Another day, another Final Fantasy title gets ported to PC – and this time, it’s Final Fantasy 4: The After Years.
This is a bit of an odd one, and it goes back to the insane numbering system Final Fantasy adopted pre-Final Fantasy 7. Back in 1991, Final Fantasy 4 was released in the US as the significantly easier Final Fantasy 2. It later got ported to the PlayStation in either the late 90s or the early 00s, depending on whether you were in Japan or not, and then five years later it got a 3D remake on the DS. Which then got ported to phones. And then, last year, got ported to PC.
In 2008, though, it got a sequel – Final Fantasy 4: The After Years – set 17 years after the end of the original game… but only on Japanese mobile phones. It was released episodically, with chapters coming out every month or so. A year later, it got a WiiWare release with episodes packaged together. And then it got released on the PSP. And then, in 2013, it got a 3D remake on iOS and Android. And now that 3D remake is out on PC, as one whole multi-episode package!
Basically, what I’m saying is, Final Fantasy 4 was released as Final Fantasy 2 which was re-released as Final Fantasy 4 which got updated into 3D and got a phone-based sequel which got updated into 3D which has just been released on PC and holy shit my brain hurts.
Anyway. A couple of aspirin later, and the PC version is out, and I’ve downloaded it, and I’ve spent 36 minutes fiddling about with it and hoping it’s not as shit a PC port as most of the major Final Fantasy releases.
In fairness, I’m pretty sure at least some of this Steam-based port has been handled by dotEmu, as their company name pops up in the launcher’s settings menu. It’s also not exactly the most high-fidelity game on the planet, so it should run okay.
The download is about 785MB, expanding out to a 978MB footprint once it’s installed. Not bad, and shouldn’t take too long if you’ve got anything approaching a modern internet connection. Hit Play, and…
… we’re presented with a launcher menu. This is pretty much expected; I figured the main game itself wouldn’t have been altered particularly heavily, so any settings to do with graphics are probably going to be in here, before the game launches. Sure enough, here’s what we’ve got:
So yeah, not much. I’m pleased to see the Pause In Background option, though; sometimes I like to leave things running in the background, and sometimes I don’t, so having the choice is appreciated. Resolutions run the gamut from 640×480 at 60hz all the way up to 1920×1080 at 60hz, and there’s a Windowed option, which is also quite nice. In terms of language options, you’ve got the usual suspects, plus a few more: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian.
Those default keyboard controls might seem a bit unorthodox, but I can’t complain overmuch. You can change them pretty much as you see fit, and they’re not too weird if you’ve ever played an emulated game; indeed, you could probably map them out on your keyboard like a gamepad, if you wanted to. You could complain that mapping things like “Map / Run Away / Next Page” all to one key is a little naff on a system that has around 100 keys on it, but the buttons don’t really conflict, so I don’t much care.
I left them as default, for the “authentic” experience, and then opted to play without using a gamepad, for the authentic emulated experience.
One fairly pretty – but incredibly low-res and probably meaningless – CGI intro later and we’re at the title screen, which enthuses us to start our adventure with Ceodore’s episode. As we have no other choice, that’s what we do.
Oof, that’s not the nicest-looking thing I’ve ever seen. Again, though: it’s a direct port of a 3D game from phones. If you were expecting Final Fantasy 13, you’re in the wrong neighbourhood. I suspect that basic 2D sprites might actually have looked nicer, but oh well; we’ve got what we’ve got. I didn’t really expect any better, so I’m hardly going to bash it for this. I’ll just run it windowed and in a lower resolution instead.
Ceodore is the son of Cecil and Rosa, two of the protagonists from the original Final Fantasy 4, and he wants to join the Red Wings – the most elite air force in the world. His initiation task is to head into a grotto near the town of Mythril, retrieve the Knight’s Emblem, and bring it back out.
First things first: does the escape key dump us back to the desktop?
Hooray! Now, before we start our mission, let’s try a bit of walking around and talking. The game’s running at a smooth 30FPS (or 31, according to FRAPS; take that as you will), and while movement is a little bit stop-start and a little bit janky, it’s perfectly acceptable. No issues there, and it all controls rather responsively on keyboard. Being able to just use the arrow keys and Return to wander around and chat to people is actually rather nice, because I can do it one-handed while lazing back on the chair and sipping a drink. Thumbs up.
