by Chad Denton
And thus we enter the Golden Age…
Let’s get this out of the way first: not only did the game come out in the US as Final Fantasy II (and really, in the dark primordial age before the Internet, most of us who weren’t able to read Japanese or didn’t have subscriptions to trade magazines thought it really was Final Fantasy II), but Square sent us the “Easytype” version of the game. Back in the day, Square had a low opinion of American RPG players – perhaps with reason – so they gave us a version that not only was made easier, but had less combat options for the characters, because apparently having a main protagonist with a special attack that depletes his Health Points would melt our delicate brains.
Despite all that, Final Fantasy IV was a revelation. For the first time (okay, fine, extremely arguably*), we had an RPG that was as much a work of fiction as it was a game. It had a wide cast of characters with diverse personalities, motives, and backgrounds; multiple plot twists; dramatic dialogue that expressed *gasp* feelings; and villains who, while mostly rather cliched (with the notable exception of Rubicante, who was portrayed as the classic “honorable bad guy”), had motives and goals beyond just “Destroy the world!” True, for the sake of gameplay the plot had to make some rather bizarre turns, like the various random tragedies that befall your party just to explain why you never have more than five people in your party and the engineer Cid committing one of the most unnecessary (apparent) suicides in history, but it still felt like a cohesive story just as sophisticated as one you could find in a novel or a film. I was enthralled and it’s no exaggeration to say that I played the hell out of the game throughout my teenage years. It got to the point where I was even remembering characters’ dialogue.