Ever since Square first announced Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, I was really hoping it would be an heir to the long abandoned Ogre Battle line. Yasumi Matsuno, the director of Final Fantasy XII who quit halfway through the project, was known for creating some extraordinarily unique games – years later, there’s still nothing quite like Ogre Battle or Vagrant Story. Although he was apparently uninvolved in Revenant Wings, there still feels like there’s a trace of his influence, not only in the atmosphere, but in the game mechanics too.
Real time strategy games have been around since the early 90s, so at the most basic level, Revenant Wings isn’t that radical of departure. But here, Square has blended the traditional turn based mechanics of SRPGs within a fast paced setting. There are three types of attacks – melee, flying and distance – as well as your typical elemental affinities, so most of the strategy revolves around picking the right monsters to fight your foes. However, positioning makes absolutely no difference, so all you need to do is highlight your unit and send them to attack.
Compared to something like Tactics Ogre, which punished you harshly for not paying attention to these factors, Revenant Wings is generally pretty lax, to the point where most battles can be won simply by sending all of your characters to attack. In many cases, it’s easy to resurrect fallen monsters, and the only real danger comes from losing one of your leaders. And even then, if you’re in a mission with a base crystal, they’ll be resurrected with little-to-no penalty. Since Revenant Wings borrows heavily from JRPG mechanics, the monsters you bring into battle are often more important than how you use them, which seems to render the actual combat strategy somewhat inconsequential.
So it’s somewhat of a rude awakening when you actually get into one of the few difficult battles. One of the main issues with real time strategy game – not just Revenant Wings, but the genre as a whole – is that the action tends to happen so quickly, it’s hard to process exactly what’s going on. When you end up losing a battle, often you’re not exactly sure what you did wrong. Are your monsters too weak? Are you using the wrong monsters altogether? Are your characters ill equipped? Are you using the wrong spells? Furthermore, due to difficulties with the interface, it’s sometimes hard to keep units apart – so even though you’ve been trying to keep those fire-based units away from the water-based enemies, they might end up wandering too close and get into a battle anyway. The whole game feels a bit too loose and too messy for traditional Japanese strategy RPG fans. And since there’s no real resource management, and very few missions where you need to use any tactic other than “march full ahead”, it may appear shallow for real time strategy fans. The whole concept works in theory, but the execution feels a bit off.
That’s not to say the game still isn’t a damn bit of fun, because sending huge armies to wreak mass destruction will always be awesome. What Revenant Wings definitely does right is expanding upon the world of Final Fantasy XII, in ways that should please both fans and detractors. Tetsuya Nomura’s kiddie-fied designs of the main characters still look pretty lousy, the atmosphere seems to suggest FFXII’s universe as told through a classic 16-bit RPG. There are tons of little touches that should make a Final Fantasy fan overjoyed. I’ve always wanted to see the 3D games redone with 2D graphics, and Revenant Wings takes all of the characters and turns them into small super deformed sprites, vaguely reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics. The overworld graphics depict Vaan and Penelo as tiny pre-FF6 sprites too.
Almost all of the music has been taken directly from FFXII, although slightly downgraded to work with the DS sound processor. In most other cases, this would seem extraordinarily lazy, but this is one of the finest soundtracks to come out of any video game within the past few years, so you won’t hear me complaining. Hitoshi Sakimoto’s orchestral score was fairly understated, but it’s surprising how many of the atmospheric dungeon themes stay in your head months after playing the game. Revenant Wings will undoubtedly reignite those melodies, although most of soundtrack is composed of the more action-heavy songs. However, this time, all of the music is dynamic and changes based on the context. For instance, when just walking around the playing field, it will loop the “peaceful” part of the song. When getting into a battle, it will change to the “action” part and continue until you’ve vanquished all nearby enemies. It works remarkably well and I’m actually really surprised this wasn’t implemented in FFXII.
Most of the repurposed music works extraordinarily well. The majestic, exciting “Phon Coast” theme is played during battle preparation, where you’ll spend a lot of time upgrading and prepping your monsters. It does a remarkable job of riling you up for combat. The calm and peaceful “Cerobi Steppe” theme is used on the overworld, and the gorgeous, equally serene “Time for a Rest” shows up on the save screen, which sounds remarkably like Final Fantasy Tactics’ data screen music. Even if you’re one of those who didn’t appreciate FFXII’s the first time around, Revenant Wings might work to convince you otherwise.
It’s more than just the graphics that have changed, as the atmosphere has become significantly more light-hearted. That means, yes, Vaan has been turned into that spunky go-getter type character that will probably annoy fans, and Penelo is little more than his scantily clad sidekick. And the average writing is unlikely to inspire the same high quality dialogue found in the English localization of FFXII. But that’s okay, because it’s supposed to be a bit goofy, a sharp contrast to the VERY SERIOUS world of Ivalice we’re used to seeing. It also manages to feel darker and less childish than the overly cheery Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, so despite the cutesy characters, it strikes a much better balance.
Revenant Wings also serves to fill in some of the gaps left by FFXII. Despite spending years in development, FFXII felt a bit incomplete in some regards, especially in regards to some of the secondary characters. B’Gammon, a minor enemy that was set up to be a recurring enemy but made only quick appearances, shows up prominently in Revenant Wings as comic relief. Elza, Raz and Ritten, a group of spies found in Balfonheim Port at the end of FFXII, also show up as guest characters. Kytes and Filo, two blink-and-you-missed-them side characters who were friends of Vaan, now take the center stage in the main party. Even Tomaj, the kid that Vaan was looking for at the beginning of FFXII, shows up here to administer subquests. Not only that, but all of the protagonists of FFXII show up as playable characters at some point. Since many felt that the main cast in FFXII was a bit lacking in personality (Balthier nonwithstanding), Revenant Wings may work better to satisfy the fans who were looking for more development. Taking the fan service one step further, the plot even focuses around a group of winged warriors, which should seem familiar to Tactics Ogre fans.
Square’s been accused of milking the Final Fantasy license to death, and those are pretty justified complaints, especially if you look at trash like Dirge of Cerberus. But if they keep pumping out titles like Revenant Wings – which, while slightly flawed, is still a very interesting and worthwhile game – then maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.