At its heart, Final Fantasy Awakening has all the tropes of a Final Fantasy game – you have the classic Final Fantasy theme with its soaring crescendo and aria. You have fluffy ostrich-like Chocobos, bipedal cat-like Moogles and a plethora of other fauna that have cropped up in the series over time. Most important of all, every single character has absolutely fabulous hairdos – lush locks of perfectly permed hair, sharp cuts straight out of a fashion magazine and, in keeping with its origins as a Final Fantasy game, a bizarre preoccupation for school uniforms. Where it falters is in its preoccupation in attempting to part your cash from your wallet.
For the uninitiated, Final Fantasy Awakening is set in a baroque steampunk world called Orience that is divided into four kingdoms, each of which seems to draw socio-political influence, cultural inspiration and some unexplained means of power from a magical crystal of sorts that is also seemingly sentient in some fashion. Other games set in this particular version of the Final Fantasy franchise such as Final Fantasy Type 0 do a better job of explaining the game universe but for this mobile port, you’re only left with hastily captioned dialogue to derive some idea of what’s happening.
Basically, the story kicks off with an invasion from another nation, this one called the Milites Empire who have a fetish for circa-World War I German army uniforms and who have more guns than an NRA convention. For reasons unknown, they start invading the country you’re living in called the Dominion of Rubrum. Unlike the Milites’ fetish for guns and uniforms, the Rubrum are instead reliant on magic the way others need a Wi-Fi connection. You start off in the middle of this mess and act as the aforementioned chosen one who then turns the tide, levels up to become the deadliest thing in creation and who then saves the land. Simple? Well, not quite.
The core mechanics of Final Fantasy Awakening are based on a third-person perspective hack-em-up with PvE and some PvP mixed with significant grinding mechanics and by significant we mean you either put in at least a couple of weeks of non-stop button mashing to get somewhere or you put down a healthy wad of cash as the game throws up paywalls and difficulty spikes later on.
The game starts you off in the character creation screen where you’re able to choose your appearance, gender, your hairdo and what class you play as. You either get to wave around a pointy metal stick as a Swordsman, wave a wooden magical stick as a Mage or, like we did, go for the only logical choice and pick a Fire Gunner which totes around a pair of flintlocks in a fashion that would bring a tear of joy to John Woo’s eye.
Final Fantasy Awakening fortunately doesn’t throw you into the deep end from the get-go and does a good job initiating you into the mechanics of the game by throwing low-level mooks at you to get you comfortable with how the combat works and doling out a generous array of resources while slowly unlocking the deeper gameplay mechanics as you go up in levels.
Once the tutorial is over, you’re dumped into a central hub that resembles a posher version of the X-men mansion complete with a built-in arena and sprawling gardens that you can explore at will. It looks busy with NPCs and other players romping around but that’s a facade as the mansion is the only area in the game that you can explore at will. Rather than allowing you to explore a large open world on your own like other Final Fantasy games, FF: Awakening slices levels into short, linear bits while limiting your roaming only to the central mansion/hub level. Sure, you can chat up NPCs but like any other Final Fantasy game, they’ll only parrot the same line again and again. You can look up other PCs too but it’s not even guaranteed that other players will even speak English or if they’ll even respond to you.
From the central hub, you’ll pick up missions from NPCs who invariably stay rooted to the spot throughout the game. Bar very few exceptions, the vast majority of your missions in Final Fantasy Awakening are all seek and destroy ops to take out a boss. On very rare occasions, you’re given missions to take out a fleeing target before they reach a finish line or to hold the line and survive a predetermined number of enemy waves to break up the monotony though these missions are few and far between.
While you start the game off solo, you can gradually pick up party members to join your team as extra muscle. Battles are essentially button mashing exercises with you firing off attacks and special abilities in a fashion akin to Diablo. There’s little balancing or differentiation between all these abilities save that most of them deal damage and a select few act as buffs though the latter is a rarity among all your party members.
These button mashing exercises are not so much a battle of skill as they are a matter of brute force as each level has a quantitative ‘power level’ that is a rough indicator of how powerful you are based on your combined gear, level and abilities. As long as your power level is equal to or more than the level you’re traversing, it’s essentially a curb stomp in your favour. Once you’ve finished a level, you’re doled out some experience points and loot which go towards levelling up your party. Repeat ad infinitum.
The first several levels in Final Fantasy Awakening until you hit level 30 are easy affairs as enemies are pushovers and they offer generous amounts of experience points, items and more. As you go over the hill to level 35 or so, things start slowing down drastically as the experience points needed to gain an additional level skyrocket and the game starts introducing more currencies to accrue and manage. Yes, currencies.
