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Final Fantasy - The 4 Heroes of Light, by Square Enix (2010)
This is one of the most recent games I've gotten used (most of them had come out between 2006 and 2008). I was checking out Book Off for stuff to put in my collection, and I kind of wanted to get the remaining Final Fantasy tactics games for the DS and 3DS, just to get that out of the way. Usually, games like Tactics A2 don't stay on the shelves that long, and I figured I'd grab what I could find when I could, which would reduce the chances to buying duplicate games later by mistake. I went through the Final Fantasy wiki page to see what had been released for the DS to make up a check-off chart, and discovered that The 4 Heroes of Light was also part of the series. I'd seen it before, but the cover didn't have "Final Fantasy" written in big screaming letters. Book Off had both Tactics A2 and Heroes of Light for 950 yen ($9 USD) each, so I got them at the same time. I'm tired of tactical RPGs, so I don't know when I'll get to A2.
(Opening screen. Each area in the picture book represents one of the chapters I've completed. They start out monochrome and are colored in as you go through the game.)
The Four Heroes of Light is a real, honest to goodness role-playing game, in the original FF vein, which surprised me. The character designs are childish and super-deformed, which is a strike against it, but the point of the game is to run around the world, solving story-line puzzles and beating up on monsters, and that's all I ask of an RPG. The plot is a bit complicated: you alternate controlling each of the 4 warriors - Aire, Yunita, Brandt and Jusqua - through the first couple chapters as you try to find out why the entire village of Horne has been turned to stone. (Aire is the princess of that city.) A lot of the fighting at this stage is solo, or in partnership with an NPC that disappears at the end of the chapter. Eventually, all four heroes unite, and from that point they make up the entire party. That is, you only get 4 party members and you can't choose to have a smaller group. There are 6-7 cities to visit on the map, and several dungeons that you have to work through. Initially, the only way to get around is by walking, and the only way to get past mountains or rivers is to go through connecting caves. Towards the end, you pick up a dragon that can fly anywhere on the map, and a whale (which is really one half of one of the towns) that takes you to the island that has the last story boss. The story ends when the party confronts the main enemy behind the series of curses and kidnappings that have be-felled the world.
(Party screen, plus part of one of the towns. The guy in the brown hat and coat under the Inn sign is the Wanderer, who lets you save your game. The brown thing to the right is his dog. The red-eyed, black faced thing in the middle is the party leader. Each of the crowns equipped by the party members are shown below and to the left of their faces on the party screen.)
As mentioned above, the character designs are silly - super-deformed big heads. But, the map is extensive, the background artwork is good, and the fighting system is interesting. I don't know about the music or voice acting because I played the game with the sound turned down. What little of the music I had listened to seemed fairly repetitive.
The game system will take a bit to explain. All four "heroes" are generic, in that they can be any of the 27 job classes. They have different sets of stats (strength, defense, speed, intellect), making them more prone to working better as a mage or fighter, but that's up to you. The job classes are based on "crowns." You start out as a simple wanderer, with no headgear. As you defeat the storyline bosses, or master certain mini-games, you unlock one or two of the crowns at a time. These include hats for black and white mages, a fur cap for a beastmaster, a hood for a seamstress, etc. Each crown can be upgraded 3 levels by using gems that you receive as monster drops. Each level gives you a spell or technique unique to that job, such as being able to apply white magic to the entire party, boosting the strength of attack spells, or capturing enemies to use for attacking other enemies. These spells and techniques consume AP (ability points) to use (see below).
(World maps. The greenish thing in the water on the beach in the lower screen is Cestus, the whale.)
The main activity is fighting monsters, either on the world surface, or in the dungeons. Monsters drop gems (diamonds, sapphires, rubies), items and equipment. Chests hold items and equipment (and sometimes money). You can buy items, spells and equipment in the shops, and sell stuff for cash. Each town has a "wireless shop" where you can link up with friends that also have the game for playing battles. You get 5 points for each battle (single and multi-player play), and these battle points can be traded in at the wireless shop for special gear, and one item that gives you another crown. Items consist of healing potions, AP replenishment (ethers), torches (for unlit dungeons), buffs and status remedies. Equipment is made up of weapons, armor, shields and accessories. Many of the weapons and armor are designed to match certain job classes, like daggers for thieves and ninja, and harps for musicians. As for the spells, you have healing scrolls for white mages, and attack magic for black mages. (Any class can use any of the weapons, items or scrolls, but the AP costs for the scrolls are higher if you're not a mage.) And, if you really need money, you can play a mini-game where you get to be a merchant and sell whatever you've found in the dungeons at a mark-up.
