One thing Kyle and I are constantly aware of in regards to the Marathon is that time is always creeping up on us. The Marathon’s chronological nature means that one day, we’ll catch up to the next game on the list only to discover that Something Has Gone Wrong. Something that would have worked on release no longer works today. Final Fantasy III DS lost its MogNet features to the Nintendo DS WiFi shutdown, Bravely Default’s unique demo has only 30 plays a system. And if our shitty PSP TV Out cables drop dead or transform into snakes to physically throttle us, it would only be in line with their previous behaviour. But nothing is more vulnerable than server-driven smartphone games. Not only is every online server doomed to die before too long a life, but smartphone games often exist on no other platform. If Kyle and I were to rely on a Steam copy of Lightning Returns, we would still be able to turn to a hard copy if Lightning Returns were removed from Steam. But by the time Kyle and I get to Final Fantasy Dimensions’ slot in our playlist, just after the FFType-0, the game may no longer exist!
As a result, I made a point to get to all of the “vulnerable” games ahead of time, to get down my thoughts into the original Marathon journal blog as soon as possible. We’ve already lost a few games entirely! There was Tetra Master online, Ivalice-universe Flash game Dive II Hunt, and also Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade. Thankfully, I got to play Airborne Brigade just a few months before shutdown.
Airborne Brigade at least had an interesting concept. The world of the game is protected by just two Crystals, which seems like a failure in good redundancy practices gives how easily these Crystals tend to–whoops, look at that, one smashed. It smashed all on its own this time, no monsters or anything. These things are a disaster waiting to happen. Luckily the other Crystal remained, but was quickly fading.
The King (that’s all he’s called, “The King”) orders a counter-effort, and you have to give him credit because he is essentially managing the only world in the Marathon’s history that hasn’t lost all its Crystals at one point or another. The plan was this: volunteers would be outfitted with an Airship, some funds and Job classes (which are items), and then sorted into Brigades and sent into the world to try to find Espers who would be able to strengthen the remaining Crystal. Problems: 1) the Espers are in their own dimension and the Brigadiers would have to find “Gate Crystals” to make contact. 2) The Esper world has powerful monsters as well as the Espers, and you might easily find those monsters as instead of your real targets 3) The Espers are jackasses and refuse to help out unless they’ve been beaten into submission.
That’s the general premise, but like many MMOs, even social MMOs, there was a constant influx of special events to bolster the plot. The trouble with Airborne Brigade’s special events is that the game came to rely on them, and without them the game lost most of its appeal. Many of the events were crossovers. Airborne Brigade’s last event had something to do with Final Fantasy V in 2013 (the FFWiki doesn’t even list this event, I only know about it from AB’s internal news feed). Invaders from other Final Fantasy games showed up, you fought the villains from FFXIII, VII and VI, minor enemies and new Espers and more! The events essentially were the game, and without them, there wasn’t much of a game left, just a skeleton meant to support events that would no longer occur.
Screenshots here, by the way, are from this gameplay trailer on TouchGameplay’s YouTube page. It’s not clear to me if this is the trailer is TouchGameplay’s product or if it’s official promotional material by Mobage or SquareEnix, but hopefully no one will mind it being used for a critical review. The “trailer” shows the entire tutorial, if you’re interested in seeing FFAB in action.
The central (remaining) feature of AB is the Esper world battles. AB gaves you 3 Battle Points with which to fight them, on top of a pile of AP for normal actions. You actually team up with members of your Brigade to fight the boss, which is neat but arguably makes the game too socially reliant, as without an active brigade, you’re sunk.
Outside of Esper world battles, your Brigadier goes from region to region (named after places from other Final Fantasy games) fighting enemies, looking for Gate Crystals, and in a bit that really surprised Kyle: feeding Chocobos… so that they’ll give you new attacks! Yeah, I know, that’s not how chocobos or attacks typically work. There are two stand-out problems with the game’s combat system. First off, the combat is entirely fluff. You can never lose a battle against minor enemies. Instead, you win every fight in a single attack, making minor enemies decorative. All you do is hit “advance” until you run out of energy or have to feed a Chocobo pack. When you finally do find a boss, it’s up to you and (AI controlled) members of your Brigade to fight them.
