Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light Review

By Gus Mastrapa - Posted Oct 04, 2010

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light delivers an all-new hand-held adventure that plays like an old-school role-playing epic. Retro-gamers and newcomers alike will enjoy this RPG throwback.

The Pros
  • Handsome cell-shading
  • Classic gameplay fine-tuned for modern gamers
  • Crowns and gems offer meaty class customization
The Cons
  • Players can't chose their targets in combat
  • Wireless multi-player seems superfluous
  • Grinding and random battles are back!

“They don't make 'em like they used to.” It's a charge levied at home appliances, American muscle cars and, in nerdier circles, Japanese role-playing games. But in the case of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light Square Enix does, in fact, make a role-playing game just like they used to. Matrix, the team responsible for porting Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV and Dragon Quest V to the Nintendo DS learned from the best. Their Neo-classical take on the JRPG feels like its timeless source material tuned for the modern gamer.

Kingly Requests

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light starts just as you'd expect. At the behest of a king adventurers are asked to quest into the monster-ridden wilds. The first mission is a milk run, but has unexpected consequences – an entire village is turned to stone. And so begins a globe-trotting jaunt to a wild array of exotic cities and dangerous dungeons to find a cure.

If the title wasn't hint enough there are four lead characters here – a bright-eyed upstart, a mysterious rogue, a low-ranking soldier and a daughter of royalty. The game does a fine job of allowing you to spend time with each. The party regularly splits and splinters, forging off in their own directions and getting into their own trouble.  Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light handles this fractured story-telling admirably. The individual threads of the adventure weave, wrap and intersect in a way that feels episodic – like chapters of a rollicking fantasy novel.

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Crowning Around

Classic role-playing mechanics are boiled down in Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, but not dumbed-down. Fighting is all turn-based. Monsters are encountered randomly. There's an over-world to explore. Gil and gear are vital to your survival. But the gems that drop when your enemies fall add a new, clever complication to the game. Characters can change their class at the drop of a literal hat. The crowns they wear on their heads determine their abilities and even change their stats a little. The aforementioned gems are your key to upgrading this headgear and unlocking new powers. Players quickly learn that these gems are infinitely more valuable than gil. The game re-enforces this value by punishing death with a loss of these precious  stones.

Combat is slightly simpler than some might be used to. Players don't have control over who their characters attack. You set their moves and the game automatically targets one of the enemies. At first this lack of control feels like having one arm tied behind your back. But Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light isn't as concerned with the moment-to-moment tactics of fights, but rather your over-all approach. The elemental properties of spells, weapons and armor, instead, are incredibly important. From the game's first moments encounters can be transformed from murderous to totally doable by equipping the proper elementally enhanced shield.

The Final Fantasy

Thanks to its classic vibe, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is an ideal entry-point into Japanese role-playing game. And, expected, it sates the thirst of those who have already played and re-played the old-school originals. And though some hard-liners might complain that the game isn't rendered in retro-looking sprites the cel-shading here helps make Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light one of the loveliest role-playing games on the Nintendo DS.  With a sharp story and insanely deep character customization to match the game pays fine tribute to the kinds of games that made the Final Fantasy a household name (among geeks at least). The game's meager multiplayer component (friends can hook up and help each other out in battle) doesn't transform the game the way local wi-fi changed Dragon Quest IX. In fact, the addition of local wireless feels like a begrudging nod towards modernity.  Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light doesn't need it. When you've got a epic story, classic combat and a pitch-perfect customization system you don't need all those bells and whistles. Another old saying comes to mind: “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.”