Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings - Staff Review  

Revenant Tank Rush
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
Easy to Frustrating
25-40 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   For the sixth time, North American gamers get to explore the world of Ivalice. This time, it is in the form of Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, a real-time strategy RPG for the Nintendo DS. Revenant Wings serves as a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XII with a host of characters returning. The game does differ greatly from the original, offering a completely different experience in terms of gameplay. This latest adventure through Ivalice is quite unique and can be quite addictive at times, but unfortunately suffers in many key areas.

   The story of Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings features Vaan and Penelo as they begin a new adventure as sky pirates. They team up with a few new faces as well as the cast from the first game. This new quest starts off with a little light-hearted exploration, but then deepens as the group meets the winged Aegyl race and attempts to uncover the mysteries of their homeland. Sadly, the path that the story follows never really takes flight, leaving the group of likeable characters forever grounded in the realm of mediocrity. It's not that the story is bad, just rather shallow. Vaan and Penelo, along with their Aegyl companion Llyud, receive the most development, but even that is not much. The game's dialogue is well-written, but since it lacks voice acting, it doesn't quite reach the standards set by its predecessor.

   The story is not the main focus of Revenant Wings; the gameplay is. Much like a typical, turn-based tactical RPG, the game is divided into missions in which the player sends their party up against an opposing force. What is different is that all of the action takes place in real-time. The party leaders consist of Vaan, Penelo, and their friends. Each has their own unique abilities, skills, spells, and customizable equipment. These leaders are sometimes tossed into a mission to combat enemies by themselves; however, most of the time they have help in the form of espers. Espers are summoned units that take a spot in a specified leader's group. They come in three different levels of usefulness: Rank I espers, basic units with one minor ability and a low summoning cost; Rank II espers, slightly more effective units requiring more to summon; and the powerhouse Rank III espers. Only one Rank III esper can be summoned at a time and the summoning cost is quite a bit higher than the lower ranks. Espers and leaders are each grouped into one of three categories: flying, melee, or ranged. Following a rock-paper-scissors style of weakness, flying units are powerful against melee, melee are effective against ranged, and ranged can take down flying. On top of that, units can also have elemental resistances and weaknesses. This makes finding the correct group of units to send against an opponent a critical decision.

Cuteness Even Ashe and Basch are cute...

   Before combat begins, the player must choose a maximum of five leaders and a group of five espers. Out of the five slots for espers, one slot can accommodate a Rank I, II, or III, two slots can hold a Rank I or II, and the final two slots can only hold Rank I espers. There are around fifty espers available all together, but they must be unlocked on the Ring of Pacts by using a gathered item called Auracite. The Ring of Pacts is similar to the license board of Final Fantasy XII. Players are started in the middle of the board with basic Rank I espers and must unlock adjacent espers to work their way out to the higher ranks. Some of the weaker Rank I espers include Sylph and Bomb. Rank IIs include Tonberry and Lamia, and Rank III espers feature Ivalice-based summons like Famfrit as well as classic ones such as Shiva.

   During missions, players must meet certain goals to succeed. Victory conditions include defeating all enemies, defeating a leader, destroying the opponent's soul crystal (a respawn point for fallen leaders), capturing all summoning gates (a base from which espers can be summoned), or just reaching a certain spot on the battlefield. Early on these goals are quite easy and require little more than selecting all characters and sending them out to ravage the opposing forces; however, later on in the game much more strategy is required.

   Interactivity is key to Revenant Wings' real-time combat and unfortunately it doesn't offer enough to be as effective as it needs to be. Unit selection is frustrating and extremely hindered. Players have the option of individually selecting units either by tapping on them directly or by dragging down a team's icon at the top of the screen and tapping the desired unit; this is awkward due to the small screen of the DS. Selecting groups of units can be accomplished by pressing the X button to select all friendly units, by tapping on a team icon to order a small group, or by attempting to drag-select specific units. This is irritating due to the fact that teams cannot be created easily on the fly. If the desired units aren't on the same team, there is no easy way to shuffle them around. This is further compounded by the fact that slow-moving espers, such as the powerful Rank IIIs, oftentimes become trapped behind other units. As stated before, this isn't always a problem on the easier missions since a "tank rush" strategy is effective enough, but on the tougher missions, quick selection of units could mean the difference between victory and failure. The touch screen controls of the Nintendo DS are useful for many things, but are not always accurate. One major problem is the difficulty in selecting an enemy unit to attack when a lot of units are crowded together. It is tough to fault the DS with these shortcomings; Revenant Wings simply needs more options for control than the DS can offer.

You will be screaming this. DIE BAHAMUT! DIE!

   One other unfortunate shortcoming of the controls in Revenant Wings is the use of gambits. In Final Fantasy XII, the gambit system was a hierarchical selection of predetermined commands that would activate in specific situations. In Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, a gambit is merely one selected command that a leader will perform. Neither priorities nor conditions can be set, making this system such a hollow shell of what the system was in the PlayStation 2 game that it shouldn't even be referred to by the same name. The AI is smart enough to not use a healing gambit when units are at full health and to not attack when there are no enemies around, so it's tough to see why at least a second priority gambit option was not made available. Characters are not helpless as players have the option of manually selecting an ability to use, but it is an awkward step that could have been made more efficient.

   Visually, Revenant Wings is a very impressive portable title. Cutscenes, though not extremely plentiful, are remarkably well-crafted and take full advantage of both DS screens. Battle stages offer a decent amount of variety as well with each stage offering a unique atmosphere. Very few stages are reused with the exception of their use in extra missions. The character sprites, even as small as they are, contain a lot of detail as well. Even though most of the music is recycled from Final Fantasy XII, it still fits the overall tone of Revenant Wings quite well. The quality of the music on the DS is also quite impressive; however, the lack of variety and originality hinder it slightly.

   Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings should take no more than thirty hours to complete with an additional few hours or so required for finishing all of the extra missions. The pacing is decent as the few extra missions that become available during each chapter will help keep character levels on par for the story missions. The biggest problem with Revenant Wings is that it lacks balance in many areas. Some missions can be beaten without much effort while others require unorthodox strategies or a high enough level to complete. Some gameplay aspects are highly effective, such as the powerful Quickening abilities that can be unlocked for each leader character throughout the game. Others, such as the shallow gambit system, are extremely underdeveloped. Characters are extremely likeable and have decent dialogue, but the plot does not do enough with the characters to make the game memorable. Overall, Revenant Wings is a wonderful new direction for the Final Fantasy series and can become extremely addictive. It is a shame that it only received a half-hearted effort in development.

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