Brad Grenz

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection: the artist within

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Since the very beginning one of my favorite aspects of the Final Fantasy games has been their distinctive, lavish visual design. Even in the 8 and 16-bit era the character art, enemy designs and lush environments have been a strength of the series.

Much of the art was created by the Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano. Amano began working for Squaresoft in 1987 and was responsible for the character designs in every Final Fantasy game through Final Fantasy VI. Because of the technological limitations of the NES and SNES, the games weren’t always the best showcase of his distinctive style. Luckily there was one place you could see his illustrations in all their glory.

After the jump, they’re art books, I swear! Continue reading →

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection: loyalty program

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As a child I was extremely fastidious about large purchases, or even when deliberating over what large gifts to ask for before Christmas and my birthday. I never liked surprises on such occasions and for my sanity, and their own, my parents made sure I understood the gifting parameters and I made sure I knew what I wanted. When it came time to upgrade from my NES to a 16-bit system, this dynamic led to an extraordinary level of research on my part.

In the year leading up to my eleventh birthday I did my due diligence reading every game magazine I could get my hands on. I went so far as to repeatedly check out an issues of the Consumer Reports published magazine Zillions, targeted at children, from my school library. The issue in question featured an in depth analysis which compared the relative benefits of the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and NEC’s TurboGrafx-16. I also, in turn, rented each 16-bit console and a few different games for a weekend test drive. When I rented a Super Nintendo for the first time I also brought home Final Fantasy II, properly known as Final Fantasy IV.

After the jump, Square sells hardware. Continue reading →

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection: sequel included

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I’m a sucker. I know this and Square-Enix knows this. I’m not alone, either. Like a lot of gamers my age the early Final Fantasy games hold a special place in my heart and that warm glow of nostalgia is enough to ensure that I will never stop re-buying those games. To date I have bought most of the 8 & 16 bit Final Fantasy games three or four times. I put up with absurd load times in the PlayStation compilations. I bought a Gameboy Advance SP as a dedicated Final Fantasy jukebox when Square began porting the Wonderswan Color remakes for the Western market. I’ve avoided the hideous 3D remakes of III and IV for the Nintendo DS on sheer principle.

Luckily, at the same time as Square-Enix has been uglifying Final Fantasy for the DS, they’ve also been creating what have to be the definitive 2D versions for the PlayStation Portable. In 2007 they released Final Fantasy: Anniversary Edition, compiling remastered versions of Final Fantasy I and II to celebrate twenty years since the release of the first game. Now, for the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy’s first appearance on the SNES, Square-Enix has released Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection for the PSP. Like the Anniversary Edition, it features updated, high resolution sprites, backgrounds and fantastic new 3D spell effects. But best of all, it packs in the episodic sequel, The After Years, previously only available on Japanese cellphones and WiiWare, and a brand new bridging story, Final Fantasy IV: Interlude.

After the jump, I’m finally getting what I’ve always secretly wanted: a new 16 bit Final Fantasy Continue reading →

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection: the JRPG singularity

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The first Final Fantasy was very different from what would be released little more than a year later as Final Fantasy II in America (and is properly known as Final Fantasy IV). People misremember how open the original was, your progress was always gated in the world by very specific choke points even if the game didn’t always tell you where to go next, or why. And while you were able to create your own party of characters, you still never made any decisions that affected the game’s outcome. Final Fantasy IV used that linearity to craft a much tighter, more resonant story. It also eliminated the character creation and substituted a large cast of well defined characters around whom the narrative revolved.

In Japan this was an evolution that took four years and four games, but for the English audience there was little more than a year between the two releases. The change was stark and shocking. By this time the Japanese role-playing game had strayed very far afield of the computer or pen and paper that had once been the inspiration. More than any game before it, Final Fantasy IV placed character drama at the forefront. The result was perhaps the most influential game the genre has ever seen.

After the jump, the primordial ooze from whence all JRPGs are descended. Continue reading →

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection: back in the day

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When I was in elementary school two of my best friends, Jeff and Nick, lived within easy biking distance, just three houses away from each other. Nick was a latchkey kid and had the run of his house for a few hours each day after school. Obviously, that was where we always went to hang out. During the summer break, this translated into even more unsupervised time which naturally made his house the home base for all our youthful shenanigans. We built elaborate water parks in his backyard, watched movies were weren’t supposed to, and fought a secret war in the neighboring woods against a pack of rival kids from a nearby cul-de-sac. It was an ideal, free-range childhood.

We also played a lot of video games, mostly the NES titles all nine-year-olds were into at the time: Mario, Metroid, Contra, Mega Man. We played crappier games, too, like Battle Toads or Silver Surfer, games that had us beating our heads against a wall each time the difficulty spiked and passing the controller around until we prevailed. Our tastes were simple and we usually just played whatever had the coolest box art at the local rental shop.

But then we met Chad.

After the jump, my introduction to true nerditry. Continue reading →