Of paladins, dragoons and spoony bards
Starting the tradition of three Final Fantasies per console, this is the first game of the series on the SNES, and, contrary to its two predecessors, this one actually did make it out of Japan in timely fashion. It also started a numbering confusion that would last for a while: since it was the second FF to be released outside of Japan at the time, it would be known as FFII for quite some time. The original SNES game notably exists in two versions: the ‘easytype’ version and the ‘hardtype’ version. The ‘easytype’ version is apparently based on the American version of the game, but was considered too easy and poorly translated by many people. As a result, a fan-translation of the ‘hardtype’ version has since been made by J2e Translations.
Despite this variation in combat difficulty, the game is essentially the same in both versions, and it’s certainly a memorable one. For the majority of the Western audience, this was the first FF with properly characterised protagonists and a sizeable cast of them to boot; one of the largest in the series, in fact. Since every character also has a fixed class, or job, this also gives said classes a recognisable face, so to speak. Cain/Kain and Cecil, for example, have set the tone for the abilities and external appearance of all dragoons and paladins in the FF series. Just about everything else in the game has taken a significant upgrade from previous instalments as well: better (and longer) storyline, better combat mechanics, better graphics (with the notable introduction of battle backgrounds). True, the characters sprites still look somewhat squished while on the world map, but they are otherwise more detailed than sprites on the NES. Since this is still early enough in the series for first times, this game also marks the first appearance of proper save points.
FFIV also currently holds the title of “Most Remade Game in the Series”: as of today, it’s available to Western audiences on five different consoles. There’s the original SNES version; a PS version with short cinematics of dubious graphical quality added at the beginning and at the end, which was released together with FFV as part of the European Final Fantasy Anthology bundle; a GBA version; a DS version; a PSP version bundled with the game’s (unfortunately terrible) sequel, The After Years, which was previously only available on the Wii, as well as an exclusive episode covering the transition between the two; and a PC version with a tweaked optional dungeon based on the GBA version. Each of the remakes thus offers something new to the experience, the GBA and DS versions introducing the most significant changes. Overall, I would say this is one the better games in the FF series: solid, well-paced and fun, well worth playing or replaying.