Bizarrely, Final Fantasy is a franchise populated mostly by spin-offs. Mystic Quest, War of the Lions, X-2, Crisis Core, My Life as King, Ring of Fates, Crystal Bearers and Dissidia are but a handful of the additional games on top of the thirteen in the main series. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is yet another spin-off, but doesn't fall under the Crystal Chronicles, Legend or Tactics umbrellas that many of the others do. It's a unique spin-off - a new fantasy, with new characters, a new graphical style and a new story. That said, the game begins with one of the genre's greatest clichés: the protagonist fast asleep in bed.
Far too many JRPG heroes are asleep when we first meet them; God knows what they all get up to the night before their adventures begin. It could be that they hit the bars of their local towns, knocking back potions and doing shots of some potent alcoholic elixir before drunk-riding a chocobo home, but Brandt, the young man filling the shoes of the protagonist in Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light, is far too young for such antics. After being hauled out of his peaceful slumber, Brandt is reminded that today is his fourteenth birthday, and he must go and see the King to consummate his coming of age.
The short journey to the castle offers a nice first look at the game's visuals. Brought to life with a pale colour palette and smidgen of cel-shading, Heroes of Light has a very quaint feel to it. The character models ditch the heavy anime influence of other Final Fantasy titles in favour of simple, childlike designs. Although it looks like a children's fairytale book brought to life, the aesthetic masks some incredibly challenging gameplay.
After arriving at the castle, a very distressed King explains that his daughter, Princess Aire, has gone missing, kidnapped by the infamous Witch of the North. As there doesn't seem to be any experienced soldiers around to accept the clichéd rescue mission, it falls to our boy Brandt to take on the quest. After equipping himself with a sword and stocking up on a few potions, Brandt wanders off into the big wide world (map) to find out what kind of an adventurer he'll make.
At its core, the battle system is very similar to every other turn based affair the Final Fantasy series has spawned, but there are some interesting new refinements. Firstly, MP has been given the boot in favour of AP, a resource that fills a five-slot gauge above each character's HP. A standard attack, for example, will expend one AP, whilst spells such as Fire or Cure will use two. Appropriate management of AP is crucial in taking down strong opponents, and often missing an attack in favour of 'boosting' your AP is a much better strategy.