After years of endless petitioning, cajoling, and outright demands from its fan base, Square is bringing Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger to the US PlayStation. Did Square wake up to find its heart had grown three sizes? Or did someone look at the release schedule, notice a big empty space between now and Final Fantasy X in early 2002, and pencil in an emergency midseason addition? Whatever the motivation behind Square's sudden change of heart, RPG fans will be blessed with two classic titles this summer. The quirkily named Final Fantasy Chronicles will bring both Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger to US PlayStation fans for the first time.
The more anticipated of the two ports is definitely Final Fantasy IV. The story remains unchanged from the Super Nintendo version: Cecil, a dark knight and captain of the Redwings airship squadron, realizes the empire he serves is corrupt and sets off on a quest of personal discovery and redemption. The game's endearing characters and archetypical storyline make it many RPG fans' favorite Final Fantasy to date. The romance between Cecil and the white mage Rosa is particularly notable--instead of gradually (and predictably) falling in love as the game progresses, the two start the game in a believable relationship that evolves throughout the game.
Even though Final Fantasy IV has been released in English before (as Final Fantasy II), this is the first time gamers will be getting the full game--and the full story. The Super Nintendo version is a translation of the "easy type" Japanese version. The PlayStation port is a translation of the "hard type" version. What's new for gamers who've played the first American version? New items, spells, and character abilities; more difficult enemies with higher HP and more complex attack patterns; and invisible "secret" passages, for starters. Square has also added a "dash" function to the PlayStation version, letting gamers navigate towns and dungeons at an increased clip.
To complement the new gameplay features, Square is giving the game an all-new translation. Though the quirky original translation has endeared itself to many--"You spoony bard!" actually seems like a scathing insult, at this point--it was a victim of shoddy proofreading and Nintendo's legendary squeaky-clean content policies of the early '90s. Some of these translation quirks meant that people "fell down" instead of "dying," and the mighty spell "holy" became "white." Other edits seriously changed character motivations--in the original English translation, Cecil unknowingly delivers an explosive "package" to the Village of Mist. In all Japanese versions, Cecil's parcel is a "bomb ring," implying he had foreknowledge of the deadly results. Square promises the new translation will be comparable to its current PlayStation output.
Other changes to the PlayStation version include an FMV opening and ending based on Yoshitaka Amano character designs. Unfortunately, the Japanese version of Final Fantasy IV was Square's first PlayStation port--and it shows. The game is burdened by excessive load times, spotty music emulation, muffled and echoing sound effects, and Mode-7 emulation that stops off around Mode-5.5 or -6, tops. It is unknown if Square will address the issue with the same level of care it has demonstrated in polishing the gameplay and translation.
Chrono Trigger, the other title in the collection, was Square's final PlayStation port, and the difference is noticeable. The game plays almost exactly like the SNES original--the graphics are sharp, and the music and sound effects are indistinguishable from those of the original. There is a small bit of load time before a battle occurs, but nothing CD-based gamers can't handle. The title will use the original Ted Woolsey translation from the 1995 Super Nintendo release.
Chrono Trigger also benefits from greater enhancements and a comprehensive omake, or "bonus" mode. More than 20 minutes of FMV animation by character designer Akira Toriyama's studio has been inserted at key points during the game. This includes an opening movie, several plot-specific animations, and two ending movies. One of the new ending movies helps tie the game's story to its sequel, Chrono Cross. The omake mode includes a sound test, a movie viewing mode, anime artwork, and a comprehensive list of items, enemies, and techniques.
Whether you're looking to indulge in nostalgia or become familiar with part of the RPG genre's heritage, the Final Fantasy Chronicles collection has something to offer. With a suggested retail price of only $39.99 for both games, even next-generation gaming junkies should give this classic package a look.
[Note: The attached screenshots are of the Japanese version of the collection.]