Saturday, December 13, 2014

Final Fantasy: Revenant Wings review

(All images used for review purposes only.)

I like Final Fantasy. I played each one, either on the Super Famicom, PlayStation or PlayStation 2, up to FF 10. When Square Enix announced that they were dropping support for the consoles in favor of a subscription system online for a MMORPG in 2002, I decided it was time to move on to other titles. Afterward, I'd see ads for newer FF titles, but I didn't have a game console at that point. A few weeks ago, I started seeing a few newer FF games for the Gameboy used, at Bic Camera and Book Off, and I began thinking about buying one again. Finally, I located Revenant Wings at the Book Off in Minami Kagoshima for 500 yen ($4.50 USD), and that pretty much settled things for me. (The other games were Final Fantasy Tactics A2, and a fan-made rip-off called End of Time, both in the 800-900 yen range. I may get End of Time fairly soon just for the collector's value, and A2 sometime later.)

(Game select screen.)

Revenant Wings (2007), Grade B+.
Final Fantasy XII came out in 2007 for the PlayStation 2, and featured a boy adventurer named Vaan, and some of his friends in the world of Ivalice. RW was released the same year, for the Gameboy Advance, and picks up with Vaan and his friends one year after the end of FF XII. Vaan has found himself an air ship and is currently working as a space pirate. His crew obtains a strange crystal from an old cliff ruins, which unfortunately triggers an earthquake. His ship falls off the edge of a cliff into a deep valley, and is destroyed. A little later, he sees an ancient artifact being brought into the city - the legendary air ship Beiluge. He and his partner, Penelo, steal the ship to go treasure hunting. But, they encounter Llyud, a member of the winged Aegyl (Eagle) race and decide to help him out. At the end, they discover that the so-called "God" of the Aegyl was a former emperor that had killed off much of the rest of his race to become superhuman. Vaan and crew then have to defeat this god.

(Opening CG.)

While the wiki entry describes RW as an RPG, it's really more of a tactical game. You have five leaders in your team, with anywhere between 10 and 30 assignable minions that can be spread out between them. Each of the leaders and minions have their own AI, and fixed weapons, spells and armor. You control where the team moves to during battles (called "missions"), the targets, and whether to summon more minions. You can also micromanage the leaders by forcing them to use certain attacks or spells, but normally everything runs on autopilot. There are 10 chapters to the story, and most chapters have 5 missions each, plus there are another 36 side missions (subquests) if you want to get more weapons or materials (81 missions total). Each of the story missions has its own battle field, and its own terms for mission success (capture the enemy's base, capture all summons platforms, or defeat all of the enemy or just the enemy leaders). In some cases, there are summons platforms which let you call for replacement minions (referred to as "espers" within the game). Some platforms start out neutral, while others are red (belonging to the enemy) or blue (your platforms). Both sides can convert a platform to their own color. If you own a platform, you can replace espers as much as you like, and having multiple platforms lets you have a few extra espers per platform.

(World map.)

Your characters, plus the espers, are divided into 3 classes: Melee, Ranged and Airborne. They have a ring form of superiority (Melee beats Ranged, Ranged beats Airborne, Airborne beats Melee). Plus, there are 6 elements (earth, water, air, lightning, neutral and holy), with paired opposites. As you go through the game, you get points that can be used to unlock each type of esper, but you can only have 5 types in your party at a time. Espers come in three grades, I, II and III. You can only have one grade III esper at a time, but a mix of I's and II's based on their summoning costs. The grade III's include the classic Final Fantasy super weapons - Bahamut, Shiva, Chaos, Titan, Odin, etc. They're nowhere near as spectacular as in the earlier games, but they are fun to have in the party. For the most part, the enemy has the same espers you do, or slight variants (you get the yellow Chocobo, the enemy gets the black one). Finally, there's Myst (or, Mist). This is planet magic that builds up during the battle. When it maxes out, a yellow circle icon appears next to the leader's name in the menu bar. Choosing Myst Talk, instead of Skill/Magic or Gambit) for that character initiates his or her special. For Vaan, it's an explosive area attack. For the others, it's a status buff (protection against physical or magical attacks, haste, and so on).

(Battle map during a combat mission.)

At the end of each mission you get a reward. In some cases, it's money. Occasionally it's a weapon or a full set of armor. There are no healing or status buff items in this game, but there are books and Materials. Materials (including bones, oils, rocks and metals) are used for synthesizing weapons. There are only 13 books, with about 70 synthesis recipes total. The NPC alchemist on your ship can make any weapon that is sold in the shops, plus some unique ones. Again, materials come in 3 grades - low, average and high. You need three materials to make a weapon, and the higher the grade, the better the final stats. So, it's possible to make weapons that are better than the ones you can buy. The alchemist also asks 3 questions about the character the weapon is for. Depending on how you answer, there can be additional bonuses to the speed and power stats. The problem I have with the game comes in trying to obtain the rarer high grade materials. They are only available in one specific field, they appear randomly, and it may take 10-20 battles to get one unit, when you may need enough for up to 5 different weapons.

