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Old 03-03-2015, 03:41 PM
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Mogri Mogri is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: Austin, TX
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Let's never play Final Fantasy: All The Bravest again

Perhaps you are acquainted with Final Fantasy: All The Bravest, the way one is acquainted with pain. Perhaps you are not; that would be for the best.

Final Fantasy: All The Bravest (hereafter ATB) is a train wreck of a mobile offering from the world's premier source of games titled Final Fantasy: Square-Enix. The game is technically free to play. Typically, when one makes that statement, it is to throw into question the word "free." In the case of ATB, though, it is the word "play" that is questionable.

After a brief tutorial, the game thrusts you into a stage select, and the rest of the game consists of selecting a stage and attacking sets of monsters until you defeat all the monsters. Please take careful note of the last six words of the previous sentence; we'll come back to that later. First, I want to make note of the few things the game does right.

ATB is, at its heart, a game of fanservice. You get to revisit locales and enemies from the entire series. If you're willing to pay a few bucks (a topic which I'd rather not get into), you can even recruit some familiar faces. (Don't do this. It will only encourage them.) The stroll down memory lane is fun, and it brings with it a large selection of battle music from the series. You won't hear the music when you're actually interacting with the game, but it's there. Want to listen to Dancing Mad or Battle on the Big Bridge on your phone? ATB has you covered.

Let's be clear: that's the extent of what the game does right. It doesn't do it particularly well. While the game's stages ostensibly represent specific locales from the games of origin, the enemy sets don't match up at all: you'll often fight enemies from Final Fantasy 4 in locations from 3 or 6. At least the bosses are in their proper places. Compounding the issue is the game's incredibly lazy handling of the enemies. It's at least partially a localization failure (naming Cloud of Darkness's attack Wave Cannon, for example), but it's hard to tell to what extent it's also a design failure. As an example, you all remember Kefka's signature attack, Knock Silly? No? It's the same attack that the gigases use. Ringing a bell? Then you probably haven't played ATB. It would have been really, really easy to just copy the attack and rename it "Goner," but that requires a level of effort beyond what they were willing to put into this game.

It's a mistake to think that ATB's assets are entirely recycled. True, they mostly are (and that's part of the appeal, honestly), but the majority of the character sprites are poorly-edited Final Fantasy 5 battle sprites. Change the hair so they look a little less like Bartz. Well, at least they didn't give me a team of 32 Bartzes. (Jobs where the hair isn't visible, such as Dragoon and Ninja, could very well be untouched.)

But my complaint isn't that they recycled assets. The Crystal Defenders games recycle from Tactics Advance to much greater success, for example. No, my complaint is that they didn't recycle enough assets. They have one copy of each environment, regardless of which game you're in. Are you in the Baron Waterway? Here, have a picture of the FF5 water cave. Speaking of which, you fight Zeromus in one of those water caves. Why? Because ATB.

I have lasted this long without talking about the game mechanics. I had to save this rant, because there's probably no going back. First, let me describe the game in broad terms.

You are given a team of generic Final Fantasy characters. Monsters appear on the left side of the screen, and your team is on the right -- standard FF fare. To attack the monsters, you touch your team members. Since you have a lot of team members -- eventually 32 -- this means that you spend the entirety of the game vigorously rubbing the right half of your device in a manner too similar to masturbation for the irony to be lost on the creators. Once you touch one of your units, he automatically attacks an enemy at random, then returns to position until he fully charges and you touch him again. After you've started attacking the enemies, they will attack back. One hit is enough to incapacitate any of your units.

That is the extent of your interaction with the game. You do not decide your team composition (not that it seems to matter, since the damage output of your characters is completely unaffected by whom you're fighting). You do not get to prioritize your targets (although you can tap on them to see their names). You do not get to do anything besides touch your characters to make them attack.

I want to be very clear about one thing: they could have made a good game with these mechanics. They came reasonably close to making a good game. Occasionally, a battle will show up that gives the faint spark of hope that there's some sort of strategy involved. The best case for this is the Demon Wall. It doesn't attack often, but when it does, it wipes out an entire column of units. Here's the thing: units that are attacking are immune to damage. Get some units out of position, and you have some survivors in that column. Demon Wall doesn't get to eliminate your next column until there's no one in front.

See? That's reasonably clever. You can make a game of reaction, timing, and tactics out of those mechanics.

They didn't.

Someone decided this game was okay

There's no single terrible decision that you can point to and say, "This is why ATB is a terrible game." There are some odd choices, to be sure, but the truly execrable outcome is less than the sum of its parts.

Fine design choices
First, the choices that I can kind of get behind, even if I might have chosen differently were I in charge. Note that these are "fine" choices in the sense that I am doing "fine" today despite some mild congestion, not in the sense that they are truly fine pieces of game design.
  • You can't choose your party composition. Allowing the player to edit the roster would make the game drag. Making the party random is a good decision for the product they were trying to create.
  • Each character always uses the same attack. White Mages always cast Diaga, Beastmasters always release Bombs, and so on. Some variety might have been nice, but it's ultimately inconsequential. With the size of your team, it's not as if it would have been feasible to give individual commands anyway.
  • Units' effectiveness does not vary by enemy. Again, the context is important here. They're not going for an RPG, where half the decisions are made before the battle. Given that you can't edit your team, it's better than letting the dice decide if your party is a good fit for the battle.
  • Units die in one hit. You have 32 units. There's no reason to keep track of HP in a game like this.
  • Units only attack. Fighter? Attacks. White Mage? Attacks. Time Mage? Also attacks. It would be interesting to see some support classes, but it would also be frustrating to be down to a single support unit and therefore be unable to do anything.

Odd design choices
I have a harder time justifying these decisions, but none of them is outright bad in a vacuum.
  • All units are essentially the same. This is mostly a by-product of the above bullets. The game slowly gives you more classes, emphasizing each new one, which is odd because they're all inconsequential. (The premium characters -- $0.99 apiece! -- are the notable exception, since they have some actual variety. Area attacks, for example.) You occasionally get weapons that increase the damage of certain classes, but it's not like you choose what you're getting.
  • You can't lose. This is really puzzling, especially given the monetization-rich nature of the game. There's no need to grind levels because you literally cannot lose a battle without canceling out of it. A new unit arrives every three minutes. Should you suffer a party wipe, the battle is suspended until you get a new unit. Go do something else and come back in a couple of hours to get a fresh party.
  • Enemies have very little variety. I mentioned Demon Wall earlier. It's the closest this game ever comes to enemies having an attack pattern. Most often, enemies are bags of HP that knock out a few of your units every so often. Given the game's roots in the RPG genre, this might not seem out of place, but the series has no end of enemies with good, well-considered attack patterns (see: every boss in FF5).
  • You mostly can't respond to enemies. Once enemies have launched an attack, the affected units are already effectively dead. There's no anticipating an attack and reacting accordingly. Your best move is to keep swiping. This is the nail in the coffin, but only because of literally every other design choice listed above.

ATB had every right to be a decent game. It would have taken just a little love to make something playable with this premise, and "throw every game in the series into a blender" should have been a recipe for an instant win. It took some dedicated effort to turn this into an experience as bland as it is. There's something to be said for that, I suppose: ATB does not settle for garden-variety mediocrity, instead descending into the aggressively abysmal. I would not be entirely surprised if I were to discover that ATB was the result of a dare or a bet to see how bad a Final Fantasy product would have to be before customers would refuse to pay for it.

And that's pretty telling.
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