(Battle screen. The options here are, from top left: Fight, Defend, Item, Release Monster, Capture Monster, and Attack without Killing the Monster. The bottom three actions are specific to the beastmaster job class. The orange circles represent AP, both for how much each character has, and how much is needed to take a particular action.)
Fighting is turn-based, the order depending on each character or monster's speed stat. You can have up to 6 scrolls in your action menu, as well as attacking with a weapon, defending or choosing to use an item. Everything (attacking, casting, using an item) costs AP, and you only have a max of 5 AP at any given time. Defending boosts your AP if you need it. Attacking, using an item, and casting low-level spells use one AP each, while using something like Curega is 4 AP. You regain one AP at the beginning of each round. I found that the best party mix up to the final boss was two Beastmasters, and a White and a Black Mage. When I got to the end, I had to switch to 2 White Mages (to alternate casting "heal party"), an elementalist (to reduce elemental damage to the party) and a Black Mage to do the actual fighting. Just about everything else in the game, the other job classes, all of the remedy potions, and most of the weapons and spells, were ignorable.
Now, for the gems. You can upgrade each of the weapons, magic staves, armor and shields to level +9, which generally adds +1 to attack or defense per level. And, as mentioned above, you can upgrade the crowns, per character, to +3. You do this by obtaining gems in battle. For the crowns, when you select them from the regular set-up menu, you can choose to "add gems". This gives you an assembly screen telling you how many of each gem are needed for that level and that crown. And, there's one upgrade shop in one town that upgrades the weapons and armor for you. As you may be able to guess, this uses a LOT of gems, which can mean having to do a lot of churning. However, the merchant job class provides two skills if you upgrade to level +1 - Finder and Keeper (in the English version). These skills let you search for gems during the fight. If you equip the merchant crown on three of your party members (keeping the fourth to fight monsters and do healing), you can get at least 6 gems per battle, plus up to 4 gems dropped by the monsters themselves. The exception is diamonds, which are dropped by the bosses. Now, when your party gets wiped out, you don't lose the game. Instead, you regenerate at your last save location (you can only save by talking to a character named The Wanderer in the various towns or just before boss battles) with all your experience and items intact. However, you lose half of one of the 8 groups of gems, at random. So, if the game picks emeralds, and you've got 48 of those, poof - 24 of them are gone if you get pawned by a boss. Which did happen frequently enough that I just took to turning the DS off then back on to avoid the loss.
(Crown selection screen. The last four crowns are at the bottom of the 100-floor towers, and I'm not going to bother with those.)
Overall, Heroes of Light is a fun game, but it tends to be frustrating, too, and there's no real point in collecting all 27 crowns. You can keep playing after you beat the story boss, because there are 4 optional 100-floor towers that unlock near the end of the game. Each tower has one of the remaining 4 crowns at floor 100. But, those aren't particularly good job classes, and the towers are boring (the goal is simply to rush through the floors to get to the mini-bosses on every 10th floor). Which leads me to the next point.
When you start the game, you get very little exp. I'd gotten to about level 15, where I needed 1000 points to go to the next level, but the monsters were only worth 12 to 15 exp. each. Then I discovered the Grow Egg in the wireless shop for 1,000 battle points (I had amassed 3,000 BP by then). The Grow Egg gives you double exp., and I started leveling up much faster then. But... I discovered that the monsters were leveling up at the same time. Enemies that had been worth 12 exp when I was at level 15, eventually ballooned up to 1,000 exp. each, and I was skyrocketing up to level 99 long before I was ready to face the last storyline boss. At level 91, I decided to discard the Grow Egg just to keep from maxing out at level 99 too fast. But, by that point, the storyline bosses had gotten much stronger, too. This made the last couple battles very drawn-out. Usually, if you get killed by a boss in an RPG, it just means that you have to level up a bit more. But here, the boss is leveling too, so the only option is to scavenge more gems and then upgrade all of your equipment up to +9. Even then, the last boss was almost unbeatable. (I hated the fact that it kept casting cure on itself at about the same rate I was putting damage on it.) And, it turns out the 100-floor tower bosses are just as strong as the last story boss. I've given up on getting the last 4 crowns and I'm putting the game away now.
(Upgrading one of the crowns - the Salve Maker, which is used for boosting the effects of recovery items in battle.)
Summary: FF - 4 Heroes of Light is one of the better RPGs for the DS or 3DS that I've found used, and it does have a lot of innovative game elements. I like the Beastmaster job class, and being able to fly around the map on a dragon. It's a good-looking game, and the story propels the action without getting too talky. There are no cut scenes, and the music gets repetitive after a while. It's not a perfect game, but I do recommend it if you like RPGs (there's nothing about it that screams "Final Fantasy" though.)