Cecil, the Red Wings, Rydia, Edge, Kain, travelling to the moon, flying chocobos and everything else we loved about Final Fantasy IV is back in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (well, except for Tellah.. R.I.P.). We have seen this sequel to Final Fantasy IV released previously on the mobile platform and on the PlayStation Portable, but this version is different. Fans of the 2007 Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy IV will be happy to recognize the DS remake's 3D style of art used in making this version of the After Years. The use of the word "Final" in Final Fantasy might be one of the most upfront lies in the history of gaming, but revisiting Baron in this format has been downright amazing.
The original version of The After Years was released in episodic form back in 2008, which was created using traditional 2D graphics in line with the original Final Fantasy titles. Final Fantasy IV has been completely rebuilt twice -- first for the Nintendo DS (using 3D modelling), and then for the PSP (rebuilt using 2D drawings). Since the Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection on the PSP contained the 2D version of The After Years, fans of the DS remake's 3D look have been waiting a long time for this. Square Enix has finally told Ceodore's story with modernized, 3D modelling. After countless hours of scouring the molten underworld, the Tower of Babil, Mt. Ordeals and the moon itself, I can honestly say that, much like FF4 for the DS, this is my favorite version of The After Years.
There is just something simple, yet intricate, about the 3D modeling used in this version of The After Years that reminds me of the Sony PlayStation years of Final Fantasy. Sure, the hand drawn models of the PSP version of The After Years are more in tune with the original, 16-bit version of Final Fantasy IV (which some of you may remember as FF2 in the United States). But having short characters, stubby legs, spiky hair and oversized weapons taps into my fondness for Final Fantasy 6-9 which I experienced when I first played FF4's DS remake. I know, I'm laying the nostalgia on pretty thick with this review. But that's what The After Years is completely built on. It's why most people wanted to play it. It's why most will immediately fall in love with its unchanged soundtrack. It's why I was eager to play as simple-minded characters. It's why most will overlook its abysmal plot, lackluster writing and bare bones RPG structure. Nostalgia.
Even though the graphics of The After Years have been brought up to date of the DS remake, its sound has not. The After Years uses HD versions of the songs used in the original After Years. Unfortunately, none of the remixed songs or audible dialogue from the DS remake were incorporated into this version. Nevertheless, hearing the same monster noises, sword swings, airship whirls and 16-bit songs in HD form kept me thoroughly entertained. Some of the original character designs that were not in the DS remake are a bit strange, such as Luca and the new baddies. Asides from a few framerate issues when having huge monsters on the battle screen, the graphics of The After Years are absolutely amazing, especially for a game of this magnitude being presented on the iOS format.
The controls of The After Years are what you would expect for an iOS RPG. Luckily, the Auto-Battle controls take your previous actions and simply repeat it at an accelerated pace, which is a godsend for those long dungeon grinds. The After Years builds upon the simple "Attack, Magic, Summon, Item" commands of the original FF4 with "Bands". Bands are team attacks similar to the double and triple techs in Chrono Trigger, though not as impressive-looking. Personally, I rarely used Bands unless a specific boss required me to use them. Asides from that, there weren't many changes made to the overall mechanics of The After Years. Expect to use the left-side-stick controls to navigate the world map.
The story of The After Years is rather laughable and acts as a simple excuse to revisit all the famous locations Cecil visited during the original adventure. Since it was originally based as a mobile game, The After Years plays in an episodic format. You start off playing as Ceodore, the 17 year-old son of Cecil and Rosa, for the first two to three hours of The After Years. A new foe appears that threatens all life on the planet by the end of Ceodore's chapter. Then, you have the option to choose from the likes of Kain, Rydia, Yang, Palom, Porom, Edward and Edge to see how each former party member has reacted to this new menace. Each of these characters have their own plot lines (again, about 2-3 hours each), and party members to help The After Years continue. But really, not much has changed. You still end up going to all the same places you did in the original FF4. You end up fighting most of the same exact bosses, many of whom have been killed in the first game but miraculously reappear without any type of explanation. But again, it's all for the sake of nostalgia, not for continuity. Much like Final Fantasy 12, 13 and their offbeat sequels, The After Years suffers from a nonsensical plot and poorly written dialogue.
Ultimately, I would only recommend The After Years to die hard fans of FF4. Anyone who has yet to play any version of FF4 whatsoever should not bother dropping the $15.99 for this fairly overpriced title. Simply put: if you haven't played FF4, don't buy The After Years at all. If you have already played either the PSP or mobile version of The After Years, then I recommend not shelling out even more cash for such an underwhelming story; you've already felt the nostalgia of The After Years, no need for overkill just because it's 3D-looking.
There is a direct niche of RPG fans who the iOS version of The After Years is perfectly tailored for -- fans of the DS remake of Final Fantasy IV. If you enjoyed the 3D models of the DS remake, and never played The After Years, then this steep price tag of $15.99 is justified. Expect to get your moneys worth back in hours of gameplay (about two to three hours for each of its 10 chapters). If you never played Final Fantasy IV at all and are simply interested in it (and its sequel), as a whole, I would suggest getting the PSP collection since it contains both the original and sequel (and you could probably find it for less than $15).