One thing I confess to having a great dislike for is when a sequel that doesn’t need to exist is made. Final Fantasy seems to be a perennial committer of this sin; while each main series game is largely designed to be a single complete experience, and as such you can generally pick up any numbered entry and be assured of a game which doesn’t require you to have played or understood any other entry, every so often the team at Square-Enix get it in their head to try and make a direct sequel and with each one I’ve played I’m reminded of the same sense of bemused bewilderment at the existence of whatever I’ve just played.
Final Fantasy IV -Interlude- (PSP)
Released Mar 2011 | Developed / Published: Square Enix
Genre: JRPG | HLTB: 3 hours
Interlude is, in theory, supposed to begin to bridge the gap between Final Fantasy IV and its sequel, The After Years. In practice however, the story is nonexistent. If you know anything about The After Years you’ll be aware that it concerns the children of the cast of IV; with that in mind, it’s not exactly a startling and stirring narrative point then that the cast all have kids, but that’s basically the only thing in Interlude that passes for story movement. Partway through we meet up with the summoner Rydia, but something is clearly off with her as she can’t cast any of her high-end spells and she’s lost all her summons. That’s definitely a cue that something is off, and presumably that’s our real lead-in for The After Years, but what I’ve said there is, to be brutally honest, about as much as we get to go on in Interlude. It’s not there to solve plot elements from The After Years, sure, but given that nothing happens it begs the question of why this got made.
Perhaps it exists for the sake of challenge. It certainly wasn’t made for creative reasons, given that the team travels through a mere handful of dungeons during Interlude, all of which are some of the longer, more complex, and more dangerous dungeons in the original game. While I wouldn’t say Interlude was hugely difficult per se, it can definitely be a tricky experience given that the majority of the enemies you encounter are late game ones that have some sort of deadly attack with which to catch you off guard. For some reason there’s no option for the game to transfer save files from the base game; maybe this is me just being a bit too picky, but I’d think that given this is all bundled onto the same PSP UMD that there might have been some provision for this. But, nope – instead you start with a party all in the mid-30s, which contributes to making the experience grindier than necessary.
Nothing has actually been added to the gameplay of Final Fantasy IV, you understand; Interlude plays identically to its storied predecessor. That means the exact same ATB turn-based combat, the same ordering and row-switching party management, and the same party members, although not all of them return in a playable form for this outing. Because Interlude is intended to be a shorter experience there’s not much time expected to be spent hanging around in towns or upgrading gear; party members tend to join with mid-to-late game gear already equipped, and you’re always directed to where the next dungeon is, so there’s little opportunity for exploration or improving your adventurers.
I mentioned Interlude is shorter; it’s at most a maybe 3-5 hour experience. Now, sure, it’s named Interlude so you’d expect it to have less game than either its prequel or sequel, but I’m simply struck by just how little there is to justify the length. On the one hand, it’s a JRPG; that means the expectation of the genre dictates that we’re going to have to spend a fair while wandering around, grinding and fighting monsters, and the difficulty of the dungeons we take on rather necessitates that process. However, there’s no actual content to Interlude to make the grinding worthwhile. There are no sidequests or diversions to be had; you merely shuttle from one main dungeon to the next. There aren’t any reasons to explore the overworld beyond filling up the bestiary, as if you’re desperate to do that. We’ve reviewed games on here that manage to deliver a complete and full experience, both narratively and ludically, and do so with more style and more substance in just as little, if not less, time than it takes Interlude to faff about in IV’s overworld and say absolutely fucking nothing at all.
Basically, Interlude is an unsatisfying time in every single respect. It fails to do anything creative or interesting with the gameplay foundation it’s built on. It fails to take us anywhere new, preferring instead to waste our time by traipsing through the same dungeons we’ve already seen. It fails to add any substantive narrative movements or foreshadowing to the plot of IV or The After Years. It’s almost amazing; Square-Enix created a little interquel that not only didn’t need to exist from a narrative standpoint, but also managed to make an end product that doesn’t even deliver a fun playtime despite being built on the foundations of one of more well-beloved entries in the entire damn franchise.
To be utterly honest, if you want to know what happens in Interlude, you’re better off spending 10 minutes reading the plot summary on a wiki somewhere than you are wasting some future hours of your life playing it. But then, you don’t need to know what happens in Interlude. Nothing happens in Interlude, unless you really, really consider “pregnant lady has child” to be the pinnacle of storytelling that all other videogames need to hold themselves against.
1/7 – ABYSMAL.
Oh dear. Perhaps it’s broken, perhaps it’s savagely offensive, or perhaps it’s a barely-constructed mess. Either way, avoid it at all costs.