The adventure you experience in this game aged surprisingly well
Welcome to my Final Fantasy IV review (from now on FF4).
I think I don't need to introduce the Final Fantasy series as it's so well known, but just for the little history, after 3 installments on the NES console, Square decided to move to the new Super NES console and to release a game that, back in the day, was a groundbreaking RPG with great innovations.
While FF1 and FF3 had nameless heroes with no personalities, FF2 had actual characters and a storyline where they take place, but overall they were still characters with no personality at all. FF4 was the first game of the series where the characters really were developed, for real this time. Nowadays it is totally standard for a RPG to have developed characters and it would be considered a huge flaw if they weren't (hem hem FF12 hem hem), but back in the early 90s it wasn't so standard.
While FF4 definitely didn't invent the idea of having characters with names and personalities in a video game, it greatly improved the concept and defined new standard as to how to tell a story in a video game.
The story is about a young guy, named Cecil, who is high ranked in the army of Baron (the largest city in FF4) and is forced by his superiors to hurt innocent people in Mystidia to steal an elemental crystal. He feels guilty and decide to rebel against the king's orders, but the tyrannic king doesn't like this at all and ban him from his functions. Cecil doesn't understands this because until recently the king used to be a good guy. Now you're out on an adventure to understand who manipulates the king, and try to preserve the other elemental crystals form being stolen.
The adventure goes on, and there is enough plot twists so that you are always still interested to play the game. In fact the story even gets sentimental at times, which is always a nice thing, and after all, is what the Final Fantasy series is about !
For the first time you get "active time battles" for the first time in the series so you'll be right at home if you're used to modern RPGs, no round based battles like in the NES games ! Also, this is the only standard RPG (not including T-RPGs obviously) I've ever played that allows you to have 5 people in the party ! I don't know why all the other games always have 3 or 4, because 5 is nice as well, it makes you less likely to have all them dead. This deserve a toast.
Finally I must say that the music is really nice, even if the quality of the instruments can be quite primitive for the SNES standard (I have later Square games in mind), it's nothing near as bad as Super Mario World or other Nintendo-made early SNES games, and does the work.
There is two things I should complain about a little in FF4.
The graphics didn't age too well. They definitely only use a small portion of what is possible on the SNES, and looks like NES graphics which have been cheaply updated to more colors at the last minute. Anyways the enemies still looks impressive, and the battle effects are satisfying even if not all characters looks all that great, but I feel like the graphics on the playfield really could have been better and that Square put little effort in them. Anyways I doubt anyone will play FF4 for it's graphics right now so I'll pass on this one.
Now the other flaw which is more significant. It's a well known fact all Final Fantasy games all have a different battle system. Well FF4 is no exception, but it definitely have the simpler and less interesting system of the entire series (including it's 3 predecessor). It may sound harsh, but it's true. I suspect that Square focused so much on active time battles and 5-characters at a time that they completely forgot about making any character customisation nor any interesting evolution system.
Characters have jobs but those are hardwired to the characters and can't ever be changed. They gain abilities/spells relative to their job when they level up. And yeah that's all folks, the only "customisation" you can do is switch equipment. Boring as hell isn't it ?
Since you also don't get a way to choose who comes in your 5 characters party, the story decides for you, and you can see that at a few spots they came with a really dumb excuse to replace a character by another. It's like as soon as a 6th character comes, someone that was in your former party will systematically fell on the ground and break his arm, being unable to fight for a while, just to make room for the new characters. OK it's not THAT pathetic, but almost. This remembers me the worst moments of FF2.
The Bottom Line
While FF4 has it's flaws, and definitely doesn't use the SNES hardware to it's fullest, it's still a great game to have to your SNES collection and I'd recommend Final Fantasy fans to play it, and to play the SNES version, if you can't get a cartridge then emulate but the very best is to get a SNES cartridge.
Although this game has been remade at least 5 times I think the remakes are not worth playing as they don't preserve the spirit of the original game. If you are about to play a remake, then avoid the DS remake at all costs as it is the one which destroy the game the most : It has blocky polygonal 3D graphics (which is worse than old pixeled 2D in my opinion), wrong notes all the times in the music, and is incredibly harder than the SNES game.
As a final word, I'd say that Square really did a nice game with this one, and it's a great start to the SNES trilogy. The game aged surprisingly well, and if you can see past it's outdated graphics, you'll see an amazing adventure that you're not going to forget.