So... I guess this means war?
Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings opens with a pretty gorgeous cinematic sequence showing Vaan and Penelo, two of the heroes of Final Fantasy XII, flying through the sky in an airship. As the sequel opens, we see that Vaan has achieved his stated goal of becoming an air pirate in his own right, and it's pretty clear that now we're going to see a story exploring the adventures of these two. Sounds good.
I was especially eager to try this game out at E3 -- not just because I was a big fan of Final Fantasy XII, its characters, and its world, but also because Square Enix stated it had made a lot of changes to the game from its Japanese release. Because Revenant Wings incorporates a lot of real-time elements into its core RPG gameplay and Square Enix's argument went that Japanese gamers weren't ready for that, the original release of the game was, based on most impressions, pretty easy. They promised a much more challenging, retooled game for the US. So how'd that work out?
Well, I got to demo two areas. One was the first chapter in the game -- essentially a tutorial level. Vaan starts out his adventure by arriving with Penelo (and also Fran and Balthier) at an ancient temple. The goal is, naturally, to pirate some snazzy treasure. Battles played out by me tapping Vaan with the stylus and either tapping a point I wanted him to move to or tapping an enemy to attack, whereupon he'd fight the enemy automatically like in XII. After I located Penelo, she assisted Vaan by casting healing spells on him. Once we met up with Fran and Balthier (who just functioned as guests at this point), we took on a familiar face: Belias. The objective here was to take out the gigas while Fran and Balthier held off the monster cronies he summoned. So Vaan attacked, Penelo kept him healed, and my NPCs did their own thing. After the battle's end, I got some experience, Vaan and Penelo leveled up, and then the game segued to another FMV cinematic. This stage was, frankly, brainlessly easy. It was straightforward, effortless -- about what you'd expect from a tutorial stage.
Okay, I thought; let's move on to a later chapter. Here I started to see some of the promised difficulty. Maybe it was the fact that I was jumping several chapters ahead and hadn't been gradually eased in to some of the gameplay elements, or maybe Square Enix really has crafted a much more challenging game here. Whatever the case, this stage was genuinely a bit tough. It wasn't linear and straightforward -- I had to decide how to move my characters between multiple routes, whether to keep them all together or split them up. And I had a lot more options at my disposal. It wasn't just my hero characters fighting. This time they were assisted by summoned espers. By capturing summon points, I could resummon espers that got killed, which I definitely needed to do -- enemies were dealing out plenty of damage. I also needed Penelo to revive a couple of my characters with her white magic, too. The victory this time was a lot more rewarding. Not just because I got a better reward (Vaan learned his first Mist Quickening), but because it was a tougher win where I had to pay more attention and intervene in the battle to keep things going the way I wanted.
I still had a few gameplay reservations even after this second demo area, though. The walking speed was okay -- characters were slow, but I figured if they moved much faster, things would be a bit too hectic to successfully manage in more crowded battles. And I was mostly okay with the group selection commands. By pressing a button, I could issue commands directly to a leader (such as Vaan) and his espers, or I could create a square (similar to Photoshop image cropping selection) to select units specifically. Single unit targeting, on the other hand, gave me some worries. Sprites are pretty small in battle, and when I got into situations in the second battle where I needed to stylus-touch a single character surrounded by other sprites, I could see this becoming frustrating sometimes. I also didn't really like the map scanning controls.
I adored the game's visuals and so far it seems like the story will be shaping up nicely -- the writing seems solid and what I read suggested that Revenant Wings will tie in nicely not only to Final Fantasy XII, but to other Ivalice games like Final Fantasy Tactics. I'm mostly upbeat about the gameplay, but I did have some notable concerns after my hands on. Hopefully the core gameplay will be compelling enough to mitigate my issues with the controls. I'm looking forward to the full game's release to find out.