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Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Wii) artwork

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Wii) review

"When a game is described as fan service, it seems reasonable to question just how the fan is being serviced. Patronage should be rewarded; the Final Fantasy series was built on our backs, us fate-deciding gamers, who saw potential in a poorly translated but ever-engrossing title called Final Fantasy II, which, we were later told, was the fourth game in the series. Two titles in between the NES journeys of a generic bunch of heroes and the plight-plagued saga of Dark Knight Cecil were left over..."

When a game is described as fan service, it seems reasonable to question just how the fan is being serviced. Patronage should be rewarded; the Final Fantasy series was built on our backs, us fate-deciding gamers, who saw potential in a poorly translated but ever-engrossing title called Final Fantasy II, which, we were later told, was the fourth game in the series. Two titles in between the NES journeys of a generic bunch of heroes and the plight-plagued saga of Dark Knight Cecil were left overseas. We wouldn’t like them. Square decided for us fans.

They also decided some other things for us. They decided we could not comprehend an attack that damaged all enemies at the expense of health; how could we wrap our minds around such strategy. They decided enemies and bosses should be dumbed down, for we had not the might to conquer the same formidable challenges as Japanese gamers. They, like Darwin, just knew the nature of us. Invisible passages were made blatantly visible for us half-wits. The motivations of a major (and complicated) character, Kain, were omitted, because we probably wouldn’t understand anyway. How dare we take notice to their fan service, just now, when they’ve been serving us exemplary for so long!

In Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, Square’s gracious follow-up, the fan service begins by spending eight dollars for six hours, or roughly one-fifth, of a game, with later installments costing three dollars apiece and doled out in monthly installments. Like a dealer, they figure we’ll come back for a fix (and likewise, the final episode will run eight dollars). These three dollar deviations focus on the particular exploits of certain members of the original Final Fantasy IV cast, be it karate man Yang, summoner Rydia, mages Palom and Porom, or others. Events occur seventeen years after the original journey, with Cecil and Rosa reining as King and Queen of Baron, their young son Ceodore a fledging member of the Red Wings, and mysterious monsters returning to the land again.

New players be warned: Square has seemingly gone out of their way to make this game inaccessible from the get-go. Monsters are tough, with it often assumed you know how to neutralize their particular exploits, and now randomly attack at a feverish pace (so feverish you might even lose your sense of direction trudging through the underground beneath Baron Castle even though the catacomb is completely intact). Characters arise with little introduction; of course you remember them all, even though the original was released nearly seventeen years ago. You probably bought one of Square’s numerous re-releases capitalizing on what we originally weren’t smart enough for; you don’t need a refresher on Edge’s motivations!

To be fair, I reveled in the tough battles and plodding, dungeon crawl pace. This was how I remembered some of the best, challenging parts of the original. Amazingly, despite the high random battle rate, the pacing of the story is dramatic and hectic as well: Ceodore is attacked on a routine training expedition, King Cecil is possessed, a mysterious girl is after the crystals of light, Cid and Rosa run off on an airship, an enigmatic hooded man becomes Ceodore’s battlemate, Kain goes through yet another identity crisis and begins aiding the mysterious girl, Rydia barely escapes danger, a second moon appears, and more! There is a ton packed into the first eight dollars, so much so you wish Square would stop for a second, reintroduce some backgrounds and motivations and fully develop all the ideas before haphazardly sprinting for the finish line full throttle.

They may be telling a great story, but they’re brutalizing it for the sake of cashing in. Not only is the pacing atrocious – I enjoy the constant switching between characters, but can we appreciate their backstory and experiment with tactics for a minute – but the attempt to cash in with installments makes the story all the more painful to watch unfold. The transitions between the fast-moving drama of the game and weeks of waiting for successive installments appear jarring; why? Why can’t I proceed now? Why must I wait weeks, forgetting important plot points that were already brushed over in the pointless need to tell the story in such a brief span of time? Is it really that necessary to tease and withhold at the expense of people that were, you know, actually enjoying parts of the game despite its already obvious learning curve and pacing problems?

Final Fantasy IV, the original, was a fantastic tale butchered by translations, dumbed-down by lead designers that assumed we were an inferior audience, and cashed in on time and time again when they finally gave us the respect (and product) they gave to Japanese audiences from the start. Still, I loved it, with its sympathetic and nuanced characters, its challenging and tactical boss fights and the commitment it required to see to the finished. I thought, for once, with this supposed “fan service,” our loyalty for tolerating the initial missteps, for supporting successive Final Fantasies, and for not letting the legend of this game die would be rewarded.

