So Far, The Best RTS On DS.

User Rating: 8.5 | Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings DS
Lostmagic may be loved by a select group of fans, but it was all sorts of frustrating for me. IGN may have rated Heroes of Mana highly, and though it does do a much better job of being a playable RTS than Lostmagic, it too didn't quite hit the spot for me. Now comes Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and this hybrid RTS / RPG finally does what neither of those two or any other DS RTSes have yet been able to do for me: be fun.

As I see it, an RTS on the DS faces two main obstacles: good AI and a practical interface. Neither order seems easy to fill on the DS because of the system's apparent restrictions, but Square-Enix has, I believe, done as good a job as any game maker can for the genre. The AI doesn't get stuck (much), it goes where you command it, and it isn't totally useless. Healers heal, casters cast, and fighters excel in speed, allowing them to be first to the battle.

The interface – perhaps the hardest kink to work out in an RTS on this system – finally works on the DS. You'll have your main party (for the most part, five main leader characters) to command, as well as espers / yahri (summons). You can easily select all team members by pressing the X-button, and select individual team members by pressing on a tab icon located on the top-left of the touch screen. Deselecting members is just as easy, using either an X-tab located on the top-right of the screen, or by merely pressing the B-button. And that right there will be the bulk of your battle commands.

The game, of course, allows for leader members to use "magicks" and "gambits." I've yet to play the first Final Fantasy XII for the PS2, but I have heard of the infamous gambit system. Here it simply means assigning a particular magick or skill to a character for them to perform automatically. In an RTS, that's what you want; it's streamlined and painless.

The gameplay also includes the "rock, paper, scissors" system, familiar to most RPGs. Melee units are weak against flying, flying against ranged, ranged against melee. In the heat of battle, that mainly translates to sending in leaders (who have the right espers for the job) that can best combat a particular type of enemy – again, simple and straight-forward.

On the production front…this is a Square-Enix game, so you probably already anticipate greatness. If that's what you were expecting, then you won't be disappointed. However, the character / monster sprites are still hard to swallow against the game's beautiful 3-D environments. No matter, the sprites are cute enough and considering all the action going on onscreen – and the fact that there's almost never any slowdown – 2-D sprites are pretty much the way to go. Additionally, there's cutscene after cutscene of gorgeous CGI video. Actually, the beginning of the game throws a ton of it at you, but then the gameplay pretty much takes over. It's a great approach to easing players into the story and world of the game.

The sound effects are pretty good. The main appeal for me is the text-scroll; if it's not annoying, I'm pleased. But other sound effects are just okay. The music, however, is the traditional, charming Final Fantasy fare, and it certainly helps to lull fans right into the rest of what Revenant Wings has to offer.

The game's quite beefy, and the story is a fun, albeit unoriginal, romp. There's no multiplayer that I'm aware of, but the mission set is quite vast and you can redo missions as often as you like, allowing you to both level-grind and collect more material (for making new items). The story and dialogue are entertaining, and the hub construct is awesome. You can go back to your ship pretty much anytime before or after a mission, and then select from there how to proceed. Missions are a nice slice for gaming on the go, and generally speaking, the game does a bang-up job of being accessible to any and all DS owners.