Editorial: The 4 Heroes of Hidden Gems

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.

It's actually something that's very rarely done.
Although the player is forced to name the main characters, they still have personality.

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.

An overlooked and misunderstood gem.
Cutesy, but it won’t hold anybody’s hand.

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!

14 comments

  1. I simply could not stand this game. I tried–honestly–to like it and give it a fair shake. It reminded me of Mystic Quest with even LESS control. And without the strangely cool rock-style soundtrack.

    In short: disappointment. I am amazed you made it as far as you did.

  2. Oh yes, I didn’t mention the soundtrack. While it actually got quite a bit of praise from the press, I’m not a big fan of the OST. Usually I’m torn between my iPod and portable game music when I’m on the go, but it’s an easy win for the iPod with 4HoL.

  3. In looking on the internet, it appears that the ‘dark versions’ of areas are indeed as repetitive as you describe and imagine.

    I did not think my estimation of the game would diminish further. I was wrong. This editorial makes me VERY glad that I did not press on with the game.

  4. Ugh, that’s disappointing. The first half is still well-worth it though. I hope the sequel (if it comes stateside) keeps the good design motifs but irons out the wrinkles. I just worry it’ll be watered down.

  5. I would like to give this game a try at some point, if I can find it for really cheap somewhere. It’s one of the few games I can think of that I can’t tell just by looking at it whether I’ll like it or not.

  6. Yeah, it’s definitely divisive. I can’t knock Lusipurr for his opinion of the game, but I also can’t change my love for it (or at least the “light” half). Too bad you missed the SE sale!

  7. @Ethos: I think the most telling point about this game is that Macstorm speaks of it in tones of reverence and awe. That should be enough said.

    It had a lot of promise, but taking away people’s freedom of action and then making them do everything twice is like Folklore, but worse. And Folklore was mediocre enough to start with.

  8. Really? I’m pretty sure Mac played 30 minutes of this game and then quit. And while targets are decided for you for no reason, I still think there’s an incredible amount of control in the game and even the battle system. Managing AP and choosing classes makes all the difference between a win and a loss.

    Yeah, Folklore IS mediocre. Cool soundtrack and graphics though. Whadda waste.

  9. I’ll give you the graphics, but the music was a bit too ambient for my taste (a few good pieces in there, though).

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Macstorm babbling along on Twitter about how great Hat Quest is and how he really wants a sequel to it. I *may* be mistaken, but certes that is what I recall.

  10. Bet he loves Half Minute Hero, also…

    ^^ I have none of the requisite experience to actually judge the game, but it seems like a very silly concept.

  11. @Lusipurr – You may be combining his and my twitter conversation. He said he was finally going to try Hat Party, and I told him it was unexpectedly one of my favourite DS titles from what I had played. I asked him how he liked it a few days later and he said he stopped because he didn’t like that the party split into two. That happens no more than an hour in.

    @SN – Which concept? I think its failings have little to do with the concept. It’s making an old-school RPG with new technology. So using the old mentalities of not treating the player like a child. It’s when the game strays from that concept when it falters in my opinion: the biggest example being auto-targeting. The “dark versions” is just bad design. Feels rushed at that point.

  12. I’m pretty sure Mac both played 30 minutes of Hat Party before quitting AND raves about it on Twitter and wants a sequel. That’s how he rolls.

  13. @Ethos: Even Mystic Quest allowed you to turn the ‘Auto Battle’ mode off!

    @7th: That cock!

  14. @Lusi – You can turn off Auto Battle! Although I never use it. I’m not even sure why it’s there. The battles typically take a little too much strategy for auto battle.

    @Glenn – lolololol

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