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Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (DS) artwork

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (DS) review

"Customizing your characters has seldom been simpler in an RPG. Any hero in your merry band can be anything you like. It all comes down to the crowns with which you equip everyone. As you progress through the game and defeat powerful monsters, a magical crystal will bestow upon your party the gift of a new crown or two. A character who starts with the ability to just barely wield a sword can eventually grow into a battle-hardened Fighter, or perhaps a Black Mage or even something as frivolous as a Bard."

Before you ask, the answer is "no." Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is not another remake of the original Final Fantasy. There's a similar old school vibe, there are crystals and four heroes and even a few other similarities that are best reserved for people who like spoilers, but ultimately this new game is its own beast.

The adventure unfolds in the tiny little village of Horne, a place so small and cozy that one might be surprised to learn that it also has a castle on the hill, near the windmill. In that castle there once lived a princess, but she was recently kidnapped by a witch and now some brave young people must band together to save her. Together, those youngsters (and eventually the spoiled princess) form a party of four heroes who must together save the world, but they won't have adventures as a single group for something like half the game. Instead, the plot follows their exploits along very different courses, jumping around like the needle on a sewing machine until sometimes it's difficult to even recall what's happening. Then the narration weaves everything together to produce a second half of the tale where, now that the world has been explored, it must be explored again.

That last little fact could have been a pretty big deal. Gamers typically don't leap at the opportunity to go back and explore dungeons that they've already cleared, even if there is the promise of a few tougher monsters. The availability of a handful of all-new dungeons along the way only goes so far to alleviate the repetition, but things aren't nearly as bleak as they seem. As the characters retread familiar ground, there's always something new to learn about the strangers with whom they interact and even about themselves. Somehow, even though everyone looks like an eight-year-old (or an eight-year-old with a beard and pot belly, in the case of those who are supposed to be elderly), the story develops in an interesting manner. It explores some themes that aren't quite what you might expect from the genre and it does so without using the word "amnesia" even once.

Besides the surprisingly intriguing plot, the game has two other hooks that might keep you playing: combat and the customization system.

Customizing your characters has seldom been simpler in an RPG. Any hero in your merry band can be anything you like. It all comes down to the crowns with which you equip everyone. As you progress through the game and defeat powerful monsters, a magical crystal will bestow upon your party the gift of a new crown or two. A character who starts with the ability to just barely wield a sword can eventually grow into a battle-hardened Fighter, or perhaps a Black Mage or even something as frivolous as a Bard. If you decide that something isn't working out, just change the equipment and crown and suddenly you have someone who performs much differently than he did a moment ago. Each crown also possesses key abilities and attribute enhancements that are specific to that crown, plus there are upgrades available.

There's a lot of reason to experiment with crowns, then. If you're wandering around a town and you find out that the local monsters sometimes drop valuable goodies, for instance, you might decide to tip the scales in your favor by equipping the Thief crown so that you can rob Mythril from a tortoise that appears on the surrounding plains in the evening. Or perhaps you need some special gems that monsters drop. If you find and equip the Merchant crown, it's possible to increase the number of drops, which in turn can make it easier to eventually update both your crowns and your other gear.

In Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, money is relatively scarce. You only obtain it when you find it in the all-too-rare treasure chest deep within dungeons, or when you sell an item that you have found or gleaned from a monster corpse. The various beasts that you defeat on your quest do occasionally drop gems, and those gems are worth a lot of money, but they're more useful if you save them up and put them toward character and weapon customization. The result is a game where your progress isn't dependent on the money you accrue and spend. It comes down to your willingness to learn how to use the crowns to their greatest advantage.

Unfortunately, crowns are open to exploitation. While the game does its best to encourage customization and gives you plenty of ways to play, it's all too easy to steamroll over your opponents (even the last boss) simply by upgrading your gear and then relying on a class or two. Clearly that's not how the game was meant to be played, since you can find a total of 28 different crowns if you complete the quest and explore the optional, randomly-generated dungeons. None of that changes the fact that a person can easily clear the game with the first two crowns he stumbles upon, early in his quest.

Crowns can really only be exploited so easily because they otherwise work so well, though. Their real success is only evident when you take your characters into battle and realize just how many options you have. When a round begins, each active member who isn't paralyzed or otherwise indisposed gains an action point. It's then possible to spend a turn boosting to regain those points even faster, and once enough points are gathered that character can use a powerful attack that can decimate a foe or even an enemy group. Battle is strictly turn-based, so the player is left with plenty of time to consider all options. If you try to get through fights simply by mashing one button, you're probably going to fare quite poorly. Careful use of your abilities will get you through every challenge, however. Some will be distressed by the fact that you can't aim at individual monsters. Your group members instead will attack the enemies that they feel most deserve their focus, dependent on the weapons and abilities that they are using. That apparent lack of control is difficult to appreciate on the face of things, but it actually works out quite well. In a sense, it forces players to play smart.

The interesting crown and combat systems lead to a game that actually gets easier as you progress. Early on, it can be difficult to survive boss battles and even some of the random encounters that fill the dungeons, but as you start to gain some worthwhile gear and abilities (and as you wrap your mind around their subtle nuances), things turn around completely. Level grinding becomes completely optional to the point where it eventually loses any value because enemies start gaining levels right along with you.

Once you have cleared the game's first few hours, you'll sometimes feel like you're playing an RPG for beginners. Yet that's not quite right, either, because there's precious little in the way of hand-holding along the way. You don't actually have a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing destinations, not until the game's second half, but still there are enough options on the table that at times it can feel like the game has dropped you unexpectedly in the middle of a lake and asked you to swim to shore. You'll have to talk to townspeople and piece together the clues that they provide without having the solutions spelled out for you. Some dungeons even have complicated layouts and feature treasure chests in out-of-the-way locations. It feels almost like, well, a classic RPG.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a great game, but it won't be remembered years from now as a game that effectively demonstrates what the JRPG stands for. Perhaps it could have been, though. The seeds are here for a truly thrilling Final Fantasy experience on par with the best that consoles have provided, but the lack of high-definition graphics combines with promising (but not entirely realized) combat and customization options to form a game that many consumers will be quite content to overlook. Give it a fair shot, though, and you should have a wonderful time. Just save your love for some other beast.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 10, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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zippdementia posted November 10, 2011:

I feel like... I've read this. Is this a resubmit?
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honestgamer posted November 10, 2011:

It was originally posted at Gameroni, like several more reviews that will eventually make their way over here. The goal is to finish moving all Gameroni reviews that need to be moved here before the end of the year. I have lots of completely original reviews for new games coming, as well, so it's a busy time for reviews on the site.

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