People in Mythril inform me that the M key lets me flee from combat, and I fervently hope that this text isn’t hard-coded and will actually change if you’ve altered the controls at all. I find some pig guy’s ring, and as thanks, he does a little dance for me and gives me some cash. I buy a better weapon. I piss off to the Grotto.
So begins the tutorial dungeon, a staple of early Final Fantasy games that you could usually sneeze your way through. Biggs and Wedge (another staple of Final Fantasy games from FF6 onwards, although there it was Vicks and Wedge) join the party, and we get our first tutorial battle, and what the hell just happened to the framerate?
Okay, so here’s the first big problem with Final Fantasy 4: The After Years: the combat framerate is a whopping 15FPS. I can say, with a fair amount of evidence, that this is actually both hard-coded and intentional, and is nothing to do with a shit optimisation job or anything of the sort.
For starters, running the game in a lower resolution – say, 1280×720, in a window – does absolutely nothing to change this. Likewise, any cutscenes involving the combat models run at 30FPS. It could be the menus, but again, the in-game options menus for equipping weapons or using items don’t drop the framerate at all, so that doesn’t seem likely.
It becomes a little clearer when you tap the C key, which is the default button for auto-battle. This speeds up the gameplay and has your characters repeatedly perform whatever the last action was that you assigned them. And by “speeds up the gameplay”, I mean “it goes from 15FPS to 30FPS”.
I’m not sure why this is the case, though. Part of it might be that the animations are designed for 15FPS, and they look a bit weird at double that. Part of it might be a hold-over from the phone versions, which for some reason couldn’t handle higher in combat. It could be all sorts of things. That’s idle speculation, though – all I really know is that the game runs at 30FPS, except in manual combat, when it halves that.
Annoyingly, it’s got nothing to do with the battle speed. Turning that up to maximum just makes the Active Time gauges fill up faster, and keeps the framerate at that horrible, horrible limit.
And it really is a horrible limit. Other than looking incredibly ugly and jerky, it also means the controls feels sluggish and unresponsive, which is a hell of a thing when all you’re doing is cycling through a menu. It’s highlighted even further as soon as you leave combat and everything’s nice and responsive again.
Whether or not that matters is really up to you. It bothered me a lot until I discovered that the initial dungeon is hilariously easy, and I just auto-battled my way through the entire thing. Even the boss fell to auto-battle, except when I had to turn it off just once to heal up a bit. Depending on the enemies, the area, and the difficulty, you could probably set up some initial commands and then just turn auto-battle on, or even toggle it on and off whenever a necessary turn comes up.
While it’s a slim consolation for that hideous, hideous framerate drop, I like that auto-battle has some intelligent functionality built in. Final Fantasy 4: The After Years appears to remember whether you have it on or off at the end of a battle, and leaves it that way for the start of the next, so you only have to turn it on once if you don’t want to manually fight a battle any time soon. But! It also turns it off when you encounter a boss. I like this.
I beat up the boss, I get some plot development, I save, I start writing this.
Final Fantasy 4: The After Years is a bare-bones port, but it’s a port that actually works. It’s about what I expected, honestly: it doesn’t look especially lovely and it doesn’t have any special PC bells and whistles, but it seems perfectly functional to me based on an extensive, in-depth half-hour of play.
The only fly in the ointment – and it’s a damn big fly – is the battle framerate. I can’t tell you how much that’s going to upset you, because I’m not even sure how much it annoys me. It’s utterly horrible when I’m manually fighting, to the extent of making the game nearly unplayable for me, but toggling auto-battle on and off heavily mitigated the problems this caused for the first 30 minutes of play. In later battles that might not be a realistic option, but I haven’t played nearly enough to see that for myself, and let’s face it: it’s an issue that shouldn’t exist. If I get time then I intend to play more, so it hasn’t completely put me off the game… but if anything does it’s going to be that. It’s a big, big problem. Whether or not it’s a game-ending one for you, though, I can’t say.