Game Changers: Volume 5 – Final Fantasy II/IV

Welcome back to another edition of Game Changers. Last week we looked at EverQuest, the first MMO to really hit it big. This week we look at another game that revolutionized the genre, Final Fantasy IV.

I'll bet you can even hear the crystal theme when you see this.
I’ll bet you can even hear the crystal theme when you see this.

Final Fantasy IV, originally known to most as Final Fantasy II, revolutionized combat with the addition of Active Time Battle, ATB. When the game first hit shelves, the Super Famicom was the newest, latest, and greatest piece of hardware on the market. The raw power the 16-bit system offered allowed battles to take place more fluidly. Previously, you could play pretty much any RPG, wander off, come back an hour later to find nothing had changed. Try a week. Or a month. That slime that had approached was still waiting for your command.

Final Fantasy IV changed that. If you left Cecil and Kain to their own devices, even a lowly imp would eventually take them down. And honestly, it wouldn’t take that long. Final Fantasy IV insisted that you gave it full attention as your characters’ very lives were at stake. Also you knew when you were going to get your next turn. Since enemy attacks usually came at a steady pace, you could anticipate when the next attack would come. This allowed for more strategy since you’d know approximately how much physical time you had until your party was decimated and needed healing. This also highlighted the difference speed in battle makes. Spells like Haste actually sped up the player rather than simply meaning more hits per turn. Slow had a similar effect. In fact, these spells eventually led to an entire class of character in later Final Fantasy games.

Admit it.  This is the. best. battle. ever.
Admit it. This is the. best. battle. ever.

The effect of ATB on the industry was immediate. Though there are notable exceptions like Dragon Quest and the Mother series that have maintained turn-based combat, many games of the 16 and 32-bit generations adopted this system until being largely replaced by more action-oriented mechanics as processor power improved with more modern consoles.

So in the end, even though the plot of Final Fantasy IV was revolutionary for its time, its most potent legacy came from the new approach to combat it presented. Now a character’s fate was directly tied to the attention of the player, and that’s why it’s considered a Game Changer.

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