Four unassuming adventurers set forth on a journey to save a magical kingdom in Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light for the Nintendo DS. Now where have I heard this story before?
Take four unseasoned heroes and toss them into a world-spanning adventure filled with mythical creatures, powerful magic, and twisting dungeons with turn-based peril lurking around every corner. This is a formula that's worked time and time again for Square Enix. Now the publisher puts this formula to the test once more with an old school role-playing game for the Nintendo DS.
The gamer that finds their heart rate increasing at the thought of random encounters, experience points, and waiting their turn to take a whack at the enemy, or at least remembers a time when it did.
After honing their skill with admirable remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV for the Nintendo DS, Square Enix and developer Matrix Software collaborate on a wholly original adventure.
So it's old school. Is that just an excuse for archaic design? It's not so much an archaic design as a melding of old mechanics and new sensibilities. Yes, there is a party that moves from town to town via overland map, battling creatures, gaining levels, and defeating boss creatures before moving onto the next town. It's so old school in that way that I often found myself hard-pressed to figure out what I had to do next until I found the right NPC to drop a hint. But there are plenty of modern mechanics to freshen up the experience. For instance, you can't target specific enemies.
Changing equipment changes the characters' looks. This is very important.
You can't target enemies? Is this a game for people who hate strategy? It's a puzzling design decision, to be sure, but there is an element of strategy and complexity to The 4 Heroes of Light. It's just in the combat preparation, and not the combat itself. Using the game's hat-driven job system (see the video in the gallery) to make sure your party has the right combination of skills to take care of a given situation becomes increasingly important as the game progresses, and with an inventory limited to 15 items per character, choosing the right equipment is just as crucial.
Is the game lengthy or just drawn out? I'd say the 27 hours I spent getting to and defeating the final boss (two decidedly different things) were hours well spent. Seven of those hours might have been spent grinding after a nasty defeat, getting lost in the overland map, or trying to figure out where to go next, but the rest involved happily killing mythical creatures, playing various mini-games, farming jewels to upgrade my equipment, and plenty of fiddling about with hats.
And this is a four player game? Well, technically yes, as long as the party the player is in when they initiate a multiplayer session has four members in it. If you've got three friends to play with, it's probably better to wait until the latter half of the game, when the game stops playing musical party members. As but one man with one DS I was unable to test the multiplayer, though I did partake in spending battle points on the special items available at the wireless connect spots scattered across the game's cities.
This is a game that tries to cater to fans of the simple yet unforgiving role-playing games of the Nintendo Entertainment System era without alienating players who prefer today's more casual-friendly RPG experience. It's a balancing act, and while Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light stumbles from time to time it never quite falls, resulting in a slightly shaky yet ultimately satisfying portable role-playing experience.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light was developed by Matrix Games for the Nintendo DS, released on October 5. Retails for USD$39.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Defeated the final boss and began exploring the post game dungeons.