I’m not sure what’s inspired me to check out a few popular mobile games recently, but hot on the heels of Brave Frontier, which I talked a bit about the other day, I decided to take a peek at Square Enix’s newest attempt to make a free-to-play mobile Final Fantasy game after the absolutely atrocious Final Fantasy: All the Bravest.
Final Fantasy Record Keeper was initially a little offputting by its association with DeNA; my past experience with this company is that they churn out identikit free-to-play games — mostly of the “gacha” variety, where you randomly draw various things each day in the hope of collecting a complete set, and can pay more to get more draws — that tend to be devoid of gameplay, polish and indeed any reason to play them whatsoever.
I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover that Final Fantasy Record Keeper is actually a solid, interesting game in its own right. It’s not a narrative-heavy Final Fantasy game, mind, but it’s pretty up-front about this. What it instead provides is the “gacha”-style collecting mechanics that DeNA have so much experience with combined with some actual gameplay, with mechanics and everything.
The basic formula is pretty simple. Over the course of the game, you assemble a team of characters from past Final Fantasy games, reimagined in 16-bit era pixel art in the case of the more recent installments (VII onwards). You equip this team with “relics” (equipment) and abilities, then take them into a dungeon to work your way through a series of battles and eventually defeat a boss. There’s no exploration involved; a dungeon is simply a string of predefined enemy encounters, with each costing a particular amount of “stamina” to participate in, meaning that your play sessions are throttled after a particular amount of time and until either your stamina recharges or you pay up to immediately refill it.
This is pretty much business as usual for gacha-style games, but Record Keeper actually fleshes out the battles with something akin to Final Fantasy’s traditional “Active Time Battle” system, whereby battles are both turn-based and real-time at the same time: characters’ “time bars” gradually fill, and when they’re full, they can take an action. (In a twist on the original formula, somewhat reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII, they then have to charge the bar again before the action is actually performed.) While this is happening, enemies are making use of their abilities in the same way.
The battles are fairly straightforward, though the ability to exploit elemental weaknesses and challenge special objectives during boss fights makes things a bit more interesting than just tapping the “attack” button over and over again. Where things get interesting is in the customisation aspect, which is always the strongest part of any gacha-style game.
In Record Keeper, the things you “draw” each day (or exchange the game’s premium currency for) are the relics, not the characters. These items of equipment have set bonuses to various stats, and certain characters can only equip certain types of equipment. You can level up equipment by sacrificing unneeded items or specific upgrade materials, and when a piece of equipment reaches its level cap, you can combine it with another instance of the same item to buff it up to the next rarity level and then begin the levelling process all over again with a higher cap. Certain pieces of equipment also have special abilities attached to them, all of which are unique to particular characters and based on their iconic moves from their respective games.
Alongside this, the abilities your characters can use have to be crafted using orbs you find in battle. Each character can initially equip just two abilities, and initial abilities only have two uses, meaning you have to carefully think about whether you really need to use that ability when you’re in a dungeon, as they don’t recharge until you leave, are defeated or are victorious. Abilities can subsequently be upgraded using additional orbs, however, which makes them more effective and gives you more uses of them; they can also be swapped around between characters, too, so if you make changes to your lineup the newcomers don’t have to start with crap skills.
Alongside all of the above, you then have the makeup of your party to consider. Characters get large bonuses to their stats and experience points earned if they are from the game the dungeon you’re currently playing through is from — for example, Cloud is much more effective in Final Fantasy VII-themed dungeons, while Kain is much more effective in Final Fantasy IV-themed dungeons — but have certain restrictions on what abilities and equipment they can use. Level up an ability too much and you might find a favourite character is no longer able to use it, so you have to be a little bit careful and plan ahead.
Like Brave Frontier, I’m not sure how long I’m going to stick with the game, particularly as it appears to be devoid of any sort of social features and thus the incentive to compete against — or cooperate with — other people. For the moment, though, it’s an interesting “collection”-style, battle-centric RPG featuring characters and settings from a series I’m very fond of — though I’m a bit disappointed that, as usual, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV are ignored thanks to their “online game” status as opposed to the series’ more traditional single-player installments.
You can find out more about the game and get links to download it — it’s available for both iOS and Android devices — on its official website.