Final Fantasy XII’s spin-off on the Nintendo DS has taken an unlikely direction. Not entirely an RPG or a conventional real-time strategy game, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings lies awkwardly in limbo somewhere in between the two. Those who’ve dealt with the PS2 original could attest that as much as Vaan was the first real controllable party member, he was in no way the actual protagonist of the twisted tale of Ivalice. On the contrary, the DS iteration finally gives him the spotlight, for a fair chance at retelling his dreams of aspiring to become a sky pirate.
At first glance, Revenant Wings is hardly the sequel anyone would come to expect from Final Fantasy XII. Gone are the photorealistic monuments and detailed 3D character models, with short, bite-sized 2D sprites animating all throughout the map in their stead. Everyone looks younger and cartoony to boot, with heavy usage of Akihiko Yoshida’s signature button noses and chipmunk visages for portrait displays. Battles are distributed through linear mission-based quests and additional ones provided by Vaan’s passive-inquisitive friend Tomaj.
[Revenant Wings] is a charming DS game, both for the eyes and ears, provided you’re not cursing at your DS too much.
Aesthetically, Revenant Wings surely manages to impress. It offers the same great tunes from the original PS2 title through pleasantly whistled bite-sized formats. Classic orchestrated pieces from last year’s title finds their ways onto Revenant Wings quite nicely and the enchanting Hitoshi Sakimoto pieces are pleasant to listen to again. Worlds are presented under finely-detailed low-res terrains and geography. It’s very pixellated, though enriched in detail, with embossing, shading, and shadows on everything, pushing the DS as far as it can, and exceeding initial expectations. All party members, espers, NPCs and foes alike are delightfully animated and are fleshed out even more with each one of their miniature spells, whether they be mere healing curaga spells from Penelo, or monster quickenings from Vaan such as Red Swirl.
Pretty as it may be, the challenge spikes sporadically, sometimes putting a halt on the enjoyment of the game. Battles strongly resemble the same façade of style and fashion found in its only slightly older DS brethren, Heroes of Mana. It’s familiarity ends there as the battle system initializes with the player choosing a selection of their Espers, micro-monsters in hindsight to the series’ staple powerhouse gigas’. Choosing the right Espers later on decides a larger part of the fate of either a win or a loss, depending on the Esper’s battle type, weaknesses, overall level and statistics. Vaan’s Ring of Pacts, which is a constantly rotating quarter circle affair of a mish-mash between FFXII’s License Board linearity and FFX’s Sphere Grid of connected dots. Purchasing new Espers is as simple as allocating the right points to the right slots. Stronger espers eventually unlock, offering more help and firepower than the previous. Each party member can dispatch their own line of well-behaved creatures (up to 20).
The real downer in the entire package is the pacing, which scales the difficulty from jaw-droppingly easy bouts against sky pirates to ridiculously hard fights come chapter 8 runs against high-leveled monsters (see: Chaos) which demand the player to power-level to a ridiculous level. It makes you wonder if you were doing anything wrong, while facing the evident necessity that is level grinding. While the first few 20 to 30 missions offer some varied and progressively challenging difficulty, it just goes all over the board with punishing spells on the receiving end with no choice but to wait them out half the time.
Still, Revenant Wings remains a fun, simple, moderately challenging RTS for the DS. It doesn’t add anything vital to the original game’s storyline, nor is it of the same caliber of storytelling, though for how lighthearted it may feel, its simplicity will welcome newcomers to RTS games with open arms. Though its difficulty may not be as forgiving come the later chapters, it is a charming DS game, both for the eyes and ears, provided you’re not cursing at your DS too much.