Phoning it in

The culprit: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Wii, PSP, PC via Steam)

There are some games which warrant sequels. These days, developers tend to know that a given game will have a sequel pretty much from the outset, even though they’re often worse than the original. In fact, there’s only a small handful of sequels which are actually good (and, even more rarely, better than the original; c.f. Mass Effect 2). And then there are games which never warranted a sequel in the first place. The story is self-contained, and all the major conflicts are resolved by the end. When those games get sequels, it’s usually a blatant cash grab years after the release of the original. Final Fantasy IV is one such game.

There was nothing in the ending of the original which indicated the need or possibility of a sequel. Zemus had been defeated; Golbez and Fusoya were guarding him; Cecil and Rosa were getting married; Edge, Yang and Edward were ruling their respective countries; and everyone else was happily getting on with things. There was no other threat on the horizon. The only semi-unresolved plotlines were Kain’s atonement and Edge’s feelings for Rydia, neither of which was enough to build a game on.

I was content with this. And, as far as I can tell, there was no fan demand for a sequel either. But then, in 2009, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, hit the Wii as a download-only title (which means that this particular version is no longer available, as the WiiShop closed down in 2019). Seventeen years after the original. Not only that, but it was released as several episodes, or Tales, each of which had to be purchased separately. If that doesn’t spell out ‘cash grab’ in bright neon letters, then I’m not sure what does. I was reluctant to have anything to do with this game for a while. But then people seemed to be saying that it was quite good. That, and part of me was curious to know in what direction they could possibly have taken the story. So I caved. I wish I hadn’t.

The game is set seventeen years after the original: the developers were trying to be clever by mirroring the real-world time lapse, but this does their story no favours whatsoever, as none of the characters have been up to anything credible, let alone interesting, in all that time. Case in point: Kain is still atoning. Edward is still in mourning. Mist (a small village) is still being rebuilt. SEVENTEEN YEARS LATER. Edge has been pining for Rydia, and Porom has almost literally done nothing. FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS. Basically, all of this would have been fine for a sequel set one or two years after the original. But no. I’m assuming that: a) the developers were enamoured with their cleverness regarding the time lapse, and b) wanted very badly to have Cecil and Rosa’s child as a protagonist (and therefore needed him to be old enough to go adventuring).

As if that weren’t enough, the new villain comes completely out of left field, is left unexplained until the very last stretch of the game and implies some pretty worrying things about Final Fantasies I through VI. The gameplay relies very heavily on level grinding. There’s a LOT of backtracking, and almost every single dungeon is lifted straight from the original. In fact, you visit the supremely (not) exciting Underground Waterway between Kaipo and Damcyan four different times. Twice in the same Tale, almost back-to-back. Fighting a palette swap of its original FFIV boss. Most of the new characters are as interesting as reading the phone directory. None of the now grown-up children (except maybe Ursula) look their age. And while some legitimately interesting ideas for character interaction do crop up here and there, they’re almost invariably wasted with utterly inane dialogue. It’s like the writers were afraid to resolve plot points, just in case they needed to rehash them again for another sequel. And you know what? They didn’t manage a sequel, but they bloody well put out an interquel when the game was remade for the PSP. One guess as to whether it’s any good.

In short, I think this is one of the worst games in the Final Fantasy series, in the same category as FFII, FFX-2, the two Tactics Advance games and the Lightning saga. It’s a lazy, misguided attempt at capitalising on players’ nostalgia with minimal effort, it toys with players who are fond of the other FFs from I to VI, and its only redeeming trait is the presence of the original cast of characters, even though you’re required to send your disbelief to another dimension to accept what they’ve been doing with their lives for seventeen years (can you tell I’m bothered by this?). The only way I could recommend owning this is if you want Final Fantasy IV on your PSP, as it comes bundled with the original as part of the Complete Collection. Otherwise, don’t bother. In fact, just try to ignore its existence. That’s what I’ve been doing.

Detailed review available! Read more here.