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Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings

Getting tactical with the strategy battle adventure everyone can enjoy

If only players of Final Fantasy XII had thought to look to the skies while they were wandering around their lush RPG world, they might have noticed something gleaming beyond the clouds.

Luckily, somebody spotted it, and with everything done and dusted in the land below, here's your chance to find out what Vaan and the gang did next.

It's a realtime strategy RPG, combining elements of the classic FF battle system with a stylus-driven method of assigning individual orders to a fairly substantial party of adventurers.

Which is to say you have a group of different characters, you select the ones you want to move around, and drag them over to a group of enemies to deliver a fearsome beatdown.

Stats are compared and numbers are crunched, but it all happens under the surface, out of sight.

And while those invisible dice are being rolled in one skirmish, you'll be scrolling the screen to take care of others in different areas of the battlefield, healing characters from afar and summoning reinforcements as your forces are whittled away by the bad guys. Sound like your idea of fun?

Did you spill my pint?

It's a brilliantly simple, easily playable game, set in one of the most atmospheric worlds we've ever seen on DS.

While the main quest doesn't amount to an awful lot of anything except fighting, fighting and more fighting, there are fighty side-missions and a lot of things to fight while you explore the gorgeous settings, looking for trouble.

Anyway, that's the way it goes. Revenant Wings doesn't try to pretend it's anything it isn't, and the battles evolve, with the increasing skill of your party, into something wonderfully enjoyable, and perfect for DS.

You have five team leaders, selected from a larger list before each expedition. Characters can be one of three basic types - melée, flying or ranged - with further minor subdivisions and specialisations.

The enemies also come in the same trio of flavours, and each type is super effective against one of the others, weak against another and sort of neutral against the third.

You can train up your favourite characters by earning experience in battles, particularly in side-missions.

After a while, they learn new magic attacks and gain better equipment. Most importantly, they become able to summon stronger Espers - helpful monsters that follow each team leader and multiply the strength of your army.

Espers can only be generated at special gates, and the enemy will often have control of a few of its own at the start of the round.

The early stages of a battle can be slow moving, as you grind forward, pushing the enemy back to allow enough space for your stronger units to capture the territory.

All units will follow their instincts if you leave them alone, but they're less likely to get into difficulty if you control them directly.

However, since it's not always possible to keep up with what's going on, you can issue gambit orders to the team leaders.

Opening gambit

Gambits are automated strategies, so you can make one of your melée types use a powerful magic attack as soon as it's charged, or set a ranged character to cast only healing spells. When needed, you can override the gambit.

It's a system that works well, and glosses over the fact that direct control isn't as good as it could be.

You can select multiple units by dragging a box across them, but if the units you want aren't standing together, you'll also select everything in-between.

And after you've issued an order, every unit becomes deselected, which is a pain when you've just gone to the trouble of bringing together a custom battle group.

Perhaps we're trying to play it the wrong way by doing that, but there's little doubt it would be better if it could combine the excellent gambit system with a friendlier means of direct control.

If they ever make a sequel (and we hope they do), perhaps they should look at the masterful PC strategy game Myth II. That plus Revenant Wings would probably be the Greatest Thing Ever.

Despite the odd problem, this is an exceptional DS game. The story'll make more sense if you know FFXII, as there are loads of recurring characters and references to past events, but it's not essential.

You don't even need to be mad on FF or strategy games in general, as this is very much its own thing. Simple, accessible, funny and good value for the playing time it offers.

The verdict

Witty story, great characters and a bite-size battle system that's ideal for DS. You can't fail to be impressed by this, regardless of whether or not you're a fan of Final Fantasy.

Nintendo DS
Square Enix
Square Enix