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The Incredibly Cute Adventures of the Four Heroes of Light in the Land of OH MY WHY IS THAT ORC EATING MY FACE?!

Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light Spotlight
By: Xeawn R.
(c) Dragon House Studios

Aren’t they just too cute for words!!!

Greetings one and all, welcome to my initial impressions review for Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light. Before we kick things off: DeDe Mouse – Journey to Freedom Track 1 – My Favorite Swing

Four Heroes of Light is a very ambitious new direction for Final Fantasy in a number of different ways. For one, I do believe this is the series’ first turn based multiplayer game since Final Fantasy IX (9) on the PS1. For another, this is another title that is mainly Final Fantasy in name only. While it borrows heavily from Final Fantasy game and story elements, it is in fact more the spiritual successor of the SaGa and Mystic series. In fact, in Japan it even bore the moniker Final Fantasy Gaiden, a name that hasn’t been used in America in quite some time (you may be more familiar with it under the series name Final Fantasy Adventure)!

Little known fact about Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and the Final Fantasy Legends series. In Japan, Legends was actually a separate RPG that Square made under the title of SaGa. A splendiforous RPG with some very ambitious gameplay decisions, Square was concerned that the series wouldn’t do too well across the pond. As a result, they decided to slap the Final Fantasy name onto the title (A la Dinosaur Planet becoming Star Fox Adventures) and hope for better sales. The game still didn’t net the same success as the other numbered Final Fantasies, but it did gain a small cult following and help to propel the franchise to greater heights.

Four Heroes of Light was promised to be in the same vein of the original 8-bit Final Fantasy, and so I was expecting a lot from the little title. When you say “8-Bit Final Fantasy”, anyone born during the reign of the NES has fond memories of spiky red headed Fighter, mysterious and powerful Black Mage, agile Monk so on. We also remember Garland with his almighty dark decree that “I, GARLAND, WILL KNOCK YOU ALL DOWN!” (Yeah, see, when I was a kid we didn’t need to curse you out to be intimidating…or ridiculous). Ah yes, those were the good old days. And it’s really kind of sad that at only twenty four, I have the right to mention “the good old days”.

“Don’t even try to say you don’t miss me!”

Moving on, classic Final Fantasy goodness was what we were promised, and what we were expecting. What we got was, well…scary and a little insulting at first.

I first began to fear when they mentioned the “streamlined combat engine”. Coming from Square, the words “streamlined” and “combat” should never, ever, ever, ever, ever be allowed into the same sentence. When they do, we get FFXIII. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed what I played of XIII, but I’m not going to kid myself or anyone else into thinking it was because of the combat. I enjoyed XIII because it was pretty; it was visually stimulating. Playing FFXIII is kinda like looking into a kaleidoscope: just because you can do it for hours doesn’t mean that there’s some cosmic secret to how deep and intellectual it is. It’s just plain pretty, and I’m okay with that.

Back on track, I became even further concerned when the words “accessible for casual players” crept into interviews. Still, Four Heroes of Light was insanely cute with pretty story book visuals, and I am more than secure enough in my masculinity to say the charming artistic direction was a strong motivating factor in my purchase. What can I say, cute is cute. So, as time went on and we didn’t hear much of anything, I steadily awaited the inevitable American release date to be announced. There are more than a few constants in the gaming world. Every year we’ll get a new Tekken, Capcom will always create an innovative new concept and then make fifty sequels of it, Street Fighter II will continue to be remade with new adjectives added to the name every time, Mario will never, ever so long as he lives ever get more than a kiss on the nose/cheek for saving the princess, and Final Fantasy games will always come to America. Well, with the exception of that Shiren the Wanderer styled Chocobo RPG for the Nintendo DS.

