I’m not a big fan of sequels, and the Final Fantasy games have been no exception. Final Fantasy X-2 had a goofy name, a goofier premise, and the combat, while functional and fun, was easy to break into a million pieces. The Final Fantasy Tactics Advance games were a neat change of pace from the darker tone of the original game, but I unfortunately found them to be boring. Additionally, don’t even get me started on the various sequels and prequels to Final Fantasy 7.
Yet, for some reason, I felt hopeful and excited for Final Fantasy 4: The After Years. Perhaps it’s because I hold the original game on a very high nostalgic pedestal. At the tender age of six, it was the second RPG I ever played (long before I ever thought about approaching games from a critical perspective). It’s easy to see why Final Fantasy 4 holds a special place in my heart. So, I embraced FF4: The After Years with open arms, but with the critical eye that I’ve crafted in the eighteen years since. My verdict? The game is good, but there certainly could have been much more effort put into it.
Seventeen years after the events of the original Final Fantasy 4, the second moon, which appeared suddenly and made the wild monsters go crazy, has appeared again. All kinds of foreboding and crazy things begin happening. As a result, we get to see the old heroes investigate these strange occurrences as history begins to eerily repeat itself.
Additionally, not only do the characters comment on it, but the game’s narrative even goes into painstaking detail to repeat as many events of the original game as possible, regardless of their relevance. For example, one of the characters you play, Ceodore, runs through the desert town of Kaipo.
His companion, a hooded man who is tight-lipped about his name, says, “Traveling through the desert is exhausting, let’s rest here before we set out.” So, you have to go to the inn, stay the night, and see the scene of guards from a neighboring nation barge in during the night to attack him.
If you’ve never played Final Fantasy 4, this is an almost exact repeat of something that happened in the first game, only it made sense back then. Here, it was just a contrived plot point meant to take you down memory lane.
That’s not to say it’s all like this. FF4: The After Years allows you to play from the perspective of several characters from the original game to see what they’ve been up to since way back when. While some of these characters’ quests boringly mimic events from the first game, the ones that strive to be original really shine and are exciting to play. The new material engaged me in a way that many sequels fail to do.
The After Years rushes right into the story without explaining much. So, if you haven’t played Final Fantasy 4, you’re not going to have a good grasp on what’s happening for quite a while. After all, why should you know (or care for that matter) that a second moon is appearing in the sky, and what bad tidings it might portend? It’s enough to make me wholeheartedly recommend playing FF4 if you plan on playing The After Years. Just be prepared for a lot of deja vu when you finally get to play the sequel.
The gameplay remains pretty much unchanged as well, although unlike the story, it’s probably better off because of it. The After Years brings back the patented “Active Time Battle” system (ATB), where all characters and enemies acquire turns based on how fast they are, rather than everyone on the field having an equal amount of turns. The charge time, before acquiring a turn, is indicated by a gauge that fills up over time.
This is rather old-school for these times, but ‘old’ is not necessarily synonymous with ‘bad’ (In fact, it’s quite good). The After Years adds some new stuff to the mix, though. The first addition is a multiplayer mode. You can assign up to four controllers to any of the characters in your party.
This was actually present in FF4, but it was wacky because both controllers could control all the characters in battle. Now, you can assign characters to controllers, which mitigates the mayhem… although, I really can’t see four people having fun playing an RPG together like that. You wouldn’t be doing anything most of the time! Two players is one thing, but four?
Another new trick up the game’s sleeve is “Band Attacks”, which are essentially combination attacks. Simply choose the “Band” option during battle with one character, choose the character you want them to band with, and finally, choose the second character’s action. You can add any combination of party members to the Band.
But, there is one catch: to find new Band Attacks, you have to guess right. Only specific character/action combinations will form a Band Attack, and if you make a sequence that doesn’t form a Band Attack, all party members involved will just stand around for a painfully long time before telling you that the Band failed. So, while Band Attacks are useful, you have to experiment to find them. It’s dangerous learning them except against enemies much weaker than you – rather counter-productive.
Last up to bat is the “Moon Phase” system. There are four types of actions you can take in battle: physical attacks, black magic, white magic, and non-magic skills. Likewise, there are four moon phases, which augment one type of action while weakening another.
This works well in theory because it forces you to think about what the current moon phase is, and it forces players to plan their strategies accordingly. The only problem is, the moon phase changes every time you rest at an inn or use a tent at a save point. So, you can buy a lot of tents and spam them to get the phase you prefer or need the most at any given time.
I said I was rather ambivalent about the gameplay, but looking back, I guess I’m ambivalent about the entire game. What point have I been laboring at this whole time? I enjoyed Final Fantasy 4: The After Years, but I have a hard time recommending it to anyone who hasn’t played the original Final Fantasy 4.
Even then, don’t expect too many exciting and new additions. If you’re prepared for a trip down memory lane, – nay, a virtual instant replay of memory lane – then you’ll be pleasantly surprised with The After Years. If you’re looking for a new experience, you may want to look elsewhere.
The improved graphics and character sprites are nice, but the frequency in which the game's story exposition mimics the original game is tragic.
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Take the old-school, fast-paced gameplay of Final Fantasy 4 and add in some neat-yet-pointless additions. Overall, the game was pretty fun.
This was always one of the better Final Fantasy soundtracks in my opinion, although the new pieces of music feel out of place in this game.
There are several packs of additional content each containing a handful of new sidequests.
If you've played Final Fantasy 4 and crave a second helping: dig in. If you haven't played Final Fantasy 4, you might as well play After Years instead, because the very least, you can probably get it cheaper.