Upon first gazing upon Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, it's easy to make two misconceptions. First, that it's a game aimed at a younger audience, a mistake which is made because of its art style. Second, that the game is a simple throwback to the original Final Fantasy title, which appeared in 1987 and focussed on the story of, four heroes of light. Neither of these are true though, as The 4 Heroes of Light is an RPG that's very hardcore minded and that adds a lot of new ideas to the tried and trusted formula.
Players take the role of Brandt a young knight who has just come of age. To prove his worth, he is sent to see the King who sets him the task of rescuing his daughter from the Witch's Mansion. He succeeds and manages to meet three friends along the way: Jusqua, Yunita and Aire. However, upon their return they find all is not well as their town has been petrified, so they set off in search of a way to put things right.
From this point on the game takes on an almost episode based format. Players will chop and change between the different members of the group, adding even more characters (albeit temporarily) to their party. Quests generally involve trying to track down the cure, but the members will get caught up in some other conflict or request in order to obtain more information. It sometimes seems a little unfair just how many problems are thrust upon the four heroes and often players will wonder just where the direction of the story is trying to go. There's a clear objective in mind, but the sub plots seem to make it hard to remember exactly what it was again. That said the trials and tribulations that the player will encounter are inventive and interesting.
The game is rather cheeky, as it lulls players into a false sense of security. Players start with very basic abilities and spells and everything seems fairly standard. It's possible to stack up a list of commands, such as attack, focus and item, and they can then add another six commands on top of these.
Performing an action requires action points (AP), which can be carried across battles, and if they run out of AP, they must focus to recharge it. It means that things like MP are no longer necessary and while it feels a little bit restrictive it does make things more simple. In addition to this players can also go into auto mode at the single press of a button and set up a move for each character to play out automatically, this enables monotonous grinding of monsters to be carried out without full player input all the time.
However, this is where the simple aspect of the game stops. As brilliant as relying on auto mode for generic battles is, it's a whole different ball game when things start to get serious. When fighting against certain monsters and bosses, one mistake can spell a very quick death and the game can be quite brutal. Even dying in some of the normal random encounters later on isn't unexpected, because of incorrect setups or gear usage. There is an extreme focus on elemental weaknesses and strengths and not using the correct ones for specific situations will likely result in numerous deaths.
This is all perfectly fine, but the game fails to really direct players well enough, and even the early bosses can provide an unexpected challenge unless you want to go and speak to all the townsfolk in nearby areas, who will provide ample clues.
Another thing that makes things worse, is that the game dictates the targeting itself. Curing is done based on who has the lowest hp at the time, and attacking targets seems to be set up with its own set priorities, some of which aren't always what the player wants to attack. There's nothing wrong with the AI taking control if it makes sense, but in The 4 Heroes of Light, it can often be bemusing and frustrating.
As the game progresses and players defeat more bosses they are also be introduced to the crown system. This allows players to equip a job class to their character by wearing a respective hat (crown). All in all there are 28 jobs to unlock and changing job will drastically alter the stats of each character, as well as giving them access to more abilities. Each crown starts with one ability at first but can be upgraded 4 times to give access to more. Enhancing a crown requires gem stones which can be dropped by just about every single monster in the game and once you've collected the correct combination they can be inserted into the crown to obtain the next rank.
Each job is also highly varied and many can compliment another, so finding ideal setups can add considerable depth in both the strength of the party and the actions in which it can perform. It can, again, be quite annoying though, as you'll lose an arbitrary amount of crystals if you die.
Visually the game has a very cute look and feel, almost playing like a pop-up book. While towns look detailed enough, dungeons do not, and discerning one corridor from another is very aggravating especially when there are no maps at all. It possible to get hideously lost in the later sections of the game and this also applies to the world map as directions are often unclear. The sound and music is very retro and enjoyable although it suffers from overuse in later sections of the game where the music reappears a little too often, and can become a bit monotonous.
From the perspective of replay value, the game is quite lengthy in itself. However, it's also worth mentioning that there is also local multiplayer for up to 4 players which is an interesting idea. It also allows higher level players to essentially help level up lower levelled players much faster.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light is a solid addition to the Nintendo DS' library of RPG titles. It's not a must-have title though. The story isn't as deep as one might expect from a Final Fantasy title and it suffers from dungeons which are monotonous and some awkward gameplay. On the plus side, the game does present quite a good challenge and there are a ton of jobs available to check out.