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Set Sail for Fail: Reviewing Airborne Brigade

by February 6, 2013 1 comment

Tried any of Final Fantasy’s recent swath of mobile offspring? Wondering if you should bother with this one? Read on.


Two crystals protect the kingdom. One is shattered by fiends. The other loses its glow. The fiends now invade. You must find the legendary Espers, earn their respect through combat, and thereby convince them to restore the light of the remaining crystal.

Thus is the premise of Final Fantasy: Airborne Brigade, a social media game for mobile devices based on the worlds, characters and concept designs of the Final Fantasy series.

As you first start it up, the game has you select a male or female avatar, assign them a starting Job (Warrior, Monk, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage or Red Mage), and then allows you to join up with as many as nine other players to form a party. You may form one yourself or request to join someone else’s, but in either case, parties are cycled every Sunday into a group of other parties to form a brigade. Each member of the brigade then sets out (alone) to explore (on foot) regions inspired from various Final Fantasy titles, such as Provoka (FFI), Mist (FFIV) and Kolts (FFVI).

Completing a region earns the player prizes, such as the Berserker Job gained by seeing Provoka through to the end.

Every region is divided into four areas that feature seven identical dungeons, each with a progress bar displaying the percentage you’ve completed of the current dungeon. Along the way, you’ll do battle with basic enemies and gain EXP to level up while searching for the gate crystals that will warp you into battle with an Esper from FF’s large stable of summon beasts.

Somebody let Dante know he misplaced a couple circles

Somebody let Dante know he misplaced a couple circles

The third and seventh dungeons of every area end with a non-Esper boss fight, netting you either weapons or items to use in the enhancement of the weapons and abilities you gain during your journeys.

Weapons are typically found in chests you receive after Esper-class battles or as rewards for fulfilling certain objectives of play. Abilities are gained at random from the myriad colors of chocobos you encounter in dungeons — feed them, and if they’re satisfied, they will bestow you with these shards from the shattered crystal mentioned earlier.

On the surface of things, this sounds for the most part like a winning formula. And it really is. However, beneath that promising label are a host of design flaws in the execution — far too many of which can only be deliberate — that turn what should be a fun little Final Fantasy spin-off into a groan-inducing chore.

Speaking of the surface of things, however, among Airborne Brigade’s more pleasant details are its aesthetics. Following the same art style as Theatrhthym Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts Mobile, player avatars, Espers and even monsters are cute versions of their counterparts found in the games they originally hail from. Easily the most charming aspect of the whole experience, this alone will draw you in and make you want to play Airborne Brigade.

There's really no denying how cute all this is

There’s really no denying how cute all this is

But then you actually start playing it, and the promising setup described a few paragraphs above quickly falls apart due largely to a number of, frankly, batshit absurd limitations placed upon the player.

As you progress through a dungeon, you expend LP. What does “LP” stand for? I don’t know. The game doesn’t tell you. Fill it out with whatever you think sounds funny, because you’ll be getting no other joy from it.

Dungeon progression works like so: Your avatar starts out standing on what looks like the battle map of a classic (i.e. I-VI) FF title. There is no dungeon navigation, no save points, no actual exploration. Simply an “Advance” button that you tap. Each time you tap “Advance,” your avatar takes a few steps forward; you encounter either a basic monster, a chocobo or a gate crystal; and a little bit of your LP will be lost. Depending on the area, this may be anywhere from 1 to 3 LP. Each time you advance, you will also gain — again, depending on the area — a certain percentage of completion for the dungeon (usually 2 percent).

Once you have run out of LP, you are simply stuck and must either spend a Potion or other restorative item to gain enough to move — or you must wait for the LP to recharge, which it does at a painfully slow rate of 3 minutes for every 1 LP.

Making matters worse, you are restricted in how many of each restorative item you may use per day. For example, you’re allowed to use 3 Potions each day. This already arbitrary limitation becomes nothing short of infuriating when you consider that a Potion only restores 1/4 of your present maximum LP. Starting out at Lv. 1, your maximum LP is 20. It increases by one point each time your level increases. So, by Lv. 41, your maximum LP is still only 60.

If traveling through an area where your LP decreases by 3 with each tap of “Advance” yet the completion percentage of the dungeon only goes up by 2 percent for every 3 LP spent, you will only advance through 40 percent of the dungeon before needing to either wait for a recharge or use an item.

Have I mentioned that stuff like Potions are extremely hard to come by?

Granted, leveling up will fully restore your LP, but getting enough EXP to level up usually requires expending all your LP, waiting for it to fully recharge, and then going through it again.

Let’s move on to other limits on fun in this game. They are abundant.