Finally, Four Heroes of Light received it’s American announce once I got back to America from Japan. While I was overseas I thought about getting a copy, knowing enough Japanese to be able to understand the gist of the story, but I waited to fully enjoy it in English. While in a small gaming shop in the Aeon Mall in Yakosuka (I think, we went to at least five provinces that day) I stumbled upon my now favorite electronica artist, DeDe Mouse. Apparently he happened to be in the same place as the Final Fantasy artist and was like “I really like your art.” and then she was like “I really like your music.” and then they were like “We should make a CD!” and so they did.

I heart this CD so very much.

With an art style similar Four Heroes plastered all over the CD, I expected this to be the game’s soundtrack once I picked up Journey to Freedom. The music was amazing and awesome and as I listened to it on repeat pretty much daily (sorry Kevina!!!) my excitement for the Four Heroes of Light grew more and more and more.

Suddenly I realized the game was due out in a week! I rushed to my computer to pre-order my copy and noticed that I still hadn’t gotten around to looking at that combat video from way back when that joystiq had posted. I decided I would do it later, no time to read, only time to pre-order! As I went to leave joystiq’s website, I notice they had a gameplay impression up.

What I read made me ever so sad inside. One little line toward the bottom caught my eye, mentioning how abilities and techniques auto target the enemy. I thought that was weird and stupid and was rather put off, but I figured I could deal with it. Then that voice in the back of my head told me to watch the gameplay video, and after reading the full article on the combat system I found myself asking a very familiar question.

Square Enix, why must you destroy everything beautiful?

Playing Squeenix games these days is rather troubling. It’s kind of like Squeenix spends three years painting the most beautiful, awe inspiring portrait…only to splatter it with oil and week old left overs and still trying to shove it in a gallery. Everyone will buy it because it’s from Square, and they’ll make all kinds of justifications for the decision, but the fact remains that the Mona Lisa isn’t falling apart, it’s getting kicked down a flight of stairs. Also, ten points to whoever posts first stating what lovely piece of media I just referenced. Twenty if you can tell me who made it (and thirty if you can tell me why).

Ya see, it wasn’t just abilities that were automated, not by a long shot. A fun little quote stating the combat engine was “a mix between what we did with Final Fantasy XIII and XII” had me toss up my hands and decide the plucky heroes of light were no longer for me. Then when they said it was a streamlined version of FFXIII I was very confused. I wasn’t aware that you could streamline a movie; it already plays itself. I was already annoyed enough with Lightning as it was. Playing FFXIII felt a lot like raising a teenage daughter.

“This is my ‘Don’t tell me what to do or I’ll slap you’ face.”

“Hey Lightning, there’s a group of enemies over there.”
“I SEE THE GROUP OF ENEMIES, I’M NOT BLIND!”
“Oh, well, I thought we could sneak up on-”
“NO! I WANT TO WALK LOUD IN MY BOOTS AND APPROACH FROM THE FRONT!”
“Oh, okay. That’s fine too I guess. So hey, I think we should use your spin slash on this guy-”
“AND I THINK YOU SHOULD USE YOUR SHUT UP ON YOURSELF!”
“Well, why don’t you just throw a grenade over there.”
“I DON’T WANNA THROW A GRENADE! I’M GONNA GO SLASH THAT GUY ON THE FAR LEFT!”
“But Lightning, that’s not very efficient.”
“SHUT UP XEAWN, YOU’RE NOT MY REAL FATHER! I HATE YOU!”
“Oooookay…listen, um, I’m gonna go play God of War…I’ll um…check up on you later…”

With how often Lightning decided it was better to do whatever the heck she wanted to instead of what I asked her to do, I was really really really concerned when they said “streamlined FFXIII”. Reading around online confirmed that combat was automatic, and I was quite appalled to read how many people were saying “Man, the game targets every enemy for you! That’s such a deep and innovative combat engine, it’s really gonna make me have to strategize and make the best use of my options in combat! This is gonna be such a fun challenge!”

I thought to myself “What steaming pile of justification is this?!”, and honestly still do to a degree, but, I’ll get to my unyielding love for this game in a minute, I’m not done complaining yet.

