A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV (Empty Clip Studios, 2016)
One of many Final Fantasy XV tie-ins to be released, this one was first made available as a preorder bonus and, after the game's launch, became a free download. A King's Tale is a side-scrolling beat-em-up with a few Final Fantasy twists - some enemies resist certain types of magic, you can do different combinations of moves to stun and juggle enemies (necessary for many of your larger foes), and all of the differing enemy types require different tactics to overcome. However, you also get some help in the form of three summonable allies who can be called in after you land eight hits without taking damage, and upon landing 24 consecutive hits, one can summon the Armiger to deal heavy damage to a single foe, as well as calling in your previously-summoned allies to do their own attacks and deal massive damage. The main campaign is short - it should only take you about two hours to complete - but a number of trophies and optional challenges will keep you coming back. If you enjoy arcade style beat-em-ups, give this one a try - it's a lot of fun and, as mentioned, is free.
Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below (Omega Force, 2015)
The Dragon Quest series has seen plenty of spinoff games over its long existence, and Dragon Quest Heroes puts Omega Force at the helm, having several heroes old and new battle enormous hordes of the series' well-known monsters. Atop the usual Warriors format, there are plenty of Dragon Quest elements worked in - being able to fast-travel about the battlefield with wyvern wings, being able to go into Tension mode to become temporarily invulnerable and deal heavier damage, various sidequests to complete for rewards, and of course having many of the series' trademark weapon types, from boomerangs to whips to greatswords, with varying combos and attack properties. The infamous monster medals from the Game Boy Color port of DQ3 return, though in a much less annoying form this time, letting you summon temporary monster allies to aid you in battle. As ever for a Warriors offshoot, the action is pretty monotonous, but nevertheless surprisingly entertaining, especially if you're a Dragon Quest fan.
Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring (DreamFactory, 1999)
Intially released as an arcade game, Ehrgeiz got little attention outside of Japan, though it did attract some players for the fact that it featured Cloud and Tifa of Final Fantasy VII fame as time-released guest characters (unlocking 30 and 60 days after the cabinet's initial setup, respectively). The home port took this even further, adding in Sephiroth, Vincent, Yuffie and Zack as unlockables, though all were just model-swaps of already-existing characters. Honestly, though, that's about the only reason anyone remembers Ehrgeiz, as aside from the novelty of playing as characters from the hottest RPG of the time, it's a pretty sub-par arena fighter with weird full-3D movement, janky inputs, mash-friendly design and irritating sound effects (the incredibly loud "BYOOOOOO" that plays every time you move the cursor on any menu being the stuff of legends). Per other fighters of the era like Tekken 3 and a couple of DreamFactory's earlier efforts (like the Tobal games, also published by Square) it does include some minigames as well, though most of these are very forgettable. The most substantial one by far is a full action-RPG titled "Brand New Quest: The Forsaken Dungeon" which takes quite a few cues from Diablo, having the player venture through a randomly-generated dungeon, find and equip loot, battle monsters and giant bosses, and you even have to eat food to survive and boost your stats. While ultimately nothing special it is decently fun, and it never speaks well to your fighting game's quality when a minigame tossed in as an afterthought has far more depth in comparison.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Square Pictures, 2001)
A Final Fantasy movie wasn't a completely ridiculous thing for Square to attempt; after all, Final Fantasies 7 through 9 on the Playstation were acclaimed for their high-quality CGI cutscenes and action-movie-like presentations, so why not take the extra step and create a full-blown feature film? Well, the idea was sound enough on paper, but the actual execution was... lackluster, to say the least. While the CGI animation was undoubtedly quite impressive for the time, it's a bit hard to go back to today, with a lot of obvious static "matte paintings" for backdrops and character models frequently slipping into the uncanny valley. They got quite a few well-known actors for prominent roles in the film (Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Donald Sutherland and Ving Rhames among them), but they're never given any real development as characters, and the lack of any skilled direction just makes most of their voiced performances feel wooden. The plot is lackluster as well, just feeling like a cookie-cutter RPG plot compressed into a 106-minute film, and they don't make any attempt to trim events to fit into the time allotted. As a result, the film mostly skips the first two acts and leaps right into the climax, when our protagonists have already collected five of the eight plot macguffins and the one-dimensional close-minded antagonist character is about to make his power-move and potentially doom humanity with his hubris; all stuff you'd see in the typical Final Fantasy games of the era without any new twist for the medium of film. Really, it's a not-so-great RPG script adapted into a feature-length cutscene, which just reinforces my perception of Hironobu Sakaguchi as a one-trick pony. The guy can make a decent (if formulaic) fantasy RPG plot outline and pace it well enough in the realm of gaming, but he falls apart completely when you take that concept and move it onto the silver screen, where every moment counts in building an effective story.