The enemy encounters mentioned in previous paragraphs consist of the enemy briefly appearing on screen with your avatar before being dispatched with a single physical attack, which you do not initiate. That’s correct. You do not select the actions your avatar takes in battle, not even for boss fights. Regular enemies are always killed with that single physical attack, which the avatar never deviates from, while bosses will draw out the use of other abilities you have equipped to your character — though these actions are, again, activated on auto-pilot by the game.

Intense

Intense!

Have I mentioned there are only two types of regular enemy per area, and only two for an entire region during events? That’s 28 dungeons of looking at the same two enemies. At a progression of 2 percent per tap of “Advance” for each dungeon, that’s 1,400 taps of the same two monsters, broken up by a chocobo or gate crystal every 3-5 taps.

But, wait, that’s not all the tapping you’ll get to do! Oh, no!

Chocobos, which you should love in any FF game, quickly became the most annoying part of this travesty. Let me explain what happens when you encounter a chocobo or group of chocobos: The pointless command “Choose Feed” takes the place of “Advance.” Being that you have no choice but to feed the damn birds, there’s really no need for this extra step.

You’ll then select from either Gysahl Greens or Vomp Carrots to feed them, the Greens not always satisfying them (read: pretty much never), while the Vomp Carrots always do. The exception here is if you’ve encountered a basic yellow chocobo, which can only be fed Gysahl Greens, and will always be satisfied with them — but you still have to tap “Choose Feed,” then make the selection of “Gysahl Greens” with another tap before confirming the selection with yet another tap on “Feed.”

And you then still have to stare at a moogle for a few seconds while a word balloon above it says “Loading” — and then sit through a brief Flash-style video of the chocobo eating before either running off or rewarding you with a crystal shard (obvious exception being the yellow chocobos, which always reward you; they’re easy like that, the sluts). Granted, you can skip this brief video (or any such animation in the game), but it requires an additional tap of the screen while the video plays. Then you have to tap the screen again to make the game continue on after the video is done.

And if you got one or more abilities? Which you always will with those fucking yellow chocobos. You’ll have to tap the screen once for each of those in order to progress. And you’re still not done yet! After a chocobo encounter, you’re then taken to a menu screen where you’re told either that the chocobo(s) “didn’t seem to be overly thrilled” (you’re not the only one, asshole) or is now very happy. From here, you can either navigate to check on your brigade, fiddle with equipment, or tap “Return to Quest” and finally get the show back on the road (after staring at that damn moogle again).

Get used to looking at this asshole

Get used to looking at this asshole

It really breaks up the flow of gameplay, which, as we’ve gone over, is already hindered in some seriously painful ways.

All those steps (i.e. taps) with the chocobos seem particularly pointless in light of the fact that you likely only have Gysahl Greens on you at any given time anyway, seeing as Vomp Carrots are impossible to come by after you’ve made use of the freebies you’re given when you first start playing the game. After that, you can only get them by spending MobaCoins in the Shop, which are acquired by wasting storage space on your phone downloading other games on the Mobage network that you don’t want to play — or by spending real money to buy it at an approximate rate of $.99 US per 100 MobaCoins (a paltry amount).

This brings us to another pointless matter: In-game money. “Gil” as we Final Fantasy fans know and love it. You will end up with a shit-ton of this useless crap because, rather than letting you buy stuff with it like a game not designed by utterly incompetent assclowns would, its only use here is in paying the fee to upgrade your weapons and abilities (when you’re already spending Weapon and Ability Scrolls to that end).

Have I mentioned that you can only own 50 abilities at any time, by the way? Requiring that you frequently sell all those low-level, useless abilities you’re picking up from the yellow chocobos (the game’s most common breed of chocobo) for more useless gil. Oh, and if you happen to go over this limit while traveling through a dungeon? That means even more taps after your chocobo encounters, because the game will require you to sell these extras before letting you continue through dungeons!

It’s a never-ending nightmare.

I’ve not even gotten to the best (read: worst) part yet. For a game called “Airborne Brigade,” there hasn’t been much mention of airships in this review, has there? The only time you actually “use” them is during special event battles. For instance, Airborne Brigade is currently right in the middle of “Deathgaze’s Onslaught,” a two-week-long FFVI-themed event complete with a FFVI-themed region (still only two regular monsters across all 28 dungeons, though). Coming across a gate crystal right now can take you into battle against Deathgaze, which actually will happen in the skies rather than on the ground, where even the Esper battles take place.

Lest I forget, there’s another annoying limitation you have to deal with, and it relates to battles triggered by gate crystals: In order to actually fight an Esper-class enemy after encountering it, you must have at least 1 BP (again, I don’t know what this abbreviates, but you can probably guess what I tend to think it stands for). You can have up to 3 BP at any time, and, if you do, you’re given the option of spending it all in an “All-Out Attack” to cause more damage in this one go than you would achieve with three individual 1-BP assaults.

