|Developer:||Square Enix, Think & Feel|
|Official Website:||English Site|
The RTS/RPG hybrid has been all the rage on the DS, what with the touch-screen and stylus combo lending themselves so well to the genre. It started with Taito's "LostMagic," but Square Enix picked up on the formula and released "Heroes of Mana" and now "Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings." You can always count on Square Enix to milk a good thing, but the question is whether this milking be any good, or will it be a cheap cash-in not worth your time? In the case of Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, I think we have a good game on our hands. There are a number of flaws, which you can read about below, but ultimately this little gaiden title is the genuine article.
As a follow-up title, Revenant Wings uses the same characters from FFXII, but puts them in an entirely new scenario–one that holds little relevance to the plot arc of the predecessor. The game opens with Vaan and Penelo scouting out some ruins with Balthier and Fran. They find some ancient treasure, but then the whole place starts to fall apart and, in the commotion, Vaan's newly-acquired airship is destroyed. The distraught Vaan, now believing his career as a sky pirate has ended early, receives a divine appointment. An abandoned airship falls from the sky and lands right outside Rabanastre. Vaan, accompanied by Penelo and two younger friends (Kytes and Filo, whom you may remember from FFXII), hijack the ship and take to the skies. Within a few missions (after the tutorial stuff), Vaan discovers two important things. First, there is an ancient race of winged people called "Aegyl" who have taken refuge in the floating islands of Lemurés. Second, the treasure he and Balthier found at the game's beginning is called "Auracite" and it allows the user to summon "Yarhi," which are illusionary beasts.
By the time one of the Aegyl, named Llyud, joins the team, the game's plot and premise are set. The Aegyl are being attacked by the "Judge of Wings," which is exactly what it sounds like: a woman in a judge's outfit (scary mask and armor) killing the winged inhabitants of this sky continent. Eventually, her motives are revealed, and you continue on to face the true, hidden threat of Lemurés and, indeed, all of Ivalice.
As you progress, Balthier and Fran take up the cause with you, as do Ashe and Basch. With the whole team reunited, along with some new characters, wonderful opportunities are presented to the developer for dialogue to further flesh out these characters. I'm happy to say that Square Enix generally took advantage of these opportunities, but there were a few things I had really hoped to see explored that weren't. But, as Fran argues many times throughout this game, some questions are truly better left unanswered.
All of the overwhelming information that they packed into FFXII appears similarly in Revenant Wings, but in a compacted form. In the menu, the "history" and "lore" of various names, places, and events are written out. Furthermore, your teammates regularly write in a ship's log, which can be a lot of fun to read. As with FFXII, it seems the crew for Revenant Wings was willing to go the extra mile to present a solid, cohesive addition to the "Ivalice Alliance" series.
Revenant Wings takes place one year after the events of FFXII. So here's a question: how did our cast, featuring teenaged Vaan and twenty-something Balthier, turn into a bunch of ten-year-olds? The art design on these characters is absurd. Someone needs to inform Square Enix that you can make a lighthearted, cutesy game without morphing all your characters into a prepubescent state.
Now, the new character designs can be seen in the hand-drawn portrait art, as well as in the FMVs scattered throughout the game. Other than what I personally deem to be ridiculous character design, the production that went into the FMVs and artwork is decent. But, for me, that's not the best part. My favorite thing about this game's graphics is the in-game stuff itself. This game looks like something straight out of the Super Nintendo era or maybe a good 2D sprite-based PlayStation game. And honestly, it looks great. The graphics are designed to be functional: indicative of what is happening on the field, so that you can make quick decisions. Indeed, Square Enix did great in this regard. Spell and ability animation is also smooth.
I'll get two aspects out of the way: there is no voice acting, and useful sound effects match the action. Now let's talk about music.
The problem with the Revenant Wings score is quantity rather than quality. The sound sampling sounds great, easily the best I've ever heard on the DS. However, the list of songs in the game is relatively short. Worse yet, over half of the songs in this game were lifted straight out of FFXII and put into this game. The opening credits list Sakimoto alongside Kenichiro Fukui, whom we can assume is the composer of the few original tracks found in the game. However, the end credits also list other staff members from Basiscape (Sakimoto's studio) as composers/arrangers, so there may have been some additional help from Basiscape in gracefully downgrading the synth to DS standards. Whoever was involved in that process did an excellent job, because it sounds nearly as good as the original. They also picked some of the best, and most memorable, tracks from FFXII to use in Revenant Wings.
I'd credit the Sound department with a very high score, but the lack of original content irks me to no end. Hence, the 82% you see above.