Also of note: The film's heroine, Aki Ross, was slated to be the first computer-generated actress and appear in numerous future film roles, but owing to Spirits Within's financial failure and the subsequent closure of Square Films, that never quite happened. In fact, the only other credit Square Films has to their name is a 3D-animated short called "Final Flight of the Osiris", which was shown to promote The Matrix Reloaded in theaters and later became part of the Enter the Matrix animated anthology.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (Visual Works/Square Enix, 2005)
Final Fantasy VII continued to be a highly beloved name for Square (and Square Enix) for long after its release, and no secret was made of the fact that they knew that. Not content to loan Final Fantasy VII out to cameos in other games, action figures, a handful of video game sequels that ranged from pretty good (Crisis Core) to absolutely terrible (Dirge of Cerberus) and an anime series, they then announced a CG movie as a direct sequel to the events of the game. When we actually got to watch it, though, we quickly realized we were misled. Despite being widely hailed as a big cast reunion and a game-changer for the story, it wasn't - nearly all of the main cast are reduced to glorified cameos, and they really had to bend over backwards to work some characters back in for their incredibly brief scenes (particularly Rufus). The story is the stuff of fan fiction, showing a small number of Sephiroth's followers (only seen in the games as weak, lethargic robed figures) who unexpectedly have superpowers that let them ricochet around the landscape like superballs and perform overly flashy feats of silliness; feats Cloud and Tifa are also effortlessly able to perform, with the former wielding an exceptionally impractical seven-piece buster sword that disassembles and reforms on command. Their goal, of course, is to resurrect FF7's main antagonist, which they do... for another glorified, barely-five-minute cameo before Cloud dispatches him once again with a flashy limit break attack, leaving the audience to wonder what the point of any of this was besides putting some more money in Square Enix's coffers. It is at least a much more watchable film than Spirits Within, with much tighter pacing, a more concise (if ridiculous and unnecessary) story and the OTT action scenes proving quite spectacular (with several moments directly mirrored in other Nomura-directed projects like Kingdom Hearts II), but it all just smacks of yet another attempt to bankroll a popular name; hence my derisive nickname for it of "Advent Cash-in."
Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future (Jun Eishima, 2019/2020)
Final Fantasy XV was a very famously troubled production, spending over ten years being tweaked, recut and re-edited before finally being released in a still-incomplete state in 2016. They attempted to give fans their money's worth with a series of followup patches (both free and paid) to fix bugs, reintroduce some cut content and give the other characters more time in the spotlight with episodic, character-focused stories lasting a few hours apiece. This did prove successful at first, with three stories focused on Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto being released both as digital downloads and packaged in with the Royal Edition of the game. A second season was commissioned as well; however, the game's director, Hajime Tabata, unexpectedly resigned from the company shortly after Episode Ardyn was released and the remaining episodes were subsequently canceled. Dawn of the Future is essentially the story of those remaining episodes released in book form, telling the tales of Ardyn, Solara Antiquum and Lunafreya, as well as a concluding chapter (and alternate ending to the story) where all of the game's key players stand together against a common foe. I wasn't super thrilled to see it all come back to the longtime Final Fantasy cliché of man-versus-sanctimonious-god when the base game did a fantastic job of avoiding that (not to mention it feels completely out of left field here, with characters suddenly doing 180-degree personality turns that aren't built up whatsoever and are hugely distracting), but it is at least nice to see some more of the many alternate ideas for the long-winded tale of FFXV, as well as some previously unseen concept art for what could have been had the unfinished DLC episodes been fully realized. So, once again, if you're a Final Fantasy XV fan this one will probably be something you'll enjoy, but if not you can safely ignore it.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes (Omega Force, 2022)
One of the many, many
offshoots of the long-running Warriors franchise, this time based on Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It's a natural fit, though - Koei Tecmo was co-developer on Three Houses, so they have a pretty solid grasp of how its characters, lore and general gameplay hooks work. Three Hopes follows the same general story and even hits many of the same gameplay beats - building relationships between your characters and bolstering their stats through training, improving your camp and well-placed gifts, though the player takes the role of a new character - Shez, a rather talkative mercenary who enrolls as a student in Garreg Mach Monestary. In fact, Byleth, the protagonist of Three Houses, serves as an antagonist and your main rival this time around, which is a pretty clever flip. War battles of course follow the Warriors format - an over-the-top hack-and-slash with plenty of flashy combos, super moves and sky-high bonuses for keeping combo chains going, with a dash of real-time strategy element on top. Per usual for Warriors games you probably won't get much out of it if you don't enjoy that style of gameplay, but if you do, and enjoyed Three Houses as well, Three Hopes will provide a delightful blend of well-written story beats, memorable characters and monotonous-but-enjoyable gameplay.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (Visual Works, 2016)
