When you think about grand Japanese role-playing game experiences, you tend to think of console games, such as the recently released Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE and Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. But over the past few months, we've seen a handful of larger releases for mobile--most notably, Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts: Unchained X and Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius, with another--Mobius Final Fantasy--on the way this week. All three are RPGs in the traditional sense, but they’ve been modified to fit the free-to-play model so popular in the mobile space--and they’re tailored to encourage quick, bite-sized play sessions.
Each one offers a different experience in terms of narrative design, although Unchained X and Brave Exvius have similar mechanics. Unchained X is a prequel to the events of the Kingdom Hearts series and allows players to create a custom character who then travels to various Disney worlds to battle the enemy Heartless. Brave Exvius features an original story in a new Final Fantasy universe, but the game looks to grab the interest of longtime series fans with the inclusion of "Visions," characters hailing from previous Final Fantasy games--like Cloud, Lightning and Terra--that can be recruited to fight in your party. Mobius unlike both of these games and sets itself apart from Square Enix's other mobile offerings by presenting a wholly new tale with some Final Fantasy elements (like Moogles and Phoenix Downs) players will recognize, but no overt ties to previous entries like its cousin Brave Exvius.
Mobius begins with your character waking up in a strange world alongside a handful of strangers. A disembodied voice identifying itself as Vox address the group, calling them "Blanks" and stating that one among them is destined to become the fabled Warrior of Light who will save the world. As your nameable character, you walk from area to area, battling groups of enemies and learning more about the ordeal you face.
Right of the bat, Mobius throws you into the deep end when it comes to learning new systems. Within the first few minutes, the game throws several tutorials your way, including how to build a deck of cards--each with a magic spell you can use in combat--and how to equip different job classes. Other early tutorials include but are not limited to: basic combat controls, how to get and equip summon cards, how to fuse cards for stronger spells, how to change jobs, how to use magicite to strengthen your arsenal, how to buy more cards, how to interpret the screenful of details that appears before each area, and so on.
Additionally, each equippable card has a ton of elements and usage caveats attached. All cards use an element--such as water, fire, or earth--and are powered up in battle by collecting orbs of matching elemental energy from enemies. Some foes don't drop certain elements--for example, a fire dragon won't necessarily drop wind orbs--so if you have a wind spell in your deck, you're out of luck and have wasted that card slot. Additionally, health point-replenishing orbs are only dropped by enemies and are incredibly rare. If you don't have any phoenix down (also rare) when you go into combat, you're facing the very real possibility of a game over.
Aside from the pile-up of leveling and power systems tied to cards, combat is straightforward: the enemy appears, you tap on them to attack when it's your turn, and you repeat until they're dead. Combat is essentially turn-based, and while some higher-level enemies present a bit of a challenge, the lack of enemy or layout variation makes it all very rote very quickly. Additionally, the story moves at a breakneck pace, with little explanation provided for anything that's happening--and what is explained is unfortunately delivered through bland dialogue and even blander voice acting. The graphics are impressively detailed and fluid for a mobile title, but the rest of the presentation is lacking.
After spending several hours with Mobius Final Fantasy, the incentive to return to its world is moderately low. Instead, I've turned back to Brave Exvius, which has a small cast of well-developed characters that I've come to care about and a leveling system that’s challenging and deep but doesn’t overwhelm with piles of additional mechanics.
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