Vana’diel in your hands: Time to look at Final Fantasy Grandmasters!

A while back now Square-Enix finally announced the official “end” of Final Fantasy XI, and for a moment I and several other people went into a blind panic at the thought of Windurst not being just a PlayOnline portal away. Luckily for us all what they meant (and to be fair, what they said) was “Final Fantasy XI’s story is coming to an end” and that the game would continue on for as long as it remained worthwhile for them to keep the servers running. Considering Ultima flippin’ Online is still going eighteen years after it launched it’s probably safe to assume Vana’diel’s not going anywhere for the time being.

But just as one imagined disaster came and went, another popped up in its place! Square-Enix also announced two new mobile [groan] Final Fantasy XI games – one a F2P [whinge] game with cutesy SD characters [dry-heaves] and another closer to the real thing but “changed to suit the portable format.[primes fingers for baseless ranting about these unannounced changes]

Final Fantasy Grandmasters is the name of the F2P game and it’s been out in Japan for a few days now. And –so far- it’s wonderful.

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Square-Enix have been making great strides in the mobile arena in the past year or two, both in the quality of their more straightforward ports (ranging from Secret of Mana to Final Fantasy VII – heck, even Final Fantasy XIII was available via their streaming service!) and in their understanding of what makes a good fan service-y F2P title (Record Keeper, in my opinion) so it shouldn’t be any real surprise to learn that Grandmasters continues this enlightened trend of being a mobile game based on a popular IP that doesn’t try to trick you into handing over all your money while simultaneously crushing every positive memory you ever had of the game in question.

The first time you play you’re taken to a quick character select where you pick your race and then you’re dumped into a short tutorial section in San d’Oria as a warrior. Suddenly the cute style’s completely fine – you can tell it’s San d’Oria just by looking at the location and the NPCs and in a move that’s as cost-effective as it is nostalgic, all the music in the game’s ripped directly from Final Fantasy XI itself. Once this brief how-to-whack-Rabites bit’s over it’s onto the game proper, and you’re able to select any of the vanilla Final Fantasy XI starting jobs as well as re-customise the look of your character if you so wish.

There are three main varieties of quest to engage in – your bog-standard story questing is where you’ll be spending most of your time, but there are also job-specific quests as well as event quests to have a go at too. The story quests follow a linear route, gradually taking you further away from San d’Oria to familiar locations such as Valkurm Dunes and King Ranperre’s Tomb. The maps you run around on aren’t identical copies of their MMO counterparts, but do still match the general mood and mob spawns of the real thing.

The tasks your given fall into the typical MMO grinding types – kill <X> of a particular enemy type, hunt down a Notorious Monster - that sort of thing. You’re given sixty minutes and allowed two deaths to complete your task; thankfully the small areas, frequent monster respawns and handy “Your Nearest Quest Mob Here” arrow mean that they tend to last more like five to ten.

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Battles are initiated by running into any enemy you see on the area map (thankfully there’s no aggro mechanic in Grandmasters) which then whisks you off to a battle screen where other players can join in the fight in real-time simply by running up to the same enemy as you, making party creation an informal and fluid process that has people join and leave as their quest requirements get fulfilled. The rigid quest system means that everybody on the map has a fixed goal in mind and all the tools to do it as soon as they appear so everybody can just get on with the fine art of beating up Goobbue and trying to avoid Malboro’s Bad Breath attack.

This is good because while Grandmasters is no where near as punishing as its MMO parent it still expects all players to be on the ball and playing their job properly – everyone you meet in battle is another real player and they won’t be too happy to find the healer’s wasted TP (all spells/skills use TP, there’s no MP gauge) casting may-as-well-not-have-bothered attack magic like Dia and now can’t cast Curaga to save the party! Player participation is key to winning battles and also crucial in elevating Grandmasters above typical F2P fare – your personal skill in applying your abilities to the situation will decide the outcome, not raw my-numbers-are-higher-than-your-numbers shenanigans (no more so than is expected of the genre, anyway).

But having said that it is still a F2P game so there has to be a point where they try to extract some money out of you – Square-Enix weren’t put on this earth entirely for the benefit of RPG fans, y’know. Grandmasters, in a twist so strange I can’t actually believe they’ve gone and done it, has no stamina system. At all. You can play all day if you like, and you won’t have to pay a penny to continue doing so. Instead all real-world money is put into the gacha system.

As you’d expect in a F2P game, the gacha tab on your home screen is the place where the rarest and best loot can be found – for a price. That price is currently five hundred gems for a single go, with gems being obtained either through real money purchasing or after successfully completing quests. Quests grant a minimum of one hundred gems each, so while the promise of Ph4t l00tZ is a little further away from those unwilling or unable to spend on the game it does feel more like a bonus for those paying rather than a punishment for those that don’t. Another major plus point for this system is that there’s a separate gacha lottery for each job type, meaning that at the very least you’ll still end up with an item you can actually use.

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F2P games being what they are this is the honeymoon period for both the Grandmasters and the players and it’ll be a good few weeks yet before we really see how character progression works out in the long term, as well as how keen Square-Enix are to keep the game supported and updated. However from what’s available now, and looking at how Record Keeper’s remained F2P-but-fair as well as frequently updated, it would appear that Grandmasters is going to be another quality mobile game that’s designed to be Vana’diel for those of us who still love Final Fantasy XI but no longer have the time to play it. Here’s hoping the Western release turns up sooner rather than later!

The official website, including links to both the iOS and Android versions of the game (Japanese stores only) is over here -