David Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-08-07 04:26:14
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (WiiWare) - Rank D
Developer: Matrix Software
Publisher: Square Enix
Final Fantasy IV is one of the very best JRPGs of all time, and still remains playable almost two decades after its release on the venerable SNES. From a historical perspective, it absolutely earns a Rank S. If it were a newly released game today, I'd still give it a Rank A even considering contemporary standards. It's that good. The After Years is a belated direct sequel done in the same 16-bit style as its predecessor. This is a charming notion - to revisit a beloved classic in authentic style with the benefit of fresh new material. Tragically, rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia aside, the new material is decidedly subpar and an unworthy successor of its namesake.
Mechanically, The After Years feels comfortably familiar. Combat revolves around the ubiquitous Active Battle System (which Final Fantasy IV introduced). The monster encounter rate is exceptionally high, but it does ensure that your characters will level at a decent rate without having to resort to excessive XP grinding. The After Years also introduces a couple of twists. The first is the lunar cycle; the current phase of the moon affects combat effectiveness. For example, a full moon will boost black magic but weaken melee attacks. This contributes an additional layer of strategy to the combat. Characters can also band together to perform joint attacks, similar to Chrono Trigger's tech combos. These aspects of the game fully engaged my old school sensibilities in an entirely satisfactory manner.
It's the narrative that completely disappointed me. Ceodore, the primary protagonist, is the unlikable son of Cecil and Rosa, heroes from the original title. Over the course of the game, he and his band of adventurers traipse through the same old stomping grounds as his parents. Initially, this reunion tour hit me with waves of pleasant memories, but I soon realized that that's all The After Years has to offer. All the good bits are merely retread nostalgic echoes of Final Fantasy IV. The After Years shamelessly recycles plots and themes from its predecessor.
The story is also an incohesive mess, riddled with amateurish flashbacks and shifts of perspective. Remember the spate of awful films featuring non-chronological narratives following the release of Pulp Fiction? The After Years feels like one of those clumsy Tarantino imitators. It's a series of disjointed "Hey, remember that cool part in Final Fantasy IV?" reminders, as opposed to a valid new chapter in an ongoing saga.
In addition to this, The After Years is to be released in multiple "episodes". This review is based on just the opening ($8), and there are or will be seven additional vignettes ($3 each) as well as a concluding chapter (another $8). This may explain why the narrative is so unfocused. I've criticized Square Enix for their other WiiWare DLC extortion schemes, but The After Years is by far the most egregious. Those were extraneous bits of optional fluff, but this DLC consists of actual story. How could seven tacked on OPTIONAL side chapters possibly work as a whole with the primary narrative? How could the main story seamlessly integrate them in a meaningful, impactful way and still stand on its own? The whole project smells of a second rate, slapped together, marketing-generated concept to milk our nostalgia for revenue.
Skip this unnecessary game. There are numerous ways to play Final Fantasy IV today. Play that instead, and enjoy everything that's good about The After Years without any of the derivative dross.