You know how people like to use the word "rehash" to describe games? "Oh, that Call of Duty 44 is such a rehash." "Can't believe they're rehashing Halo again." That sort of thing?
In the wake of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, I think it's time to find a new word.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, a direct sequel to 1991's Final Fantasy IV and Square Enix's first foray into episodic gaming, was originally released piecemeal for mobile phones in 2008. A year later Square ported it over to the Wii as downloadable episodic content. And last year, they packaged the whole thing in Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, a PSP roundup that offers graphical remakes of both After Years and the original game as well as some brief fanfiction about what happens between the two.
I never could convince myself to dish out for episodic content on the Wii, so I bought The Complete Collection last summer. For a while it sat on my shelf, collecting dust with the rest of my backlog. Then I picked it up on a whim two weeks ago to see what sort of crazy things had happened in the world of Final Fantasy IV.
This was a mistake.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is so derivative it should be taught during calculus. A more fitting title would be Final Fantasy IV: The Remix. This is the dubstep of RPGs.
Let me explain.
The After Years is broken into episodes, each focusing on the adventures of a character from Final Fantasy IV. Episode 1 focuses on Ceodore, the son of previous protagonists Cecil and Rosa. Subsequent episodes focus on Rydia, Yang, Palom, Edge, Porom, Edward, Kain, FuSoYa, and then everyone all together.
In each of these episodes, you'll play as characters you played in Final Fantasy IV as you explore dungeons you explored in Final Fantasy IV and fight bosses you fought in Final Fantasy IV. Very few of these dungeons or bosses have changed. Your characters will even comment on this phenomenon, frequently shouting things like "This is just like before!" or "It's all happening again!"
Here's a rough breakdown:
Returning Dungeons: Passage of the Eidolons, Sylph's Cave (optional), Sealed Cave
Returning Boss: Demon's Wall
Returning Dungeon: Mount Hobs
Returning Boss: Mom Bomb
Returning Dungeon: Lodestone Cavern
Returning Boss: Dark Elf/Dark Dragon
Returning Dungeons: Mount Ordeals, Cave of Eblan, Tower of Babil
Returning Boss: None.
Returning Dungeons: Underground Waterway, Passage of the Eidolons (second time!), Mount Ordeals (second time!)
Returning Boss: Cooler Mammoth (palette swap of FFIV's Octomammoth)
Returning Dungeons: Underground Waterway (second time!), Antlion's Den, Underground Waterway (third time!), Underground Waterway (fourth time!)
Returning Boss: None.
Returning Dungeons: Mount Ordeals (third time!), Underground Waterway (fifth time!)
Returning Boss: Octokraken (palette swap of the Cooler Mammoth and Octomammoth)
Returning Dungeons: Lunar Subterrane, Lair of the Father
Returning Boss: Zeromus
You might have noticed that while most of Final Fantasy IV's dungeons have made appearances so far, we haven't seen a lot of the bosses. Don't worry: they're all in the last area. As you progress through the giant moonbase that serves as the final dungeon of The After Years, you'll stumble upon every single boss from Final Fantasy IV. From Baigan to the Four Fiends to the robotic CPU, they're all in there.
Then, as if the designers suddenly decided that retreading just Final Fantasy IV wasn't enough, the final dungeon starts whipping out bosses from other Final Fantasy games. Games I, II, III, V, and VI. Four bosses from each. This is not optional content, nor is it an easter egg: these bosses are a major part of the final dungeon.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years costs $32 to download in its entirety on your Wii. $32. For a remix. Granted, there's some new content sprinkled among the 20-year-old maps and monsters. Some of it is even great. You'll just have to suffer through a hell of a lot of rehashed material to get there.
Some other assorted annoying facts about The After Years:
- The random encounter rate is obscenely high. At least on Kotaku you only get Random Encounters once a week. (Sorry.)
- Major abilities are strengthened or weakened based on cycles of the moon. Cycles of the moon change every time you rest to heal your party. So you have to worry that healing your party will inadvertently gimp them.
- One of the main characters is named Ceodore. Ceodore. Ceodore.
- A large number of boss fights are scripted, meaning that you can't die. But the game won't tell you when a boss fight is scripted. Sometimes, you'll think a boss fight is scripted, then instantly get your ass beat and see the Game Over screen.
- The fate of one main character is left on a seriously major cliffhanger.
- In addition to the rehashed bosses and dungeons, you'll see many flashbacks from Final Fantasy IV. Flashbacks! Of a game you're basically already playing!
I'm setting the bar here. We can't get much lower than this. I hope that The After Years represents the worst moment in Square Enix's history. This game makes Final Fantasy Mystic Quest look like motherfucking Chrono Trigger.
At least things can only go uphill from here.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.