I've recently been on kick of playing old (are they old enough to be called "vintage?") video games and I've come to one of the three or four games that dropped me into the role-playing game genre. In Final Fantasy IV (originally released as Final Fantasy II in the states), we several groundbreaking innovations that took place.
This is, as far as I can tell research-wise, the first game (released on Super Nintendo in 1991) that really made use of the big cast, epic storyline that would become a staple of role-playing games to this day. You also had the advent of "active" turn-based fighting. So you go to a special screen during battle and have dozens of decisions for how to fight (unlike other hack-and-slash role-playing games like Zelda, where you have only a handful but don't have a special screen), but while you're deciding, the enemy can still attack you. It doesn't sound too impressive today, but World of Warcraft, Dragon Quest, Star Ocean, Radiata Stories all owe homage to this game.
Here's a brief overview of the story:
The player takes the role of Cecil, a Dark Knight from the Kingdom of Baron, on his journey to save the world from the evil Golbez. Struggling to prevent Golbez from acquiring powerful Crystals, Cecil learns of his heritage and travels through three realms to battle Golbez's minions. His lover, best friend, and other warriors join him for the adventure.
Final Fantasy IV introduced innovations that became staples of the Final Fantasy series and role-playing games in general. Its "Active Time Battle" system was used in six subsequent Final Fantasy games. With its character-driven plot, use of new technologies (such as Mode 7) and critically acclaimed score by Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy IV is regarded as a landmark of the series and of the role-playing genre.
And if Wikipedia says it, it must be true. I should also note that this game remains so enormously popular to this day, that his spawned three re-releases and recent sequel that I hope to do a review of shortly. I'm going to have a difficult time not being biased in terms positives and negatives, so for this game, I'm going to focus on a typography of what's key in terms of the game.
(1) Redemption is a major theme.
There's a conversion! And it's better than the one in Left Behind (not hard). It's perhaps a non-religious conversion, but it certainly redemptive. During the course of the game, the protagonist Cecil Harvey must cease being a dark knight to become a paladin (a holy knight). During his time as a dark knight, he attacks a town called Mysidia. But once realizing his king is corrupt, he turns against him and in the midst of travelling to confront him, Cecil and his party are shipwrecked. The wreck leaves Cecil back Mysidia, where he is understandably not welcomed. But the elders warn him that if he's fighting evil with evil, he will have no success. So he's sent to an ancient monument on Mt. Ordeals where he will have to "part from his past" in order to gain the power of paladin. The monument tells him he must:
"Conquer your Darkness within! If you can't overcome your past self, the sacred power of Light will not accept you."And on the mountain, Cecil fights himself. There are several ghosts of "sin" discussed in the confrontation. He doesn't allow his friends to help him fight, saying:
"This is my own fight! I must defeat him to amend for my past guilt."There's also a plea for pacifism as well.
"To be a real Paladin, you must not fight now. Justice is not the only right in this world."And at the end of the story, Cecil's brother, Golbez (who is the antagonist for much of the story), tries to destroy big bad guy Zemus. But Golbez, is unfortunately, a dark knight and can't do it. Cecil the Paladin is able to destroy him, with the help of prayers from earth (they call it "wishes" but everyone is going prostrate and reciting liturgy. I'm sorry politically correct translator--that's called a "prayer").
(2) Self-Sacrifice is a major theme.
During the course of the story, there are three major incidents of self-sacrifice.
(a) Sage Tellah uses a powerful spell to fight off Golbez (antagonist) and protect his friends, revenge his daughters death. He knows using the spell will kill him, and it does.
(b) Karateman Yang Fang Leiden destroys a cannon to save those who would have been killed by it's blast. He manages to survive (?) but for the majority of game we're pretty sure he's toast.
(c) Engineer Cid Pollendina basically performs a suicide bombing to save his friends from attackers. He also manages to survive (?).
The Lunarian FuSoYa (who wins the award for weirdest name) does get a little preachy near the end:
Zemus: "I will not perish as long as there is evil in the hearts of people."
FuSoYa: "Evil in our minds will never disappear...We are all both evil and good in our minds...So long as evil exists, so does good."
(3) Creation story:
Basically, we have the case of "really-smart-aliens-come-to-earth-and-some-are-really-bad-and-some-are-really-good" story plot. You'll find the creation story in here:
The Lunarians are a race of human-like wizards who came from a world destroyed which became the asteroid belt, and are identified by a moon-shape crest on their foreheads. They created the second moon that revolves around the world the story takes place on, resting until a time they believe their kind can co-exist with humans. The only known full-blood Lunarians are Fusoya, the guardian of the Lunarians; Zemus, a restless Lunarian who plans on destroying life on Earth so his kind, alone, can inhabit the planet; and Kluya, who is believed to be the first Lunarian to interact with humans. In fact, Kluya fell in love with a human, and had at least two sons with her: Theodor, whom Zemus corrupted and renamed Golbez; and the younger brother raised by the King of Baron as Cecil.