Final Fantasy IV marked a turning point for the series by taking it into a story-driven role-playing territory. Narrative arcs focused on premade characters with motivations, fears, their own desires, and lots of sacrifices. It was the big hit that allowed the franchise to leverage itself into the pantheon of JRPGs.
The first time I played Final Fantasy IV, it was titled Final Fantasy II – more about this later on. At the moment, my younger self didn’t understand the appeal of an RPG, and reading text after text and then choosing a text to make my playable character act was tedious. Thank heavens my older brother insisted on Final Fantasy, and soon after, RPGs became our favorite genre.
Final Fantasy IV is generally considered the gateway for those who want to dive into the franchise. The game has established characters, an epic narrative, and a gameplay system that endures to this day. The fourth game eschews the blank slate character trope and gives you a cast already prepared for the plot’s conflict.
Although Final Fantasy II (the actual number two, not the western one) introduced us to Firion and his colleagues, their personality was so one-sided that it was hard to relate. Now, with Final Fantasy IV, you have a bunch of charismatic and flawed characters that you just need to love. Cecil, Kain, Rosa, Cid, Porom and Palom. I mean, everyone is endearing. Wait, scratch that. Edward isn’t.
Final Fantasy IV did not become an instant classic like its brother Final Fantasy VI or VII. Still, it also conquered space in the hearts of the fans. Wanna know why? Strap in, and prepare for some light reading in our comprehensive Final Fantasy IV Game overview.
Final Fantasy IV is set on Earth, also known as Blue Planet. The world is predominantly medieval and divided in two; the Overworld, aka surface world, and the Underworld, aka Shake Shack. I’m Kidding. It’s the underground world. The world doesn’t boast much technology, and the most noteworthy ones are found in the airships. Magic rules in the Blue Planet!
And while the world setting is predominantly medieval, we will pay a little visit to an artificial moon orbiting the planet at one point. Just because. Moon exploration is sparse, and its environment is quite barren.
Our Dark Knight protagonist begins to question the actions of his king. This causes him to be demoted as captain of the Red Wings of Baron, wipe out a village full of innocents, lose his best friend, but all is resolved when he atones for his sins by defending himself from his evil copy.
In retrospect, it does sound over the top. The narrative corroborates for the events to develop naturally and ensure that Cecil becomes the first Final Fantasy protagonist we can bond with.
Want to know more about Cecil? Check out our complete Cecil Harvey guide.
Kain is the commander of the Baron Dragoons and childhood friend of Cecil and Rosa. His subtle jealousy of Rosa’s love and the king’s affection for Cecil makes him prone to Garland‘s mind control, which causes Kain to betray his friend not once but twice.
He is the second dragoon to have the surname Highwind, after Ricard Highwind from Final Fantasy II. Ricard, by the way, has a son named Kain, but these are only references since the worlds of the two games are unrelated.
Rosa Joanna Farrell
Rosa is an archer/white mage childhood friend of Cecil and Kain. She is in love with Cecil, which makes Kain resentful. Even though Cecil tries to stop her, Rosa is always getting into trouble. Her gentle and caring nature helps soothe the spirit of the party at critical moments.
A child summoner and victim of Baron’s cruel attack. After Cecil indirectly kills her mother and destroys her village, she is reluctant to trust him. But eventually, she comes around. Rydia visits the Eidolons’ home at one point in the game, where time flows faster. When she returns to the party, she has grown into a young woman.
Tellah is an eccentric sage capable of using powerful Black and White magic. However, he can’t remember most of it given his advanced age. He is searching for Anna, his daughter. His quest leads him to Damcyan, which was attacked by the Red Wings led by Golbez, resulting in Anna’s death. Relentless in her quest for revenge, Tellah will stop at nothing to eliminate Golbez.
Related read: Comprehensive Final Fantasy Quest Guide
Edward Chris von Muir
Edward is ironically an uncharismatic bard. He’s the Prince of Damcyan and the reason Anna ran away from home. Edward is exceptionally cowardly, but Cecil’s bravery rubs on him. He helps the group at a critical moment, but other than that – and even in battle – Edward is totally expendable. His name in the Japanese version is Gilbert.
Yang Fang Leiden
Yang is a high-ranked Monk from Fabul who joins our party after saving him from a Mom Bomb. Fabul is attacked by the Red Wings of Baron, and we help him defend the kingdom. Unfortunately, we fail to protect Fabul, but then Yang joins the group, willing to nip the evil in the bud.
