Sandwiched between the Super Nintendo releases of Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III came Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, a cartoonish (even by FF standards) reduction of the franchise aimed at uninitiated gamers. The weapon arsenal was a sword, an axe, and a claw-thing; there was one fire spell, one ice spell, one heal spell; and experience-wise, you were always miles ahead of your enemies. Hands were held in the interest of teaching the most basic RPG mechanics, let alone introducing the concept of a Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light, like Mystic Quest, is a lateral move with simplistic touches. But unlike MQ, this one can stand on its own two feet.
The game’s plot ducks and weaves with ease. Four characters wind up on a shared quest to save the world (per usual), but their time together is fleeting. Within a few minutes of gameplay, your core is split into a pair of two-character missions. The game further splinters when alliances are dropped and characters unexpectedly run into each other; at least two stories happen at once. Temporary helpers come and go, but this is a shared narrative of the core four—the game keeps things moving briskly.
It helps that the game’s nuts and bolts are similarly uncluttered. The team behind The 4 Heroes Of Light also ported Final Fantasy III (the Japanese version) and Final Fantasy IV (the American FFII) to the DS, and this new game shares the colorful, playful aesthetic. The similarities end there, as 4 Heroes scraps typical FF fight and item systems, and starts from scratch. Your character has action points in each battle, deducted for anything from attacking to using an item. You get one a turn, so larger tasks, like casting a powerful spell, require you to “boost” for a round and save up. The game also includes “crowns” for your character to wear, turning them into white mages, ninjas, salve-makers, and what-have-you. The pace and dynamics of a battle have never been more pronounced or malleable.
Heroes Of Light crams a lot into a small cartridge, so as with the saccharine Mystic Quest, some aspects of gameplay are needlessly smoothed over. Your characters can no longer choose the target of attacks, spells, or items. When you die, you get to keep your experience points, which are far more valuable than the jewels you do lose. And each person’s inventory is minuscule, made smaller by the game’s requirement that characters cart spellbooks around. But Heroes Of Light transcends these hiccups, and its oversimplified nature, to become a vital portable Final Fantasy title.