Announced back in July, Final Fantasy Gaiden is a retro, DS-only take on the series with an absolutely adorable art style and simplified controls. Instead of being a remake of an older title, this is an all-new game inspired by those classics of days gone by, specifically the NES entries in the series. Details revealed thus far include a “hat-switching” job system, a quick, screen tapping control scheme, and a rocking 8-bit soundtrack. You can also probably expect a guy named Cid, some spells that end in “-ga”, and probably a chocobo. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy game, eh?
Let me start off by saying that I love, love, love the art style. The big-heads-on-tiny -bodies and pastel, cel-shaded graphics add a whimsical feel and suggest that you shouldn’t take the game too seriously. The characters are all young boys and girls, on a grand, but not too dire adventure (at least in the demo) and to be frank, a whimsical entry in the series, even if it is a Gaiden, would be a nice change of pace.
As the TGS demo begins, your main character, named whatever you like is woken up by his mother. This gave me a little chuckle as many fond memories of my misspent gaming youth began the same way. I gripped the DS stylus began the demo very excited about playing it, completely charmed by the presentation. I finished sadly disappointed, but I’m not sure if it is the game’s fault or my own.
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The demo kindly thanks you for playing in a dialogue with another player quickly after you begin and then informs you through another dialogue that the concept of FF: Gaiden is “an RPG with a nice tempo.” What this means in practice is that your options in battle are pretty limited. Each character can initially choose from only three actions: Attack, Charge, and Item. Using Attack costs an action point (represented by bubbles on the character’s info tab) but the others are free actions. In order to use magic or more advanced commands you’re going to have to use a free action and then wait until the next combat round, or sufficient rounds to charge the necessary bubbles. You select each of your warrior’s actions before the combat round begins much as you do in Dragon Quest IX. The actions are then carried out and the enemy performs theirs. You cannot choose your target specifically (only the row on which you perform the action) but generally your party’s attacks will focus on the enemy with lowest HP until it is dead and then move on the next target.
This makes battles a rather quick affair; free of being bogged down in options and menus, but to be honest it is a little frustrating. Take the “Cure” action. You can’t specify which party member you cure as the member with the lowest hit points takes priority. But say you want to let that member die so that you can buff up your Black Mage as he/she is about to cast a spell. You can’t, which limits you tactically, and while it provides for a more “retro” feel to the game, also makes it feel a little outdated. Maybe it’s just me, but I want a finer degree of control that-as evidenced in the demo-is missing from 4 Warriors of Light.
Also, once you’ve selected your actions you are stuck with them. There’s no selection of a party member’s actions as their turn comes up. As I mentioned before, you pick them all at the beginning of the combat round and live (or die) with the consequences. Some might say this carries its own tactical element, but to me it just feels obtuse. Maybe I’ve just gotten jaded or grown to expect more from my RPGs, but in simplifying the battles Gaiden has unfortunately placed itself in the “orthodox RPG” camp, which I suppose I should have been expecting, but it begs the question: who is this game for?
In short, while I was expecting a retro-influenced game with some new twists, it seems like the game is decidedly old-school which is fine if that is what you are looking for, but it isn’t anything you haven’t seen already. I’ll reserve judgment until the full version is out, but for now I’m feeling a bit let down.