Anywho, seeing first hand what they did with this, as well as reading that the ever so innovative Crown system actually only gave you one crown at a time as the story progressed left a very bad taste in my mouth. With a heavy heart, I decided my pre-order was better spent elsewhere.

Ask anyone who knows me; if I really really want to like something, I will try really really hard to do so. In the case of Four Heroes, I spent like, a year waiting anxiously for this game. I spent months listening to Journey to Freedom on repeat, and envisioning how awesome the game was. I purposely didn’t watch all the new trailers to make sure I didn’t hype myself up or reveal too much, but darn it I was set on this being an awesome and great game. I really didn’t want to believe the game would be as bad as I knew for a universal truth it would be, and tried hard to convince myself to just buy the game anyway. Unfortunately, in our dark economic times, dropping $35 on a game just because I’m hoping it won’t suck is really not a smart thing to do.

Gasp! Is this actually a screenshot from the game I’m supposed to be reviewing?!

Well, as luck would have it I had the opportunity to play a Japanese copy of the game the day before the US release, and I must say I can and most certainly will admit when I’m wrong. I was taken in by the cute graphics, the fun nature of the story and thrown back into nostalgia as my meeting with the king dissolved into “THE WITCH TOOK MY DAUGHTER YOU’RE ONLY FIFTEEN BUT HERE’S A SWORD AND SOME MONEY GO SAVE HER NOW!” What’s more, I thought it was a really nice touch that saying no to certain tasks netted very hilarious results. It was like Four Heroes was trying to make up for every linear RPG in the world by adding a little flavor to you deciding to just blow off the king or tell childhood friends that you don’t want them to be in your party. It was great fun, but even so I was still waiting to get into a fight and despise the game and Square for ruining it.

Well, I stumbled out of town and proceeded to run around in circles until something happened to come hit my in the face with a blunt object. A few moments of aerobics later and I was in my first random battle. The first few fights were just one on one, so I didn’t get a chance to see how annoyed I’d be with the auto targeting system. However, I did get to notice something gleeful right away.

Battles were long and difficult. Enemies would not go down easy, and every one to two fights I found myself jogging back to town to rest and save. Weeeell, as RPG gamers tend to do, I let a couple of victories go to my head. I had won about four fights and I was feelin’ pretty good about myself, so I ventured on into nightfall to see what stronger foes awaited me.

I got into one random battle past dark, and proceeded to be killed in two hits. Suddenly I was in love all over again.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ll know that one thing I can’t stand is how casual gaming has gotten. Don’t get me wrong casual gamers, I still love you too, and I’m glad there are casual games to get people into the scene. Eventually a casual gamer will get into something a bit deeper like Fable, and a bit deeper like Morrowind, and next thing you know they’ll be playing Tekken and Mega Man! Or, they won’t, and that’s fine too. I don’t mind casual gamers, I like em’. A lot of my friends game casually. What I don’t like is hardcore game devs deciding to take our tried and true hardcore games and then make them become an absolute walk in the park in order to make more money. Konami, Capcom, I’m looking at you. And Square, well, I’m glaring at you.

Gasp! Two in a row!

Anyways, I quickly found that beneath Four Heroes of Light’s cute casual streamlined exterior lay a big scary monster waiting to grind my bones to make its bread. Again, instantly I became hooked. I spent a bit more time with Heroes of Light and after traveling through a cave for a bit, I came upon my first boss. My hero (whom I named Apple) was pretty much like “OH MY WHAT ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU SO BIG?!”, but was thankfully saved when the second hero (whom I named Desert) swooped in and was all “Apple, quite obviously I will have to bail you out. Surely you will not be able to defeat this beast without fire!”

The fight began and I was filled with nostalgic glee as I began the battle with non other than a minotaur for my first boss! If you ever played Mystic Quest, you’ll understand why. The thing of it is, is that Four Heroes of Light is more a spiritual sequel to Mystic Quest and SaGa than anything else. If we really had to compare, Four Heroes is essentially the love child of Final Fantasy and SaGa, and I must say the combination works well. We have some basic Final Fantasy story elements mixed in with a lot of SaGa’s gameplay and lack of taking itself seriously at times.