Palom & Porom
Extremely talented twins, Palom and Porom, reside in Mysidia to enhance their magical abilities. Palom is a gifted boy in Black Magic, and the girl Porom is proficient in White Magic. The two accompany Cecil on his trial of Mount Ordeal but then decide to continue on his journey to stop Golbez. However, they have one of the most heartbreaking endings in the series. They were just kids, man.
Cid, the recurring engineer in Final Fantasy IV, makes his debut as a playable character. He’s responsible for constructing Baron’s airships and a father figure to Cecil, Rosa, and Kain. Recognizing that Baron’s king is bordering on madness, Cid hides his best airship, the Enterprise, and is arrested for treason. When Cid is saved by the party, he offers us the Enterprise to roam the skies.
Another regal member joins the group. Edge is the ninja prince of Eblan who saw his kingdom attacked by one of Golbez’s elemental archfiends and intends to walk a bloody path of revenge. When he first encounters the party, he prefers solitude. But the cry of a young Rydia is enough to soften the heart of the womanizer, who quickly changes his mind and joins the party.
Fusoya is a Lunarian, which means he was born on the moon. More specifically, on the Red Moon. The old man briefs the group on many plot details, explaining Cecil’s origin, Golbez’s motivations, and the real villain behind the scenes. He stays at the party briefly but is already more valuable than Edward.
Final Fantasy IV’s apparent main – or at least longest-lasting – antagonist is actually the second antagonist. Golbez is a half-Lunarian controlled by the real antagonist and is on a stopless onslaught to capture the seven crystals. Upon arriving on the moon, we discover more about his backstory and how it is intrinsically connected to Cecil.
The Main Story
The plot is a very straightforward epic that cherishes character development. At the time, Final Fantasy IV was the breakthrough for the franchise and propelled it to the status it has today.
We start the story with Cecil Harvey, the captain of the Red Wings of the Baron Kingdom, attacking Mysidia in search of the Water Crystal. However, all the gratuitous violence makes Cecil question the king – his adoptive father – who, displeased with his outrageous conduct, strips him of his captain rank.
To punish them, he has Cecil and Kain deliver a ring to Mist Village, a mission beneath their ranks or abilities. On the way, they confront the Mist Dragon, and after defeating it, they arrive in the village. Upon arriving in the Mist Village, the ring sets off a trap, and several monster Bombs begin to burn and destroy the village. Cecil and Kain find a child named Rydia mourning her mother’s death. When their summoning is killed, a summoner dies, and the Mist Dragon was her mother’s summon.
Enraged, the little girl summons forth Titan, that sunders the earth, separating Kain and Cecil. Cecil stays with Rydia and feels accountable for her. When Baron soldiers attempt to seize the summoner, the dark knight protects her. Doing so deems him a traitor to the throne of Baron.
Alongside Rydia, Cecil discovers that Rosa, his childhood friend, followed him but has been struck by the desert fever. Cecil and Rydia go looking for a cure and meet Tellah along the way, a Sage searching for his daughter. The duo accompanies Tellah to the Damcyan Castle, which is suddenly attacked by Cecil’s former army, the Red Wings of Baron, now under the leadership of Golbez. The raid killed Anna, Tellah’s daughter and Edward’s lover – our cowardly bard.
Golbez attacked Damcyan to steal the Fire Crystal, as Cecil had done previously on Mysidia with the Water Crystal. Fueled by revenge, Tellah goes on a vengeful path to kill Golbez. Along with a mourning Edward, the party goes to Fabul to protect the Wind Crystal before Golbez havoc more destruction.
Midway to Fabul, the party meets Yang, a monk from the said kingdom. After saving the man from a Mom Bomb, we go to Fabul to reinforce the defenses against Baron. Obviously, we lose; otherwise, the game would end there. Mainly we lose because Kain, our former colleague, is now allied with Golbez. Kain falters due to Rosa, but Golbez realizes her value to Cecil and kidnaps her.
Cecil, along with the bard Edward, the young summoner Rydia, and the master monk Yang go after Golbez but are attacked by Leviathan, who swallows Rydia and separates the entire group.
Cecil is ashore on the coast of Mysidia. The townspeople recognize their aggressor and harm him as payback. The elder from Mysidia says that Cecil must go through a trial on Mount Ordeals if he wants to atone for his past sins. Palom and Porom, the twins, accompany Cecil.
In Mount Ordeal, we meet Tellah again, hellbent on finding Meteor to rain down asteroids on Golbez. After defeating the archfiend Scarmiglione, Cecil hears a voice calling to him. Our protagonist becomes a Paladin and fights his dark side with his silky hair. Cecil’s light overcomes his darkness after the most anticlimactic and passive fight on the franchise. He is now magically forgiven by the whole world for all his hideous sins – mainly because they believe he is the chosen one in the Mysidian Legend, destined to rid the world of all evil.
