So I have started to get into chapter 3 for everyone, and I realized that there is a lot that I really like about the mechanics of the game. Some of the story is take it or leave it, some of the voice actors are take (Hannit) or Leave (Olberic), as are some of the stories (Primrose best story so far, and Ophilia is my least favorite). I saw someone say it was basically playing on nostalgia - and I would be the first to question why on God’s green earth the game is running on UE4 - but I also feel that the game has introduced so much more complexity than anything Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 6 did.
The first dungeon I walked into didn’t explicitly tell me “hey, you should reach level 5 before trying to fight the boss” . It just threw me in, said here be monsters, and left me alone. It was strange. There was so little set up from the RPG standpoint I was almost taken aback. But the game trusts that you have played something in the genre before, so it only explains the mechanics that make it unique - each character action and the BP system. After grinding up until I felt like I could manage the encounters, I fought a boss that actually was fairly challenging.
This might be my experience, because I was trying to clear chapter 1 for everyone before moving on to chapter 2, but I only had one class for everyone at the start of the game. So I basically maxed out that job (some party members didn’t get to the 5000 JP skill), and learned how each class worked. Now, don’t get me wrong, some classes felt weaker than others, but after going through each story, I felt like I had the info on what I liked about each of them. Some of the skills felt pretty pointless, and it was a bit perplexing as to why I unlocked 4 skills for my 4 slots - an illusion of choice situation.
Then you unlock cross classing, and the game just tells you: yeah, you can pick another class if you want. There is no forcing you to have your dancer be a cleric, and none of the changes you pick are permanent. Suddenly, there is an entire game that just opened up. How would a custom spellsword class work? What is the best side class for my cleric? Should I invest 830 JP into Therion to have him unlock a merchant skill? The constraint of only 4 passive slots means that there is a cost to equipping an ability, and you are able to mix and match to what feels the most powerful to you at any given time. Right now I have two fighters that have a 50% chance to attack twice, a 50% chance to counterattack, and a 25% to act twice in a turn, giving them an obscene capability to DPS. On the other hand, Prim has been turned into a mage that is capable of dealing out insane magical damage at the cost of no mana, because she regens mana every turn equal to half the cost of her spells - provided by Tressa’s class. But If I ever use Olfric’s ultimate skill, I hit the damage cap, so is it worth it to remove the counter attack to increase his damage limit? Or do I just do that before a boss fight?
So now you have figured out how to create your characters, but how do you create your party? You have to keep your starter character (which is dumb, I will admit), and you usually have one other character questing. So do you try and build the standard Final Fantasy Party - Fighter, Black Belt, White Mage, Black Mage? Well now you have to consider which elements your party can produce, and make sure that you have all weapons covered. If you have two fighters, you better have two swords ready to make use of them, or one good sword and one good spear, and to equip them opposite and remember who is who. As you wander through the town, do you want to be able to get items off the townspeople? Or get them for free? Recruit them to your party? Beat them up, so you can steal from the people inside their houses? With only 8 characters available, you have 70 different parties, and an enormous level of different makeups for that party (Fun fact - I went to school to become an actuary, but the stats were a little difficult. This is a word problem for those classes. Not for a dude drinking on a Saturday.)
One thing that I wish the game did better was to tell you which equipment was equipped by which character in battle so I could remember if I should be using a spear or an axe when an enemy is broken, but that is a relatively minor gripe. The major gripe I had was when you select a new party, the old party doesn’t automatically unequip their weapons, so I had to pick a party member, and remove everything from them, and put them back into the computer...then I realized that the computer has an option right beneath “select your party” of “manage your equipment (dumbass)”. It was something that maybe I was overly impressed by, but each aspect of the game, from a strictly gameplay point of view, feels so tested and so thought out that is able to present that Valve/Nintendo level of polish where they eliminated the tutorials by letting the gameplay speak for itself.
Even when trying to powerlevel neglected party members (Thinking of you Goku! I mean, Therion), there is still use for them if you cross class as thief, or especially as merchant. Both of these classes let you lend resources - the thief lets you loan your magic points, and the merchant lets you give your whole turn to another character. This means that they aren’t just resigned to item bitch/white mage while you try to get them up to snuff to be able to fight their own demon’s in their own chapters.