Final Fantasy VII has become an ambitious mobile game and we are impressed but also feel some dissatisfaction.
Imagine if you could get the entire Final Fantasy VII story on one device, with all the remasters and expansions included. Imagine also if it wasn't just one long nostalgia trip through familiar environments and familiar faces, but also offered something new and fresh. And then imagine if it came packaged in a stunningly beautiful edition that could be enjoyed anywhere, anytime. The good news is that all of that is now available. The bad news is that it's a grind-fest that comes with endless opportunities to empty our wallets.
While Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis is, on the surface, something of a "best of Final Fantasy", it's also basically another unscrupulous and simple mobile game. It's far from being the worst in the class, in fact, in terms of gameplay and production values, it's more in the top tier, but of course a mobile game always disappoints, it's inevitable. Even though we've come a long way in our technological journey, the technical limitations still get in the way, but above all it's the "need" to squeeze in microtransactions and advertising that means that a mobile game will always be viewed with scepticism by yours truly, regardless of developer or franchise.
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It must be said that Final Fantasy has already been released for mobile devices, under the name Dimensions, but that was over ten years ago now and in an age when monetisation through microtransactions had not yet exploded, where a mobile version was seen more as a complement to the "main title", rather than the primary cash cow. It was also a game that was developed entirely by Square Enix itself and not contracted out, or through an acquired studio specialising in "digital business models". In this new case, the developer is Applibot, the same studio that made Nier Re[in]carnation two years ago, and the setup is instantly recognisable.
In many ways, it's like playing the same game but in a different body. A fantastic and engaging game world that skilfully hides a basically rather shabby and above all trivial game with repetitive battles. Something else that feels eerily familiar is the main menu that consists of so much advertising and enticements that I feel brainwashed already after the first day. But I don't want to spend money and, in fact, I don't have to as the game showers me with rewards after being victorious in my initial battles. I will of course spend these to get better weapons and other equipment, and after that, there will be less encouragement, according to the business plan.
This is where Applibot and Square Enix want to empty my wallet, because buying your way to success will definitely make it easier, since the game becomes more difficult as the story progresses and experience rates level-off. But after over twenty hours in Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis, I've still managed to upgrade both my character and my Buster Sword to the max and also constantly move forward in the story and in that part there's not much to complain about even though it's more or less self-playing like in many of these titles. There's not much to think about, there's only one path to take and if you can't even be bothered to control it yourself, you can automate everything, including the battles.
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Between dialogue and beautiful views, I occasionally run into various enemies that need to be defeated and then automatically end up in the combat mode. Here, Final Fantasy players will recognise the ATB (Active Time Battle) system, which is basically another name for turn-based battles but where you can switch characters in the middle of the battle and anyone familiar with how it works knows that the different characters have different abilities and energy levels for each attack. When Cloud is out of energy, hopefully Barret or Tifa will be better equipped to deal a big blow. It may sound deep, but it's actually not that impressive. Basically, it all comes down to waiting for a number of icons to light up on the screen so that I can eventually unleash a special attack for maximum damage. When the box is full I tap the screen, then I wait for the next box to be ready and then I tap the screen again. Until the enemy is dead. This is what every battle looks like, whether it's basic enemies that are everywhere or a boss fight. After a while, I had enough and pressed "auto" to quickly advance the story.
And if we for a moment disregard all the possibilities for immoral spending, the entire story is actually free and free of paywalls. And I write this with some surprise as it is not uncommon in these types of titles that you either have to pay a small amount to access new chapters or that you have to wait a number of hours before it is unlocked. Here the story comes in chapters, but these are completely free from that kind of blocking. At least for now.
This sounds gloomy when I read what I've written, but it's unfortunately inevitable when it comes to free-to-play titles, especially on mobile phones. There is a lot to dislike but at the same time it is a scale that must inevitably be judged by what it is because Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis is, after all, one of the better mobile games I have played in a long time. It may not sound like it, but the way in which the entire game collection has been crammed into a very stylish package is outstanding and it is also exceptionally well-performing and flows excellently on all devices I've tried, be it iPhone 14 Pro, iPad Pro and Samsung Galaxy 5 Fold.
Performance aside, it is a wonderful nostalgia trip but it is also a journey towards completely new goals. If you've been here before, you'll recognise yourself in Midgar but that doesn't mean you have to plough through the same content again. Applibot has succeeded well in picking out the finest portions of the story, all while keeping it so that no prior knowledge is required, although it is preferable. No, there is simply something for everyone here. Old experienced Final Fantasy veterans and brand new adepts will be able to jump right into the adventure and feel at home immediately.
If you can look past the annoying and, in my opinion, unethical elements of "Super deal of the day!" and resist the loot box temptation, there are many wonderful hours to be found here. It is a seven in the end but the rating could have been even higher because even if the microtransactions are not forced, they are so annoying and diabolically designed that it is frustrating to deal with.
7 / 10
Free-to-play. Great design. Awesome music. Beautiful and big. True to the game series.