If you felt that the later Final Fantasies are straying too far from its roots, then this game is for you. It brings back many story and gameplay mechanics from the olden days of RPG’s. The premise of the game is not unheard of for the franchise: four young heroes go out on an adventure to rescue the world from the evils that plague it.
You begin as the boy Brandt and it is his 14th birthday and you have just been summoned to appear before the King. He mentions how Princess Aire was kidnapped by the Wicked Witch of the North and he wants you to rescue her. You are then joined by your friend Jusqua to go save the princess. Then you meet up with the castle guard Yunita and together, the three of you save Princess Aire by defeating the witch, only to return to your hometown to discover it has turned to stone!
The four of you must search for a way to save the kingdom.
/spoiling the first hour of the game
If you’re expecting an in-depth, or very story driven game, then look far away. This game harbors back to the NES and SNES days where the story is a bit “episodic”. You visit a village, discover there’s a problem, someone in the town tells you where to find the dungeon, slay the boss, save the village, and then be off to the next town. There’s very little connecting the various mini-stories together outside of the main mission of figuring out how to save your hometown.
While there is a cast of characters, and have a bit of personality, they’re not really that interesting individually, and don’t display much character growth. They’re mostly just vessels to play through, and it’s kind of struggling to remember a damn thing about any of them.
Brandt: He’s the first character you play as, and is the typical adventurous hero character. He has a bright personality and is loyal to his friends, yadda yadda.
Jusqua: He’s primarily the opposite of Brandt. The king sent Jusqua to check up on Brandt, but his job in the castle is never really explained.
Yunita: she’s a knight of Horne. She’s Aire’s bodyguard and is a great fighter, but she lacks confidence in difficult situations.
Aire: The youngest princess of Horne. She’s the typical spoiled princess, and has little knowledge of the outside world.
The game largely follows a basic template for JRPG’s, from the overworld, and random encounters, but it does add a bit of a twist for the battle system. While the battle system is largely a traditional turn based system, it has a system of action points. There are no magic points in this game, and any action uses these points. Everybody in your party has 5 action points, you never gain any more. Each action takes up one or more AP, and you regain a single point each time it is the character’s turn. So if you use a move that takes up several AP, then you must plot out how to conduct your next moves, or risk getting in trouble. A faster way to regain your AP is to use the Boost option, as you can regain two points, but at the cost of not doing anything on your turn.
One aspect of the battle system that many would find a bit cumbersome, is that there is no targeting system. You are unable to target any of your opponents or your party members. This is a bit annoying at first, but if you have a party member low on HP, the cure spell will automatically target the member with the lowest HP, so luckily it won’t just randomly select any character.
Next is the return of the popular job system (called crowns) from classic Final Fantasy games. With this there are a few familiar faces, like the white and black mages, monk, and paladin. There are a few that are fairly pointless, like the party host, and musician crowns… Some crowns are more helpful than others, especially when it comes to magic, as casting fire 1 as any other class takes two AP, but casting fire as a black mage now only costs 1 AP. So if you want to be a magic user, then it’s highly advised to equip a mage crown.
Unlike Final Fantasy III, where you had to have a certain number of points to change jobs, this one allows you to change them on the fly with largely no penalties. This is quite helpful, as you spend the first half of the game with your party split up. So you don’t have to relegate one character to be the healer, and one to be the magic user. Also unlike the other Final Fantasies, the jobs don’t level up from battle like your character does, you level them up by filling their slots with the respectively shaped gems, and the max level for a job is level 3.
Speaking of gems, they are very valuable items, and you need them for basically EVERYTHING. At the beginning of the game they seem pointless. You grind your characters and you collect these gems, and they don’t do anything, but you can sell them at the stores for money, as they’re basically the only way to earn money, as you don’t earn gil in battle like normal FF games.
As the game progresses, and you gain more crowns, you discover that you can use these gems to not only level up your crowns, you will also gain access to a shop that allows you to use gems to upgrade your weapons and armor. So now these gems are more valuable than ever. You now must figure out which is more important, buying new equipment, or leveling up your equipment. Luckily the game makes you change your equipment to something that is strong against the upcoming area boss, so you at least are forced to buy equipment instead. Only near the end of the game is leveling up your armor important.
One minor gameplay issue, is limited inventory space. In this day and age, it seems a bit silly that there isn’t a party inventory, and your inventory is limited to a certain number of slots the characters hold, and that includes your equipment. This isn’t too huge of an issue, and is only a problem when your party is relegated to a single person, but of all the modern conveniences, did they have to revert the inventory down? Luckily your key item inventory is separate from your characters’ individual inventory, so at least that issue is taken care of.
The visuals are pretty fantastic for a DS game. Instead of using Final Fantasy III and IV’s engine, they use a different engine, and a drastically different artstyle. It has a nice chibi storybook aspect of it, and gives you a nice nostalgic feeling of reading a children’s storybook.
For a game on the DS, it does an okay job utilizing both screens. Most of the gameplay is on the touch screen, and you can use the stylus to control your character, but the D-Pad works just fine, and in battle, the menus are also on the touch screen. Outside of battle, the top screen really only shows your party’s HP and AP, and is really only useful when you go to the world map, and the map is viewable on the top screen. It would have been nice to have a dungeon and town map on the top screen, but it’s not a necessity, it does use both screens better than Final Fantasy III.
For the soundtrack, it’s fantastic. It’s like your typical old school RPG soundtrack except they mix between the bleeps and bloops of the NES days and with the modern midi sounds of the DS. The end result is a unique experience.
So if you’re looking for a game that caters to your nostalgia needs, but with a new twist, Final Fantasy 4 Heroes of Light is the game for you. Just don’t let its cute exterior fool you into thinking this is a stroll through the park
Overall score: 8/10