“Is that Kain and Cloud wailing on monsters?”
I hadn’t heard about Final Fantasy Record Keeper before its release, nor did I have an idea what it was after it had come out, either. Prior to April of 2015, my first thought when somebody mentioned Final Fantasy and ‘mobile game’ in the same breath was ‘All the Bravest’, and to be frank, that’s not the hottest first thought one can have when it comes to the much-beloved RPG series. Sure, there are also the mobile ports of the main games available on iOS and Android (each with their own nagging little differences that are sure to rile up a fan or two), but at that time, Square’s most known attempt at a real mobile style game- one that had actually crossed the ocean, anyways- was AtB. Given a cursory glance at its Google Play page, it had not aged well, either; 2.9 out of 5 stars, across 24,000 reviews. “Pointless.” “There’s no depth.” “So disappointed.”
That’s 5.8 on a scale of 10, even below Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
So imagine my pleasant surprise that day when, filling in ten minutes of pre-previews at a movie theater, I look away from the screen to my friend’s phone and see exactly that: Kain and Cloud wiping out a wave of enemies to the tune of “Those Who Fight” from Final Fantasy VII. Always one to introduce me to new things, he handed his phone over for a few minutes for me to try it, and I was absolutely excited afterward. I hadn’t even left the theater before I already had Record Keeper installed on my phone and the prologue cleared. The novelty so enticing, I couldn’t help but eagerly try and rope others into playing it the same night. “It’s Tales of the World, but Final Fantasy!”
An analogy nobody got because we’ve literally only gotten 1 out of 10 of those games here.
More than two years later, the love for it is still there. I still log into Record Keeper daily, participate in every event, talk about upcoming characters and fights when I get the chance, and can probably name every character and ability in it. I’ve dragged more than a number of friends into it just to have another person to chat about it with. For some time, my alarm wasn’t even set by when I actually should have woken up that day- it was earlier, meticulously set every night for the moment my stamina bar hit 100%. A schedule that I have thankfully long since abandoned- if only because now our max stamina bar allows for more hours of sleep.
This image applied to a shocking number of us in the community.
So what -is- Final Fantasy Record Keeper after all? To start, it is a mobile RPG by DeNA and Square Enix, the former most often mentioned as the developers of the game, the latter, the publishers. The official website sums up the allure nicely enough: “Fight with your favorite FINAL FANTASY heroes, battle through classic FINAL FANTASY moments, restore the lost memories and save the world once again.” After all, crossovers have always been a hit in Final Fantasy. If Dissidia and Theatrhythm have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need the bright, cellophane wrapper of a fleshed-out plot, as long as we’re promised the chocolatey, caramel goodness of a game where characters from FF (x) meet FF (y).
Logical premise is oft inverse the degree of awesomeness.
Surprisingly, the game spent the better part of its (as of this writing) nearing three-year lifespan running a scarce story; bare-bones, and far from exciting itself, but functional enough to get the game rolling. A kingdom sits in peaceful prosperity, passing down stories in the form of brilliant paintings housed in the Royal Archives, binding the records of adventures and heroes within. A darkness begins to settle upon the land after these records fade away from the paintings, spurring historian and veteran Keeper Dr. Mog to investigate their disappearance. Having no time to delve into the worlds of the paintings while he pours over tomes and records in search of answers, he enlists the aid of his apprentice, the playable protagonist (named Tyro, by default). Dive into the paintings, defeat the enemies within, and restore the memories and records of heroes past!
With a cravat like that, he’s at least three pay-grades above menial work like saving the world.
He’s far from the only ally the Keeper will have. FFRK’s very own obligatory Cid is there to help you tinker with your equipment and abilities at reasonable cost of materials and gil, all to better outfit a cast nearing 200 playable characters from across the Final Fantasy series; heroes, villains, and the every-lovable unnamed Job characters all share the stage, with more still being added as updates and events come and go! The player will have absolutely no trouble putting together dream teams of five across hundreds of dungeons. Seemingly, after some self-reflection upon the more controversial, random aspect of All the Bravest, Record Keeper’s cast is much more readily available through a variety of means. Dungeons from the main game have a handful of characters offered as completion rewards, limited time events offer both new and old faces, and if you still haven’t found one of your favorites by then, there’s always the (absurdly plentiful) ‘Soul of Heroes’ item that allows you to purchase a previously release character from Dr. Mog in the Hall of Rites. Everybody has a chance to collect and use any character they want; unusual for a social gacha game, but welcome.
Fact: Twitter upped tweets to 280 because they were jealous of FFRK having more characters.
Note: Not a real fact.
Interestingly, Dr. Mog’s role as the Keeper’s tutor plays an important part in game beyond just serving as a means of explaining game mechanics to new players. He is familiar with every boss encountered within the paintings, offering detailed advice on how to tackle each one waiting for the party at the end of a dungeon. The intel given on his tab before entering a dungeon can include everything from elemental weaknesses and status vulnerabilities, to differences in phases and what to expect when triggering them. Dr. Mog becomes integral to clearing difficult dungeons, even to long-time fans of the series, as harder iterations of past bosses change their strategies and even lose their weaknesses from previous fights. This makes your pommed supervisor here one of, if not the most, useful NPCs in the entire series.
One character who doesn’t let being your boss keep him from being pretty boss about it.
