A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
This is by many people considered to be a “Proto Bravely Default“, which is very noticeable in the art style as well as the game going back to the roots of the Final Fantasy franchise. That said, I have not played Bravely Default yet, and therefore will treat this game as a stand-alone without comparing it to what later games have or haven’t improved upon. I am very experienced with the Final Fantasy franchise, or rather RPGs in general. I have finished the game once before I’ve started writing this review, but I did not bother with anything beyond the main game. This includes some minor side content that won’t really impact your overall enjoyment of the game and are merely there for people who want more from the game.
This review also won’t cover the online portion of the game, simply for the reason that you have a bigger chance to win the lottery than to find a friend or stranger who still plays this game. Either that, or I’m just very unlucky.
The Nintendo DS was quite a good system for RPGs huh? A lot of Dragon Quest games made their way to the handheld, there were several one-shots that are by many considered to be amongst the best of the genre, and there are way more Final Fantasy games than I can keep track of. Perhaps the most interesting game to come out of this franchise for the system was a completely new- and original game called Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, a game aiming to recapture the feeling of classic RPGs from the 8-bit and 16-bit era. This is the era I grew up with as many of you know, with some of my favourite games ever being on the SNES. Hate it or love it: Final Fantasy is an ever-evolving franchise, so it only makes sense that the games we see now are not the same as they used to be. So to see a beloved franchise go back to revisit its roots; that is a match made in heaven for me!
Yet, it took me about 10 years to finally give this game a shot. It’s not necessarily a rare game by any means, but I never really came across it whenever I was shopping. I’ve been doing a lot of shopping on the internet lately since we all have to stay inside because of REDACTED, and I fortunately came across this title. As to why I haven’t played Bravely Default yet which is slightly more accessible: I did actually order it once, but it got lost in the mail. What do you think our postal service did?
A) Try everything in their power to recover the lost mail.
B) Come up with some sort of compensation.
C) “Nothing of course, your problem is not ours”.
That one shouldn’t be too difficult to answer. Anyhow, enough rambling, on to the review!
As I’ve stated in the introduction: the Nintendo DS was a good handheld for the Final Fantasy franchise. Two classic games got a full 3D remake, one being Final Fantasy 3 which saw the light of day for the first time in the west. These remakes, alongside many others for the publisher Square Enix, were all created by Japanese video game development studio Matrix Software. They’re an independent development studio who often work together with bigger publishers. Being a game that was inspired by the classics, many older Final Fantasy games have been used as a direct reference for the final result. The job system was inspired by Final Fantasy III and V, while Final Fantasy IV was a direct inspiration for the story and characters. Blend them all together and add an original art style and story, and you got a game that has an overall… mixed to mostly positive reception. It didn’t sell badly and fans loved the return to a classic formula, but it was also a slightly overlooked game at the same time. It did lead to what was originally meant to be a sequel that ended up becoming the much-beloved Nintendo 3DS game, Bravely Default. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of trivia to share about this game. I’ve searched far and wide on the internet, looked at every result on both Google and Youtube, but both to no avail. Almost no one talks about the game which is a real shame. So maybe this review will be able to reignite some sparks?
When I got Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light second-hand, there was already a save file on the cartridge. I mention this because upon starting a new game, an interesting message pops up: All progress and data from your old save will be lost. Most, if not all Final Fantasy games in the past (or even RPGs for that matter) have had multiple save files, so it felt like a strange decision to make it a limitation while all older games never felt the need to. It isn’t too much of a problem for me personally, but keep this in mind for later as I’ll come back to it when talking about other mechanics. Upon starting a new game, you’re immediately forced to name the four characters you’ll be playing as. This is yet again another nitpick that won’t hinder your overall excitement, but these characters aren’t your quiet no-personality protagonists so it’s a bit strange to name them based on a small description. There are default names to choose though, so I won’t address this any further and move on to the game.
