Revenant Wings isn't your typical Final Fantasy game. Indeed, it's unlike any Final Fantasy game ever released. And that's because it's an RTS (real-time-strategy game), not your straight up RPG (role-playing game), which Final Fantasy is best known for.
So, the big question is, does it work well as an RTS? The answer is a resounding yes, and it's in part because of the DS's touch screen stylus control, but more importantly, developer Think & Feel has taken a simple approach to the RTS genre, implementing a slow-pace and keeping the number of on-screen units down.
Revenant Wings takes place a year after the events of the PS2's Final Fantasy XII, which some loved and some hated. Revenant Wings sees Vaan, who's now a fully-fledged sky pirate, and Penelo and some of their chums from the Rabanastre Lowtown head-off on their own adventure to a mysterious sky continent called Lemures. There they meet the Aegyl, a race of winged warriors who are under siege from sky pirates hell-bent on stripping the world of auracite, which is used to forge pacts with espers, or little monsters which are summoned by your party during battles to help.
The game makes no apologies for being a sequel to FFXII - indeed it doesn't bother explaining a thing about its characters or the game world of Ivalice at all, throwing you right into the mix with Vaan and Penelo and fan-favourites Balthier and Fran (both of whom only stick around for the game's opening mission). This must be because Square Enix believes Revenant Wings will only be of interest to Final Fantasy fans and those who played FFXII. This is probably an accurate assumption, but is somewhat of a shame - Revenant Wings is an excellent game in its own right, and deserving of the attention of all DS owners, not just FF fans.
The look of Revenant Wings will be instantly familiar to Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions fans - with small, pixellated characters moving about lovely drawn backgrounds. The big difference here though is that the shackles of a grid and a turn-based system has been removed in favour of a real-time system and a go anywhere environment. Although there's a world map, across which you can travel in your airship, and a story (complete with nice full motion video cut scenes) essentially you'll be playing mission after mission, each presenting you with ever increasingly difficult win conditions, in the basic-looking in-game battle engine we've seen in the Tactics games. You might say that Revenant Wings is little more than Tactics wrapped in an RTS outfit - and you're probably not far wrong.
With the stylus you select your units, either by touching them directly or by drawing a square in true RTS fashion around a number of units, then make them move by touching elsewhere on the map (viewed in the top DS screen), attack by pressing on an enemy or you can get right down into micro management and command individual units to perform attacks and spells on other individual units. It works surprisingly well - although selecting single units from a crowd can be frustratingly imprecise. Lucky enough, your party is divided up into group leaders, which can be selected and cycled through with the Y button. Indeed, if you want to select your entire force, instead of drawing a square over them all you can simply press the X button. We found ourselves using the buttons for unit selection during most of our time with the game.
Combat follows a rock paper scissors system we're seeing more and more of these days. Melee units are good against ranged units, which are good against flying units, which are good against melee. Add to that the fact that every unit has a specific elemental weakness and strength and you can see that advanced play can get quite complicated. The love it or hate it gambit system from FFXII returns, except this time it's been toned down quite considerably. Here you select a few actions from a unit's skill list to have the computer use when it can. And there's even elements of resource management - scattered across certain levels are esper-spawning Summoning Gates, which need to be captured to use. You'll find much of the combat is drawn to these Summoning Gates - he who controls the gates controls esper spawning, which is what the game is all about. It all combines to provide a fun, easy to understand yet surprisingly rewarding combat system that's simple enough to get into straight away but, later on in the game, complicated enough to keep you playing.
And you'll want to keep playing because Revenant Wings holds off a lot of the coolest stuff it has to offer until you get to certain points in the main campaign. For example, the Ring of Pacts, from which you unlock espers, demands high levels of auracite for some of the more powerful espers, and don't expect to use Quickenings - extremely powerful attacks only leaders have access to, until a few hours in.
The game isn't without its problems. The camera can be annoying, especially when combat get stuck behind walls. You can move it with the stylus, but we found it easier to use the d-pad. Unfortunately, this resulted in cramp after extended play - holing the DS, using the stylus, pressing the X,Y,A, and B buttons and using the d-pad is a lot for 10 fingers to handle. There's noticeable slowdown too, especially when there's lots of units on screen all going at it with spells and special attacks. And the AI isn't the brightest - for most of the game you'll be able to get by simply by getting all your troops together and out-muscling the opposition. It won't be until much later that you'll need to send leaders and their espers out individually to take on enemies of certain types and weaknesses.
All that can be forgiven though. What can't be forgiven, however, is the shocking absence of multiplayer in any form. That you can't pit your levelled-up band of warriors against other players either wirelessly or online is a major letdown, and automatically scrapes a point of its final score. We can't think of a good reason why Think & Feel hasn't implemented any multiplayer. Don't get us wrong - it's an excellent single-player experience that will last you about 25 hours, not including all the side quest missions. But the game seems ripe for player versus player action. Bah.
Ultimately though, Revenant Wings proves a solid entry into the RTS genre for the Final Fantasy series. FFXII fans will find loads of it instantly recognisable, including the setting, the characters and the music. And Tactics fans too should be interested - the look of the game is the same and there's a similar sense of satisfaction from completing the various missions. But most importantly, DS owners in general who are looking for something a little different will find Revenant Wings loads of fun. It's perfect for a medium length commute, never gets too complicated and has an excellent learning curve. Fingers crossed next time Square Enix includes multiplayer - how about a Final Fantasy VII RTS Square Enix?