Hope watching one of these is your idea of a fun gaming experience

Hope watching one of these is your idea of a fun gaming experience

Of course, once the BP is gone, you can’t attack again until it has been replenished. It recharges on its own, like LP, but at a rate of 1 per every 15 minutes. While it can be restored more instantaneously with Ethers, they are even more rare than Potions, and carry the same limit of using no more than 3 per day.

Have I mentioned that you’re given a time limit on how long you have to defeat an Esper-class enemy after discovery? For example, you get an hour for Deathgaze.

While more than enough time for his lower level incarnations, past Lv. 2, he becomes impossible for a single player to take down in an hour, especially since you can’t heal and Esper-class enemies temporarily escape from battle after their third turn, requiring you to spend more BP to engage them again. I guess that’s where the social media aspect of this game is supposed to come in. When you encounter an Esper-class enemy, you’re given the option of alerting everyone else in your brigade so that they may assist you. A rival brigade, against whom you compete for prizes, is also alerted to the boss’s presence, though.

It becomes absolutely necessary to depend on your fellow brigadiers (and even your rivals), which will turn off most fans of Final Fantasy right there. Perhaps those accustomed to relying on other players in the Final Fantasy MMORPG titles wouldn’t be as bothered, but given that actual design logic went into FFXI, I think its fans would also very quickly come to despise this highly antithetical dynamic for FF. There may be an “i” in “brigade,” but the game is determined to make you forget it.

The closest thing to any sort of strategy formulating you will do is trying to bank up enough BP to cause a lot of damage to an Esper-class enemy before your time limit to defeat them runs out. In anticipation of another brigade member encountering Deathgaze, you might stop just shy of leveling up, save any Potions and Ethers you do have, and then wait for your BP to fully recharge.

You can also trade in 100 points of SP (this one is actually explained to mean “Support Points”) for 1 BP, but you are only allowed to earn 300 SP per day and you can trade it for no more than 3 BP per day. How you earn SP is equally ridiculous, as it is acquired through utilizing the “social” aspect of the game.

Being a failure as a game, does Airborne Brigade at least work as a social media experiment? Not really. Being limited to 100-character messages between brigade members is hardly conducive to getting to know one another. And the method you use to get the SP mentioned in the previous paragraph? You get it from sending messages to other players (45 points for fellow brigade members, 15 points for players from other brigades) and from posting on your brigade’s shoutbox (45 points per post). It’s called a “forum” in-game, but it’s really just a shoutbox with a 75-character limit per post.

You can probably guess what this leads to: spamming other players with pointless messages or a shoutbox full of nothing but “Sp” posts. And have I mentioned that you can only earn SP from doing this every two hours anyway?

Perhaps than anything else I’ve mentioned thus far, every Final Fantasy prior to this that made summons a central element of its setting has not only been regarded as excellent, but they are usually considered iconic of the series (e.g. FFVI and FFIX). For a game that is supposedly about earning their respect by besting them in battle, it’s rather odd that you don’t earn the ability to summon Espers from defeating them (this is only achieved through event prizes).

Even once you have gained their Summon Stone, you can’t call them whenever you would like. They have to charge up their attacks over the course of you engaging in many Esper-class battles where they don’t assist you, as their charge meter fills based on the damage you cause to other Esper-class enemies. You may go as many 20 of these battles without seeing help from one of these summons, and even after they’re fully charged, you will still need to go for an All-Out Atttack (3-BP battle) to facilitate the casting.

The game’s only genuinely interesting gameplay feature is Limit Boost, wherein, after enhancing a weapon, ability or Summon Stone to its maximum level, you may combine it with an extra copy of itself up to four times to increase its limit.

Really, the game is just atrocious on almost every level. It doesn’t even have sound effects or music.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that, despite its laundry list of flaws, I have played the game to death in the six days since I gave it a try. I’ve had it downloaded since launch, but only started playing last Thursday due to there being a FFVI-themed event going on. Even with all the misery, I’ve leveled to Lv. 73, participated in 62 defeats of Deathgaze, remodeled my airship into FFVI’s Falcon from the prizes I’ve won, and currently hold a rank of 1,360 in the “Deathgaze’s Onslaught” event. Seeing as they rank users all the way down to 10,000, I’ve put some effort into exploring this thing.

Perhaps it really does provide that brief Final Fantasy-on-the-go fix one simply must have. Or maybe my obsessive personality is to blame — my guess is the latter.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Airborne Brigade to any fans of Final Fantasy, not even players of XI and XIV. At best, it’s a worthy recommendation to those who already know they enjoy mobile games in general. As with most mobile games, it’s designed to keep you playing for a long time to come. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t have made a game worth coming back to.

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