Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings review

Final Fantasy XII was one of the last blockbuster title to grace the PlayStation 2 and was easily one of the greatest Japanese RPG titles on the still ticking console. It was also ground breaking from a technical point of view where Square Enix introduced their new version of menu based combat system. Some say (me included) that it was the right evolution move that menu based RPG combat system should go, while some purists downright hate it. Unfortunately despite clocking in 70 hours for the main campaign, the plot-driven story was often deemed too grand as not enough attention was paid to character development. It was no surprised that while Vaan was initially thought to be the 'leading man' of the game, it was eventually made clear that his participation in the game is merely an observer of sorts. His story is sort of shelved early on in favour of plot development.

The sequel Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings aims to rectify some of this 'mistakes'. Released on the Nintendo DS platform, the game is part of the so called 'Ivalice Alliance' umbrella series. The common theme shared among the titles under the series are the games are based in Ivalice, the fictional world first appeared in the original Final Fantasy Tactics. The series was created to expand on the mythology of Ivalice with both old and new titles. The games includes Final Fantasy XII, the recent remake of PS1 classic Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics A2 (DS).

The game begins a year after the events of Final Fantasy XII with Vaan and Penelo now gallivanting sky pirates. After obtaining the Strahl with Balthier and Fran they encounter an airship that landed in Rabanastre. They and their band of sky pirates mates Kytes, Filo and Tomaj board it only to find themselves in Lemurés, the floating continent above Ivalice. While scavenging for treasures they meet Llyud, an Aegyl who has been defending his world from other sky pirates searching for magicites (known here as Auracite). Vaan decides to help the Aegyl and is soon joined by other well known Final Fantasy XII characters aimed at restoring peace to Ivalice. While Vaan remains the leader of sort, the plot of Revenant Wings much like Final Fantasy XII is far grander than the characters.

Plenty of previous characters from Final Fantasy XII makes an appearance including fan favourite Blathier as well as Ashe and Judge Magister Basch. Espers returns in a huge way in this title and can be summoned far more times than any other Final Fantasy titles (that I know of anyway). Character design is handled by Ryoma Ito and features a more unique super deformed child-like appearance and suits the overall visual style and the petite screen estate. Jobs are predefined and can't be changed. Penelo for example is a White Mage and Ashe's role is changed to a Time Mage bomber - which was a WTF moment as she was a sword wielding Battle Mage hybrid in the first game.

The battle system is a mixture of RTS, real time RPG and SRPG. Exploration occurs on a isometric 3D plane similar to Final Fantasy Tactics where the enemies are visible (no random battles here). To move you must select the character(s) via stylus and tap on the location you want them to move to. Tapping on an enemy will instruct the party selected to attack. Any enemies that comes close will trigger an auto-attack by members of the party. Like any RTS game 'tank rush' is one tactic that can be used but most of the time Espers (known as Yarhis) can not be summoned willingly unless an Esper Gate is captured and even then the amount of Esper summoned depends on the party's statistics.

Unlike Brownie Brown's disappointing Heroes of Mana, the SRPG elements are deeper than what most would have assumed. It includes changing the Gambit associated with each party member and using the character's various unique abilities. Gambit is used to control the party member's desired actions though these can easily be override manually, but unlike the Gambit used in Final Fantasy XII, you can only select one particular Gambit per party member. New Gambits can be obtained through reaching certain levels.

You will have the chance to strategies before each battles as the game allows you to choose from different types of Espers and five party members before the start. Each characters and Espers statistics can be viewed before hand and are divided into categories. First through the elements in which the Espers belongs to, then its combat style: melee, ranged and airborne and finally the rank levels (out of three). A limited amount of Yarhis can be summoned during a battle and capturing more summoning gates will help breach the limit as well as increasing stats.

