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Nintendo DS Review: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light

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The DS has become a welcome home for many classic gaming franchises, it seems in fact that just about every publisher has jumped on the bandwagon. From side-scrollers to shoot-em-ups, the DS is a great platform for several genres, though role-playing games seem to be one of the more pervasive. Square-Enix has launched a pile of titles onto the handheld and their latest, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, shows their continued commitment.

Haven’t heard of The 4 Heroes of Light before? Don’t worry this isn’t a classic remade by any means. Instead, it’s a brand new adventure built from the ground up. Just be sure not to let the cutesy design of the game fool you; this title isn’t a slouch by any means. I would say that it’s probably one of the harder Final Fantasy games to come along in quite some time and it’s something that’s really geared towards franchise veterans looking for a twist on an old favorite.

The story takes place in the Kingdom of Horne, where a kid named Brandt is woken up by his mother and told to be a man. A moment later he’s summoned before the king and granted a quest to go find the King’s missing daughter. Along the way he meets up with other Heroes of Light and from that point the game jumps right into the adventure. One mission soon follows another, every village has a problem and several other RPG clichés later, the game starts to get a little more interesting (though it basically boils down to a magical crystal and four warriors destined to save the world). It’s not a groundbreaking experience by any means, and for the most part the plot is just a vehicle for an adventure rather than something memorable. As a fan of the franchise, which is often known for engrossing, powerful stories and long-lasting characters, I found that disappointing, but the real meat of this game is within its gameplay anyway.

Let me just say one thing right off the bat: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is looking forward to chewing you up and spitting you out. The game offers no hand-holding whatsoever, and inexperienced players or those not expecting a challenge will find themselves dying a lot. In fact, it almost seems like death is part of the design. When players kick the bucket, they are ushered back to the most recent town they visited and are essentially sent packing on their way again.

Trust me when I tell you there’s nothing worse than crawling through a dungeon and dying at a boss, only to respawn in town and have to do it all over again. It’s inevitable that it will happen, and that may bug some players. Personally, I appreciated the challenge and felt it was a nice change of pace, though it wasn’t something I was prepared for.

In the opening moments of the game, Brandt is given no help. With little more than a sword, a potion, and a Phoenix Down, the little hero is sent off into the wilderness to rescue the princess. Making matters worse is the fact that the random enemy encounters are dauntingly frequent. Expect to be jumped by monsters every few steps, and the pace never really lets up even hours into the game. Luckily, by that point players will have additional party members to cushion the blow, but it’s still challenging.  Really though, is a challenge such a bad thing? In all honesty it’s not, but a little more support from the game (or even a tutorial – seriously, read the manual before playing) would have gone a long way to easing players in rather than hitting them over the head right out of the gate.

Another trapping here that is noticeably different from modern games is the limited inventory system. Players are forced to strategize before leaving town as each character can only equip a specific amount of items and armaments. It forces players to think about what they’ll need prior to getting into a situation where they come up short-supplied. 

The 4 Heroes of Light also features the unique, and much touted, Crown system. The game has a wide selection of magical hats that can be placed on your characters. These effectively take the place of a job system and once you earn a Crown it can be used by anyone. There are benefits to having specific abilities in your party, and anyone familiar with Final Fantasy knows you don’t want to go without a White or Dark Mage. Some unique Crowns make their way into this title, however, and the system becomes more robust as you unlock more of them.

Now, as far as the actual battle system in the game, things are fairly standard, but there’s a twist. The action is turn-based, but each character has Action Points that can be spent to perform attacks, spells, and whatnot. Each maneuver takes a certain amount of AP to use, and characters only replenish so many each turn (there are five APs available to use). Obviously, the more powerful the spell or attack, the more points will be used. Finding a balance in this system is key to survival and the system becomes quite addictive once you get the hang of it.

The 4 Heroes of Light‘s story lasts a while and it’s extended via local multiplayer. Sure you need to have friends with the game, but the system is worth checking out in and of itself. Dragon Quest IX‘s multiplayer implementation was a little better, but it’s not a bad idea to bring along some extra muscle in your game if some friends are over.

Ultimately, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a DS title that’s worth checking out. Anyone who loves classic-style RPGs will appreciate the challenge and strategic implementation, and those who appreciate the modern DS remakes of older Final Fantasy titles will want to experience this as well. It is true that things aren’t as smooth as they could have been, and some things are a little off-putting, but The 4 Heroes of Light is a winner in the end.

There’s a certain storybook charm to the design in Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. Characters feature a look similar to a cross between Tactics and the other DS titles in the franchise. They are nicely animated and given a great amount of personality despite the simplistic designs. Environments aren’t quite as fortunate in the grand scheme of things, and some of the storybook-like elements just don’t fit. Enemies are nicely varied, as is the equipment such as Crowns and weaponry, and overall the game has an appealing aesthetic. As far as the sound direction in The 4 Heroes of Light, things aren’t quite as lively as they typically are with Final Fantasy. The music is hit or miss and sound effects are familiar.  Overall the game just doesn’t offer an impressive audio mix.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light comes strongly recommended for anyone looking for an RPG with an edge. The game’s steep difficulty and learning curve, along with forced limitations that prompt excessive strategy make this one not for the faint of heart, but that should be considered a good thing. Dedicated gamers looking for a challenge and a game that keeps them on their toes will appreciate The 4 Heroes of Light. Square-Enix takes the series in new directions here and the results pay off far more often than not.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Mild Fantasy Violence, and Mild Language.

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