Final Sky Review
Final Sky is a free-to-play mobile RPG from Aeria games. Not exactly a great way to start a review is it? I might as well just say: [Generic mixture of two words commonly used in RPG game titles] is yet another stereotypical free-to-play RPG from [Large MMORPG/Mobile game publisher which has a vast number of similar games on its portfolio]. So what is it about this game that has garnered enough of my attention and time to allow me to write a review on it?
It looks just like an anime!
I myself, am not ashamed to admit that the first thing that really caught my attention was the stunning anime art style. The art in this game is simply stunning, with vibrant colours and detailed character designs that would look at home in a shonen anime series.
Not only is the art pleasing to look at, but I also appreciate that the actual in-game sprites do resemble the art fairly closely. Strange thing to point out, I know, but if you've played other similar free mobile RPG's, you'll understand the disparity between the character art and in-game sprites. I know many reviewers harp on about the importance of graphics over gameplay but in a genre as saturated as this on the app store, having not only lovely art, but pretty visuals in-game, goes a long way to standing out from the rest.
The app-store description also claims to have a "rich, dramatic storyline" but so far, it just seems to involve a sinister, hooded man who wants to take over the world with his mecha army. I do appreciate that it's presented relatively well with dialogue scenes that aren't translated too horribly from Japanese. But what finally sold me on trying this out, however, was the big "Combo" counter on the left hand side of the screenshot. At this point, I was quite eager to give this a go as I mused: "Hmm, maybe I've actually found one of these card/character collection RPG's that has a combat system".
Special Attacks that could rival Final Fantasy
Within minutes I was pleased to find that the combat is as flashy as depicted in the screenshots on the store page. I consider the gameplay to be a slightly more complex version of Brave Frontier, where you tap on character icons to perform their attacks and swipe up to unleash "aces" (akin to Final Fantasy's limit breaks) after charging the ace guage during battle. The best thing is, every character has their own unique attacks and animations, all with different number of hits, cooldown times and casting times, further adding to the skill component required to time your abilities correctly.
Characters feel very different and special in their own way as a result.
Characters feel very different and special in their own way as a result. Also unlike Brave Frontier, where the enemy and your characters just take turns to attack each other, the real-time nature of the combat and the inclusion of the combo system do make battles more difficult, but also more exciting as a result. Basically, the combo system revolves around juggling enemies in the air with your skills and doing more damage as a result of increasing the combo counter. Imagine playing kick-ups with your enemies, but with crazy particle effects and exclamations of cheesy battle phrases in the background, that is what Final Sky's combat is all about.
AOE is Key
However, as I progressed onto the harder quests, some of the more subtle flaws of the game were gradually exposed to me. Later on, even the enemies leading up to the stage boss start doing massive damage and can take down your characters in 2 or 3 hits. But the most frustrating mechanic you'll run into is the constant staggering, where ranged ememies can essentially stunlock your characters with their quick attacks. If this happens to your main damage dealers and you have no one else to interrupt them, be prepared to restart the battle, even mashing buttons won't do you any good as you watch your health bar get shredded. Therefore, the only way I've found to deal with this so far is to pick characters with large AOE attacks and stunlock them back. This essentially makes the packs of supposed "whelps" before the main boss much harder than the boss itself (whom you can just combo and air juggle to infinity) and makes most melee warrior and ranger characters drastically weaker than mages due to their skills only being single target.
All this potential let down by greed...
Now this wouldn't be as much of a problem if, firstly, these were fixed through balance changes, and secondly, if there was actually a reliable way of obtaining such characters, which like most free to play games, brings me to the dreaded payment model. On the scale of atrociously abhorrent (trading card games like Rage of Bahamut etc.) to generous to the point of being completely unintrusive (Marvel Future Fight, which I would retroactively give an 8/10 because of this), Final Sky would be bang on the middle. The stamina system rears its ugly head yet again, and while you do start with a tiny stamina limit and need to wait a whopping 5 minutes to recharge a single point, the stamina costs (usually under 10 per stage) aren't at the ridiculous levels of free-to-play trading card games. The most horrible aspect about the payment model however, is acquiring new characters.
Get ready to pray to the RNG gods...
There is no way to obtain characters through farming (barring limited-time events) as the only way to do so, is through the game's random, magical summoning page. Characters that are 3* or under can be obtained with points given to you daily, and exchanged with in game gold. But 4* or 5* characters are only available on the 3*+ summoning page, which uses their premium currency, summon stones, because of course it does. While they do reward you with summon stones fairly regularly through daily achievements and quests to try and alleviate this, it is still entirely possible to end up with a party of useless characters because of how skewed the drop rates are against 4* and 5* characters. And if, by the end of the story and completing most of the quests, you still don't have any good characters (which is entirely possible), it will most likely severely hamper your motivation to play the game any further.
This is so depressing to me, that a game which has an innovative combat system within the realms of character/card collecting games and looks this great, chose to revert back to the tired, unpopular norms of the payment systems within this genre of games. It cripples your enjoyment of the game to the point where I cannot recommend Final Sky to anyone who isn't already accustomed to such free-to-play systems, which I guess is still a large enough audience.