Game Ramblings #23 – World of Final Fantasy

More info from Square-Enix

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Vita

Given the month and year we’re currently in, you’d expect that the monster capture RPG that everyone wants to play is Pokemon Sun/Moon.  However, Square-Enix decided to launch World of Final Fantasy anyway, so here we are.  WoFF is decidedly a monster capture RPG at its core, but with characters and a story that blend a large number of past FF games, and a battle system pulled straight out of the SNES and PS1 entries in the series.  Overall, while it may not end up being the best monster capture title this year, it certainly is worth playing for any serious JRPG fans.

WoFF takes place in the world of Grymoire, where pretty much everyone but the two main characters are little chibi folks.  The story is your usual overpowered bad dude taking over the world nonsense, but it generally works and provides enough of a reason to move forward.  The even better reason to move forward for FF fans are the constant cameos from past FF stars.  The cameos run the gamut from FF 1 through 13, and tend to hit all the big protagonists, including the return of the voice actors for the titles that had voice acting.  If you’re a fan of the series at all, you’ll get a kick out of the constant barrage of recognizable faces as you get to new areas.  It’s a fun time throughout, and ends up working out well enough to provide an entertaining backdrop to the core gameplay.

The setting also provides the depth of FF monsters for you to capture. You’ll be grabbing everything from Chocobos to Cactuars to Tonberries on the low end, all the way up to recognizable summons like Ifrit, Bahamut, and Diabolos at the high end.  The wide range of sizes and styles all feeds back into the way that you build out your team, providing both the fun of capturing all the things you’ve fought in the past, as well as a huge amount of depth to building out teams that mask each other’s weaknesses while boosting their strengths.

That said, the battle system is the real star here.  The core of it is the instantly recognizable Active Time Battle system from the FF4-FF9 games, and it essentially remains the same.  What is different here is how the party is built out.  The general idea is that each of the two main characters exists in a stack consisting of a small, medium, and large NPC.  Because the main guys can be normal human form or chibi form, they can fill the large or small slot.  The rest of the slots are then filled out by the monsters you capture.  This stack then combines its stats, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities to form the unified character stack that takes its turn in battle.

What this ends up doing is providing a pretty large meta game to how you build out your party.  While you may want some fire attacks, this would expose the stack to a weakness against water.  To combat this, you can then also place a character strong against water, eliminating that elemental weakness, and providing an overall better prepared stack.  On the other hand, you can combine the stack with another fire user to really increase the strength fire resistance, as well as providing boosts to the strength of fire attacks used by the stack.  This mix and match continues throughout the game, to the point where I would typically have entire new rosters each time I entered a new area.

The other nice system that came in from other FF games is the way that the monsters you capture gain ability and stat increases.  Beyond just gaining flat stats through leveling, every species has a grid-based upgrade system very reminiscent of the Sphere Grid system from Final Fantasy X.  Some upgrades in this system are flat stats as well, but by and large you use the system to gain active and passive ability upgrades.  The system also is used to unlock the evolutions of monsters, where the upgrades earned from one variant of a species carry over as you evolve into another variant.  Of note, the monsters can evolve up and down to any variant of a species that you have access to at any time, so there’s never the question of whether or not it’s worth evolving a monster.  You just change it to what is most useful at the time.

Overall this was a really solid JRPG to be playing, especially in the lead up to the Pokemon series’ next entry.  It certainly wasn’t immune to problems; the end game in particular got really grindy.  However, it showed that there’s still a lot of life in the FF series, while still allowing for them to branch out into other interesting gameplay types that aren’t just the core series.  While FF15 is going to be an incredibly different game from this one, WoFF also gives me hope that Square is giving their Final Fantasy teams all the resources needed to pull off incredibly high quality games, with the time needed to make sure they are in the right place to succeed.

Game Ramblings #19 – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

More info from Nintendo

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: Wii U

I’m gonna start this off with some big words.  This is the best JRPG I’ve played this year.  This is also probably the best JRPG I’ve played on the current PS4/Wii U generation of consoles.  The only two traditional JRPGs I think have come close in that timeframe are Persona 4 and Shin Megami Tensei 4, which not too shockingly share a development studio and a lot of gameplay with this one.  There’s something in the water at Atlus, and if you’re a fan of JRPGs, this is one I would go as far as saying it’s worth buying a console for.

It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that this is basically Persona 5, if Persona 5 wasn’t also coming down the pipeline.  It shares a lot of the DNA of that series, and will be largely familiar to fans of P4.  The main cast go in and out of an alternate dimension, they’re possessed by beings from that dimension, and they battle demons while in that dimension.  Sure, the alternate dimension is all Fire Emblem, but that’s the story covering taking place here.  There’s also the real-world interludes, this time showing the life of a Japanese entertainment agency, rather than a bunch of high schoolers, but when you aren’t battling, you’re doing a lot of relationship management similar to the Persona series.

