Up until playing it, I’ve only ever had two associations when thinking about Shadow Hearts. One related to the game’s Judgment Ring, an appealing mechanic that added an element of action to otherwise typical turn-based battles. The other, more prominent association was the proximity of its release to Final Fantasy X, one of the most anticipated games at the time. At first blush, this seems like unfortunate timing, but in actuality it was opportunistic: a hope that those awaiting Final Fantasy X would purchase Shadow Hearts to bide their time with a similar role-playing game, albeit one with a much smaller development budget. With this in mind, I long ago established modest expectations. Now that I’ve completed it, I’ve found that these expectations were spot-on, which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy playing Shadow Hearts, but it was somewhat unimpressive. Continue reading Shadow Hearts [PlayStation 2] – Review→
I don’t want this review to sound too acrimonious, but I had a lousy experience with Final Fantasy VI. It’s a game I started a couple of times over the past few years, only to burn out early on. By the time I began playing this game, soon after completing the two prior entries, I suffered from a Final Fantasy fatigue. With a few years between my last attempts, I finally restarted this summer and managed to beat it. While I enjoyed much of my playthrough this go-around, my impressions were still negatively colored by those initial burnouts, especially after listening to years of praise for this entry, often cited as the greatest in the series. Opinions are malleable, and mine will undoubtedly grow rosy with the passing of time, but as of this writing I feel this is the weakest Final Fantasy on the Super Nintendo. Continue reading Final Fantasy VI [PlayStation] – Review→
When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.
As far as Final Fantasy branded items go, Final Fantasy Chronicles is somewhat unique. It was only released in North America, sort of. This is a compilation of two games previously released in North America: Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger. Both games feature additional content compared to their original SNES releases. Most of the additions are minor, but each game now includes an opening cinematic and Final Fantasy IV’s script has been revised. I haven’t played these versions, but I have played these games and without question, they’re highlights of the role-playing genre; specifically harkening back to of the most popular eras of the Japanese RPG.
Each game was originally developed by Square and these versions were ported by TOSE. Final Fantasy Chronicles was released for the PlayStation on June 29, 2001 courtesy of Squaresoft.
Okay, Final Fantasy V hasn’t been released as much as its predecessor. In fact, the first time it was officially released outside of Japan was with the American release of Final Fantasy Anthology for the PlayStation. That was in late 1999 – basically seven years after it was originally released on the Super Famicom in late 1992. It took another two and a half years for the game to eventually be released in Europe. Since then, it has been released on the Game Boy Advance and on iOS and Android platforms.
As they did for the Super Famicom release of Final Fantasy IV, Square opted for a cutesy cover over the traditional usage of Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork. Again, he was relegated to the logo design. This cover hones in on the wanderer Bartz, and easily conveys this fact. The logo chosen for this game includes a dragon intertwined with the font. This is also apt as dragons play a significant role in the narrative.
The game was subsequently released on the PlayStation in 1996. This is my favorite cover that’s been used for one of the game’s releases. The cutesy character design again reigns supreme and this time it’s highlighting the many job classes. With the exception of two as there were twenty-two job classes in the original.
So this is the version of the game that I possess. I really dig the box art, but it pertains to Final Fantasy VI, so it’s not really comparable in this article. I will mention that I had difficulty playing the disc on the PlayStation 3. There is a save screen glitch that the game freezes at. The glitch is still a factor when playing the disc on the PlayStation 2, but on that system, it’s only a graphical glitch. The menu can still be navigated and the game doesn’t freeze.
For the European release of Final Fantasy Anthology, this game received the honor of selling the game. If it’s successor was included in this package, I’m sure that wouldn’t have been the case. Still, this is prime Amano displaying the cast on one of the many ships.
For the Game Boy Advance release, a slew of extra content was added including extra job classes and an extra dungeon or two. I’d like to play these versions of the NES and SNES titles (excluding 3which never saw an Advance release). The Japanese release included a lot of negative space, yet still left room for Amano’s character designs.
The cover used for the American and European releases however did away with that negative space and really zoomed in on the characters. Plus the large GBA banner on the left-hand side takes up much space.
Just as the case was with Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, this game has been released on many digital platforms that don’t really have box art. As I mentioned above, I prefer the box art for the Japanese PlayStation release. It’s different enough from the rest to stand out, and the cutesy design works well when displaying the many job classes.
When I began playing Final Fantasy V, the first ten or so hours got me down. Coming off of my completion of Final Fantasy IV, this game felt like a pause in progression for Square. The characters, protagonists and antagonists alike, felt one-dimensional. The narrative didn’t allow for a rotating party as the previous game did, and this kept the experience stale. During this early period, the combat system felt wholly similar to its predecessor too. It wasn’t until the job system was unlocked and given a few hours to come into its own, that I really began to enjoy the game.
With a traditional narrative revolving around elemental crystals and a maniacal evildoer, I didn’t get drawn into the story. After all, with a name like X-Death, there’s no questioning his motives. The protagonists were, slightly, more fleshed out though. Bartz was a wanderer who encountered the princess Reina and a stranger from another planet, Galuf, while investigating a meteorite. They joined together and set about to protect the four crystals after they witnessed one of them shattering and learned that collectively, the crystals protected a seal on X-Death.