You wake up on your fourteenth birthday, so it’s time to be a responsible human. Fortunately they don’t have to pay taxes in their magical kingdom, and instead just have to visit the king who sends them out on an adventure. You’re given control over the first of four characters right from that start, and I feel this is a good time to mention how pretty I find this game to be. It has this instantly recognizable storybook art style, with points of interests popping up on the horizon like you’re walking on a circular globe. A little while later you’ll come across a fairy village on a large tree, giving you a spiral view instead as you walk through the town. While I’m talking about graphics: I also like how all weapons- and armour have their own design in-game. I definitely consider this to be one of the prettiest 3D games on the Nintendo DS. The storybook aspect is also a general theme of how the game is presented, so expect to see it a lot throughout the game.
After walking through your usual RPG town and talking with a few people about the meaning of life, you meet up with the king who gives you your first task: the princess has been stolen and it’s up to you to get her back! Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is often praised for being a game that goes back to the classic days of RPGs in a time where the main franchise was trying out all sorts of wacky possibilities and crazy sci-fi storylines, and this setup for a story immediately proves that the game is trying to be not that. On your way to the princess, you conveniently meet all the other protagonists and end up becoming ”the Four Heroes of Light” after defeating the kidnapper of the princess. Real subtle there guys. After making your way back to town, it is discovered that everyone turned to stone while you were away! And now the real story begins… after making another questionable decision.
The main protagonists split up: two characters travel with some mages to a place far away for their own safety, while the other two try to find a cure for this mysterious disease. From a story perspective, I have no issue with this at all as the characters are now given the opportunity to develop themselves instead of being reliant on others to develop as a group of heroes. But while this was a good excuse to split up characters the first time, every excuse that comes after is very weak from a narrative standpoint. Characters get left behind by the other travelling companion for literally no reason, and it becomes more of an annoyance than a wheel to drive the story forward. My (least) favourite example of this is when protagonist B joins protagonist A on his journey to find a cure, who ends up leaving her behind because he came across a clue for the cure and wanted to solve the problem himself. Protagonist B then appears in another city in tramp clothing–again, for no reason–and meets up with Protagonist C, who is also looking for something. She literally teams up with him for a few battles, and then C leaves her behind YET AGAIN and for what reason? He found a clue about the whereabouts of his target and sees it as his own responsibility. Do you see where I’m going with this? I guess the running gag here is that she gets left behind because she’s a “hindrance”, but not once has the story actually made her look like someone who’s holding the others back.
While this was a good excuse to split up characters the first time, every excuse that comes after is very weak from a narrative standpoint.
Now, there is a reason why this annoys me personally. Every protagonist has an inventory space of 15 items, of which 4 are already used by the equipment and if your character is a mage, several more are used for each magic spell. It’s a limited inventory, but I didn’t find it much of an issue as the number rose to 60 when all four party members were together. That said, equipment not being part of the inventory would have been much better. Once a party member leaves, you won’t have access to their inventory until they are playable again, at which point the game has progressed and that gear has become slightly less useful when their story continues. You can, of course, trade their gear over to another party member or put it in the storage, but it’s often very abrupt when a party member leaves. Remember when I talked about only having one save file? This issue would have been less of a problem if there were multiple files, because then you could experiment a bit with the new chapter and see if you should or shouldn’t go back to your old save to trade over stuff. Now I have to restart the game if I want to do that, and it’s not fun. A good example of this was somewhere in the story where I was stuck with a single character who has to climb a tower full of damaging enemies, which probably would have been easier for me if I had an item that protected me against fire attacks. This was on another unavailable member, and I had no way to access it anymore, making this tower climb more difficult than it should be for me.
I would argue that I’m also not a fan of the party members leaving because I was specifically building some characters to execute a specific role such as a Black Mage, but it’s very easy to switch roles with the Crown system so this isn’t really an issue. The Crown system is the equivalent to jobs/classes from regular Final Fantasy games, and it gives the character a different stat spread to work with the class as well as a unique skill. Switching classes is therefore very easy and even if you want to switch from White Mage to a Bandit, your magic spells will still remain–they are just slightly weaker due to the different stat spread. I will always make my offensive caster a Black Mage because they have a passive that reduces their AP consumption for spells AND a unique skill that allows them to make their next spell even stronger, but this doesn’t mean that black magic can’t be used by a different class. Only skills are exclusive and I’m perfectly fine with that but… please tell me why the run option is also locked to a class? Not only does this not make any sense, but I have to put myself in an inferior class to have the ability to flee from battle. I was stuck in a battle with an enemy that had ridiculous evasion, and I couldn’t escape. This is the only negative thing I can say about the job system though, as it works very well overall.
