Monday, August 24, 2015

New SE App Leaves Something To Be Desired By Fans

Good news Final Fantasy fans! Triple Triad is now available for mobile phones! And if you're an FF fan, you like Triad. Don't argue. We all know that Triad is one of the most entertaining card games around, and you don't need a motorcycle or pocket monsters to play.

The bad news, SquareEnix is attempting to turn it into a cash-monger. Given the trend with mobile gaming, that shouldn't be a surprise. But the results are less then joyful in this situation.

Late last week, SE released the Final Fantasy Portal App for Android and iPhone. It's essentially a hub for all things Final Fantasy for mobile game play. The product is so fresh, that the download/install rate is still at the 1k-5k level. But that may be due in part to the not so happy reviews of the product.

First off, the Portal App is completely free. You don't have to buy a darn thing in it if you don't want to. And in fact if you download it before the end of the month, you can get Final Fantasy I for your phone without paying a cent. If you're on Android and accidentally delete your game or move to another phone, you're out of luck. This is a one time download. But still! A game that typically costs $7.99-$19.99 is free, and I've heard good things about the mobile version.

The app is a hub for all of your Final Fantasy content. There are news blips, a Twitter feed, as well as merchandise updates all within a few taps of your finger. And the layout is pretty self-explanatory. You don't need to scroll through endless articles to get to your games. If you jump in to play, the game menu is on the left side. Tap the drop-down box and you're good to go.

You can earn points by logging in with your Square Enix account, which you can then spend in their digital store. You get a point for logging in every day, for reading a new story, for playing a game, and so on. Items in the store currently contain phone wallpapers and new Triple Triad cards. But there are sure to be add-ons later as the app grows in the US to include in-game content for the other FF products. You can also buy points to spend on the store. Currently the highest amount is at $19.99, so you're not going to go into $100 overspending mode as easily. You can't earn points if you don't log into your SE account. But you can still play the games you have purchased, so you're not hindered by the DRM mantra that some companies prefer.

So why get the app if you already have the Final Fantasy games on your phone? It helps corral the games into one unit and I've noticed that it doesn't seem to eat up as much battery life. If you're into the bonus points thing, that's something to look forward to. But most importantly: it has Triple Triad.

Triple Triad is a freebe with the Portal, with no shelf life. For those who are unaware of the glory that is TT, here's the run-down: Triple Triad is a mini-game in Final Fantasy VIII. While a number of people dismissed the game from the FF legacy, we all openly admit to our addiction with the card game. It combined strategy, boldness, problem solving, math crunching skills into something that was fun. It was a mini-game that kept people hooked and the rewards were simple. You played to get more cards and get the best deck possible (Squall was usually the go-to, top-tier, must-have card). That's it. The FF9 version was a stripped down, simplified adaptation of Triad that never really took off. Since then, SE fans have clamored to have a stand-alone TT for consumption. We finally got a taste for it in Final Fantasy XIV with the introduction of the Gold Saucer zone, and even now the rooms are still busy with people playing NPC's. But it does require you to have a subscription to FF14 to play.

So this app is the first time we've had TT without having to pay for add-ons or for a separate game. You can get it for free.

There are caveats of course, but let's start with the positives. The game contains the same rules as the FF8 version, with an update on the interface and a bevy of new cards to play with. The design change is meant to accommodate phones and tablets. But overall, it still looks and feels like TT. Even the sounds incorporated come from FF8. It's nostalgia overload.

The cards are a mixture of past and present Final Fantasy games. I found a few from FF11 and couldn't help but smirk. But you'll see sprite Cecil and Edward, alongside a new-age Cactuar. There are currently 380+ cards that you can obtain in the game. Most are winnings you can earn by playing Triad. Some are only available in the SquareEnix store. And others you have to complete certain goals in Triad (similar to achievements) in order to pick them up. They have also introduced a fun system where you can combine cards to create a more powerful cards. If you have 10 of the same card, the merge component will squish those cards together and you'll get a new version of the card. Another thing to note: you can never lose a card, only gain. So when you lose a match, your precious cards won't be taken away from you.

You can play in a Single Player and Online mode. Single player has you matched against the "Light" cast of Final Fantasy Dissidia. The first one, not 012. You start out on Easy mode, and have to win matches against every character before the next mode is unlocked. This is where the tutorial starts off, and it's quite handy for those who have never experienced Triad before. It gives you a soft introduction into the rules and settings. You unlock game modes, such as Plus and Reverse, as you go through each Single Player opponent.

Online mode allows you to randomly pair up with a person playing the game at the same time. Currently the rules are set to random, but this is expected to expand as more people download the Portal.

In general, TT is easy to pick up and play. Easy way to kill some time. And it's just fun. It brings back a lot of good memories of my FF8 gaming days.

This is where SE mucked it up.

In order to play a match in TT, you need to use Crystals. You get 5 crystals and when they're all gone, no more play time for you. It's similar to Candy Crush, except that you don't get 5 fail attempts - where you can keep on playing and the 5 lives are there to save you in case you botch a level. As long as you keep winning, you can keep playing. With TT you get 5 matches and that's it. If you want to play more, you wait out 30 minutes as easy crystal regenerates, or you buy more crystals from the store with money.

Which sucks immensely. At least with other games the lives are a buffer and you can keep playing until you lose 5 times over the course of your gaming. With TT you only have 5 rounds. TT is the type of game where 5 card matches is not enough. Not when you have a one hour lunch and plenty of time to kill. This 5 crystal system carries over into the online portion as well. Yep. You can't even game with people unless you have crystal .

Now there is a way to earn crystals while you game. I'm not entirely sure how, but I believe it's in their achievements - instead of earning a card you get an extra crystal. And when you initially start playing, you get up to 3 bonus crystals. This will carry you through about half-way into the Easy Single Player mode before you have to wait on the crystals to regenerate. But as a whole, this was a bad move on SE's part. They are forcing you to either wait or pay to play. The game isn't as 'free' as they make it out to be.

My other issue is that in order to play Triad online you need to sign-in to your Google or Apple account. The other option is to use bluetooth and secure a connection this way, but I found after a few attempts that virtually no one was using this method. Bluetooth isn't as hip as it use to be, and some wifi hotspots offer better stability then bluetooth. So you have to log into Google or Apple. Which means you're sharing more of your personal information with SE. They'll ask for your name, your circles, your email, and a bunch of other junk that they really don't need, just so you can play TT online. Luckily with Google, before you finish the sign-in process, you can select what items to remove from SE's grubby hands. They'll still get your name, but you can close off your friends and circles, as well as your call history. I'm not sure how it works on Apple, but it's something to be aware of.

The gaming limitations and knowledge of your phone records may be just enough to turn away the most ardent of Final Fantasy fans. I haven't played FF1 yet, but I get this odd feeling there will be a 30 minute cap before the Portal prompts me to pay to continue.

Overall: Final Fantasy Portal App. Free, but with lots of caveats. The news reels are just okay, but you get the same info if you already follow their Twitter and their Facebook pages. The store items are crap unless you play Triple Triad. Why spend 10 points on a phone wallpaper that you can download for free from Google images? TT is still enjoyable, but those 5 round limits make it a bear to sit and wait on the times to refresh. Even though it's only 30 minutes, I could play unlimited in Candy Crush instead and only wait when I fail 5 times. I may end up uninstalling the app due to lack of play time.

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