`Revenant Wings' brings real-time strategy play to `Final Fantasy'

Justin Hoeger
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)


3 stars

PUBLISHER: Square Enix

SYSTEM: Nintendo DS

PRICE: $39.99

AGE RATING: Everyone 10-plus

For the second time this year, Square Enix tries its hand at making a real-time strategy game out of one of its franchises. This time, it works.

Where the resource gathering and base building of "Heroes of Mana" was a bit too complicated for the DS hardware to easily pull off, "Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings" adapts and simplifies "Final Fantasy XII's" excellent Gambit system to good effect.

The game focuses on Vaan and Penelo, the young street urchins who made up one-third of "FF XII's" main cast but who served as observers and hangers-on more than crucial characters. This is their turn to shine.

Having gained an airship of his own and fulfilled his dream of becoming a sky pirate at the end of the original game, Vaan and his constant companion head off to meet their former compatriots Balthier and Fran, also sky pirates.

The four tussle a bit over a pair of gemstones - they are pirates, after all - and each pair ends up with one of them, though Vaan loses his ship when the temple housing them collapses. He soon finds another after a mysterious craft crash-lands near his home city of Rabanastre. He takes it over, takes off and is soon winging his way toward the sky continent of Lumeres, where his new ship came from.

Once there, Vann, Penelo and some young friends from Rabanastre discover Llyud - a member of the winged aegyl race native to Lumeres – under attack. It seems that the events of the original game have left the normally shielded sky continent open to attack by a nastier breed of sky pirate.

It's not long before our heroes are embroiled in another adventure, albeit one lighter in tone than the political intrigue of "Final Fantasy XII." But light in tone doesn't mean light on combat. Vaan and crew will take part in plenty of battles on their new quest - in fact, it's nearly the only thing they'll do. These battles unfold on maps dotted with features and foes; most maps have multiple missions attached to them, with non-story missions opening up after plot sequences are finished.

The player's group consists of up to five leader characters; these include Vaan, Penelo, Llyud and other dramatis personae. Each leader possesses special abilities - just one at first, with more unlocked as they increase in level. The stripped-down Gambit system is tied to these. Instead of setting up long chains of cause-and-effect conditions, "Revenant Wings" limits the player to a single Gambit, a move that will be performed automatically whenever available and appropriate.

This can be useful for actions that need to be done at crucial times, like healing and revival, and can help a player gain an early advantage in a skirmish by blasting a group of foes with powerful spells and attacks right at the start. Moves can also be selected and performed manually, but this takes time and micromanagement to do, and it can be hard to find the right target in a tightly packed melee.

Each leader character can be teamed up with several espers, summoned creatures that do their masters' bidding. These range from the classic yellow chocobo bird to powerful creatures like Shiva. Players can choose a group of five esper types at the start of each battle, with stronger types limited to higher-level tiers. On some maps, leaders only have the espers they begin with; on others, reinforcements can be summoned.

Each esper or leader has a melee, ranged or flying attack class. Melee units beat ranged units, ranged units beat flying units, and flying units beat melee units. Many espers also have an elemental attribute, further complicating a player's strategic options when planning for battle.

For a strategy game, "Revenant Wings" is pretty simple. The bulk of the planning, as in "Final Fantasy XII," happens before the first sword is swung. The game allows for individual leaders and their espers to go in different directions and target separate foes. In practice, it's usually easier just to select the entire group of good guys and send them against the nearest bad-guy mob.

The backgrounds in "Revenant Wings" are gorgeous, showing off the DS' polygon-pushing capabilities at their best. The character graphics are less great - they're hand-drawn, in a similar manner to those in "Final Fantasy Tactics" and its ilk, but they look more pixilated. The animation is fine, though, and the graphics aren't poor, just a little rough around the edges. The music is wonderful, however, and drawn mostly from the terrific "Final Fantasy XII" soundtrack.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.