As it turns out, this is yet another cold, hardened attempt to cash in. A potentially great story is butchered by the need to stifle it into installments (the complete package will check in at 39 $US) and ruined on the younger generation by the unwillingness to slow down and tell it right. This isn’t fan service, and I’m tired of getting jerked around by a company just for liking a game despite them. This is yet another slap in the face to the true fans of the original game, packed with meaningless trivialities such as moon phases affecting attack strength, when all we really want is a finished product from the start – for once – signed, sealed and delivered with care.

It won’t be until 2018, when Square decides to attempt to cash in on the latest popular portable, that they release both games in one complete package, told the right way, with proper pacing and storytelling, where you can proceed through the adventure at your leisure, for a reasonable sum of money. But if all the material for that game is here already, I’ve got to ask, why are we going to have to wait a decade for the game we all really want? Don’t most companies try to give us that from the start?

Talk about poor service.

drella's avatar
Community review by drella (June 22, 2009)

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radicaldreamer posted June 23, 2009:

I don't know about this. I saw the 1, but the description of the game actually makes it sound kind of good. Overall I feel like this is more of an editorial about the business practices used to market and sell the game rather than a review of the game itself.
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sashanan posted June 23, 2009:

Given that drella states at several points what he did enjoy about the game, the 1 does seem to be aimed more at making a point about a business model than to actually describe the game.

I'm not much of a fan of the concept of micropayments, but nonetheless, it doesn't seem to be THAT steep a price to pay even if the game is served up in pie slices. How many of these $3 episodes are there anyway, and how does the total price match up to the total amount of gameplay? Referring to 6 hours as being "one tenth of a game" implies a 60 hour playthrough is expected or desired, when as I remember FFIV, I was hard pressed to need 20-25 to do everything.

But that aside, in the context of the actual article, one thing that confuses me:

This is yet another slap in the face to the true fans of the original game, packed with meaningless trivialities such as moon phases affecting attack strength, when all we really want is a finished product – for once – signed, sealed and delivered with care.

Wasn't the point that we're done with "Final Fantasy IV New And Not Improved Ultimate Complete Release" on every damn system in existence? The way FFIV stands in the market right now, one can just pick whichever version catches their fancy and never bother with the rest, and I for one would not cry over seeing them being freakin' done with a little bit extra but not quite on 4 and 7 ad infinitum.

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jerec posted June 23, 2009:

I'll be passing on this one. If they release it all as one package further down the line at a reasonable cost, then maybe.
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drella posted June 23, 2009:

Excellent points Sashanan. I addressed the pricing question. I'm not really sure if the six-hours represents exactly 1/10 of the game... I do believe the successive installments are shorter, but just because exposition takes longer to get going doesn't really make it "more" of the game, especially with chapter style releases of an RPG. In other words, as far as understanding and cohesiveness of the plot, I think this does represent 1/10, if it doesn't agree length wise.

I also fixed that sentence. All we want is a finished product from the start. It's bad to jerk us around with the first one; it's even worse to make new mistakes with a sequel.

Is this a bad game? Not really. The one is a statement, but it's a fair one, because I truly encourage others to not buy this game and support this company, at least not yet. Because why? The re-release is inevitable anyway.

I didn't hate it that much aside from the lousy installment price model (and the rushing to tell everything, which goes against the style of the first) -- at least a solid 7 thus far (though I read ahead in the story... and I don't like it). But the point is: if everything to produce a better product already exists, why can't we just have that now? Didn't we actually earn that, especially with this game in particular? The repeated notion in reviews around the web is that this is fan service -- it's not, because they are deliberately being withholding with and rushing through the new adventure.
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zippdementia posted June 23, 2009:

I hate to get down on a Drella review so shortly after his return to the site, but I have to say I'm not so hot on this one. The writing style is fantastic and emotional as usual... though I didn't like this sentence:

"(so feverish you might even lose your sense of direction trudging through the underground beneath Baron Castle even though the catacomb is completely intact)"

I'm not sure exactly what you're trying to say. Do you mean that they haven't changed the original design of the dungeon? I would add the word "design" in there somewhere if that's the case. It sounds like you're saying that the catacomb has been well kept, but I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean.