The minotaur was big, he was scary, and he nearly killed me at least three times. For the first time since Chrono Trigger and Skies of Arcadia, I was holding my breath the entire fight hoping against all hope that I would somehow make it through. With every single round of attack, and as each horn broke and the beast went into rage mode I hoped and prayed that I would somehow scrape by without meeting my heroic end on the point of his claws. Somehow, someway, I made it. Barely alive, but I made it.

The fun I had with the game was enough to make me go ahead and pick up a copy the next day. By the way, you’ll notice that I really haven’t talked gameplay so much as experience. I’ll get to why in a moment.

Picking up my US copy I was disappointed by a few things that were lost in translation. The US script wasn’t as debonair and humorous as the original Japanese, and the difficulty was taken down a notch, but the game still held its own. I still died at the beginning once or twice, and while the minotaur was a bit of a punk, the second boss (the Northern Witch) had me once again holding my breath the entire time. I even almost lost my entire party more than once in the battle, and while I’m a bit concerned about what direction the story is going to go in, thus far I am enjoying my experience.

Now for the gameplay. I wanted to do this separately for two reasons. The first was that I, like many other gamers, had a lot of hate for Four Heroes so I wanted to establish very, very clearly that I thoroughly enjoyed myself while playing it. The second reason being that RPG’s consist of two main forms of stimulus. There is the joy (or frustration) that we get from interacting with the story, and the joy (or outright rage) that we gain from combat/play engine. There are a great many RPG’s that are fun to read but a pain to play, or vice versa. It seems that fewer and fewer are the game that are both fun to play and to read in the RPG genre, and as such the enjoyment levels should be judged differently.

If you’re like me, I’ll look past a horrible gameplay engine for a great story (I beat Mimana Iyar Chronicles, didn’t I?). I find it a bit harder to look past a horrible story for good gameplay, but I’ve done it before. Even though I really wasn’t fond of Final Fantasy 8’s story, I thoroughly enjoyed it for the gameplay. From a gameplay perspective it’s actually my favorite next to FFIX. Story, not so much.

As for Four Heroes’ gameplay, I’ll address it in the form of dismissing complaints about the game rather than just outright listing what I liked and disliked.

Complaint number 1: The game controls itself in combat.

I too was very annoyed when I read about this, as I said earlier. Having spent more time with the game, however, I can say that while it still bothers me, I actually really quite enjoy the combat engine. While the feeling of total immersion is definitely marred by how much the game decides for me, it’s more of a “Hey guy, instead of flipping through the same tedious menus over and over again, check me out! I got this!” kind of approach.

“Awww yeah, you know we rock!”

Honestly, the combat feels exactly like it should. Four really energetic somewhat snobby kids running around like they’re all on an epic sugar high and beating up the baddies. The way each looks back at you at the end of an intense battle and does their cute little victory pose almost seems to shout out “Hey! Hey! Look at me! Did I do good, did I do good?!” and it’s really quite endearing. You’ve got Brandt, your protagonist (who I still named Apple) bouncing around excitedly and waving to you, then there’s the second hero (Dessert still in my game) whose just too cool to care about your approval, even though he still kinda looks at you like “Pshh, whatever, I don’t need you…..so, I did good right?” There’s the royal guard (I named her Ginger) with her hands full taking care of the snobby princess, finishing a battle waving her sword to and fro like “With this blade! I beat the monsters with this blade! Like this! Hiyaa! Hiyaa!” and lastly, the princess herself (Whom I named Cake. Every single dialog that involves her name is epic-ly hilarious now, you should really try it) who just kinda primps and giggles like “Hahaha, yeah…I’m great.”

