When I made the decision to play through the Final Fantasy games it seemed intimidating. That’s so many games! So much more than people realise. So much more than people even consider. When I mentioned I was doing this to people they would often assume I was just taking on the main numbered titles. After clarifying that I meant all the spinoffs too, their reactions cemented that it was a big undertaking. Weirdly I did get some satisfaction out of those reactions, in my mind I would think “Yeah it is a lot but I’m actually doing it”. Well here’s where I admit that last part is not quite true anymore.
Early on I already made the decision not to cover much of the free-to-play mobile games. The first reason was that some of those are no longer available. The second and honestly the biggest reason was that I’m uncomfortable with a lot of the monetisation hooks found in those, and how the games themselves are built to encourage spending. Because of this I’ve actually tried to avoid outright saying I’m playing every game in the franchise because I’d get the sort of what-about questions regarding the phone games.
And there’s games I just didn’t end up finishing. Final Fantasy XI and Crystal Chronicles are a couple where I didn’t reach the end because of difficulties and a lack of my own patience. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is another game that can join those two.
It was a game I was really on board with at the start. When I initially played the original Final Fantasy IV I had a great time with it. It certainly made me into a fan, but After Years feels like it’s made for someone who had a much deeper connection than I had to the original game. Its initial release in Japan was as an episodic phone game, presumably to appeal to those who had fond memories of playing the Super Famicom game 17 years before, but had less immediate time on their hands. This is a game that’s meant to be played years after.
I left a gap of two whole years and it still felt a little too soon to be playing this. Its episodic nature also didn’t help, as from playing it became very clear why it wasn’t all released at once. I can’t so easily create the conditions for myself to play it in the “intended” manner. Leaving gaps between playing the episodes would only feel artificial (and I have this blog to write articles on, and I at least like to get one out every month).
While I don’t think this game is for me, I can definitely see the good in it. There’s something pleasant in its familiarity. After Years goes as far as repeating a lot of plot points from the prior game, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Final Fantasy is a series almost defined by big changes (even within most of its direct sequels), so to have something give more of the same feels oddly comforting.
It is a familiar story, but it’s told in a different manner. Cecil’s journey from Dark Knight to Paladin in FF4 was compelling to follow but he was the sole protagonist throughout the entire game. The party members that followed him on it were endearing, but they only had small moments to show themselves off. After Years splits the game into chapters focusing on the individual party members, mostly taking place in a limited amount of locations (usually a town or two and a couple dungeons). It’s a nice idea to get more perspective on the world of FF4, though the actual execution leaves a little to be desired.
Even though I cited the repetition of plot points from the previous game as a positive, the one thing it doesn’t repeat is FF4’s fantastic fast pacing. There are too many chapters that are simply about a character finding out that there’s “something wrong with Cecil”, leading them to journey somewhere to find out why. The chapters that don’t focus on that specific element also have the same structure so it gets tiring after a while. It’s mostly down to the fact that almost every character starts at a low level, which makes it feel like restarting a game from scratch each time. Rather than follow in the footsteps of a fast-paced adventure, After Years is content to languish in repetition of its own making.
It has also been a while since I played one of these games with the “ATB system”, the turn-based combat mechanics which rely on bars being filled up in real time before an action is initiated. I found that the system didn’t get fully taken advantage of in most games, but FF4 used it fairly well (and FF5 had some excellent fights that made use of it). The fights in After Years can be good, like FF4 once the bar fills up an action can be initiated, but certain actions require a second bar to be filled, and the time it takes to fill varies based on what’s chosen. This allows for tense situations where I have to do things like consider getting a powerful spell that takes time, but could finish the fight, or quickly get some healing in to ensure surviving right now. It’s those kinds of situations that make many great RPG battle systems exciting.
Those situations eventually became a bit too constant, and while I do enjoy a challenging RPG battle I can’t always partake in a feast of them. The ideal sort of pacing for an RPG game is a mix of simpler battles that allow me to experiment and engage with the combat rules, before reaching a boss encounter that then brings in some challenge. It’s the sort of thing I’m used to with this series, and even After Years started that way, but by around the ninth episode or so I found I was having to be switched on a lot more. I eventually reached a boss that stalled my progress for a little too long.
That was also around the start of a chapter, so I would have, for the ninth time, had to grind out resources in order to be strong enough. I don’t mind grinding in RPGs, it can be a fun activity at times if the battle system is compelling enough, or if it’s low effort enough where I can listen to a podcast while playing. As I kept getting a bunch of game overs on this chapter, I was just tired of having to go and do this again. By this point I decided I would give up.
It’s a real shame since under ideal circumstances, I probably would have liked this game actually. If I took longer to play it, that repetition might not be so much of an issue. Sometimes the situation a game is played in can have a massive effect on someone’s feelings about it. I just can’t play this game in the same way that I did all of the others.
This experience has actually made me reevaluate my approach with playing Final Fantasy. I’m under no actual obligation to play all of these. However, I don’t want to make it so I just play the ones that I think are going to be “good games”. If I am going to continue to play these games in sequence the same way as I have been for the past two-and-a-half years, I should consider the games that would work best for that regardless if they’re actually good or not. I’m also extremely eager to play my next game, and I’m even more excited about what I’ll write for it.