Anyways, getting back to the point, this is one of those reviews that, like True's bash on that Call of Duty game, is attacking a concept or business practice more than a game. It hardly seems fair to FF:AY to give it such a low score based on its release policy. It takes away from what I wanted to know from this review: is this game any good? I get a few brief mentions of fast gameplay and fast story telling, but not near enough to make a purchasing decision. Ultimately, releases change. SE may release this as a full game at some point on a different system with revamped graphics. And then this review will be pointless.

I also have a gripe with your gripe about price... a combined 40.00 for a game isn't actually very expensive. In fact, it's market value. And some people really like episodic releases, as they get to sample a game for a cheap price and see if they like it enough to continue. Oh man, if I could get back some of the money I paid for RPGs that I never finished because I got bored with them. Episodic releases seems to actually be a fine way to release RPGs, as long as the full project DOES indeed get released.

Bashing a game for its release policy... that would be like giving Starcraft 2 a terrible score because of the fact that it's taken forever and has been promised to be released in three parts. Oddly enough, it's also similar to me not wanting to give this review ROTW because I disagree with its approach... even though the writing is fantastic.
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zigfried posted June 23, 2009:

There's already a way to sample games for a cheap price to find out if they're worthwhile: demos.

The purpose behind episodic releases is to build anticipation and/or create hype. Sales are supposed to build as a series progresses and word-of-mouth spreads. FF4 already has a ready-made audience, so dividing it into pieces won't help build hype. I could have understood the episodic release schedule if each piece were independent, with one grand finale to bring it all together, but Drella's review does not give that impression. The downsides behind episodic releases are as Drella states: it puts fans through extra effort to get what they want, and it could result in losing interest as people wait and forget what happened before. Those are fair criticisms, and they're directly dependent on the release method.

Also, any episodic release (in any medium) faces the danger of early cancellation. Square will probably carry this through to the end, but if sales are terrible, who knows! Companies that abandon an episodic property either cancel it (if the project was never finished) or slam it all together in one package and sell it in stores to recoup development costs, which would effectively screw everyone who actually bought into their silly scheme.

Furthermore, it sounds like Square slammed too much together in an effort to appeal to fans of every character; instead of taking it slow and steady, the episodic nature actually makes the game WORSE because all of the characters are thrown together into a ridiculous hustle-and-bustle plot that never pauses to gather its bearings. Whereas if it were a single, properly-paced title... sure Rydia might not appear in the first 8 hours, but that would make her eventual appearance that much sweeter and, more than likely, her appearance would have made a hell of a lot more sense and been a lot more impactful than just "oh look, here's Rydia barely escaping danger".

That's what I gathered from the review.

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drella posted June 23, 2009:

"I'm not sure exactly what you're trying to say. Do you mean that they haven't changed the original design of the dungeon?"

That was exactly what I was saying, and I don't think it's that difficult to gather.

Moreover, it's not that Square's business model is preventing me from enjoying the game (though it certainly doesn't help). How can I look at their model for sales in this series and advise people to buy this? The original Final Fantasy II showed potential, but had enough problems it actually did merit a re-release to fix its problems. I see the same exact scheme here, the same contempt for American audiences, that they believe we will first buy an inferior version, then buy another version later that fixes the pacing and introduces background.

Does anyone believe they won't re-release this later and do a better job? Because I don't, and I refuse to tell anyone to buy this when Square can (and really, I believe they fully intend to) do better. As I tried to demonstrate in the review, they even have a history of it with this franchise in particular, so I refuse to give the benefit of the doubt in this instance. Don't buy this game. Really. That's my message, crystal clear. Be a smart consumer and wait for their inevitable re-release.
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honestgamer posted June 23, 2009:

Final Fantasy IV: The Early Years was originally released as an episodic series of downloads for the cell phone platform, where that sort of approach made sense. This leads to the obvious question: why weren't all of the episodes then compiled and put on a single disc to sell on Wii?

The answer is self-evident: "Because Square-Enix didn't think anyone would accept the graphics as a full retail release."

Unless Square-Enix is willing to invest more money than it's worth right now to dress up the game and rework everything, releasing it as an episodic series again is really the only path to take for that very obvious reason. If this review had chosen to focus only on that--something lesser reviewers certainly would have done with perhaps a few jokes to mask the lack of depth--there would have been issues with it (especially since the complaints about the episodic release are irrelevant to my mind), but drella's submission did a good job of demonstrating that even if you're not ready to jump on the anti-Square bandwagon that's all the rage these days, there's reason to pause first. The episodic format sounds like it didn't really work in the project's favor thanks to the start-and-stop element inherent to that format and thanks to the tendency to try to rush out each characters' story rather than taking the time to give us a game that drella would have more enjoyed.

