The Final Fantasy series is an epic array of JRPGs that stretch from the earliest years of gaming history all the way to the present. Ironically, when they made the first one, it was really meant to be a swan song. Of course, it didn’t end up that way as events transpired. Final Fantasy Record Keeper is Square Enix’s attempt at creating a free to play, wait to win take on the whole franchise that mashes every single universe across the entire series and every single character into one game.
As you’ll likely surmise, this isn’t without compromise.
AN OPEN BOOK
The basic storyline behind Final Fantasy Record Keeper is that all the previous Final Fantasy games are historical epics of a sort on the scope of the Iliad and that the efforts of those titular heroes are immortalised in magical archives in a fictitious town. Sadly, these records go wonky and are disappearing like cronuts in a breakfast buffet line. It’s your job as a Record Keeper to go into each record and then fight through its denizens to restore it. That’s well, basically it really.
You create a generic character called by default the rather quaint name of Tyro and then get a smattering of starter characters from one of the earlier Final Fantasy games. The core set of characters you start with cover the basics – they aren’t pushovers by any means but compared to the named heroes from any of the Final Fantasy epics, they’re somewhat limited – a Black Mage that’s optimised for offensive spell slinging, a White Mage that’s made for defensive and healing spellcasting and Knight, your basic combat class to soak up hits and deliver them. Your alter ego is a bit of a jack of all trades with the ability to cast spells and swing a decent sword though he isn’t going to deal out serious damage on either front. Fret not though as the game constantly releases new characters that you can earn as you play along though latecomers to the game may find that they’ve missed the boat on some seriously powerful characters. While characters in some of the later Final Fantasy sequels are all in 3D in their respective games, they’ve all been remade into whimsically cute 2D sprites here so it’s something of a whimsical kick to see the likes of Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockhart from FF7 are made into chibi sized sprites.
Dungeons, Dragons and Delights
After a reasonably hefty initial download, you are thrown into a side-scrolling hall with gateways. Each opens up access into a specific Final Fantasy episode. Click on a hall and you walk in whereupon you’re greeted with a series of framed pictures, each of which has a short caption that highlights a part of that game’s storyline. Click on that picture and you get to relive that particular scenario that the game dubs as ‘dungeons’. In more practical terms, each scenario/dungeon consists of a series of levels and each level is broken up into a series of side scrolling fights and, on occasion, a boss battle. Participating in a level requires you to use up Stamina points that regenerate over time. If you need more, you can top up your Stamina with Mithril crystals that are occasionally doled out when you complete a dungeon. Should you lack Mithril, you’re able to buy Gems for real world cash that do much the same thing. Depending on which dungeon you’re in, you’re treated to theme music specific to that game so if you’re puttering about FF1 and FF2 you’ll be listening to natty chiptunes while if you’re wandering around FF10 you’ll be enjoying the ‘To Zanarkand’ theme. You get the drill.
In a dungeon, you’re subject to several limitations. You can’t swap people in your party nor can you swap equipment or special abilities and instead have to man up and tough it out to the finish unless you scarper and run for it whereupon you have to start from scratch all over again. You can, however make camp in the middle of a dungeon to heal up and remove debuffs though this requires Mithril or Gems. Early levels have very low Stamina requirements but higher levels, scattered across the different episodes will require more and more Stamina points.
Once you complete a given dungeon, you’ll unlock other scenarios as well as a much tougher Elite version of the dungeon you conquered. The money sink here is if you’re impatient enough to wait for your stamina points to regenerate though in practise, this is rarely the case and a given day will have you comfortably going up a level or two for all your characters.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
The core of the game consists of mechanics lifted from Final Fantasy VI and IV in that you control a party of five characters, each of whom has special abilities and use them to whack the holy heck out of everything that gets in their way between them and the exit or boss, whichever comes first. Your actions in combat are dictated not by turn but by how fast a meter fills up for each character. Once it does, you’re able to either execute an attack or use a preassigned ability be it a healing, defensive or offensive spell. Take and dish out enough of a beating and you get to execute a limit break, a powerful special attack unique unto each character. The game starts you out with weak sword fodder to work through before graduating on to tougher and harder mooks later on culminating in Stamina draining, massive mook fights in Elite dungeons later on.
Bosses vary in difficulty with some requiring either special spells to soften them up first, or in one scenario that was entirely out of left field, ranged weapons to take them out. The problem being that most of the characters we had in our primary team were all melee specialists. Doh! Barring that admitted one-off oversight, most of the fights in the game don’t require any particular special tactics and you’re able to bullrush your way through most of them with a solid line-up of melee specialists and a healer or two to keep them in decent shape.
Quite a Character
At the time of writing, you’re able to get quite a few characters from the earlier Final Fantasy games with several from FF VII like Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth, FFIV in the form of both incarnations of Cecil as Dark Night and Paladin, Rydia and Kain as well as part of the line-up from FFX like Tidus and Wakka. There’s no rhyme or reason to the sequence of characters being offered though they do have regular special events that allow you to acquire them, which behooves you to keep playing constantly.
Barring obvious aesthetic and class differences, each character is able to equip a weapon, a piece of armour and an accessory. It’s an oversimplification in Record Keeper in that you don’t need to get a complete suit of armour – the game assumes a helmet has the same protective value as a suit of leather armour and you can only wear one piece of protective gear in any case. While characters can hit hard on their own, better equipment allows them to hit harder, which is where the second money and timesink comes in as you have to keep upgrading your equipment by either combining them with identical copies of the same equipment, to increase their rarity and quality and junking other bits of equipment to improve it so that it can deal more damage or take more hits for you.
You’ll run short of hardware to junk and equipment to combine fairly quickly though and unless you grind for hours, you’ll be unlikely to find anything decent. You can, however, spend Mithril or Gems to take part in a lucky draw to get rare items though it’s a crap shoot as to what you’ll get ranging from generic 4 star weapons to specific ones meant for characters in the game like Cloud’s Buster Sword. the same goes for ingame abilities and that requires you to collect more gewgaws, in this case magical orbs that, combined, form spells in the game that you can sling at enemies.
Story? What Story?
Barring the snippets of flavour text before and after a dungeon, there really isn’t much of an overarching storyline going on in Record Keeper and most of your playtime is focused on levelling up your characters and ploughing through special events to unlock more characters.
There’s really way too many characters to manage though so you’ll likely have to prioritise an A team of heavy hitters to max out. It’ll take a while as the ingame level cap for now is 50 and level gains plateau after you hit level 30 unless you keep grinding the highest level dungeons currently available and have a fairly good set of equipment to survive it.
While there’s no storyline so to speak, the various little snippets and sundry ingame theme music from the various Final Fantasy games are a pleasant, if superficial jaunt down memory lane. As freemium games go, Record Keeper is a surprisingly engrossing jaunt that doesn’t strongarm you into paying to win barring the need to get better gear though it’s nothing that can’t be overcome with sufficient patience and grinding. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have an Elite dungeon and yet another hapless horde of mooks to trounce. If you’re up for it, swing by here to get it for your iPhone or iPad and here if you want to get it on your Android device.
Available for iOS & Android