Money makes the world go round
Initially, all you have to worry about are gold coins and gems to pay for upgrades and items in Final Fantasy Awakening with the game doling out plenty of both so you needn’t have to start scrimping. Midway through level 30 and up, things start getting interesting as the game starts introducing the option to form a guild with like minded players and new shops that only accept special currencies like aether points, trial coins, guild contribution points, prestige points, soul crystals and more – the list is mind boggling. These alternate currencies can only be earned in special arenas which have limited free entry with the game allowing you access a couple of times a day. Want more turns? You’ll have to fork out gems. Want to form a guild? You have to pay cold hard cash to be a VIP member for the privilege to do so. Want to buy more items beyond your allotted limit? Yup, time to fork out more cash.
But wait, it gets better – you also need to have specific items to upgrade your equipment and your characters. Each of your characters not only need to improve their levels, they also need to improve their elemental affinity, their level of enlightenment and their equipment too at the same time. Minus all the weird terminology, chasing all of these progress bars basically makes your characters hit harder and take more damage.
Fortunately, there are no skill trees in the game so there’s not much thinking needed. It’s merely a linear progression of powers and abilities. Unfortunately, you’ll need to farm for a ton of items to upgrade these abilities. These items randomly appear in the various levels but you’ll need insane amounts of them to get anywhere later on past level 50 so you can spend way beyond your daily energy quota in order to farm just to even level up one character. All this ends up creating a progress-bar-chasing extravaganza. That is, if you have a character worth levelling up in your roster.
Rather than earning your party members through traversing the storyline, you’ll have to acquire them through a gacha style system where you either have to farm like mad to acquire enough ‘character’ shards to summon one or you get lucky and manage to summon one randomly through a summoning portal that costs a whopping 300 gems a pop. Unfortunately, not all your companions are useful as they come in different rarities.
The common and rare party members are effectively useless with limited ability to grow and pitiful abilities. The only ones that are viable assets in your roster are legendary characters like members from Class Zero. All the members of Zero Class have fabulous hair, logic defying preferences in weapons selection (one just punches people to death and another uses Gambit-style playing cards) and bizarre dress preferences as all of them wear school uniforms despite being the in-universe equivalent of special forces operators.
Don’t expect deep dialogue or any banter from any of them though; the game has none and they’re all essentially bipedal weapon systems that earn you in-game moolah. If the stars align and you’re suitably patient or rich, you can acquire mythic characters that are among the most powerful characters you can get in the game. Assuming they’re properly levelled up that is.
Once you’ve spent the better part of two nonstop weeks of grinding, you’ll usually be able to get a fairly reasonable roster of playable characters. As always, if you fork out cash, you can get more energy, better characters or even bypass these limitations entirely. Most of your gameplay revolves around chasing progress bars and finding the more elusive mythic characters.
What semblance of storyline they have is sadly mangled by horrifically written English and truly bizarre characterisation. One particular example is a cherubic little quest giver who assigns you a quest to help her kill an entire bunch of hostiles nearby like she was ordering a fast food takeout. And that’s only the beginning. The rest of the dialogue is stilted and conversations seem oddly one-sided as if everyone is talking to themselves. To be fair, it’s like watching a badly subtitled foreign movie albeit one where you get to shoot and hack things to little bits.
Assuming you resist the urge to reach for your wallet, Final Fantasy Awakening offers hours of button mashing distraction. You needn’t even have to do go through the process either as they’ve helpfully added an autopilot so your party of murderously merry minions can hack their way through a level in a fashion that’s more efficient than you would be able to manage on your own.
Aesthetically, the game is fairly competent with beautifully rendered characters and smooth frame rates when tested on several phones ranging from a Galaxy S8 to a Zenfone 3. The music, like the voice acting, is well done but repetitive to the point of annoyance. The same holds true for the levels which are constant rehashes of the same maps and monsters except for slightly different palette swaps. Minus the dialogue which you’ll be skipping past most of the time, you can expect at least thirty plus hours of gameplay to finish most of the single player campaign without counting the additional guild and PvP mechanics. In the few PvP arenas in the game, the ‘pay-to-win’ slant is apparent with occasional improbable match-ups with opponents so ridiculously overpowered for their level that the only plausible reason is that they’ve chunked out substantial moolah for the privilege.
Final Fantasy Awakening is still mostly playable and most areas are accessible without ponying up cash bar the ability to establish guilds and a support Eidolon though you’ll have to be both patient and frugal to get anywhere. Assuming you can stomach the dodgy dialogue and repetitive level grinding, you get a fairly well polished and aesthetically pleasing game that can keep you busy, at least for awhile. Only for hardcore Final Fantasy fans.
What we liked Great graphics, decent chunk of free gameplay
What we didn’t Repetitive gameplay, significant grinding mechanics
We say Worth a whirl for the low price of nought though the substantial grinding and the host of ingame top-ups needed to get anywhere make it an essential download only for Final Fantasy fans.
Final Fantasy Awakening
Publisher Square Enix
Developer Efun Company Ltd
Cost Free with in-game purchases
Available for iOS and Android