In fighting bosses, AB revealed another weakness it had as a consequence of being so late in its lifecycle: it has reams of free incentives for new players left over from old campaigns. As a result, the early game is too easy, and I just didn’t care to pay attention to it! A Chocobo gave me attacks? But I don’t want them! Boss has a three turn timer, and my Brigadier and their teammates have to clear the entire battle in three turns? It doesn’t matter, because the boss died in a single attack. As a result, I become simultaneously concerned that I wouldn’t be able to beat the game in the long term (because no one was playing) while being entirely bored with the game at present (because there was no challenge at all). Why bother?
The rest of the game is simple. Like many social games, the entire thing was a menu-driven experience, which isn’t that exciting but is fairly clean. Unfortunately there’s a lot more loading than I’d expect, as the game loads up every single page when you visit it and has only a limited footprint in local storage. As a result, you have to load every time you change a page, go to a subpage, process your results from a page… a proper app might have been able to navigate from page to subpage without loading in between, but if you told me this entire “app” was just navigating a DHTML or PHP website, I wouldn’t even blink. I can’t tell you how often I had to reload a page just to check my stats or attacks. Also, since the game is entirely menus I don’t feel all that petty complaining about something as small as menu trouble, which I’d otherwise ignore. For example: where is the “collect all” button on the Mog Box? Why do I – without exaggeration – spend more time opening individual prize boxes than I do actually adventuring and fighting Espers?
(One nice touch that does exist about the Mog Box is that rewards for story missions come “from The King.” It’s hard not to be impressed by gifts from a King, even the shitty ones!)
On top of the rest, because this is essentially a series of web pages, there’s no sound. Not everyone wants sound in their game, but there’s a serious difference between no sound and a mute button, and I’m one of the few who wants the sound. As KHX pointed out, if you belong to a franchise you can just sort of take music from it. Why didn’t Airborne Brigade? I can only assume that it couldn’t!
If AB’s events were still in play when I caught on to the game, and were still upcoming: yes, I probably would have kept playing, but as it stands, I’m done, and a little glad to be done, and not sad to have seen the game go. There are so many better social games out there vying for your time
Unfortunately, Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade was shut down in December of 2014, taking its somewhat-piddling gameplay with it. It was largely replaced by the far superior Final Fantasy Record Keeper, which I hope to cover in a subsequent entry. Of course, Record Keeper doesn’t stand entirely alone, as there was another smartphone game out when I made this original post on my original blog. Fill your mouth with as much bile and froth as you feel necessary, and say it with me now: Final Fantasy All the Bravest.
Everything that’s been said about the clown screaming in eternal darkness that is FF:ATB is entirely true and I won’t bother to repeat most of it. The premise is pretty in-your-face: what if the Light Warriors were terrible at their jobs? No, I think that honestly is the premise. What if you needed an army of heroes to do what three, four or five usually do on their own? I’ve actually done some thought experiments wondering if Zelda games would really stand up to the rigour of “more than one adventurer working at the same time” but Final Fantasy is not really the best situation for that kind of test. This premise, using an army to fight the bad guys, only works if everyone sucks at their jobs, so I can only assume sucking at their jobs is the premise.
I can’t even pretend to care for the sake of this journal. The only attraction to this game is the Final Fantasy sprites, and you stop outright looking at the game about five minutes in. And when you stop playing the game, it never stops screaming at you. I’m sure if I knew more about my iPhone I could have disabled all the notifications, but after I discovered yet another layer of notifications after multiple attempts, I got rid of it. I didn’t care for the game as I was playing it, I didn’t care to play it again, and it wouldn’t leave me alone when I tried. Why should I have kept it around? Why would I have ever spent money on it? The mind boggles.