New Espers (of which seasoned fans will recognise from previous Final Fantasy instalments) can be obtained by creating a pact with the Esper type through the Esper Pact Ring, similar to the License Board from Final Fantasy XII. Pacts can only be created by accumulating enough Auracite and trading them in. Party members can be upgraded with new weapons through purchasing or synthesizing weapons through alchemy with materials obtained through scavenging. Kinda like Dragon Quest VIII, but without the bloody annoyance of having to go through a green toad and waiting 30 minutes for a kettle bell.

Because Revenant Wings was designed from the ground up to be a portable title, the game is mission based rather than free exploration. Personally I find this great as it was nice being able to complete two or three missions per each train journey. Exploration is none existent and any dungeons featured are divided up into sub-missions. Missions range from infiltration to destroying enemy crystals and wiping out enemy leaders. It certainly makes it easier to pick up for a few minutes as the bus stop far easier to stomach. Tank rush (swarming) is an essential strategy to winning the majority of missions as the lack of real screen estate makes micro managing a torture, though at times you will find yourself applying different strategy (such as running around the map away from high level bosses).

The visuals of the game is certainly remarkable and in my opinion is the best looking DS game currently on the market. The usage of detailed 3D environments with 2D sprite characters works well. While the sprites are low-res, they are well animated to the point of recognising many signature moves by the party members including Vaan's ridiculous carefree pose. But seeing the characters animated such as Vaan throwing a punch at Balthier was satisfying as was when Penelo was helplessly slumped to the ground. Even character expressions like laughs or sadness are noticeable just from the changes a couple of pixels. Pixel art has certainly come a long way since the SNES days.

What I find impressive is that the game never stutters whenever combat gets heavy. At certain missions you can expect probably close to a hundred sprites on the battlefield each one animated independently, and even despite that I never notice the frame rate suffering. The music is good too as the soundtrack is again composed by Tactics Ogre's Hitoshi Sakimoto, so plenty of your favourite tunes from Final Fantasy XII are here. Unfortunately there are no voice acting to supplement the various dialogues and limited FMV cut-scenes.

The game isn't without its problems though. A.I. is an issue with Revenant Wings. You may find that sometimes your party members would prefer a 'shoot now think later' approach. Especially those ranged Espers who are sometimes useless in certain terrain conditions. They would occasionally fire at obstructions because the enemies are behind it rather than going around. I did mention the swarming strategy and while it is a good strategy, it doesn't always work. At times I felt detached from battles as I helplessly watch 30 Chocobos causing a traffic jam (with Basch slow as he is behind) at narrow passages, while enemies would attempt to manoeuvre around. It gets irritating because when a party member K.O. and I would like override Penelo's gambit in attempt to raise the fallen member but unable do so because I couldn't see the body! Revenant Wings is also a pretty easy game though apparently they did ramp up the difficulty over the Japanese version. But complete all the side quests and you will find yourself presented with a Level 99 boss. >_<" Overcrowding shenanigans aside I find Revenant Wings to be an appealing DS game. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings will probably not appeal to elitist jRPG gamers (of whom there are many who disowned Final Fantasy XII due to the real-time battle system and lack of tear-jerker plot), but it does for me (but I am both a fan of RTS and jRPG genres). It doesn't come close to matching the plot, gameplay mechanics and production values of Final Fantasy XII but it is fun light hearted game (like Final Fantasy X-2) with just about enough depth to be considered a very good portable game. You don't even need to know anything about Final Fantasy XII to enjoy this, as long as you are capable to understand that this is a spin-off. Despite being slightly easy it takes roughly 30-40 hours to complete the game depending on the amount of mission quests you take, which I think is decent for a DS game.

This holiday season do not pick up some other crappy non-game with your new DS Lite, instead get a proper video game. A good suggestion will be just this very title.


Import from Play-Asia


Anonymous said...

Will I need to complete FF XII to play this? Will there be spoilers for FF XII?

Jon Choo said...

Minor spoilers. Obviously you will know who survives beyond FF XII. But the story is independent and the only connection to FF XII are the characters and locations.