Square Enix is a company that has no shame in going back to the well, as is evident by their liberal usage of the "Final Fantasy" franchise. The game that was supposed to be Square's swan song back in the 1980s has somehow managed to be the company's most successful, spawning 14 released titles from the main series, and a host of other games via seven different spin-offs, as well as a peppering of random prequels and sequels to some of the higher profile "FF" games that have been released. The most recent addition to the "Final Fantasy" lineup, "Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light," falls into that last category, and is an entirely original game for the Nintendo DS.
Imagine if the day you turned 14, your entire world fell apart, and that's basically what happens in "4 Heroes of Light." In the kingdom of Horne, it's customary to present yourself to the king on the day of your 14th birthday, it just so happens that on that very day for the game's main character, Brandt, the princess has been kidnapped, and the king tasks you with the challenge of rescuing her. And, since you can't turn down a request from the king, you set out on a fairly traditional, turn-based, RPG full of magic, mystery and random encounters.
Upon starting up "4 Heroes of Light" it's impossible to miss the unique, storybook art style that the game uses. The characters and the world look hand drawn (think more childhood story book than "Drawn to Life"), and while it obviously isn't a look that is pushing the graphical boundaries forward in any way, it creates a comfortable, familiar world for you to vanquish evil.
Instead of incorporating magic points into "4 Heroes," the developers opted to go in a different direction, pouring all of the battle events into action points. Each character has a maximum of five points they can play with with and during each turn, your character can either use or bank their points, as larger scale attacks require more points, but their move can't exceed the amount of points they have banked. While it seems a little on the complicated side, it's actually easy to get into, and results in you having to manage your resources in a way that some players might not be too familiar with, but, at the same time, it means that you're usually never more than one move away from being able to heal someone in your party.
A Crown of Jewels
The job system is something that has been around in "Final Fantasy" games for years now, but "4 Heroes" puts a very different, much simpler spin on them. As you progress through the story, you unlock various hats that each member of your party can wear, giving them specialized abilities depending on the type of hat. In other words, your party members can change job classes just by putting on a different hat, at virtually any point in the game, outside of battles. The hats can also be upgraded using the gems that are dropped in battle, allowing you access to even more hat-specific skills.
No Quick Save
It seems that the entire development team at Matrix Software got so wrapped up in creating a new "Final Fantasy" game that they forgot one key element; they were developing a game for a portable platform. The DS is ideal for jumping into a game when you have five or ten minutes to play; "Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light" is not. Save points are only found in towns and in dungeons right before you're about to battle a boss. This unfortunately means that you need to battle through an entire dungeon in one sitting, hoping to make it to the save point, or you may have to run all the way back to the closest village if you're subway stop is coming up, negating any forward progress you've made in the game.
Auto Targeting Battles
A lot of RPG fans out there have problems with turn-based combat (for the record, I am not one of them) saying it's too slow, or too boring. The upside of turn-based games has always been that you could completely control all aspects of your battle, but, for some reason "4 Heroes" takes away that option. You can still select your attack, but the game will auto target the enemy best suited for you to strike. It even does the same thing when you are healing your team, sending all that HP to the character most in need. I'm still a fan of turn-based games, but I am not a fan of letting the game pick what I'm going to attack next.
Why don't the enemies in this game drop gold? It happens in literally every other RPG since the beginning of time, but not in "4 Heroes of Light." Instead of gold, the enemies drop gems which, as mentioned above, can be used to customize hats, but they can also be sold for gold at shops, adding an additional step to purchasing items; an additional step that requires math.
"Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light" is an interesting subject in today's RPG climate. It culls heavily from the past, and will feel familiar to anyone who is used to staring at sprites while they quest, but, it also presents a new take on some classic ideas. While in the past those two concepts have rarely come together to create a game that can really scratch certain type of RPG gamer's itch, "4 Heroes," even with its flaws, comes close. If you can get past the lack of a quick save on a portable title, and the inability to micromanage your battles, this new entry into the "Final Fantasy" series could tug at the strings of nostalgia, while offering up a solid new quest to grind through.