While nothing in the review convinced me that a score of 1/10 is warranted (the review makes the game sound like a 5 or a 6 to me), I learned enough about the game through the review that if I combine that with the screenshots I've seen, I have a really good idea of what to expect if I give this first episode a download. Similarly, people who are opposed to episodic content now have more than enough information to decide that they'll want to pass on this. Reader reviews on any site work best when they're well-written (as this one is) and when a few different readers chime in with their opinions on a given title. Drella's review is a good start and I hope that others with differing opinions--and actual experience with the game--will soon chime in with reviews of their own!

That last bit could just be me getting greedy for more great content, though. It's an addiction I can't quit. ;-)
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jerec posted June 23, 2009:

I think this game could have worked if all parts were put on one DS card and released as a single game. I'm hoping they do that, since I am a little interested in playing it. Already got FFIV for DS...
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randxian posted June 27, 2009:

The points made in this review is exactly why I no longer buy Square products. Final Fantasy has gone from an innovative NES RPG with great graphics, music, different classes to experiment with, to a big bloated mess it is today.

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zippdementia posted June 27, 2009:

I disagree with such a blanket statement. I think FFX and FFXII were both great games (though I dislike XII's story). And XIII looks incredible.
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randxian posted June 28, 2009:

Okay, to be fair, I did enjoy FF 12 from what I played of it.

I was speaking more about all these ridiculous spin offs.
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bigcj34 posted June 28, 2009:

It's something of a surprise that Square have done everything BUT remake the game that fans generally want to see remade, and that's FFVII. Each of the 8-bit and 16-bit series has seen various reincarnations, FFIV being just an example. Even FFVII has had plenty of spin-offs but only this month have we seen a re-release on PSN.
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EmP posted June 28, 2009:

I thought it was a commonly accepted fact that FF12 was absolute rubbish.
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overdrive posted June 28, 2009:

Nah, I gave it a 7 or so. So not universally hated. Overrated, but not hated.
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zippdementia posted June 28, 2009:

FFXII is liked by quite a lot of people, more than I expected. I personally don't favour it, but I did beat it, which is more than I can say for FFVIII. Actually, FFVIII remains the only one of the FF games in the main continium that I haven't beaten.
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sashanan posted June 28, 2009:

Almost likewise - for me it's VIII and XII both. I had a lot more to do than that half a year ago but over the first half of 2009 I polished off III, V and VI in short order. VI was intensely satisfying, bugger had been taunting me since 1999.

Addendum: Having played only about 8 hours of FFXII (so I'm basically halfway the tutorial, heh) I can't really vouch for quality or lack of it yet. It's my understanding that the point where people are turned off are after the opening stages, when you're looking at 20 or more hours of one area after another with little or no story progression in which your increasingly useful gambits do the work while you read a book. This may have been exaggeration. I'll let you know when I get to it - right now the rest of the backlog is drinking all the beer and dangling FFXII out the window.
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jerec posted June 29, 2009:

You can pinpoint the exact moment FFXII goes bad, and it has to do with Moogles and a gate.
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EmP posted June 29, 2009:

You can pinpoint the moment FFXII starts to show a glimmer fo promise; it's when Vann finally shuts the hell up.

Game's still rubbish, though!
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zippdementia posted June 29, 2009:

What FFXII does right is that it has a very rich and varied world which is genuinely fun to explore. The hunting of monsters is fun as well, and requires careful tailoring of your gambits which is a very unexpected introduction of gameplay and strategy in a system which could easily turn into "grab a book and sandwich." The characters are good starting points, the problem with the game lies in that they undergo little or no change in 100+ hours of gameplay. Similarly, the story is extremely underdeveloped, but very rich in its foundation. I'm shocked more wasn't done with all the things they'd established.
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EmP posted June 29, 2009:

Never disagreed with anything you've ever said more. And you're Zipp!
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randxian posted June 29, 2009:

Oh, and is anyone else bothered by the fact in the intro you see some flying vehicles that look like something out of Star Wars, yet all the ground untits use swords, spears, and bows?

If you have the technology to create flying machines that can shoot bullets and missiles, then why the hell aren't there regular guns?

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