As with its game counterpart, Kingsglaive mostly seems to exist to show that it could do well what its predecessors failed at - showing off a lot of CGI spectacle while still telling a good story with some strong, well-written characters. I think it actually does an admirable job, too - while you obviously won't have the same appreciation for it if you didn't enjoy the game, I found it to be a fun movie, depicting the details of one of the game's most prominent events - the fall of Insomnia - and giving you a greater appreciation for events and characters you don't really see a lot of first-hand in Final Fantasy XV. We also get a pretty cool, if short-lived, protagonist in Nyx Ulric, who proves to be a badass and selfless hero facing off with not just the invading Niflheim army, but a number of traitors within his own ranks. Like Advent Children it's mostly a showpiece for over-the-top action scenes, but here they actually fit in well with the base game's overall style instead of just feeling overdone to the point of becoming farcical. It's a glorified trailer/prequel for a sharply divisive game, but if you enjoyed Final Fantasy XV as much as I did, Kingsglaive is well worth a watch.
Phantasy Star Adventure (Sega/Sonic Team, 1992)
An offshoot of the Phantasy Star franchise and one of two side games in the series released for the Game Gear (the other being the appalling Phantasy Star Gaiden), Adventure is a point-and-click game set shortly before the events of Phantasy Star II. None of that game's characters appear in this one, however, as the story follows an unnamed agent from Paseo investigating the disappearance of his friend on Dezoris. Naturally, this involves a lot of inventory puzzles, talking to NPCs for clues and using the right thing in the right spot, though on occasion you'll also face off with foes in a turn-based combat system. It's simple enough, being centered on dice rolls (with graphics of dice literally showing what results you get) and your damage being determined by what you roll, with more powerful weapons giving you more dice. It's ultimately a short experience, being completable in about 2 hours on your first visit, but it is a decent and charming little game for what it is. Sega never bothered to localize the game, though a fan translation exists.
Phantasy Star II Text Adventures (Sega, 1990-1992)
Another relatively obscure offshoot of Phantasy Star, these were text-based adventure games released over the Sega MegaNet online service in Japan, and later on a pair of compilations for the Sega CD known as "Game Cans" (so named because they came in round metal cans rather than plastic jewel cases). Eight were made in total, each being a prequel story based on one of Phantasy Star II's eight protagonists. All of them are quite short (running about an hour apiece) and have only the barest minimum of graphics, showing a simple HUD and only a few still images for when you encounter monsters. There is an occasional spot of combat as well, governed by dice rolls that make up some of the few bits of animation in the games, and each story also fits the character's role in gameplay - Rudo dispatches monsters with progressively bigger weapons, while Amy (the squishy healer in PS2) humorously spends most of her final battle healing an NPC who does most of the fighting. While ultimately nothing spectacular, but they're short enough to not be overly annoying, and if you're a big fan of Phantasy Star, they're certainly worth a look. Sega has never bothered to localize them, though fan translations of both the original MegaNet releases and the (slightly) enhanced Sega CD ports exist.
Wild Arms: Twilight Venom (Bee Train, 1999)
An anime loosely based on the Wild Arms video game series, though there's not really a direct connection to any single game other than a few common themes. Its story focuses on the the archetype of the wandering hero, having the protagonist (Sheyenne Rainstorm) and his sidekick (Dr. Kiel Aronnax) seeking out his lost real body while wielding the titular ARM (this time a big doom-gun in the shape of a revolver). Their adventures lead them to constantly clash with the Crimson Noble Mirabelle and her underling Loretta, though they often join forces in the end to overcome some villain-of-the-week that gets unleashed; usually a nondescript giant monster. Honestly, the whole thing just feels like a discount Trigun almost every step of the way. If you're a big fan of the Wild Arms franchise you might enjoy it, otherwise you can probably safely give this one a pass. If nothing else, however, you should check out the show's soundtrack
- composed by Kow Otani (known for composing the soundtracks to a number of high profile anime series and the Playstation classic Shadow of the Colossus), it definitely has his trademark epic feel and is well worth a listen.