One common feature of many reviews I’ve read or watched online about this game is that they do not mention the actual final dungeon of the game. But it is worth knowing about, especially because it’s rather difficult to open up. The first requirement is that you need to finish every Chapter 4 story, and the second requirement is that you need to complete 2 sets of side quest chains (I won’t say which, but you can look it up online if you can’t figure it out). Once you finish those side quests, a new side quest will appear in a forest area and by completing that you will gain the ability to find The Gate of Finis. This matters for the review for two major reasons. The first is that this actually represents the True Ending of the game and offers up the most difficult boss fights to test your capabilities against. The second major reason for mentioning this is that this area ties all the stories together. If you pay close enough attention, you will be able to pick up some ties between the stories in the game, but after you defeat the 8 sub-bosses in The Gate of Finis, you will find texts that fill in all the details of why these 8 stories are all connected. Once you defeat those sub-bosses, you will find out who the real puppet master of the entire story is, and you will face off against them in one major final battle that dwarfs every other boss in the game in difficulty. So gird your loins, even at level 90 I still needed to use some dirty tactics to finally see the True Ending to the game.
Combat is where this game shines the most. Even if you are not a huge fan of turn-based combat, there is a lot to love here. Most of that is because of how strategic the combat is combined with how many different ways you have of tackling it. The Boost Point system is like a refined form of the Bravely Default method of combat, but I actually prefer this one. Each character starts with 1 BP (unless you use the Head-Start Passive Skill) and you usually gain 1 BP per round. You can then spend those Boost Points (using the R button) to make your skills significantly more powerful. Each Job also contains a Divine Skill that you unlock after you have learned every other Job skill, and that Divine Skill can only be used in conjunction with spending 3 BP (along with a hefty 50 SP). Along with the BP, you need to balance the armor points of the enemies (the numbers surrounded by the shield icons you see above). The armor of each enemy can only be lowered by hitting the weakness of that creature with that weapon type or elemental type. To find out what a creature is weak to, you need to either hit it with that weapon (guesswork) or use the Scholar skill, Identify. Once you have broken an enemy’s armor, they will take significantly higher damage as well as being unable to attack for the next round. However, if you don’t kill them by the end of that next round, they will gain all their armor back and have the first attack against you the following round (no matter what your Speed is).
Bosses represent a change to that formula not only in their size and how hard they hit, but also they often have additional mechanics that require additional strategy. A common example of a mechanic change is that they can often summon minions that will protect the weaknesses of the boss so that you cannot break the armor of the boss until you defeat the minions. Another example is that they will start charging up a super powerful move after combat has proceeded for a certain number of rounds, and in order to interrupt that move you need to break the armor. Some very special bosses also gain more and more armor after each break and eventually channel an attack that will automatically kill your whole party (this is mostly the special subclass bosses). As a result you may need to use a certain set of passive skills for the dungeon crawl to the boss, and then change those passive skills right before the boss to go all out in power and not worry about things like SP conservation.
You start gaining new Support Skills after you have learned the 2nd Active Skill in any Job. While you can only have your Primary Job for that character and 1 Secondary Job equipped at any given time, you have access to every Support Skill that you have learned across all Jobs. The limit is that you can only equip 4 Support Skills to a character, but that is the route to the main strategy of this game. There are certain skills that are absolutely necessary for everyone, like BP Eater, and others that are only useful for either Physical or Elemental fighters. But you can find your own combinations that work for you. Additionally, there are some very nice abilities that make grinding levels easier. As such, I completed the Chapter 4 stories and unlocked every special Job before I even started the Chapter 2 stories for my off party. That gave me access to some very nice grinding skills, equipment and allowed me to raise my off party levels from around 15 to 75 in about an hour. You don’t have to do your run this way, but it’s just an example of how versatile the system is.
I have mentioned the special Jobs a couple times, they are 4 Jobs that are not available to any of your characters from the start. Unlocking the primary Jobs so that you can equip them as a secondary Job on any character is a fairly simple matter of finding the shrine for that Job around the world. They are commonly in level 15-25 areas, so they are basically available right after you finish gathering all 8 of your characters. However, the 4 special Jobs which are Warmaster, Runelord, Sorcerer, and Starseer, are locked behind level 50 dungeons in level 45 areas and feature a very serious boss guarding them. Other than the true final boss of the game, these 4 special Job bosses are by far the most difficult bosses in the game and that especially applies to the Warmaster boss. But she is well worth defeating, and that warning should not put you off trying them for too long. If you do enough grinding and find the Forbidden gear, you can do like I did and beat them as early as Chapter 2. I should warn you, however, that a properly kitted out and passive skill buffed Warmaster will allow you to 1 shot kill every Chapter 4 boss in the game. So up until the Gate of Finis, it will make your game rather easy. But that is a major attraction in JRPGs for me, the ability to break them over my knee tactically.
There are really only two small complaints I have for this game. While it was an artistic choice and not a system limitation, the overuse of blurred perspective was unnecessarily distracting when wandering around the world. Yes, it does fit the overall diorama style of the art, but the overuse distracted from the art instead of added to it. The other complaint also has to do with the choice of the diorama style and that is how difficult it sometimes was to navigate the secret passages in the dungeons when your character was completely out of sight. But those are very minor complaints, and the art style overall is very fantastic and will be memorable for a long time to come. I would not be at all disappointed if they kept this exact art style for a sequel. But without reservation, even more beautiful than the visual art was the audible. The voice over was good in both English and Japanese, but it was the music that really stood out. This soundtrack fits easily into the quality of the Squaresoft games from the SNES and PlayStation One era. I have no doubts that this soundtrack will be listened to for many years down the road by game music enthusiasts (a club that I definitely consider myself a part of).
So, I ended up really glad that I took the time to go through this game, and a lot of time it was. By the time I finished the True Ending I was just shy of 110 hours of gameplay. That is before I’ve even gone back and done entirely optional things like finishing all the Side Quests and getting H’aanit a full compliment of super rare boss summons. Is it worth the full price of a new game, $59.99? Even with the retro style graphics, that is without a question the case. Not only is there many hours of great gameplay, but there is actually quite a bit of innovation in combat that makes this not just an exercise in nostalgia. Not only does this game restore some of the faith I had in the developer/publisher, but it also makes me care a little less that Kingdom Hearts is not really for me and perhaps Final Fantasy XVI won’t be either. I now have Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest as my staple franchises from this company, and that is enough to keep me happy. Bring on a sequel, now it will be a game that I pre-order the moment it’s announced.
Review Copy Self Purchased