Quite honestly, I didn’t think the original game urgently needed a remake, and this version doesn’t do much to disprove that opinion. There are a couple of interesting ideas, but nothing that makes me go “wow, this is exactly what the game was missing!”, unlike, say, the GBA remake of FFII. The graphics may be a little smoother, especially as far as the menus are concerned, but all the character sprites look the same. There are no cinematics this time around either. The developers have, however, added character portraits into dialogue boxes, just as in FFII Dawn of Souls, even though they haven’t gone as far as to make their expressions change. Cecil, Edge and Rydia look good, especially Rydia’s adult self. Rosa, on the other hand, looks hideous, and Edward looks terminally ill. The script has also been retranslated to make it closer to the Japanese original, and while this is a commendable effort, I did find myself missing some of the goofier lines from the SNES version. At least, they kept “you spoony bard!” The retranslation is also compounded with the habitual renaming spree a remake usually brings, including the inexplicable name change from Gilbert to Edward.
The mandatory bestiary is back again, as well as the music player, just like in Dawn of Souls. It makes the music less tinny, which is good, but some of the new arrangements, like “Mystic Mysidia”, aren’t necessarily better than the originals. Limited item storage is gone, just like in FFIII DS, which is also good, but this makes the Fat Chocobo redundant yet again. The combat system remains identical, except that each character now has the luxury of a time bar, thus making it easier to keep track of their combat readiness. However, in the US version, there’s now a glitch that sometimes makes a character get two (and sometimes more) turns in a row, thus giving the party an unfair advantage.
In the original game, when Kain rejoined for good, he was at a slightly higher level than the rest of the party. This has been preserved and enhanced, which resulted in my realising with stupefaction that, while the rest of my team was about level 70, Kain had joyously hit 90+ while he was away. Talk about overkill. Speaking of level 90s, it segues nicely into the main change introduced by this remake. Right before the final area of the game, the characters who have left your team over the course of the story gather in the Tower of Prayers in Mysidia, and you have the possibility of modifying your team at will. Cecil is the only mandatory character, everyone else can be switched. So if you find yourself missing Yang, for example, you can get him back. And you get everyone back in the same overlevelled state as Kain. However, the final team in the original game was balanced, and none of the other characters can really improve on it. So it’s not exactly necessary.
It does serve as a pretext to introduce two optional dungeons though. The first one is a cave on Mt Ordeals which appears at the same time as the extra characters become available. Since the main team has already gathered a pretty amazing arsenal by that point, the others have to be brought up to par, which is the only purpose of the dungeon. However, there’s a little problem. Each weapon is only obtainable with the relevant character in the party. And since you can’t boot Cecil out, it means you have to make two trips to make sure everyone gets their stuff.
The second optional dungeon is unlocked once you defeat the final boss. It’s situated in the final area of the game and has a rather…unique entrance, which may look familiar to anybody who has played FFV before. Just like the four optional dungeons in FFI Dawn of Souls, it has a randomised floor layout. Its main purpose is to provide each character with a personalised trial: once every few floors, the party comes to a locked door that only one character can unlock. Consequently, they have to go in solo. The trial is designed to make them face their deepest fear and battle a beefed up version of one of the game’s summoned creatures. The reward is a nifty piece of equipment or a modification of one of their abilities. For example, Kain gets Double Jump, which, as you can imagine, is awesome. Kain is also the one who gets the best trial of the lot, hands down (and the toughest fight, since he’s pitted against Lunar Bahamut). And while this is a very good idea for a dungeon, it’s also inevitably crippled by a problem: you can only bring characters who have already fought Zemus down there. Yes, that’s right, it does mean that you have to beat the final boss three times (damn you, Cecil, for being mandatory). And yes, it also means that you have to sit through the ending of the game three times. While I like the ending, it does get tedious the third time in a row.
Once you’ve beaten all the trials, you also get to face an optional boss, Zeromus EG, so that all your new and improved stuff doesn’t quite go to waste. He’s moderately challenging, but completely anticlimactic, because nothing really happens once you do defeat him, and you don’t get any kind of reward for it, except bragging rights.
Overall, this is a rather disappointing remake, which is a shame, considering that FFIV is a good game. The trial dungeon is a good idea, but I’m not sure whether it’s enough of a reason to get this version. Maybe if you really hated one of the original members of the final team and would like to replace them with one of the other characters. But other than that…