I'll preface this by explaining that Final Fantasy IV is the game that got me into jRPGs. When it comes to this particular game, I get the sweetest hangover that I don't wanna get over. With that said, I was psyched, stoked, amped, etc. when FF IV: The After Years was announced. I finally got some spare cash and purchased the first offering off the Wii Shop Channel last week. I knew in advance that it was a port of a mobile phone game and that the content was episodic in nature. I also found out before my purchase that the 9 episodes vary in price; the seven intermediary stories are 300 points while the bookenders are 800 each. This, of course, totals 3700 points, which is not a far cry from the price of a Square Enix DS game. I had a short conversation with MrCHUP0N about the game before buying it and was informed that it was panned in its Gamespot review.
I read the review about a week ago before I started the game and I just finished the first 3 chapters this evening. I also downloaded the first available tale featuring Rydia and played about 10 minutes of it. After doing all of this, I feel that there should be some perspective in reviewing this game and a better value judgment can be made based on what was yet to be released.
I understand that the complete content hasn't yet been released - 3 add-on "tales" are to be released July 6th and the first is already available - but keeping in mind the total value ($37 + tax) versus the sum of the game's elements (gameplay, plot development, total duration) should improve the review, even a little bit. To say that the game "is a hard pill to swallow for even the most dedicated of fans" without experiencing 100% of the content is personally disappointing. The factors given in that statement are "its flawed storytelling, shamelessly recycled plot, and frustrating encounter rate." What if the storytelling was done in such a way to set the player up for the various upcoming chapters? What if the "recycled plot" creates cohesion between the two overall games? What if the original Japanese FF IV had a frustrating encounter rate as well and what if some players actually don't mind that? These questions should be considered, instead of just generally stating that the gripes are bad for fans of the original.
I'm going to tackle the storytelling and plot first. Reminder #1: I'm a superfan of this game. Reminder #2: I JUST finished the introductory offering. I wasn't quite blown away by the story and everything was very familiar. Familiarity gives me goosebumps. When a game, song, movie, or other story-driven medium brings back elements of something that I saw previously and loved, I go nuts inside. The After Years did that to me at every turn. From the introductory sequence to the climactic, semi-cliffhanging ending, there's nothing but tribute to the original game. Yes, there's a big plot line recycled throughout these three chapters. In my opinion it's not a big deal because it's a stepping stone to something bigger and more expansive than what was borrowed from. It's also that dose of familiarity again. Any fan of Final Fantasy IV would be thirsty for more at the end of the third chapter. There are so many questions! "Why did xxx become xxxx and how does this relate to xxx?" "Why is xxx with xxx and what's gonna come out of the rendezvous in the xxxxxx?" "Will the people of xxxxx hate xxxx for xxxx?" "How come it was so easy for xxxx to xxxxxxxxxx from xxxx?" Some of these questions may not be answered, but I bet MOST of them will be answered in detail in the coming tales.
I don't have much to say about the encounter rate; you will either like/tolerate it, or you will hate it. I can't judge how individuals will deal with it. I dealt with it with no problems and I certainly didn't feel frustrated by it. It certainly was not near the level of Beyond the Beyond's ridiculousness. If you had no problems with the ports of the Japanese FFIV then you won't have any problems with this.
To end this mini-review/opinion piece, I feel that FF IV: The After Years will be well worth the sum of all its parts and that any fan of the original game will be begging for the story to flesh out after finishing the intro chapters. People new to the series really need to play the original first, either on DS or GBA. As a matter of fact, to keep things in perspective they should play the GBA version. Unfortunately, due to the current stigma surrounding more archaic video game features such as 16-bit graphics, turn-based battles and text-based plot progression, some people just won't get the true value of something like this. Square Enix: you can't please everyone, butyou sure did please me.