Final Fantasy kids these days...
Is it me or do the characters in Square Enix games keep getting younger and younger? I mean, I’m used to Final Fantasy heroes looking like high school sophomores, but in the opening sequence of FF: Ring of Fates, we meet a grizzled old warrior (probably ancient at 23-years old or so) doling out words of wisdom to what appears to be a pair of five-year olds. When he’s done talking, he hands the little imps a hatchet and tells them to go run off and play with it. Seriously, any game that starts out with two five-year-olds fighting over a rusty hatchet has got to be good.
[image1]And, for the most part, Ring of Fates delivers on that promise. Rarely are game franchises so successful that they can take place in multiple universes, but Final Fantasy is the Thundaga of the RPG world. Ring of Fates is set in the Crystal Chronicles sub-universe and is populated by the stalwart Clavats, the childlike Lilties, the masked Yukes, and the feral Selkies. The storyline centers around our cleaver-wielding toddlers Yuri and Chelinka, Clavat twins who can harness the energies of mysterious and powerful crystals. Together, the duo to learn their own history, defeat the forces of evil, and, you know, kill lots of things.
You start off the game with just a single character (Chelinka and Yuri sort of meld together to form one powerful mega-tot during battle sequences, only separating again for cut-scenes) but are soon joined by helpful allies to form a multi-talented adventuring party. The primary method for destroying your enemies is, of course, button-mashing, but there's enough variety to keep things fresh. You can perform a whole host of special moves, from jumping on baddies’ heads to bashing them against a wall, causing them to drop more loot. More bits of bone and fur and rock are essential, of course, so that when you head back to town, you can create your own sets of customized armor and weapons for each of your team members.
You can also switch back and forth between all your party members, each of which have a different fighting style, from Yuri’s straightforward hatchet slashing to Al the Yuke’s ranged magical attacks. Be forewarned, however, that the artificial “intelligence” of your allies is a bit on the weak side. If you're getting butchered, they'll come to your aid (eventually), so you'll have to do most of the heavy thwacking yourself.
Fortunately, most monsters don’t pose much of a challenge, and you generally won’t have much trouble unless you somehow get three or more dudes mobbing you at the same time. If you do start running low on life, healing potions and cure spells are cheap and readily available both from monsters and in town.
[image2]Of course, having multiple characters means that it’s time for some of Final Fantasy’s trademark spell stacking, where two or more of your party can combine forces to create magical attacks that are greater than the sum of their parts (Blizzaga, anyone?). This time-honored tradition, however, draws attention to one of the biggest flaws in the game.
In short, this mechanic just doesn’t work in a single-player setting. Your computer-controlled characters never cast magic on their own, so if you want to stack some Firas, you’re going to have to do it yourself, kupo. But just to pull off one Firaga, for example, you have to cast the spell with your first character, position the cursor, and lock in, then switch over to the next character and do the same, all while the target of your fiery wrath is moving around and generally trying to kill you. It’s doable, but generally not worth the effort except in boss battles.
This flaw in an otherwise good game could be forgiven if Rings of Fate was primarily designed to be a multiplayer game, but even if it were, it fails on that front as well. Group play is only available via local Wi-Fi, with online play limited to moogle trading. And then once you finally assemble a group in one place, the multiplay suffers from serious frame-rate and lag issues, taking most of the fun out of the adventure.
Single player is all there really is, and if you’re okay not using spells very much, then Rings of Fate is quite a good game. Most of my other quibbles with the game are minor - the mapping system isn’t all that great, and the four-directional keypad makes moving across diagonal bridges excruciatingly difficult. But the positive aspects of the game largely outshine these small issues.
[image3]For one thing, it looks great. From the game’s opening sequence, Square Enix proves once again that you can actually have decent graphics for the DS. The in-game artwork isn’t as good of course, but still stands out amongst most of its contemporaries. Characters are well-drawn and easy to tell apart, backgrounds are interesting, and enemies brightly colored and engaging.
The music is likewise good, and the voice-acting is solid. Even the writing is well done. Rings of Fate’s dialogue is clearly aimed at a level a youngster will understand, but they throw out a bone every once in a while to the more savvy players. For instance, when someone compliments our favorite young siblings on their maturity, Yuri replies that he feels very “adulterous”. Hey, between that and the hatchet, it sounds like Friday night to me!
Final Fantasy: Rings of Fate is almost (almost!) a very good dungeon crawler for the DS. If Square Enix had only managed a better spell-stacking mechanic or upgraded the game’s multiplayer capabilities, this could have been a great game. Maybe the game mechanics - and the characters - will grow up in time for the sequel.