From then on, it’s a cat and mouse fight going after Golbez, the crystals, and stopping whatever his secret plan is. The game introduces us to many endearing characters and constantly changes our party, which helps to refresh the gameplay on and on.
While there were some slightly notable secondary characters in the previous Final Fantasy, none of them were as developed as any member of our Final Fantasy IV troupe. Final Fantasy IV relies on rounded narrative arcs, backstory, developments, motivations, and beliefs for each character. Although not as polished as current RPGs, it was groundbreaking for the time.
In that fashion, it’s easy to relate to the stoic Yang, laugh or cringe at Edge’s flirtations, and be irritated by Edgar’s cowardice. But I have to admit, if they managed to make Edgar elicit those annoying feelings in us, it means he’s a well-written character.
Final Fantasy IV was also the first game to introduce a fragment of romance. Although the SNES version has very discrete nuances of the love triangle between Cecil, Rosa, and Kain. But the Nintendo DS cutscenes work this out. Kain’s jealousy of Rosa’s lack of love and Cecil’s indifference to her is shown well in the story.
This romantic narrative was replicated in several Final Fantasy games from then on, further reinforcing the storytelling of the series as one of its strengths and eternalizing the characters and their famous ships.
Sacrifices, Sacrifices, and more Sacrifices
Another thing Final Fantasy IV didn’t shy away from was the character’s death. Holy cow, there were deaths. Although many are fake deaths, i.e., some plot armor revives the characters in the course of the game, the timing of the demise was certainly impactful and took most players – especially when the game was first released – by surprise.
Palom & Porom was incredibly heartbreaking. Seeing two kids sacrifice themselves in the prime of life is not something you expect when you are a kid playing video games.
Final Fantasy IV has the same tropes gameplay like its previous entries but improves upon them. The exploration still leads players from a town to a dungeon and, subsequently, complete their quests quite straightforwardly. Battle puts FF enemies and allies side by side, fighting in a new turn-based mode called Active Time Battle (ATB), which became a staple in later releases and other Square Enix games.
It was the first and only Final Fantasy – including its sequel – to allow five characters in battle. Said characters had a preset skillset, strengths, and weaknesses. Customization was pretty limited, and the only thing we did was switch characters’ gear. Unlike the previous Final Fantasy, you can’t buy magic anymore. Each able character would learn magic on a pre-determined level or after a specific event in-game. Final Fantasy IV has Black Magic for offense, White Magic for support, Summoning Magic (or Call in the SNES version) for varied effects, and the special skill Ninjutsu, a unique sort of magic reserved for Edge.
Interestingly, Final Fantasy IV was the first in the series to feature save points that appear at specific points of the map, allowing users to save in the middle of dungeons.
First Game with ATB
The first three Final Fantasy relied on a turn-based system to decide who would act first. The agility of your characters plus a random number determined the act order.
The Active Time Battle combat system was introduced by Hiroyuki Ito and has been seen in many Final Fantasy releases or adapted to make it work. The ATB has a gauge that needs to be filled before the character can act. This gauge is invisible in the SNES and PlayStation versions, but it works in the same manner. As you can guess, agile characters fill the ATB faster.
Final Fantasy II or IV
This topic of discussion caused heated arguments back in the days of the SNES. On one side, some claimed this was Final Fantasy II, and on the other side, those called it Final Fantasy IV.
The reason for this confusion is simple: The localization team renamed Final Fantasy IV as II because it was the second game in the series to arrive in the West. The same thing happened with Final Fantasy VI, which came as Final Fantasy III. In my humble opinion, it was a terrible decision. But it is what it is.
Besides this title change, the game also had other problems in the West regarding censorship involving religion and death, a bad translation that changed several meanings of phrases, and cut content, like items. Edward and Golbez were called Gilbert and Golbeza, but it was changed due to six-characters limitations on a name.
The Final Fantasy II version is equivalent to the Final Fantasy IV Easy Type on Japan. Luckily, in the re-releases, they fixed these errors.
Final Fantasy IV: After Years
Final Fantasy IV received a mobile sequel after 17 years, and coincidentally – or not, they may have held the game back for 17 years just for that – the plot of After Years also takes place 17 years after Final Fantasy IV. It follows the original cast and their offspring as a new threat arises to disrupt everyone’s lives.
The gameplay of After Years is similar to that of its predecessor. The game features an open world, exploration, random battles, and the ATB system. In terms of innovation, there are two that stand out. The first is the Lunar phases. Lunar phases change physical and magical character attacks and enemy appearances. They change every time you rest. Another new addition is Bands, attacks in pairs or trios between characters – something familiar if you played Chrono Trigger.
