FINAL FANTASY 4: COMPLETE COLLECTION / Square / PSP
FF4 Complete consists of a polished-up port of the Gameboy Advance version of FF4 (with all the "extra content" that one had), the "After Years" sequel (previously only available on Japanese cell phones and the Wii), and a small new chapter entitled "Interlude" that bridges the two games.
Let's talk about the FF4 port first, since that's the simplest topic. It's very good - I'd go so far as to say it's the definitive version of the game. You get all the extras of the GBA version - character switching at the end of the game, the two new dungeons, restoration of dummied battle abilites - but without the occasional bugs and slowdown that port was hampered by. The soundtrack has also been addressed - there's new "arranged" tracks that often sound a lot like their Celtic Moon companion peices, but if it's not to your taste, you can switch back and forth from the original SNES soundtrack on the fly. All of the sprites have also been overhauled, largely for the better, especially the new monster portraits in battle. New 3D spell effects have also been added that generally look pretty good, but don't slow the battles down, exception of Meteor. There's also a very polished (and much more "flowery") translation ... parts of it add to the dramatic effect of scenes, but in other parts I missed the charm of Woolsey's clumsy lines.
The one element that's completely new to the PSP version (aside from the new art) is the "Interlude" chapter. This is a little snack of a chapter meant to bridge the stories of FF4 and The After Years, taking place one year after the end of FF4. It's made entirely with the FF4 engine and recycled assets, dungeons and boss monsters. I saw some wild Squaresoft claims about it being 15 hours just before release, but that's complete garbage, my save clock was at 2 hours exactly when I saved my clear data from it, and I dawdled around a bit in some parts. It's not bad but it's not particularly interesting either, since it uses entirely recycled enemies and locations from the previous game. It's certainly no reason in and of itself to pick this game up as opposed to any other copy of FF4.
And then there's the After Years. I see this frequently described as an "RPG Maker fanfic"-caliber experience. That's not far off from the truth, but I thought it was put together a little better than I was expecting. Specifically, the story and writing were a little better than I was anticipating. Interesting enough to keep pressing forward ... but other aspects sink the game. The first is the simple re-use of so many FF4 assets. Not only are you mostly re-treading old FF4 dungeons and fighting the same enemies ... often in different chapters you'll return to the same dungeon and fight a re-color of the same boss! That's like, putting recycled experiences in your recycled experience, so you can snooze while you snooze. The other is the culminating chapter, the "finale", wherein the characters from all the previous chapters band together to assault a massive dungeon on a new moon. This had a lot of potential, especially in throwing in FF5 and FF6 bosses as an unexpected bonus, but the execution is sloppy and sucks all manner of ass. First off, unless you've done crazy grinding in the individual chapters, like 80% of the characters start out too weak to handle the enemies in the final chapter. If you try to grind them up, not only do they constantly get one-shotted, but the enemies deal out a paltry amount of shitty experience that makes it take forever to gain the 10 to 20 levels each of them needs just to get to basic competency. There's definitely no way they'll survive any of the cranked-up boss battles in this area until you've spent tedious hours grinding away. And the game doesn't let you return to the surface, you're stuck on Bullshit Moon from this point on forever. It was so godawful I quit after the first boss and never finished the game.
Up to that point, After Years was servicable entertainment for a long bus commute. I didn't really want to play it during my home leisure hours, but it was fine for killing time while captive on the bus. The final chapter was just so excruciatingly tedious, though, that I couldn't even stand it for that purpose. So where does that leave us? The Complete Collection deserves at least a Good Face, I guess, given that it's the best version yet of the original FF4. If you just want the definitive version of the original game, or the best possible portable version, this is the way to go. Interlude and After Years are largely a waste of time, however, likely to have middling to no appeal even if you're a big fan of the original game.
* Gameplay Video