Aileen showed me that a new Final Fantasy was out! On iOS! Joy! Sadly, there was no joy in Midgar. The game turned out to be Final Fantasy: All The Bravest, a game that singularly features the Active Time Battle system made famous by Final Fantasy IV. It’s retro themed, with 16 bit sprites showing off the classic classes ubiquitous to the series. The main game is $3.99, which would lend one to believe that they’d be getting an actual game for $4. Sadly, that’s laughably wrong: additional levels (four in all) are also $3.99, and premium characters from Final Fantasy’s history, such as Cloud Strife, are $.99 each, but are randomly generated; a player can’t just buy Cloud, they get a 1/35 shot of getting Cloud with their purchase. Even worse, Active Time Battle uses actual time; when characters are taken out, they are made to wait three minutes before being allowed to play again, during which time the game gives a nag screen to purchase hourglasses, which make everyone come back. Hourglasses start at 3 for $1, but $3 gets 20 of them. In his scathing write-up, Ben Kuchera of the Penny Aracde Report blisters the game as being nothing more than “a steaming pile of in-app purchasing horseshit”, noting that there’s virtually no way to advance in the game without using consumable hourglasses, nor is there any reason to play; there’s no story, and no strategy. You just click, spend, click, spend, click, ad nauseum. The full game – with everything unlocked – is over $50, not counting hourglass purchases, and literally none of this is unlockable by playing the game; it’s pay or go screw yourself.
It’s the modern iOS game, in all its pathetic glory, with the exception being that Square Enix just skipped the “free” part of “freemium” and went straight to “premium”. In a way, it’s even more psychological than the typical freemium model, which acts like a mob gangster in a protection racket (“Nice plants you got there. Hate to see something happen to ‘em.”). If a freemium game sucks, a gamer can put it down before spending a dime. “This is terrible, I’m not wasting my time”, and the game gets deleted. With this, there’s already a financial investment. “I can’t just delete this, I paid money!”. It’s also a false flag of sorts; even I got fooled into thinking there would be more to this game than swiping a finger and spending money based on the fact that there’s a $4 entry fee, which is a fairly high price for most mobile games, but reasonable considering Square Enix’s name.
In fact, it’s the name itself – Square Enix – that makes this the greatest tragedy. Such a system would be easily dismissible if it was someone like Zynga or Gameloft, who have no good will built up with gamers who have been playing for a long time. But this is Square Enix, and worse, they’re playing on that nostalgia that people my age – or those who appreciate the older games – have. They’re notorious for that, if nothing else, at this point – not a day goes by where I’m not reading someone’s criticism of their exhorbinate prices for their iOS and Android ports of games – but at least with the $15.99 Final Fantasy III1, you know you’re getting a whole game, that you can play and beat with no additional strings attached. Here, to pervert the classic drug dealing line, the first hit isn’t even free anymore, and it’s a hit delivered by a company that, for some reason, still holds trust with gamers. At least the iOS version of Theatrhythm – an almost $200 game with everything purchased – is a free download.
What Square Enix released yesterday was a decimation of that trust. In a crowded and often cutthroat mobile market, when people see that a game is out by one of their favourite developers, there’s an expectation that it’s a cut above the rest, especially if that developer has been making beloved games for a long time.2 Final Fantasy: All The Bravest abuses that expectation, hoping to take a couple of suckers along for the ride, while making anyone with half a brain instantly skeptical of anything they put out in the future. Will that mobile port of another decades-old Final Fantasy game really be “just” $20? What about their console offerings? Will a $60 game hold back even more key story elements than Final Fantasy XIII did? Do we even want Type-0 anymore? And will they even make a game like what we used to buy anymore, or will they continue to chase the latest cheap buck, damning any and all good quality in the process?
If my faith in the company hadn’t been almost shattered before, it certainly has now. With literally every article I’ve read about this game being negative – even Touch Arcade, who are used to systems like this, killed the game – it would appear I’m not alone in that thought.
EDIT: Turns out I was technically wrong about recovery time. It’s three minutes to get a character back *PER CHARACTER*. Three times 40 (max party size) = 120 minutes. THAT IS TWO HOURS. Plus, boss fights require multiple instances of this.
Squeenix really does hate their fanbase. That *has* to be the answer.
1 – I did buy Final Fantasy III on Android, even at $16, because my DS cartridge has problems working at times, and because I don’t always have my DS with me when I go places, or to the bathroom, but I do always have my phone.
2 – Capcom, I’m looking squarely at you.