A friend of mine asked me, when considering the purchase of this game, "can Square Enix really pull off a decent RTS-style game?" Actually, the bulk of this game was outsourced, with game design and mechanics being taken on by developer "Think & Feel." Conceptually, the game works very well, and I believe the credit for this goes equally to Square Enix and Think & Feel.
This mission-based RTS/RPG hybrid incorporates three time-tested, can't-go-wrong features that really make the game a great experience. The first is the leader/troop paradigm. Each of the playable characters in Revenant Wings is able to lead a group of monsters (the "Yarhi") as they go. The leader has an arsenal of special abilities, as well as three equipment slots. The troops, on the other hand, just have basic attacks or healing abilities, and their levels are relative to the character levels.
Second, a rock-paper-scissors setup is used to determine strengths and weaknesses for varying troop types. Melee conquers ranged, ranged conquers flying, flying conquers melee. In this setup, magicians are considered "ranged," as are healers, though they obviously don't fit inside this lovely little circle of aggression. Note that this system is used for the leaders as well. Vaan and Basch are melee, Balthier and Kytes (a magician) are ranged, Filo (on a hoverboard?) and Llyud are flying. And of course, Penelo is your healer.
Third, the troops available for summoning are acquired by spending points (well, items, technically) on a rotating wheel chart. In the center are basic, one-point Yarhi, and as you move further out, you can unlock more powerful troops. Some of the three-point summons can only be unlocked after defeating them; FFXII players can guess the names of these elite creatures.
I'm not going to go into further detail about the game's mechanics, because it would take too long, and I think these three "staples" give a good impression as to the game's decent sense of balance.
The aspects I really enjoyed about this game were its pace, learning curve, and difficulty curve. The challenge was especially appealing to me. The first five hours worth of play is easy, then the bulk of the game from there is fairly difficult–but only so much as to keep you on your toes. Then, the last five hours of the game present some major challenges that require supreme skill, and/or supreme level-grinding. With this steady build of challenge, I had a hard time putting this game down. It was surprisingly fun!
Of the 80 missions listed in the game's log, about half are the main, story-related missions. The others can be viewed as optional "quests," though some have relevance to the story. Completing nearly 100% of this mission log took me 35 hours, and a lot of Game Over screens. The optional super-hard bosses were definitely punishing, perhaps moreso than in FFXII. Unfortunately, some of the side missions become unavailable later in the game, so 100% mission completion (required for the "extended" ending) can only be obtained with vigilance and, likely, the help of a walkthrough, since not all of the side missions are immediately available for attempt.
Aboard your ship (default name "Galbana"), there are weapons, armor, accessories, and synthesis materials available for purchase. There is also a weapon smith, "Cu Sith," who can make customized versions of the various weapons based on item quality and some questions he asks. The synthesis process is fairly involved and I enjoyed this aspect of the game.
The one complaint I choose to level against this game is its simplicity. Your characters (the troop leaders) have a "gambit" menu, but you can only set one gambit ability. There's also no telling the characters whether or not to attack an in-range enemy. If something kill-able is nearby, they'll run towards it and fight. Yet, one character has a "vanishga" spell to avoid being attacked. What use is that if you're going to just run up and fight them anyway? The lack of decent commands puts an unnecessary amount of difficulty on the game.
Now, while the DS's touch screen does lend itself to the RTS genre, there are some inherent flaws in the control to which developers must pay attention. In this case, sadly, the developer did not pay attention. The credit I bestowed upon Square Enix and T&F for good gameplay is also the blame I put on them for poor control.
One of the biggest problems is field navigation. A map appears on the top screen, and sometimes you want to just hit the top screen with your stylus to jump around the map. Of course, that doesn't work. Holding L or R will switch the screens temporarily, but this is still less than intuitive. What would be better? A method for changing the speed at which the camera moves when using the D-Pad, among other things. Indeed, a control customization menu of any sort would be appreciated, yet it is nowhere to be found in this game.
The other control problem is the inability to select individual troops in a crowded area, but this is not necessarily Square Enix's fault. The screen size on a handheld is just too tiny for this sort of thing. Again, additional camera work would be useful such as a zoom in/out option.
While Revenant Wings may be little more than a handheld equivalent to Final Fantasy X-2, it does what it was meant to do quite well. It is also multiple steps up from Square Enix's last RTS/RPG, Heroes of Mana. Don't expect the game to be as large or epic as FFXII, and certainly do not expect the unresolved plot points of FFXII to magically wrap up in this game either. But if you want to have a good, fun romp through Ivalice with Vaan and friends, you can't go wrong with this game.