Excluding its unimpressively rendered cinematics, the PlayStation version of Final Fantasy IV is a pixel for pixel port of the 1991 Super Famicom title. This is good news for those who've let go of their Super Nintendos in favor of PlayStations and suddenly feel the urge to play Square's classic RPG all over again. But it's bad news for those of us hoping that Square would combine the wonderful characters and plot of Final Fantasy IV with the powerful PlayStation technology in a sort of - excuse the term - Final Fantasy IV Special Edition. So while Final Fantasy IV certainly remains one of the finest console RPGs ever conceived, it looks most dated by today's standards.
Many, if not most, RPG fans agree that Final Fantasy IV (released as Final Fantasy II in the United States) is the best entry in the series to date. And one look at the story reveals why - Final Fantasy IV serves up perhaps the most intriguing hero of all the titles in the series. Cecil, the Black Knight, begins the game as an evil king's enforcer, only later realizing he is being used to oppress innocent people. His journey toward self-discovery is highlighted by a strong supporting cast, including Cecil's aptly-named companion Cain (changed to Kain in the US), a Dragoon whose will and sense of justice prove weak and malleable, as well as Tella, a sage intent on avenging his murdered daughter at any cost. Final Fantasy IV delivers plot twist upon incredible plot twist, and it concludes in a truly epic finale. It's a wonderful tale, though unfortunately you'll need to know Japanese to take on the PlayStation version.
Final Fantasy IV requires a bit of patience on the gamer's part; it suffers from the same problems that plague most Japanese console RPGs: a very linear structure and far too many random monster encounters. If you're prepared to work your way through a lot of battles in between the plot sequences, then you'll find that Final Fantasy IV still plays very well despite its aged graphics. In fact, the play mechanics are very much similar to Square's most recent masterpiece, Final Fantasy VII. The soundtrack of Final Fantasy IV, courtesy of the expert composer Nobuo Uematsu, is also a direct port from the Super Famicom original and still sounds fantastic.
The rendered intro seems like an afterthought and doesn't justify purchasing this title. Indeed, all you have to look forward to is the original, unmodified game (the US version was censored and somewhat simplified) on a single CD, and the attractive packaging and manual featuring art by the peerless Yoshitaka Amano. So, the end result is a bit of a dilemma: We have here what's undeniably a classic role-playing game, but it's pretty old and can't compete with modern RPGs for the same reason. A redesigned and graphically superior Final Fantasy IV, or a compilation disc containing several of the older games in addition to this one, would have been much more appreciated. But hey, it's Final Fantasy IV, after all - fans of the game looking to check out the unadulterated version, or those who missed out when on its early 90s release and are wondering just what's so great about it, will be most pleased with this release, provided they are willing and able to break the language barrier.