A seminal RPG! But, only find it in America of North and the Moonland Isle

Final Fantasy 4

Final Fantasy IV (SNES) (1991)

Did you know that you change your friends every seven years? That’s right, one day you’re out playing football on the road and a bit of Tip the Can for good measure, and the next moment (well, over the next seven years), they’re just left sitting on your Facebook friends list gathering more and more cobwebs. Actually, Facebook is last century’s buzz, isn’t it?

There are no games out there, except maybe Animal Crossing, that take seven years to play, so Squaresoft needed to condense this universal law of friendship quite a bit if they were gonna implement it into Final Fantasy IV. Hence, in this game, you’ve got a proper, prison-style revolving door syndrome happening with your party. You’ll build up a party of five fighters, mages and summoners, only to have one or more of them whisked away from you every five seconds, with accompanying tragic music.

That’s pretty sad, isn’t it? Well, it might emotionally resonate with you, but only if you can understand what the teensy little sprites are trying to convey because the text in the SNES version of this game is incomprehensible garbage. I love it, but it’s like being sober and you’re driving all your drunk mates home – they’re not making any sense whatsoever, and it’s actually pretty funny the drivel coming out of their mouths, but you have to be in the right mood for that sort of stuff.

I prefer to think of this game as like proofreading a dissertation, except this one’s gone through the gamut of being translated from Japanese to Inuit to Pig Latin to Morse to Klanger-whistle to Shane MacGowan to English – a bit of fidelity was lost throughout, shall we say. I’m just telling you, if you play the SNES port, which I think you should, you mustn’t expect Shakespeare.

This is by no means the only game with shoddy translation, of course. The long-forgotten Battle Rangers is full of all sorts of gaffes, probably the best one being when the enemy boss comes out to threaten you and screams “You! Invaders! Get you the hot bullets of shotgun to die!” There’s the infamous All Your Base are Belong to Us fiasco from Zero Wing, where just about every line in that game’s intro became famous.

And there’s my favourite one, the played-by-nobody-ever Bonze Adventure telling you “YOU MUST BE MORTIFIED” in clear capital letters after you suffer a Game Over. It was an arcade game, so presumably the game was trying to kick you while you’re down and make you look even worse in front of the assembled company. I suppose the developers thought their game would be drawing big crowds and have dozens of onlookers watching a player’s progress.

For a shark playing Street Fighter 2, maybe. For a well-adjusted youth playing whatever Bonze Adventure was… forget it. I must give a shoutout to zanyvgquotes.com here, updated once every 20 years but miraculously still online. You’ll find all sorts of obscure games on there with terrible translations, but pound-for-pound, Final Fantasy 4 is still probably the best in terms of just how many Engrish quotes were concentrated into one high profile game. The SNES version is worth playing for this quirk alone, because otherwise it’s an RPG that you can fairly well sleepwalk through.

Try the DS version and things will make heaps more sense, but then you’re missing out on classic grammar blunders, plus the DS edition is actually quite a bit harder and is almost too polished, which is perhaps the gaming equivalent of saying a footballer’s hit a shot too well, but you’ll know what I mean. Still, it’s not too often that a remake ramps up the difficulty – usually it goes the other way – so that might be a plus point for you.

As I mentioned, this game seems to be about your protagonist’s inability to hold on to his friends as he journeys through the world looking to “find himself”. No seriously, you’ll just be plodding along through a standard dungeon and then suddenly the tragic music kicks in. This happens seemingly every 5 minutes, and you could end up losing up to 4 party members in one fell swoop. It’s all meant to be poignant and emotional and terrible and stuff, but as your party members exit through the revolving door and into death, all you can really think of is whether or not you’ll get all of the equipment they’re wearing back in your possession.

After all, when your party are getting swallowed by the fearsome sea creature Leviathan and they’re hanging on for dear life, it’d be a bit churlish if you were to try wrestling the defensive rings from their fingers instead of trying to help them out. Therefore, consult a guide to know who’s going to die ahead of time. Armed with that knowledge, you could probably do the noble thing and tell the characters about their impending demise, but they don’t really speak English so they won’t understand you. They are just different scarves or coats to wear, really, sometimes in season, sometimes not.

None of it matters much anyway because they’re almost never permanently dead. Even falling into lava or getting turned to stone is never something so serious that they can’t recover from it an hour later. It just makes you distrustful of your own party. It would give you a lot more peace of mind if you were able to sign something, like a prenuptial agreement, before taking on new party members in case they leg it with the dwarf hammer you’ve just shelled out ten grand on. After all, you get betrayed about a million times by your alleged best friend Kain – he even wants your woman and everything, he’s one of those.

What if he’s been eyeing up my rare accessories that I use to cast permanent Haste on my party? What if he pilfers one of my Key Items? I was refusing to sleep in inns by the end because I knew we had some gurriers in the party who’d rob me the split second I dropped my guard. That’s why I don’t fall asleep in public transport, even planes, because of the amount of bottom feeders around who’d dip my pockets. This sort of thing almost never happens, I’m sure, but you mustn’t forget that I’m paranoid in the extreme – no way was I going to let Cecil fall victim to some tea leaves, just because we needed everyone we could possibly get for our mission to the moon.

Possibly Cecil used to be one of those thieving blackguards as well, but you’ll play through his redemption from dark side to light side, and you can save the Star Wars references because they’ve all been made a zillion times already (a long, long time ago at that). In general, the story in FF4 mightn’t be all that original, but believe it or not, neither was Star Wars. As a narrative, this game broke huge ground at the time. Naturally, it’s been eclipsed since, and now it looks passé in spite of how avant-garde it once was. How’s that for wanky?

This was also the game that brought about Final Fantasy’s well-known ATB or Active Time Battle system, which makes battles are a bit more real-time so that you open up your menu and start admiring all your potions while the enemy just sits there – they’re gonna whack you even if you’re not ready. Like everything else in FFIV it was naturally a bit primitive, and the enemies pretty much move whenever they like, but let’s give some credit, this was 1991. Did you know that the ATB and the concept of turns “coming around” was inspired by Formula 1? Is there anything the sport can’t do?

This game is a pretty big deal in Japan – some people call FF4 the FF7 of Japan, would you believe. As a result, the game has been modernised, expanded, given all sorts of paintjobs and bells and whistles. But I say stick to the original SNES version, if you’re old-school enough. No matter which format you pick, this is still an adventure that you can get through in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. No 80 or 100 hour nonsense here keeping you cooped up indoors – you’d lose all your friends by the time you finished.

21 August 2020

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