After the shitshow that was Final Fantasy: All the Bravest and the slapdash nature of their mobile ports (the menus alone look like Baby's First Mobile App around an NES emulator) I expected nothing good out of Final Fantasy Record Keeper. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it does something neat: it boils down Final Fantasy games to their mechanical core - active time battles, level grinding, and gear/ability upgrading - while hammering hard on the nostalgia button.
Free-to-play done right?
I honestly have no idea how Square-Enix is making money off this thing, unless there are a lot of gamers who are a lot more impatient than me. Yes, this is a free-to-play game. Therefore there's several currencies:
- Gems, which are strictly bought with cash money
- Mithril, which is earned through gameplay and logging in frequently
- Gil, earned entirely through gameplay
- Stamina, used to actually run dungeons
- Orbs, used to create and enhance abilities
- Relics, which are weapons, armor, and accessories, and various relic upgrade materials
As far as I can tell, anything you can do with Mithril, you can also do with gems. Everything I've seen that uses Mithril - restoring a party to full in the middle of a dungeon (1 Mithril), restoring Stamina to full (1 Mithril), retrying after a total party kill (1 Mithril), or relic draws (5 Mithril) - also has the option to use gems. I haven't had to do so. Nor have I ever felt the need to use Mithril to restore Stamina - unlike many F2P games, your Stamina refill is generous and fast, and upgrades to your max Stamina come pretty frequently - every time you get 5 Stamina Shards (and many times you get several for finishing some dungeons, and oftentimes 5 shards for finishing a realm's story up to a certain point), your Stamina goes up by one and it refills to full.
So yes, in theory, you could throw money at FFRK and play infinitely. But there's honestly no need to do so! The game itself is pretty generous with
all its currencies - orbs are a little bit rare, but there are daily dungeons that drop them, and often they are available for playing time-limited events as well. Even their time-limited events are generous - their current event's big draw is being able to buy Aerith for 3000 Magicite Shards (a special currency earned only by participating in the event, which is just another set of dungeons) but after that you can buy orbs and relics for Magicite Shards, meaning it's probably worth working on even once you have the healer.
The amount of content you get at one time is amazing, too. When Square-Enix adds new content to FFRK, they add a lot of it. Recently the FFIV realm was updated with further dungeons - several of them - and completing those unlocks even more over in the FFVI realm. You end up bouncing from game to game quite a bit, and there's always more to do.
But how does it actually play
As I alluded to in the intro, this is essentially like a lot of free-to-play games: you assemble your party, you equip them with relics and abilities, and
you send them into dungeons. Inside the dungeons you have a set number of stages to pass through, and your choices are to either finish all the stages or have your progress reset by running away. You also don't heal for the duration of it; you can spend a Mithril to heal your party to full using the Camp button, but unless you're tackling something way over your head, it's probably not necessary.
As you clear dungeons, and participate in event dungeons, you'll acquire party members. You start out with a very generic set of members - a Warrior, a Black Mage, a White Mage, and the apprentice Record Keeper, whose default name is Tyro. Their stats are underwhelming and they don't even get names, but they're serviceable, and it won't be long before you start adding familiar names to your roster - Cloud, Wakka, Kain, Rydia, and more. Tyro remains useful (he can equip basically any gear or ability and has pretty good stats, so he's kind of the Freelancer of FFRK) but you can even take him out of your party if you wish.
Each dungeon belongs to a specific game and in general progresses along the same path as the story itself - so the FFIV dungeon starts out in the Mist Cave, for instance, and ends with a fight against the Mist Dragon. FFV's North Mountain ends with a fight against... right, Magissa and Forza.
There's a benefit to using characters in the world they come from - they get a very significant boost to their damage and health, as well as an experience bonus - as well as equipment from each game. Relics are tagged with the game they come from - for instance, "Kazekiri (V)" - and using weapons in the world they originate from yields a huge damage boost, while using armor in the world it comes from yields a large defensive boost. At the end of each stage of a dungeon you're ranked on how you did and given rewards accordingly; for most dungeons it's very easy to just power through the early stages, but the bosses often require a little bit of tactical thinking - and earning Champion rankings on these often requires either remembering how to beat the boss in the console game they originated from, or just brute forcing it and seeing the rankings afterwards (it's not a mystery, it'll tell you what to do to get a better score if you replay it).
Oh, and attaining the highest rank on each dungeon unlocks a much harder Elite version of the dungeon. I haven't even attempted the Elite dungeons yet.
This is why you often want a wide variety of abilities. For instance, getting a Champion rank against Cagnazzo in FFIV's Baron Castle dungeon requires both dissipating a tsunami with a Thunder spell, and taking advantage of his weakness to Ice by hitting him with a Blizzard spell. Luckily, I'd already recruited Young Rydia by then and build a Thundara spell.
As mentioned, abilities are crafted from, and improved by, orbs dropped in battles. These show up frequently. You'll also get relic drops fairly often, and duplicates can be combined to raise their level (thus raising their stats), and combined further to increase their star rankings (allowing even a lowly Rod to attain a better potential before you inevitably combine it into something like a Punisher (FFVI)). You can assign two abilities, one weapon, one armor, and one accessory to a character, and each character also comes with one Soul Break (basically a Limit Break) as well as the ability to equip a different one if you manage to draw the right relic for them and equip it to them - an Official Ball equipped to Wakka, for instance, turns his Soul Break from the area-effect water-damage Element Reels to the presumably-status-effect-inflicting Status Reels.
(Which is one bonus over the main line games: you can often inflict bosses with status effects, and it's often beneficial to do so.)
The graphics are all done in a pseudo-16-bit style that S-E's mobile ports would do well to emulate, instead of the weird overly anti-aliased sprites those games use, including characters who've never had 16-bit replicas before - seeing tiny versions of Wakka and Cloud is a treat. The music is also fantastic, being appropriate to the dungeon from which it came, whether dungeon theme, battle theme, or boss theme.
More to come
At the present time, there's still more content to be drip-fed to us. There are no worlds for FFIII, FFXII, FFVIII, or FFIX - yet. We know they're coming (Japan even has several of them). Equipment for them drops, but for now it's mostly just upgrade fodder. However, what this really means is just that this game has quite a bit of ways to grow, despite the wealth of content that's already in place. It's well worth your time to at least give Final Fantasy Record Keeper a try, if only to let a little Final Fantasy nostalgia wash over you.