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Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light was obviously developed with the intention to recreate the feel of the Final Fantasy franchise before Cloud brashly introduced himself in 1997’s Final Fantasy VII. It uses techniques and themes mostly present in the Final Fantasy titles from the Super Nintendo age and earlier, and though it doesn’t reach the epic levels of highlights such as Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy VI, it’s a game that should feel familiar to anyone that grew up playing RPGs in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

4 Heroes was created by RPG veteran Matrix Software, which also developed the Nintendo DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV. The mechanics implemented in 4 Heroes are a mix of those used in Matrix’s previous efforts, combining an improved Final Fantasy III job system with the open-world feel and somewhat larger (but not as large) plot of Final Fantasy IV. If you enjoyed either of the remakes, 4 Heroes will be right up your alley.

The story in 4 Heroes isn’t totally conventional, but it doesn’t break a lick of new ground. The four main characters don’t have much personality, aside from their strange desires to always leave each other behind, so character development isn’t this game’s strong suit. 4 Heroes is basically about a single quest that leads into a much larger effort, with a plot that switches around from character to character as the party is accidentally, and purposefully, separated. Eventually, everyone comes back together, and the world opens up.

Players will save townspeople from being turned into stone, contracting strange illnesses, being possessed, and stop the forces of chaos attempting to, well, do chaotic things. Anyone that’s played an RPG can predict where 4 Heroes‘s narrative ends up going, but the game isn’t boring, and 4 Heroes‘s simplicity actually makes the game a light, fun adventure that still keeps itself from becoming too vanilla. How could it not feel good to lead the group of heroes that eventually save the entire world?

Like in many RPGs, fighting random battles and the eventual big boss is a big part of being one of the heroes in 4 Heroes of Light. Players can change their characters’ battle abilities by switching between 28 different crowns, which resemble the Final Fantasy series’ often-used jobs. Equipping a specific crown gives a character one general ability, such as increased sword damage, and up to four in-battle abilities when fully upgraded, such as making the next spell more powerful. These abilities can only be used while wearing their specific crown.

Crowns can be upgraded by collecting 8 different types of gems, some more rare than others, which are awarded at the end of each battle instead of currency. You’ll choose to either inlay these gems in crowns to upgrade their abilities, or sell the gems for profit, creating a trade-off until certain gems become readily available. Crowns themselves are collected by defeating bosses, completing mini-games, and other methods, so you won’t miss out if a treasure chest gets left behind in the corner of some dungeon. Mixing and matching new crowns while trying to find the most effective party is one of the most fun parts of the game. Do you want a spoony bard, two thieves, and a paladin? Perhaps three black mages and a white mage? It’s all up to you.

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Every action in battle requires the use of action points (AP), with each character able to have a maximum AP total of five. One point is replenished at the beginning of each turn, so actions like basic attacks that only cost one point can be used indefinitely. However, more powerful actions can require up to five points, so players will often choose to skip a turn to build up their AP. Though this system somewhat handily does away with magic points, some of the tougher boss battles require precise AP management and proper crown choice to survive past more than a few turns. Overall, the AP system is a different approach to RPG battling that works well. It’s simple on the surface, but it deep enough so that players are forced to make logical decisions about how they spend their AP.

In and out of battle, 4 Heroes‘ visual style resembles that of a picture book. Characters are modeled in the super-deformed style that the Nintendo DS has become known for, but they and the environments are bright and colorful. Equipping different weapons, armor, and crowns will change each character’s appearance, making you feel special after finding a powerful new item to wear. Towns are pretty and worth taking a look around, though dungeons are basic and just a means to an end. 4 Heroes‘s music doesn’t dethrone the soundtracks of previous Final Fantasy titles, but it’s still excellent, catchy, and just as whimsical as the game’s visuals.

Unfortunately, not every aspect of 4 Heroes was implemented perfectly. Though players choose the actions of their characters in battle, they cannot choose their targets. I never found this all that bothersome, and it does streamline random battles, but it wasn’t ideal in every situation. Inventory management also takes some getting used to, with a 15 item maximum including weapons and armor imposed on each character.

The two aspects of 4 Heroes that annoyed me the most were its lack of direction and difficulty. Talking to townspeople is the primary method of finding out what to do next, but your future destination isn’t always properly defined. A few times I found myself wandering across the tundra or inside dungeons without knowing if I was in the right place. In addition, there is a steep ramp-up in difficulty towards the game’s end, seemingly making certain crowns and equipment required choices rather than allowing for varied party customization through to the end.

Thankfully, these frustrations were minor in my experience and don’t stop 4 Heroes from becoming a successful retro-style RPG. It’s not going to blow anyone’s mind, but 4 Heroes is a straightforward game with cute visuals that should give fans a few dozen solid hours of random-battling, townspeople-saving, and ugly elemental boss-destroying gameplay. Plus, it’s just damn cute.

Bottom Line: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light should be considered Final Fantasy III.V (that’s 3.5). It won’t rise to any RPG lover’s #1 game of all time, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for with charm and a battle system that smells fresh despite coming straight from the 1980s.

Recommendation: If you’ve been dying for a classic Final Fantasy title that’s closer in mechanics to Final Fantasy IV than Final Fantasy XIII, you’ll enjoy 4 Heroes of Light. If you despise retro RPG conventions, 4 Heroes is not for you unless you really want to morph into a chicken.

[rating=4]

Game: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
Genre: RPG
Developer: Matrix Software
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: October 5th, 2010 (NA), October 8th, 2010 (EU)
Platform: Nintendo DS
Available from: Amazon

Tom Goldman has been trying to change his dog back into a white mage all day. It’s not working.

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