Revisiting Final Fantasy IV DS

With thousands of games available at the touch of a button across multiple platforms and a limited amount of free time, I’m constantly asking myself “what should I play?” Sometimes, the answer is easy: the week’s Hot New Release. Maybe I’ve been stoked for it for years, or maybe I just want to be “part of the conversation,” but in a technology and hype-driven industry, the HNR is always enchanting.

Other times, the choice is not always as clear. For me, it’s oftentimes a perfect storm of coincidences that results in me combing through my shelves (digital or physical) asking “do I have a copy of that?” And then, “how should I play it?” This was the case for me recently with Final Fantasy IV.

Working through my podcast backlog (yeah I guess that’s a thing now), I listened to the semi-recent Retronauts episode on Final Fantasy IV. An episode of Retronauts making me want to revisit an old favorite (which FF IV definitely is for me) is nothing new, but this time, I had a GREAT excuse for it. See, just a few days prior, I had purchased a Surface Pro Tablet, which is basically the Nintendo Switch of laptops/tablets. I “bought it for work,” but naturally I also grabbed a USB dongle so I could use an Xbox One controller on it for some light gaming. It was the perfect moment to finally dig into the Steam version of FF IV.

The PC port seems to be based on the mobile version of FF IV (which was based on the DS remake), for better or worse. While it looked very clean and ran smoothly on my Surface, I struggled to get past the game’s mobile roots (which mostly manifested in the UI and fonts). It was nothing horribly offensive, but it was just enough to make the game feel “off” to me. So after a couple of hours, I combed my shelves asking myself “do I own a copy of the DS port?” And yes, yes I did.

In many ways, DS FF IV is a step down from the Steam version. Outside of losing metagame elements such as achievements and trading cards, the DS version is also a significant visual downgrade. While the game looked pleasant enough on my New 3DS, it certainly can’t measure up to the 1680 X 1050 resolution the game was running at on my Surface Pro. Still, I preferred the DS fonts and the way some of the menus were pushed down to the touch screen.

The extra screen is also nice for the map, which is not only a tool for dungeon navigation, but also a completionist motivator (you get rewards for mapping out 100% of each dungeon). There are other quirky exclusive features in the DS version like Rydia’s Eidolon Whyt, who you level up by playing touch-screen minigames, but the true draw of the DS version is of course its portability. While the Surface Pro is definitely portable, it’s not portable in the way a DS is, when you just pop open the system and you’re immediately right back where you left off in the game. Also, the game plays great on the New 3DS. For character movement, the circle pad is infinitely preferable over the dpad of the original DS.

I’m still early in FF IV DS, but excited to be digging into it (albeit in short, pre-bedtime sessions). This game lies at the heart of a series of philosophical questions regarding the nature and value of ports, remakes, remasters, and even sequels. But for me, I’m just happy to be revisiting Cecil’s journey, and the DS is the way that “feels right.”

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