(Mission cleared screen. All of the characters have long since maxed out at level 99.)

RW is a fairly quick game. I beat the main story boss in about 28 hours of game play. There is no New Game+, so if you want to finish off any remaining side missions, get the last of the best espers, or synthesize every single one of the weapons, you need to have the second game save slot current up to the third-to-the-last mission (the last couple missions are back-to-back battles that you can save between, but loading them forces you into the next fight in the sequence).

The idea behind the game play is to create your party based on the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy. If the enemy has a lot of water-based airborne, then you should make your team of ranged fighters that are immune to water attacks, while using fire attacks. In reality, as long as you're high enough in level, it's just as easy to pick whatever esper types you like looking at at and let them sort things out through sheer numbers. This strategy worked fine up to chapter 8. After that, the enemy made a huge leap in strength, and I had to start thinking about adding healers to the team. But, I leveled up a bit, and the problem went away, until a second big leap occurred in chapter 10.

(Alchemy screens. Bottom screen shows the weapon recipes for a specific book, and the top screen gives the base stats for each weapon, plus the materials needed to make it. Grayed out materials here are extremely rare and hard to find.)

Leveling is problematic. As you level up, so does the enemy. Going back to the field for the first mission in chapter 1, you find the enemy is just slightly weaker than you are, and the experience you get from the mission is only 30-40% less than for the highest chapter you're on. That is, at chapter 8, each party member is getting about 10,000 exp per mission. Going back to the very first battle field, the fights yield 6,000-7,000 exp. If you're trying to find rare materials to synthesize a specific weapon, you may repeat the same battle 4 to 6 times, and you're leveling up almost once per fight. My party was at an average of level 90 when I finished the game the first time, and I maxed out everyone at level 99 while trying to complete the one last remaining subquest (which needed having 55 types of weapons synthesized as a prereq.) The reward for that last mission was the last remaining recipe book. It took several more hours to get 2 Illusion ores so I could make the last 2 remaining weapons.

(Screens for unlocking and selecting espers.)

Revenant Wings has an interesting story, good background art, and great music. The characters are absolutely tiny, which does allow having a lot of them in the battle at the same time without appreciably slowing the animation down, but it makes the character art look really bad. There are a few CG clips between some of the chapters, and those are well done, but there's no way to replay them outside of the story. My main gripes are in the game play. Because this is a TRPG, characters have to walk from one target to the next, and this is REALLY SLOW. Plus, because the enemy levels up the same time you do, all battles take the same amount of time to complete, no matter what chapter they're from, which makes things EVEN SLOWER. One battle can take 5 to 10 minutes. If you're looking for rare materials, you can expect to repeat the same battle MANY, MANY times. I'm finally at the point where I don't care anymore. I only wanted to make the last remaining 2 alchemy weapons to complete the collection. Since there's no artwork for these weapons, just the name and stats on the equipment screen, and the characters only have one weapon design each during the battles, there's no particular reason for being a completist here. And, I've beaten the game once already, so even if I could get a weapon with slightly better stats (which I doubt will happen), it wouldn't really change the final outcome of the last story boss.

More comments: The U.S. version of the game includes an extra 10-level dungeon and the option of having a sword that levels up each time you finish it, until each of the stats max out at 200. Each dungeon level gives you a rare material, too. I wish I had that version of the game, although it is supposedly harder than the Japanese version. Next, money. There's really nothing much to buy in the shops, other than armor, and the more common materials. You can synthesize all of the weapons available in the shops, and you can sell spare materials. There's not much need for money outside of one easter egg; one of the team members puts up "monuments" in the ship's lounge when you reach certain targets, like fighting x number of battles, finishing y number of missions, or clearing n amount of gold. The first few targets for gold were easy to hit, but the last one, 1,000,000 gp, seemed ridiculously out of reach. However, I'm now at 1,500,000 and that's not even including what I'd get by selling off unneeded weapons, armor and materials, all because of my rare materials searches. But, as I said, there's nothing to spend it on. Another small gripe - another monument is for completing 100% of the missions, which isn't available when you can still visit the ship. The last mission immediately flows into the final boss battle, and then the game ends. The last point you can add monuments is at mission 44, when you're 98% done. So, the monument for finishing mission 45 and getting 100% completion is not unlockable. On the other hand, getting 100% for the missions, the unlockable espers, and synthesizing all of the weapons does yield you a second ending animation.

Over all, I'm glad I got this game, and that it only cost me $4.50. It's ok for playing a short time, and it's fine for providing a distraction for a while. But it is unbalanced, which I think is a common flaw in most TRPGs. Recommended only if you like the Ivalice Alliance series, or if you like TRPGs, and if you can get it used cheap.

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