Soon enough, the group bumped into the pirate Faris. Get this, Faris suffers from amnesia and is actually Reina’s long lost sister, Salsa. The group initially fails to protect the four crystals and X-Death is freed. With his freedom, X-Death returns to his original planet to begin conquering those who sealed him away. As the story plays out, the group learns that the two worlds were once one and in their quest to defeat X-Death, they reunite them. Galuf’s granddaughter Krile joins the fray eventually as the party composition changes partway through the game.
This game adapts the Active Time Battle system of its predecessor so battles played out nearly identically. This meant time continued to flow as I navigated the battle menus, etc. The differentiator for this game was the job system. Although Final Fantasy III had a job system, the one implemented here is structured differently – I found it more fun.
Each character had a personal level and a job level. Gaining a personal level improved stats while gaining a job level unlocked related abilities. An unlocked ability could be equipped regardless of what job any given character was at the time. This meant a white mage could also use black and time magic or a samurai could heal in the clutch. The abilities and benefits were plentiful and I had many favorite combinations at different points in the game. This gameplay system kept the game interesting when the narrative failed to do so. In my mind, that’s how I’ll remember the game.
Final Fantasy V was a slow starter. It was hard for me to get excited about the game when the story and characters weren’t doing it for me. This was concerning as I felt Square genuinely moved the genre forward with Final Fantasy IV. Eventually, the gameplay became the focal point of interest for me as the job system grew more robust and my party was earning the experience to unlock abilities. Mixing and matching the traits of different jobs and overcoming tough enemies were definitely the stars of the game.
As I browsed GameFAQs, searching for these images, a revelation occurred to me. Final Fantasy IV is probably the most re-released game in the long-running series. That’s a fitting fate for it too. It was perhaps the major title to usher in the “golden age” of Japanese role-playing games. At the very least, it was the first game in the series that hinted at the forward momentum Square would have over the next decade-and-a-half with the genre. So, why don’t you join me as I explore the covers Square used to sell the game over the years.
The first thing I noticed when looking at the original box art Square used for FFIV is the lack of emphasis placed on Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork. The previous three games featured his renderings of warriors and princesses prominently. This go around though, you’d think he was relegated to the logo only. This wasn’t the case though; Square simply chose to highlight a different aspect of the character designs – the super deformed! It’s cutesy for sure and plasters some common job classes upfront, and I guess I like that they took a different route with it. Oh, and there’s Kain Highwind in Amano’s logo.
When they released it in America for the SNES a year later though, the American branch didn’t even try. It’s simple and it always catches my eye when I scour local game shops for good deals. Maybe it’s not so bad; it does catch my eye after all. They really had to pitch it to us though, didn’t they? They’ve got bullet points on the front of the box! It was released over here as Final Fantasy II since the second and third titles weren’t. This prevented much confusion. And releasing a dumbed-down version prevented much difficulty.
The game was first rereleased for the PlayStation in 1997. The Japanese box art sees a return to the styling’s of Amano. Cecil Harvey and Golbez are prominently featured, although honestly, it’s hard for me to distinguish the rest of the imagery, and even if that really is Golbez and not Kain. Regardless, Kain takes his place in the logo. Cecil definitely fronted a hair metal band before being cast for FFIV. The PlayStation version was released in America too, circa 2001. It was bundled with Chrono Trigger and released as Final Fantasy Chronicles. There’s not much else to mention about the box art.
Little known to many Western gamers, Bandai had a fortuitous deal with Square to rerelease Final Fantasy titles for their WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color. FFIV was released for the WSC in 2002. A decadent airship is featured in the background that was no doubt crafted by the illustrious Cid Pollendina.
FFIV would next see release on a Nintendo platform again – the Game Boy Advance. It was released as Final Fantasy IV Advance in Japan and America in December 2005, and six months later in Europe. The Japanese box art is simple. Gray silhouettes of Cecil and Kain flank the logo. Meanwhile the American and European release is much more colorful. These versions feature Cecil and Kain, as well as Rosa Farrell for the first time. The box art used for these regions hints at the love triangle between the cast. This is definitely Amano refining the “wispy lines” he’s known for.
A few years later, the game saw a full-scale remake into 3D. Originally released for the Nintendo DS in Japan in December 2007, it was released in the back-half of 2008 in America and Europe. It has since been released for mobile devices running iOS and Android systems as well, but those platforms don’t really have boxed games… Japan received another Amano box art, featuring a larger portion of the cast, including the Lunar Whale. Here in America, we received an ominous black box, which formed a holographic Golbez. Europeans received the same essentially. The only difference was the color palette.
Finally, FFIV was bundled together with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and an interlude bridging the two titles as Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. This was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2011 and was the version I played. I think Japan and Europe got the better box art with this release. A large portion of the cast is done in emotive poses, painted in a watercolor style very reminiscent of Amano’s work on the original three games in the series. America on the other hand received gray silhouettes of Cecil and Kain against a white background. This version was very reminiscent of the Japanese release of Final Fantasy IV Advance.
With a brand as strong as Final Fantasy, the box art doesn’t have to sell the game. This might explain why Square has felt the liberty to rerelease Final Fantasy IV with a multitude of different covers. With much variety for this one game, it’s hard to pick a single favorite. I really like the Japanese and European release of Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. It’s probably the easy favorite. All of Amano’s artwork is awe-inspiring personally. Heck, the Super Famicom release is cool too, in a differentiated cutesy way. I’ll go with my easy favorite though – the Japanese and European releases of The Complete Collection.