and brings back memories of the SNES days. Fans argue that Final Fantasy IV featured one of the best soundtracks in series history—it’s not hard to see why. The “Mysterious Girl Battle Theme” in particular is cool, for its somewhat creepy nature. Just remember, the graphics and sound are regarded in relative terms.
It’s in value that The After Years suffers and make the game tough to judge. The visuals and sound are great, and the retro revival is perfect for a download game. The mix of old and new works very well, but Square asks for a lot to finish it all. Technically, achieving such could take up to 50 hours. There is a lot to do, and the adventure ends up feeling massive thanks to all the data transfer. The problem is the individually-priced downloads. While it may not be the best comparison, Mega Man 9 is at least a full game from the get-go, and later content expanded it. Even then, the additional DLC isn’t necessary to enjoy the game. Here, the full product runs 3,700 Wii Points, and that’s really sad. Nevertheless, The After Years is satisfying to play, and it explores the FFIV world to its fullest. There are so many characters; it revisits the original world while showing off new places…but it feels like Square Enix hates you when a chapter is becoming exciting and the credits roll. $15 would’ve been far more reasonable, or $20 even. But nine separate downloads at over $30? Insanity. This is an awesome game that comes recommended for the hardcore audience. Everyone else, buyer beware.
Overall (Not an average): 6/10