We play as Ceodore Harvey, Cecil and Rosa’s son. After the events of Final Fantasy IV, the second moon leaves the orbit of the Blue Planet. A few years later, it returns closer than ever. When this happens, crystals begin to react mysteriously. While Ceodore is training with the Red Wings, Baron is attacked by monsters, and Cecil is defeated. Now it’s up to Ceodore to venture out into the world and discover what these monster attacks are and what is happening to the Blue Planet.
As usual, Square Enix has re-released Final Fantasy IV several times over the years. The first re-release was for PlayStation in the Final Fantasy Chronicles collection that featured Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger. This version was very similar to the SNES version but added a full-motion introductory video, the ability to run through dungeons and towns, and a save memo on the world map.
The second re-release was for WonderSwan Color. Despite its engine being downgraded from the PlayStation version, it brought graphical enhancements to the sprite, backgrounds, and color shading.
Game Boy Advance
The next version was released for Game Boy Advance, which reused the WonderSwan version but added new gameplay elements. With increased difficulty, the ability to change party members, and a new dungeon, the GBA version was considered the best until another handheld stole its throne.
The GBA FFIV also featured a Quicksave for those who wanted to resume progress on the fly and was the first version to show the ATB gauge during battle.
The Nintendo DS version brought the most significant graphical change to the classic. Final Fantasy IV was redesigned entirely in 3D, featuring more vivid cutscenes and voice-acting that conveyed sounder characters’ feelings, such as Cecil and Rosa’s romance.
In addition to the visual changes, the 3D version added Augment, which allowed you to increase the preset abilities of the characters and expand the dynamism in combat. With New Game Plus, this guaranteed greater replayability to the game.
Considered the definitive version of Final Fantasy IV – at least before Pixel Remaster – the compilation Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection brought the base game, the Final Fantasy IV Interlude – that acts as a bridge between the first and its sequel – and After Years.
The game went back to its 2D roots but with improved graphics and features as the GBA version. It also removed the Augments from the 3D version and the voice-acting.
And finally, we had the definitive version of Final Fantasy IV. Pixel Remaster presents the refined version of the SNES Final Fantasy IV, removing some GBA additions like equipment, extra dungeons, and party members swap, but with several quality of life improvements from the game’s first release.
Besides walking diagonally – incredible upgrade – It focused on rebalancing, cutting the experience required to level up in half, removing arrow spending, and the inventory limit, among other minor tweaks. This and the 3D version of Final Fantasy IV are present in Steam’s catalog.
Question: Should Final Fantasy IV be my first Final Fantasy?
Answer: There seems to be a silent consensus among fans of the series that when asked which Final Fantasy a newcomer to the franchise should start with, it’s Final Fantasy IV. I agree. While the first few are culturally important to the franchise, in Final Fantasy IV, Square began to showcase the top talent of their technomages in storytelling, creating captivating characters, and the ATB system – in my opinion, one of the best turn-based systems.
Besides, the game is inviting for newcomers, so you won’t struggle to dive headfirst into it, absorbing all its qualities and then moving further upon the release chain.
Question: Where can I play Final Fantasy IV?
Answer: Currently, the most practical and easiest way to play Final Fantasy IV is via Steam or mobile. You can find both the Pixel Remaster and the 3D version there. If you are a collector, you can find a physical PSP or Nintendo DS media around, but you might have to sell your car to get a copy.
Question: Which Final Fantasy IV version should I play?
Answer: Honestly, the one that’s most viable to you. I have the physical GBA and PSP copies at home. Still, since I spend most of my day in front of a PC, the Pixel Remaster version would perhaps be ideal because of the convenience. However, if you are one of those who love to play while spending your due time in the bathroom, a handheld version might be more appropriate. Just be careful not to drop your console in the toilet.
Question: Is Final Fantasy IV a sequel to the first games?
Answer: No, it’s not. Pretty much every mainline Final Fantasy game is standalone. However, Final Fantasy IV has a sequel entitled Final Fantasy IV: After Years and the in-between called the Interlude. So unless the title of the game specifically blatantly shows you that it is a sequel, it’s probably a solo game.
Final Fantasy IV may not have established itself as an instant classic like Final Fantasy VI or VII did, but it certainly holds its own as one of the best JRPGs on the SNES. It’s ideally the entry door for any RPG fans wanting to get to know the Final Fantasy saga and the one that motivated Square Enix to take its storytelling skills to the next level and never stop.
I know I’m not a reviewer, but since I’m honing my skills for when that free game comes my way, if I were to give FFIV a score, it would be a solid 8 out of 10.