Nov 16, 2007
The Final Fantasy for everyone. That's a promise likely to make hardcore fans fear for this spin-off from the epic PS2 game, but while it's definitely not in the same league of complexity as last year's FFIII remake, it's undeniably a more immediate experience.
So out go the menu-driven, turn-based fights, the random encounters and the giant dungeons. Instead of all that daunting stuff, Revenant Wings has a combat system and open battlefields reminiscent of a realtime strategy game, simplified enough to negate the requirement for fiddly micro-management. At its most basic level you just show your team the enemy, wind them up and watch them go.
Of course there's a little bit more to it than that. You have five team leaders, each of whom can summon allies, called Espers, from the monster generators dotted around most of the levels. The maximum number of Espers depends on the experience of the team leaders, and by assigning units evenly across the team you end up with five squads that can break up a larger enemy army and attack from multiple directions.
The squads can have different specializations, depending on the team leader. You might assign a healing character to stand towards the back of the melee, casting spells and protected by allies with long-range attacks, while a tough soldier-type would have hard-hitting squaddies to help him smash through the middle of the enemy's defences.
Making progress through a level generally involves hacking your way to the next monster generator, where you can summon new allies to replace any that didn't survive the journey. Some of the best levels pit your team against an evenly matched group of opponents, with generators of their own which you must commandeer to force the enemy back towards the crystal that marks the ultimate victory point. And they'll be attempting to do the same to you.
With a close-up view of the battlefield and limited stylus controls, the game isn't really designed for intricate strategies. In fact it has some strange quirks that are probably designed to discourage players from treating it as a traditional RTS - for example, groups of units are instantly deselected after you give them an order, and are hard to find again once they wade into battle.
The subtlety is in the customisation of the characters, which allows you to purchase new "gambit" strategies - special moves that can be applied to team leaders so they can get on with things when you're not controlling them directly. Gambits can be interrupted manually, so a character who is casting healing spells in the general direction of the battle can be instructed to focus on a particularly badly wounded team leader when necessary. It's a system that works well and is great fun to use.
Away from the hectic, spectacular battles that form almost the entire game, there's a genuine Final Fantasy adventure. While there are few places to visit that don't involve fighting, you can go from place to place in a graceful flying ship, recruiting new team leaders and accepting quests (fights) from needy residents of the gorgeous airborne islands of Lemures.
Cutscenes are rendered in the realistic style of the PS2 game, which doesn't fit too well with the cartoony look of Revenant Wings. It's almost as if the producers are apologizing for the basic design of the sprites here, when in reality the in-game graphics are more than pretty enough to stand up for themselves. We love the reflective marble floors in the palace levels - the single best visual effect on DS.
Perhaps the battle system could have had a tiny bit more to it, just to cater for players who are already comfortable with realtime strategy, and a few more puzzles would have been welcome. Still, it's a quality execution of a great concept that fans and newcomers alike will enjoy. Yes, it's very simple for a strategy game, and quite easy for an RPG, but there's something about Revenant Wings that makes it one of the most enjoyable and complete DS games in ages.