Nostalgia in Pixel Form.
At DeNA West's offices in San Francisco on Monday, I was shown what is probably one of the most effective plays towards nostalgia in a game I've seen. In Final Fantasy: Record Keeper, you play as Tyro, a sort of archivist in a world powered by the stories of different Final Fantasy games. The stories, living in paintings, have begun to go dark as they are being stolen by an evil power. You progress through the game by playing through different enemy encounters from Final Fantasy games, reviving the memories and acquiring characters, accessories, and weapons from the games to augment your party as you go.
David Shinn, the Director of Product Marketing for DeNA West, showed me a version of the game with a bunch of content already unlocked. I was delighted, as he showed me the sprite-based characters—in the 16-bit style of Final Fantasy VI—from not just those games but later 3D Final Fantasy games, too. He popped over to the Final Fantasy X "Record Realm" and paged through one of the available challenges, showing me that one of the rewards would be getting to add a little sprite-art Wakka to your party.
The game opens with the player investigating the memories of Final Fantasy VII, starting at the Mako Reactor and moving through the game as it progresses. Starting with only Tiro, the gameplay is set up in classic JRPG fashion, with active battle turn-based combat. At the end, I encountered the first miniboss, a four-legged scorpion mech that retaliates when its tail is raised. Upon finishing the encounter, I was rewarded with ability spheres and gil (part of the game's crafting system), and white and black mage party members. In the next encounter, the reward for completion (each encounter has degrees of mastery with Novice, Expert, and Champion) was unlocking Cloud Strife as a party member and a new mission from Final Fantasy IV.
Final Fantasy Record Keeper is a mobile free-to-play game and is the first mobile title I've seen from a triple-A franchise that I actually want to play. Encounters, even with more extensive bosses, are fairly brief, though there are challenge modes called Elite Dungeons that are quite difficult, whose completion is required to get stronger ability spheres, gil, or equipment. Getting a Champion rating on these is not easy, as enemies are harder and use more strategic attacks.
Shinn mentioned that targeting different strategies for this is where the game's dedicated forums would come in handy for the social side of the game. Entering into battles uses up points from your stamina gauge, which slowly refills over time and grants a surprisingly high amount of play time. In fact, I played for several hours without ever running out.
There are ways to enhance one's abilities in the levels. Unlocked characters perform better in their own Record Realms and gain more experience. If you pair them with equipment from the level as well, they perform even better. Shinn had me pop back on the unlocked game to play with his version of Cloud, who had the Buster Sword and a status effect that made him glow with blue fire to indicate he was augmented in the level. Though he was the same level as other characters, he was doing 8-10 times the damage.
The Buster Sword is a rare item, a five-star weapon, and weapons can be upgraded through the game's crafting system. Combining different weapons and ability spheres with the cost of some
gil creates stronger weapons, armor, and abilities. However, Cloud's Buster Sword (with "Braver" Soul Break) is only available through Relic draws, which is part of the game's monetization system.
You get one free Relic Draw per day, granting you a free item, with the possibility of a high value weapon, armor, or ability sphere. By spending 5 mythril acquired in battle, you can enter into a random rare item drop, increasing the likelihood of a good outcome. Alternatively, you can purchase gems with real money, which can be spent on these elevated chances of getting rare item drops or on refueling your stamina gauge.
Some rare items may not be available forever, though, as Cloud's Buster Sword is available as part of a launch promotion in the relic draw tab. Promotional events are set to be part of the game, as is continuously adding game content, including special events with dungeons tied to upcoming promotions. Final Fantasy Record Keeper is a surprising ton of fun. Getting to play as sprite versions of the characters is delightful, and there's a rush of joy in watching your super-powered characters clean up in their own Realms. The game has launched for Android and iOS.