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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy Review: Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings

It's easy to assume that the folks at Square Enix aren't doing anything new these days -- after all, usually when we discuss SE games, we're talking about remakes, or one of the many handheld strategy games they've put out this year. Don't let the repetition fool you, though; even when they're treading familiar ground, Square Enix is working to innovate with all of their games.

With Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix took a step outside the box. While the system for improving your characters in the long-running RPG series often differs, from materia to the sphere grid, the basic gameplay has long been at least similar. In the latest installment, however, Square Enix lifted influences from the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI and did away with series staples, like the battle screen, and the result was a Final Fantasy like none before it. Revenant Wings, as a sequel, changes things up as well -- and the result is a fusion of RPG and RTS that, while odd at first, feels completely natural even before the short tutorial is finished.

Before we get too far into that, however, I have a few confessions to make. First, FFXII just didn't do it for me. Listen, I love the Final Fantasy series, and I appreciate the twelfth title for its beauty and innovation, but I just didn't connect with it, just like FFIX wasn't my favorite. I know a lot of people who think FFXII is the second coming, and I understand. What I've learned most about Final Fantasy fans over the long years of dedication is that we all have our separate favorites, and there's plenty of game to go around -- we all have something to love.

Therefore, it shouldn't surprise anyone when I say I approached Revenant Wings with some trepidation. I was intrigued, but not excited. And I further confess that for the first few screens, battle just felt stupid. Why slow down a perfectly good RPG with these RTS elements? It felt, at first, exactly like combat in FFXII -- just simpler and slower. Not a great combination.

And yet ... somewhere in the five minutes after I had that thought, Revenant Wings won me over. I stopped fretting over the comparison between FFXII proper and its sequel, and just got into it, and as I said earlier, it just felt natural. Of course there are RTS elements. Of course battles are simple here. The retooled gambits work beautifully and arranging parties of espers around multiple team leaders seems like the most sensible thing in the world. It's hard to pinpoint the precise point at which things came together -- but the familiar elements of FFXII just really worked in this simplified RTS, and thus Revenant Wings is a real stand-out among Square Enix's recent barrage of strategy games.

The story picks up where its predecessor leaves off, and for fear of spoiling things for anyone who's not played (or finished) Final Fantasy XII, let's just say that our heroes Vaan and Penelo and their friends manage to get caught up in another epic adventure. Those epic adventures seem a dime a dozen in Ivalice; it's not a place we recommend you visit if you prefer things to be more mellow.

Revenant Wings is a true hybrid, with strong RPG elements and RTS influences that are just as strong, if somewhat simplified, and it picks up a few very specific abilities from its predecessor. Hardcore strategy fans may find the gameplay a bit light for their tastes, but the story and character depth offer enough to fill most gaps. Even more important than that, Revenant Wings is just fun, even when you're digging through HP bars to find the particular unit you need. The game has a peculiar charm that springs from the lighthearted story, and overall, it's incredibly irresistible. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's one of the most beautiful games to have ever graced the dual screens of the DS.

The basics (or, the review is in the details):

Controls: Ah, the inevitable comparison to Heroes of Mana -- and Revenant Wings wins, of the two. Though you can use either the stylus or the d-pad to move the camera, I used the d-pad almost exclusively and reserved the stylus for other motions, and found control to be almost seamless. Unit selection and movement is more precise, though drawing a square to select multiple units didn't always work as well as it could have (drawing a circle just seems better). Menus are smooth and simple, everything is clear, and very quickly, the RTS portion of the game -- even at its most sprawling and epic -- just feels right, like every RPG should play this way (though I'm glad that's not the case).

Visuals: Overall, Revenant Wings is beautiful, but it could have certainly been even better. There are moments when the sprites seem blocky or fuzzy. However, it should be said that, for the most part, Revenant Wings blows away dozens of other DS games in the looks department, so any disappointment here can probably be chalked up to major expectations of Square Enix. Is the game unattractive? Not at all. The cut scenes are beautiful, the environments are rich and reminiscent of FFXII, and mostly, the sprites are gorgeous. There are just occasional moments when they're ... not.

Sound: Put those headphones on -- as usual, Square Enix does not disappoint in this department, and Final Fantasy fans (or anyone with an appreciation for good game tunes) will revel in hearing the familiar music rendered in such a fantastic fashion on the DS. The speakers just don't do the sound enough justice.

Story: As stated above, I personally found Revenant Wings more captivating than FFXII proper, though of course, here the story is a little more light and certainly funnier. The pacing, in particular, is much better than what is found in most RPGs of any type.

Difficulty: Easily the portion of Revenant Wings most worth criticism! The game's difficulty is really all over the place. Some missions are absolute cake, and with the simplistic paper-rock-scissors unit strength/weakness system, it starts to feel like the game as a whole is going to consist of skipping about and batting at enemies. But just when you relax ... the oddest situations will suddenly start kicking your ass. Revenant Wings is very unpredictable, and at times, downright uneven when it comes to the difficulty.

Final verdict: 8.5/10 -- a sure bet for anyone with any interest at all in the title, but hardcore RTS fans may find it a little too simplistic.

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