The battle system also shares a lot with the Persona and SMT series, but starts to split away a little bit here in the specifics of how battles go.  The core of the system is the same.  The cast take turns attacking enemy demons, with order determined by built-in speed.  Hitting the enemy with an attack or spell they are weak to still gives a bonus.  However, rather than simply knocking over the enemy and gaining a bonus turn, the strength/weakness setup now initiates a chain attack among the entire party.  As the game progresses, you gain the ability to chain these together with duo attacks, as well as the ability for out-of-party members to join the attack.  Although the duo attacks are somewhat random, I’d seen up to an 18 chain, and suspect this could be pushed further if things rolled your way.  This has the effect of drastically increasing the value of knowing the weaknesses of your enemies over past SMT-series titles.  Doing anything greater than a 2 hit chain also gives bonus items and bonus money, increasing the need to take advantage of this further.  Because switching characters out during fights is free and doesn’t incur any delay, it also means that you’re constantly shuffling to take advantage of these weaknesses, even in trash fights.

There’s also a number of sub-systems that offer a lot of flexibility to how you build characters.  The short version is that any kill can drop an item type called Performa.  This can either be generic, or enemy-specific.  There’s also Performa that occurs from story events, or in treasure chests scattered around the world.  All of these can go into three different things.  The first is weapons, the second are character-specific skills and passive effects, and the third are Fire Emblem-style secondary class upgrades.

The most important of these really falls onto the weapons.  Weapons are the thing that gains skills, similar to demons in SMT or Persona skills in those titles.  The skills can either fall into main skills, combo skills, or passives.  Each weapon can give 4 skills, and can be upgraded once fully mastered to continue giving more.  Because of this, the main upgrade loop is entirely focused around maximizing the number of times you can get through weapon upgrades, and building out the individual skill trees from there.  Because each skill type is capped in the number that can be actively known, there is also a bit of a sub game in making sure that the combo skills in particular are setup in a way to maximize the amount and length of combo chains that can be pulled off by any party configuration.

In the end, there really wasn’t much that bothered me about this game.  To some extent it definitely has very SMT problems with bosses generally having one-shot mechanics.  This is definitely not something I’ve ever been a fan of, but there are plenty of options there to either force avoidance of the attacks, or in a worst-case, simply dropping the difficulty down to get through a fight, which has no penalty.  The game could probably be somewhat grindy if you aren’t actively doing the side story content, but the skill advantages of doing the side stories are so good that I don’t think it’s worth skipping that content just to save a few hours.  As it is, this is about a 60 hour game, which is perhaps on the longer side of a typical JRPG, but not by much, and I think JRPG fans will enjoy the experience throughout.

Game Ramblings #16 – Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness

More Info from Square-Enix

  • Platform: PS4
  • Genre: JRPG

So I’m a bit of a sucker for JRPGs, and the Star Ocean series has never been any different.  However, it’s been a while since The Last Hope, and that one was already a pretty big step down for the series.  The unfortunate thing is that, while SO5 showed some promise in my playthrough, it’s not reversing the slide.

If you’ve played a Star Ocean game before, this one pretty much follows the pattern.  You’ve got a cast of people on a usual nonsense JRPG story.  You’re on a backwater planet that happens to be thrown into the midst of fighting between the advanced civilizations in the galaxy.  The characters themselves are probably an overall step up from The Last Hope, including an often entertaining, but definitely hilariously dressed mage. The battle system is still a solid action battle system, pretty similar to past titles.  In what could have even been an improvement, you get up to 7 active party members at one time, which is one of the larger JRPG parties I’ve seen.  However, the game ended up feeling like it was rushed to shipping, and never really pulls into a very cohesive whole.

On the surface, this is a very short game.  I ended up clocking around 20 hours to completion, though that was admittedly not a 100% run.  What it ends up doing though is progressing the plot extremely quickly, so the story is over as soon as you really feel like you’re growing into the characters.  It also means that leveling is EXTREMELY fast.  I ended the game just short of level 80, so you can imagine the leveling pace as I was actually fighting through the world.  The unfortunate thing is that unlike other Star Ocean games, you’re effectively rooted to one planet.  There’s a few excursions to space stations, but nothing permanent.  To combat this problem, the enemies scale in the world after certain plot points, but traversing the same areas definitely grows dull.

There were also some very distinct points that drew me to annoyance.  In general, the main healer for the party was pretty incapable of staying out of trouble, so I always kept a lot of healing and resurrection items on hand.  There were also a handful of boss fights that were effectively the worst kind of escort mission.  One in particular had me facing waves of enemies while one of my party members was hacking a door.  However, if she alone died, it was a game over.  She also would not defend or heal herself, and the enemies would beeline towards her without being able to be tanked by the rest of my party.  To say it was frustrating would be a massive understatement.

The unfortunate thing in the end is that I did legitimately enjoy playing the game.  Individual fights were just fun, the little side story moments that the series often has were generally just funny, the game generally looked pretty visually solid (if not a bit busy at times).  This is just one of those games that very clearly could have benefited a lot from more cycles of iterating on what they had going, because it’s so close to really being a great RPG.  At this point I’m just hoping that tri-Ace is now setup with the technology they need for the next few years, so they can truly just spend time working on a next-gen game, rather than next-gen technology.