Now to be fair: All of the issues that I’ve mentioned up till this point aren’t relevant anymore once the 4 heroes unite with each other. This isn’t really a spoiler since it’s literally in the title of the game, but at this point I could finally start working on my team synergy. This was also when I really started to have fun with the game because the story picked up in an interesting way. Before this point, all characters were separated and only seldom met up, but it mostly focussed on one character at a time to give them development. I didn’t really care too much for the characters themselves since they’re literally nameless characters with a bit of character forced upon them (and their development was also slightly forced), but the segments were overall pretty short. This was also further established by the dungeons being short and sweet as well. Now that they were united, the storytelling shifted slightly away from its ”storybook” way of developing the characters, and focussed on a general goal for all of them together. The world is, at this stage in the game, also freely explorable which was very much appreciated.
Which brings me nicely to what is probably the main dish of this review: the battle system. If you thought the game made weird decisions before then ho boy, prepare yourself for what’s to come. But before I do that, let’s start with the positives first since there definitely are good parts about this battle system. I’ve mentioned the crown system before with how it gives you a unique skill depending on what crown you wear. The crowns can have multiple skills depending on if you upgrade them or not, and they’re all assignable to one of the six ”action buttons” on the bottom screen. Those actions buttons also contain the spells that you can use. Here’s a fun miscellaneous fact: you can actually rename all of the spells you obtain throughout the game. So instead of casting fire on enemies, you can make it sound like you’re detonating a nuke on their face. Please note: it won’t do the same damage as a nuke. What I like about the magic system in this game specifically is that you aren’t bound to an MP bar anymore, but instead a general AP bar that applies to everything you do, including normal attacks and the usage of items. This means that if I play as a Black- or White mage, I don’t have to worry about giving them actual weapons because they can execute their job pretty much endlessly with the lower-levelled spells. AP recovers by 1 every turn for a maximum of 5, and you can also boost to essentially skip a turn and gain 2 AP instead while also functioning as a defensive skill against physical attacks that turn. It’s a pretty solid battle system overall–it’s simple to understand, and it removes the restrictive mindset of ”if I use this skill now, I can’t use it in battles later unless I use a recovery item”.
It’s a pretty solid battle system overall–it’s simple to understand, and it removes the restrictive mindset of ”if I use this skill now, I can’t use it in battles later unless I use a recovery item”.
That said, there is one flaw about this battle system, and it is a pretty big one: you can NOT target an enemy- or ally. This means that if you’re fighting against multiple enemies, the game itself decides which of the enemies to attack (it follows a pattern, but you have no influence over it). This is a very unnecessary restriction and one that has caused me several deaths when I was playing with a single character–also known as the first half of the game. There are multiple attributes to keep in mind when playing as a character: elemental (dis)advantages, physical defense and magical defense. This is fairly hard to balance for one character, though it would have been less of a problem if I could decide which enemy to attack. If I kept my magic defense a bit lower, I just needed to take care of the enemy with spells first and then it wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, but I am unable to do that. Or what if one enemy is weak to fire, while the other is weak to water? I can’t really decide who I cast the spell on. Targetting allies is slightly less of a problem because most of what you want to do to allies is healing since most other buffs are party-wide, but I can’t decide who to heal either. It’s a good thing it automatically targets the party member with the lowest HP, but what if I don’t want to do that? It’s a very unnecessary restriction that had no reason to be removed. I will admit that this wasn’t too big a problem for me once all heroes were united and when I finally had a good team synergy, but that doesn’t excuse the removal of such basic game design. Some enemies are also obsessed with putting status effects on you which sucks when you’re alone, but it’s not a game-breaker for me.