When one enters combat, you’ll find that all your actions are governed by action points, much like in a tabletop RPG setting. Attacking, using an item and using an ability all require a certain number of action points to pull off. You can either make a combat action, or else charge instead so that you can pull off bigger techniques. Either way, you’ll get at least one point back per turn.

Now, one of the things that people kept complaining about was that abilities no longer us MP, as there is no longer MP in the game. I’ll admit too that I thought that was really rather dumb, but again, I can admit when I’m wrong. I actually find that because of the action point system, battles really do…*shudders at admitting this*, require a large amount of strategy. Perhaps even more so than free combat Final Fantasy titles in the past.

I can only do so much in a turn. This means that no longer can I just build up my MP and spam high level materia and Eidelons or heal whenever I please or revive a party member whenever the mood strikes me. Instead, I have to carefully way my decisions; do I attack this turn or charge? Should I use fire or cure? Should I keep letting everyone attack or should I hold back a bit to allow them to psyche up for a team attack? Admittedly, without proper planning you will die a quick and embarrassing death. You might be inclined to blame it on the auto target combat engine, but we’ll both know that you’re lying.

Much as I’d love to state otherwise, auto targeting doesn’t get parties killed. Poor planning gets parties killed.
Defeating enemies no longer nets us cash because, well, because that really never made sense in the past. A lot of people have complained about this omission, but I mean seriously, why on earth would a fox or a cloud or any other number of enemies that want to kill you just happened to be carrying five hundred gold along with them? That doesn’t even make sense, even by gaming standards. It always kinda bugged me, but as I kid I just figured the fox ate some unsuspecting traveler and somehow digested everything save for his gold and any possessions I might want to snag from its body once I finish beating it up. Not exactly logical logic, but eh, it worked.

Rather than gold, enemies drop gemstones and items. You sell those things to get money for better gear, but you’ve got to be careful as the gems serve a dual purpose (which I’ll get to in a moment).

The computer AI rather than just being angsty like Lightning and doing whatever it pleases elects instead to follow a set of rules of engagement. If you use an element, it will always target the enemy or enemies most susceptible to that element. If you use a healing item, whoever happens to be the most beat up at the time will be healed. If you choose to attack, whoever would logically take the most damage from your weapon and is closest to dieing will be targeted.
In a lot of ways, these rules of engagement actually make for a better game. If, for instance, you chose to heal Person A, and Person B just got knocked down to one health while Persona A still has fifty, you will still heal Person A in a traditional RPG because that’s who you targeted. I was always annoyed that my heroes weren’t smart enough to go “Ya know, I was gonna heal Jack, but seeing as Joe is darn near dead I should probably heal him instead”. Four Heroes corrects this with their rules, instead having whoever is most injured at the time of healing be the one to get healed, thus saving your bacon on more than one occasion.

This is really nice seeing as Four Heroes’ deceptively cute appearance is a farce made only to lull you into a false sense of security shortly before you get kicked in the face and rolled down a hill.

As battles go on, your heroes might get “psyched up”. This is a really cool feature that is flawed in execution, but wonderful when it works right. The idea is that as your friends get hurt (see: bullied by the big kids, and by kids I mean monsters…which might just be the same thing in some instances :P) your party members will get upset which will in turn get them psyched up. If two or more party members that are psyched up perform the same action, i.e. attacking or healing or whatever else you may choose, they’ll all perform as a team (see: ganging up on the bully) to deal out some heavy damage. I haven’t had a chance to see if combing say, fire or cure will get me Fira or Curaga, but I really wouldn’t be surprised.

The problem with the psyching system is that it seems to be really, really random. Sometimes my teammates care if someone gets beat up, other times they seem to stand on the side and go “Pshh, I never liked Apple anyways”. Either they’re apathetic or scared stiff, but either way they aren’t budging. More often that not you’ll have only one person be psyched while everyone else just goes “Eh, I’m not really feelin’ it bro. I mean, I’m angry, just not super angry, ya know?”
This problem aside, combat is still somehow very deep even with auto targeting, and it’s a lot of fun to make certain strategic decisions, then sit back and watch your little army go forth and carry out your orders. Thinking of it from the perspective of a general making ad-hoc decisions and watching to see how it all plays out as you plan your next move will really, really add to your enjoyment of this title.

