Reviews  |  DS


Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
star

By Alex Kierkegaard / November 15, 2007


Few sentences get me as worked up in the world of videogames as those containing the words 'Japanese' and 'real-time strategy'. At the same time, few games can provoke such strong feelings of aversion in me as those whose titles contain the words 'Final' and 'Fantasy'. Man, this game is something else alright. The Japanese RTS tradition is a brief but solid one (Herzog, Pikmin, Grim Grimoire, et cetera); trust Squeenix to come in and piss all over it.


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And oh boy, they sure did piss it up real good. Because this isn't just some half-assed attempt at the RTS genre -- this IS the worst such game you've ever played. How bad exactly is it? It's so bad that even if you try to come up with ways in which it could become worse, most of them will end up making it better. That bad.


Another reason for the game's craptacularity besides Squeenix's complete and utter inability to produce a half-decent game does exist, though I hesitate to go into it for fear of appearing to lessen the blame on the developer's side. So let's get this straight right off the bat: Revenant Wings is crap because the people involved in it are useless (and/or spineless in the face of pressure resulting from Square Enix's creativity-stifling game-development policies, but as far as we are concerned this amounts to the same thing). But the hardware it was designed to run on, clearly, wasn't helping.


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You see the DS wasn't designed with RTS games in mind (in fact it wasn't designed with any videogames in mind, but let's open that can of worms some other day shall we). Because for a game to qualify for the real-time strategy genre it has to contain a reasonable amount of strategy in it -- if you only ever have a dozen dudes on-screen at the same time (which is about as many as anyone could cram into a single DS screen) you are not really getting the same kind of experience that you get from something like American Conquest now are you. This is why games like Cannon Fodder, Syndicate and Commandos cannot be regarded as fully-fledged RTSes, but rather as action games in which you just happen to have control over multiple characters/units (think of them as squad-based RTSes if you want).


Had Revenant Wings gone down that path, giving you control of only a handful of units at a time, things would perhaps have worked out a bit better. However, it didn't. The game gives you up to twenty-five units at a time, and the enemies you go up against are usually at least as numerous. And tragicomedy ensues.


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The sheer number of units taking part in the later engagements means that battles are often spread over an area far larger than a single screen, but the stylus-controlled scrolling is too cumbersome to allow you to maintain effective control over them (mouse-scrolling would have solved this issue, but Nintendo forgot to add a mouse to the DS). Moreover, due to the 3/4 perspective the game adopts, once a bunch of your dudes get mixed up with a bunch of enemy dudes it is practically impossible to pick out one of them and give him direct orders. The five main characters can be selected by clicking on their portraits at the top of the screen, but not only is moving the stylus up and down too time-consuming (not to mention annoying), but in that case the game automatically selects the character's dependent units as well (each character usually has several of those). So if you just want to withdraw a couple of characters in order to heal them or whatnot, you have to resort to roundabout ways, as, for example, withdrawing a character and ALL his units, and then resending those units back to battle once you have finally managed to disentangle the desired character.


Note that some of these problems would have been solved with an over-the-top perspective, and ALL of them would have been solved with a larger screen and a mouse. So why did Squeenix choose to make an RTS for a console clearly not suited to that kind of game?


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The answer is "moneyhats", naturally. Once the company's executives realized the magnitude of the DS sales phenomenon, they must have sat down and asked themselves: "How many ways are there to get our number one best-selling franchise on the number one best-selling current-gen console?" The results of this deep introspection so far are this game (real-time SRPG), the upcoming FFT A2 (turn-based SRPG) and FFCC: Ring of Fates (action RPG), and surely the kart racing, crossword puzzle and pet-raising FF-themed games can't be far behind. (And if the Wii keeps on selling like it does, that Final Fantasy FPS dream will at last become reality. Remember, kids: you heard it here first.)


But I hope you haven't formed the impression that simply putting this piece of trash on a PC would have made it a decent game. Because (mostly) hardware-originating control issues aside, everything else still stinks.


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Units move excruciatingly slow, and the scrolling sometimes chugs as if you were running C&C: Red Alert 2 on a mid-90s-era 60MHz Pentium. There are tall objects such as gates that obstruct half the screen at times, without bothering to become transparent so you can see what the hell is going on under them. Mining of resources has been hamfistedly added, obviously in an attempt to imitate this aspect of Western-made RTSes, so basically your characters will stop at a pile of wood or iron or whatever in the middle of a map, take out pickaxes and start "mining" it for a few seconds, the whole thing coming off as some kind of inadvertent parody of Western RTS conventions, only you are not laughing because you just paid 5,000 yen for this shit. Meanwhile, the "plot" will hold the interest of only nine-year-olds or socially-stunted weeboos, the 3D backgroungs are terrible, and the frequent zooming-in (no doubt added for doramattik effect) makes everything look worse than early SFC Mode 7 games (quite a feat, that one).


On top of all the above, the game is so easy it practically plays itself. This is a plus on the one hand, because it means you can keep advancing despite the fact that properly controlling your units and exploiting to the full the various skills they acquire is impossible; but a minus on the other hand, since without challenge there is no reason to keep playing.


The only things worth keeping from this game are the map screen music and a couple of wallpapers from the official website, and even these things aren't all that great.