Late last year, there was a sale on the official Square Enix website. I took advantage of the deals to re-buy games I had sold during some of my more money-challenged moments of 2012. I bought back Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light for ten bucks a piece. Because I ordered them late in the year, the Christmas backlog did not allow them to arrive until last week. Because my PS3 is not plugged it (and because I would like to platinum Final Fantasy XIII first) I set aside XIII-2 for the time being. I remember really enjoying 4 Heroes of Light when it came out, so I was curious to see if I would feel the same way upon a revisit.
So far my feelings are largely the same. I think the game is an unsung gem despite some obvious faults. I have never completed the title (largely because of one of said faults) so I cannot review it, but I can go through what makes it so great and what holds it back.
First and foremost, 4 Heroes of Light does not hold the player’s hand in the most refreshing way possible. As much as I love lavish cutscenes and thorough and slow openings (see Skyward Sword and Tales of Graces f), 4 Heroes of Light goes running in the other direction in all the right ways. Despite minimal dialogue, there are no cutscenes to speak of. Not in the traditional sense. There are no camera pans or cuts and no alternate angles. When the heroes return from the first dungeon, their hometown has been turned to stone, but this is not indicated by a cutscene. Nothing is different when the party enters the town. I forgot about this plot point and happily strolled into the local shop, hoping to sell some items out of my very limited inventory (more on that later) only to discover that the shopkeeper was made of stone. Further investigation revealed that the entire town had been turned to stone. I found this process to be far more startling and effective than if a cutscene had simply revealed it to me off the top.
Progressing the story works this way as well. Talking to townsfolk is no longer just a way to make the world feel deeper, but it is a necessity. There is not a quest menu to clearly point the player on their merry way. Players must actually talk to people and piece together what must be done. Sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes not so much. As such, the game feels so much more like an adventure than many modern RPGs. Every aspect requires some level of skill, not just boss battles. While I am glad that not every RPG is like 4 Heroes of Light I am certainly glad that the portable game chose to water so little down.
Another example of this is the aforementioned inventory. Each character has only fifteen slots and items of the same type do not stack. This inventory includes equipment and magic tomes needed to cast spells. Items can also be stored in a much larger inventory, but these items can only be accessed through deposits and withdrawls in designated shops. Therefore, deciding what to take out on each adventure becomes essential strategy. Inventory management is nothing new, but it is certainly not something I am used to in a Final Fantasy game and certainly not with such strict restriction. The game requires constant planning and concentration and will make players pay who take these decisions lightly.
As much as I adore Final Fantasy IX, the game does not require skill as much as it requires endurance. With enough grinding, the game becomes a cakewalk from a battle standpoint. Items can be maxed out to nearly one hundred stock each, and health and magic can be boosted to very cushiony levels. In 4 Heroes of Light, while grinding is certainly possible, the inventory and AP values never increase, leaving an ever-present challenge no matter my party’s levels.
I do have issues with 4 Heroes of Light however. For reasons completely unknown, the player has no control over specific targets in battle. If there are three enemies and I choose one hero to cast fire and another to cast cure, there is no guarantee the characters will cast their spells on the target I would have chosen. The AI is smart enough to almost always choose the right target, but it is still an extremely odd choice considering the design choices in the rest of the game.
The larger issues – and the reason I stopped playing the title last time – is because of what seems to happen halfway through the game. I stopped playing so I could be wrong, but it seemed to be the case that the game just repeats the locations for the second half of the game except they are now the “dark versions”. After so much creativity, that lazy choice was a slap in the face. I am prepared to give it more of a fair shot this time, but I am also prepared to give up again after an almost perfect first half.
So what about you, LusiRetros? Did you ever play this title? If the second half is as awful as I anticipate, would you still consider the first half well worth it as I do? LET ME KNOW!