You could easily be made to believe that the Final Fantasy is struggling somewhat. The latest chapter in the main series, Final Fantasy XIII, was hit with controversy, and the most recent online venture with Final Fantasy XIV was met with a lot of criticism. Perhaps, Square Enix wanted to give older fans something in return, something to satisfy the purists.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is that something. The game is a nostalgic return to what role playing games were like when the series first saw the light of day. Gone are the bombastic dramas, and expensive cutscenes, and we're simply left with four heroes, a world full of evil, and the player.
Minimalistic all the way from the saturated colours that paint picturesque landscape in which the quiet yet moving story is set. The game presents a world, where you are led on by whispered rumours, and where you will find yourself begging a fairy queen to transform your companion into a dog, in order to save his life.
Minimalism is also present in combat. Traditionally you use a number of abilities or spells from a menu each turn as you battle monsters in dark dungeons and old temples. But the game also uses "action points" (AP). You start off with six, and almost all actions drains your action points, the meter is filled after each turn, but can also be replenished with a certain action that uses up that character's turn.
As one attack costs a couple of points your characters can run dry quickly. The battles are therefore a lot about using tactics, so that you always have enough points to do the moves that are necessary at any given time. It's all very simple and intuitive.
Where the game gets a bit more complicated is the job system - a class structure that has been present at times in the Final Fantasy series. Along your journey you will slowly gain more job hats, that reward its bearer with certain traits that in other games would be classes like archer and healer. There are 28 of this to collect, and its completely your choice as to who's wearing what hat and how you want your group composed.
But even if it sounds simple, it must be said that Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is hard as hell. In a way this is as much a celebration of the heritage of the series as the simplicity, but it puts high demands on the player.
One example. I die again and again from one specific boss attack. I start to grind, killing monsters over and over again to build up my characters, but it simply doesn't help. By mere chance I buy a new shield for one of my characters, and as it turns out it grants immunity to that specific attack.
It also doesn't help that your heroes are separated for much of the adventure, and that you seldom control a full set of heroes. The fact that I managed to defeat said boss (one of the early ones) was a result of my equipment, choice of hats, and a good portion of luck. The game has moments where you will be stuck until you figure out the proper combinations of these components. On the other hand there are battles that are too easy and then boredom sets in.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is best described as a charming child smiling at you, while at the same feel the pains from the dagger it just buried in your back. It's a simple and immersive adventure, and the accessible combat system hides a cold and merciless old school core.
I cannot escape the fact that there is tremendous satisfaction in clawing your way back to victory as you are critically wounded. The wealth of options available when designing your heroes, also give your victories an added sense of accomplishment.
Naïve looks, but brutal of nature. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is not aimed at a larger audience. Fans who have started playing Final Fantasy recently are likely to want throw their Nintendo DS into a nearby wall after tasting defeat upon defeat. However, it is satisfying at its core if you remain persistent, and minimalistic approach feels refreshing.