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Final Fantasy IV: The After Years for iOS – TGS 2013 Hands-on Preview

By Janelle | September 23, 2013 at 11:44 am

Square Enix is re-releasing Final Fantasy IV: The After Years on iOS. It’s a remake of a cellphone game that was ported to consoles, and now it’s coming back to its mobile roots. But phones have acquired touchscreens since The After Years was first developed. I took a spin with the TGS demo on an iPad to see how the game fared on a tablet.

The After Years was originally broken up into short chapters featuring one or more of the main characters from Final Fantasy IV, or their descendants. For the demo’s purpose, seven chapters were available. I gave Rydia, Porom and Yang’s stories a try.

The After Years remake’s biggest feature is its graphical overhaul. Instead of mimicking the sprite-hopping original, it renders its characters and backgrounds in a way highly reminiscent of the DS remake of Final Fantasy 4. The characters are slightly deformed 3D models, and the backgrounds are rendered in polygons as well. The colors and designs looked rather good, though some of the textures on character models were chunky. It’s nice to see some of the newer characters (or older versions of newer characters) re-imagined in 3D.

Unfortunately, if the demo is any indication, that’s the biggest thing that this remake has going for it.

Movement on maps was handled with an onscreen joystick that appeared when touching the screen. When it appeared, I could drag a finger around to move the character. It seemed like it was supposed to handle walking and running, but the movement was rather jerky and sensitive. I had a hard time moving my fingers just slightly enough to facilitate walking, and spent much time sprinting into corners or past objects I wanted to interact with. Tapping to interact with things involved getting within a very specific, finicky range.

The interface is going to be an irritation to those who have already played this or any other Final Fantasy game with a controller or on a handheld. My problem with it goes beyond normal, geriatric-sounding get-off-my-lawn railing against these newfangled touchscreen gewgaws. The biggest problem is that it seems to be a straight porting of a menu system that was designed for something else entirely. There were functions that could have been reconfigured to work with dragging or swiping, rather than tapping oversized button simulacra over and over again.

There is always a lag when you tap a button in the menu, and in a game with as many menu button presses are there are in The After Years, the lags start to pile up and get annoying.

It just comes off as lazy. If the developers were overhauling the game’s visuals, they might as well have put some effort into overhauling the menus, not just to make the buttons big and pokeable, but to add some real, bonus functionality. This could have been a great opportunity to improve upon problems that the old interface had, but instead it keeps the problems with the old menus, and heaps on some new ones as well. It’s clunky, laggy, and annoying.

Battles also seemed pretty slow and annoying. Forget playing on Active mode with a high battle speed, especially with a magic-using character’s story like Rydia or Palom. The menu lag, combined with how clumsy the menus and spell lists are to navigate, make it easy for enemies to get the jump on the player while he prods at the screen relentlessly. It was possible to tap the monsters directly to target them, though there was also the option to pick them from the menu. There is an auto-battle function, easily accessible, but I wonder how viable an option that is in a game with lots of two-man parties consisting of mages.

This could be a problem with me, a lover of quick snappy menus and diehard fan of the original Final Fantasy IV. But the if the menus bothered me this much in an 8 minute demo, how well will the full game fare? Final Fantasy IV is a classical RPG with one of the fastest interfaces out there, and The After Years on PSP was similarly sharp. Everything about this iOS demo felt draggy: watching the unskippable story scenes, with unskippable slow animations and slow-loading textboxes was a huge annoyance. My time with the demo mostly left me feeling frustrated. The graphical overhaul doesn’t seem like enough to overcome the problems with this remake.

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years for iOS has been given a vague release window of “winter 2013.” (I’d link you to an official site, but I don’t believe one actually exists yet.)

Topics: Final Fantasy IV: The After, Previews, Tokyo Game Show 2013