I love how bored Brandt looks in this picture 😀

Complaint 2: The Crown System

Have you ever heard the term “put on my other hat”? If someone says they put on their HR hat, it means they’ve stepped into their role as an HR manager. If they put on their chef’s hat, they stepped into their role as a chef. I’m assuming this phrase comes from people who would work multiple jobs, the majority of which required putting on different hats for different occasions such as a construction worker who is also a chef or something of the like. Taking this into account, Four Heroes’ cutely has you literally put on a different hat. By changing hats, or crowns, you are able to switch job classes (and clothing) to fit your new role. In addition, those gems that you’ve probably been selling? You can slot them into your crowns to enhance your job class. Every crown requires different jewels to become ritzy and in the words of your main hero (Apple for me), become “even more super powerful!!!”

This is all fine and dandy and I’m enjoying its developments thus far, but I do have one gripe about the system. Like Dragon Quest IX, Heroes of Light has decided that you have to unlock new job classes as you play. Unlike DQIX, heroes decided that you get these new crowns as part of the regular linear story. What this means is that you’re really only going to get to spend some quality time with the cooler classes late in the game. I hope it won’t be so late that I won’t care. The option to carry my crowns to a new game would be nice too, but only time will tell if this option was included (or, ya know, five seconds with Google…)

The other problem with the crown system is that to begin with, you only get one crown. You obtain the Wayfarer’s crown, while at least twenty other really cool crowns sit greyed out and untouched. This would annoy me, but anyone who wears the Wayfarer’s crown gets to wear a really awesome fedora with a feather in it, and ya know what? That’s just plain cool. I have no idea what a Wayfarer is, but come one, fedora with a feather in it! My entire party currently looks like a fourth grade mafia at the moment. You really can’t argue how awesome that is. Well, you could, but you’d probably make Cake cry, and you wouldn’t want that on your head now would you?

Complaint 3: The graphics

They’re cute, deal.

Complaint 4: The music

My only complaint is it feels a little too laid back in most battles, but it does do something really fun. As the time of day or condition of battle changes, the music will seamlessly shift to fit the mood. When night falls, the tunes will become gentle and mellow. When a party member is near death or the boss is, suddenly the music becomes edgy and intense, maybe even a little intimidating depending on who is about to fall.

The only problem is, like I said, it’s a little too laid back in combat. Of course, if you asked me what my one glaring complaint was it would be that DeDe Mouse didn’t actually do the music for the game 😦

Complaint 5: THIS ISN’T MY FINAL FANTASY!

And it hasn’t been since the super nintendo, so deal with it and move on.

“I would LOVE to ride the dragon!”

Conclusion

The bottom line here is thus: is The Four Heroes of Light a flawless game? No, of course not. Nothing is. It is, however, amazingly fun, very cute, so hardcore that it probably had Demon’s Souls for an uncle (or at least as a distant relative), and somehow very, very deep. If you’ve got $35 to spare, please do give it a try. You might regret it, but honestly, that’ll probably only be if you really want to in the first place. Keep an open mind and you just might have fun. Stay set on hating it for the reasons listed above and well, your loss. But please do support this game and make Square know that we want harder games, and we want a Heroes of Light sequel. Who knows, we just might get a proper multiplayer mode and more control over the combat in the next outing. Only time (and sales) will tell. At the end of the day, my only still standing complaint and gripe is that Journey to Freedom by DeDe Mouse wasn’t the actual sound track for the game. Listen to a few of the songs while you watch some trailers and gameplay videos and you too can feel my pain >_<

As always, please feel free to comment below, and while you’re at it go ahead and enjoy yourself some more DeDe Mouse over on youtube! Take care, God bless, and happy gaming!

-Xeawn

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