While I did say that the game is more difficult due to this unnecessary restriction, I’m not of the opinion that this game is difficult in general. The townfolk literally tell you what elemental gear would be useful for crying out loud, which is always conveniently sold in the same town as well. Joking aside; enemies scale with you so the difficulty is highly dependant on your own strategies. And despite the inability of targetting being there, the game is also mostly built around this limitation. I will always praise the Crown system for bringing in a lot of strategy and diversity, and the crowns themselves are also upgradeable alongside armour- and weapons. This is done through gems, which you get from killing monsters. Gems are the universal currency in the game which can also be sold for Gil since monsters don’t drop them, but please don’t do that. There is a broken minigame pretty early on in the story where you can infinitely make money with literally no drawbacks. Gems should exclusively be used for upgrading Crowns that give new skills for every level, or upgrading gear for increased stats. I like this system, and gems overall aren’t too hard to farm either once the world opens up. Upgrading gear was usually the solution to overcoming an obstacle for me, including that tower I mentioned earlier on where I struggled due to my elemental gear being on another member. I only seldom struggled in the first half of the game, and only once in the second half due to a random difficulty spike.
Very slight spoiler ahead for the battle against the final boss, so skip to the verdict if you want to avoid it because this is the end of the review as a whole. I didn’t really struggle with the final boss either, though it did kill me cheaply once due to it removing a character from the battle which apparently does not get blocked by debuff immunity. The character would come back after a few turns, but she was also the healer of my team so my other party members were helpless and died before she could return. It’s cheap, but what annoyed me here specifically is that the save point was at the very least five minutes back, random encounters not included. And there were also three phases so it could very well have happened that I got another game over, wasting even more time. The game ended on a slightly sour note because of that, but it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment. There’s also a good amount of optional side content for the people who really enjoyed the game such as more unlockable classes and a few challenging towers to climb, but I was satisfied enough with the main game.
The biggest problems with Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light are the many questionable- and restrictive decisions made. The game is built around these exclusions, but that still doesn’t excuse the inability to target enemies- or allies. Allies being split-up to focus on character development is a good idea on paper, but the execution was done rather poorly. Most of the issues that I did have however, were almost all negated in the second half of the game where the heroes united. While the first half was still good but occasionally frustrating for me personally, the second half had me far more excited due to giving me a lot of strategic freedom and the story also having an interesting twist. The Crown system in and of itself saved most of the battle system’s shortcomings due to how flexible it is, and the story started focussing on a singular goal for all the heroes after each of them were given their own spotlight. This storybook approach of telling the story was one I appreciated very much, and will definitely be one of the defining factors that I will remember from my journey through this game.
- Absolutely beautiful storybook theme.
- The second half had me very much hooked by giving me a lot more freedom.
- Flexible job system with a lot of possibilities.
- Inability to target enemies in combat.
- Character development handled very poorly.
So what did you think of my new writing style? I personally enjoyed writing this review a lot because it was less thinking about what I should write and instead just… write what comes up. I feel this comes closer to my ideal of “A Youtube video in article format”, as I describe my journey a bit more now. In an old review, I wouldn’t really talk about there only being one save for example. But starting this review right from when the game boots up gave me more opportunity to do so. I’m kind of conflicted on giving this game an 8 since I was gearing more towards a 7.5 or even a 7 initially, but the positives did outweigh the negatives in my opinion to the point where they weren’t highly relevant in the latter half, which I also remember most fondly. I wonder if the optional side content would have affected my score negatively given that they were more challenging in a game where the combat system wasn’t excellent, but I really just wasn’t interested in trying them out.
Next time I’m going to try and apply this same writing style to a completely different game, just to test if this format also works for a game that’s… literally an hour long. It’s a game I mentioned once before called Wendy: Every Day Witch for the Gameboy Colour. And if it also works there then hey, I might have found a new writing style! Again! And then I change it again in a few months because I’m way too much of a perfectionist!
What do you consider to be one of the strangest exclusions that a video game has made compared to other games in the same genre? And did it impact your enjoyment of the game as a whole, or was it too minor to change your opinion?
I don’t have a definitive answer so I thought I’d give a funny one instead. There’s this game on Steam called BAFL: Brakes Are For Losers and as she title implies, the racing game doesn’t allow you to brake. It also made the game a lot worse, so guess who’s the loser now huh BAFL?