The objective of the game is simple: Dive into dungeons from older Final Fantasy titles, defeat the enemies within, walk out with rewards and rinse-slash-repeat. If every battle of a dungeon is cleared, the painting is restored, and further stages open up. A basic process that leaves out exploration in favor of getting right into combat; odd for Final Fantasy, but fitting for a mobile title. Battles are split into ‘rounds’ (waves of enemies) that are fought one after the other, carrying your party’s status between battles until you either complete or leave the dungeon. There’s no MP, either: Your characters only have the standard Attack and Defend commands by default, and need to equip up to two abilities in order to use other commands in battle, each which has its own number of times you can use them per dungeon. Ability uses can be increased by having Cid upgrade the ability, vital to the party’s effectiveness as abilities aren’t restored until the player exits the current dungeon. Skill management becomes important when tackling more difficult areas, requiring the player to save enough of their party’s abilities for the boss at the end of the dungeon.
Running out of abilities means its all standard attacks (and downhill) for you.
Thankfully, abilities themselves can be equipped by any character at a time that is able to use that type of ability, allowing you to experiment with different characters of the same role without having to invest that much more into each one. You can take that upgraded Cure spell off of your starting White Mage, for example, and place it on any other character that is able to equip Rank 1 White Magic. Several schools of skills appear in Record Keeper, from the well-known classics of Black Magic, Summon, and Dragoon jump abilities, to the more elementally-inclined attacks of Spellblades, Sharpshooters, and Witch abilities. With almost 200 characters, it’ll be easy to find ones with the combinations of skillsets you need to form a party that caters to your objective, even moreso with the aid of the protagonist Keeper, who can carry and use -any- school’s ability, making them by far the most versatile character in the game!
It’s like being a really awesome Red Mage, but with a weird hat.
Fortunately enough for us (and our wallets), FFRK has never made its Gacha system the centerpiece of gameplay, balancing the strength of a character between themselves, what you put into the character, and then equipment. Record Keeper’s gacha comes in the form of the third: a free ‘daily draw’ produces 1, 2, and 3-star equipment, and the ever-changing limited-time draws with 3, 4, 5, and even 6-star equipment, which requires a second type of currency to draw from: ‘mythril’. A single random draw costs five of these; trust in your luck enough to throw in fifty mythril, and you’re granted eleven pieces of equipment, with the guarantee that at least one will be a 5-star or greater. To make item acquisition even easier, Mythril is handed out for just about everything in this game. Sign in for the day? Mythril. Clear any of the hundreds of classic or event dungeons for the first time? Mythril. Holiday or anniversary coming up? Most likely several mythril! It’s not uncommon to see other players with hundreds of mythril saved up for whatever catches their fancy down the line. Still haven’t found that one item that you really want? There’s a paid option in ‘gems’ to serve the same function.
These are all sign-in bonuses from just the past three days.
Don’t be fooled, however: Record Keeper’s generosity doesn’t mean that you won’t need every bit of mythril you can get. Aside from their secondary uses- upgrading your max inventory space, or continuing after a party wipe inside a dungeon, for example- you’ll want to collect them whenever possible, for more equipment. Not all characters can equip the same types of gear, meaning you’ll have to diversify your arsenal if you plan on using several different parties. On top of that, Record Keeper uses a neat mechanic for battles called ‘synergy’, where characters and equipment from a particular game will gain bonuses to their stats when used within dungeons from that ‘realm’. With characters, it’s about a 10-level bonus that gets added to them, plus an additional bonus to EXP earned. The bonus is much more drastic and noticeable in equipment, though. Depending on their star-rating and upgrade level, equipment can becomes several times more powerful inside their origin realms! This makes it worth your time to hold as much equipment as you can instead of relying on just one good set of gear for your characters, which is honestly really refreshing for a Final Fantasy game.
This 1-star begins with a measly 4 ATK, but fully upgraded and used in the right dungeon…
This essentially means that you’ll want to collect gear from as many different realms as possible so you’ll always have the advantage of synergized equipment to take into battle. One powerful sword might not be as useful to your offensive attackers as weaker, but varied swords that can each be used to better potential in their home worlds. This also applies to defensive equipment as well, meaning a weaker set of armor can also become as strong as their foreign 5-star counterparts; sometimes, even stronger! And, luckily for your inventory, spin-off games count towards their original realms in terms of synergy; FFVII equipment gets a bonus in Advent Children and Crisis Core, and FFIV gear is just as usable in FFIV: The After Years dungeons. Mythril becomes very important in upgrading your item storage, because the 200 slots (100 inventory, 100 ‘vault’ storage) you’ll start with most definitely won’t hold 20+ games worth of equipment, since we have all 15 main games of Final Fantasy making an appearance, with Tactics, World of, and Type-0 tagging along. You’ll need enough space to carry several types of weapons, multitudes of armor, and of course, accessories, all which have beneficial effects from stat boost to elemental and ailment resistances.
It’s very telling that they had to increase the max inventory from 500 to 700.
The most satisfying aspect of how Record Keeper handles its item draws is how everything can have a use if you know where to put it. Thanks to the item upgrade and combine system, those seemingly useless non-5-star items you get can eventually become very powerful and useful pieces of gear themselves. Upgrading an item raises its level and stats, while combining two copies of the same item will result in one with a higher star-rating and max level cap for even more stats. It’s a nice consolation prize for a gacha game, so much that even as a long-time player of this, I still look forward to getting 3-star drops from the special banners. It isn’t just a good angle to take with these kinds of games, it’s largely why Record Keeper is so playable without spending a single cent. A surprisingly large amount of difficult content can be completed with good planning, a few upgraded common items, and steady work in powering up your party.
There are players who beat up baddies with just free equipment to prove it, even.
Of course, there does have to be some kind of draw to, well, drawing for new equipment, and that comes in the form of ‘Soul Breaks’. (Those of you that are FFVII / X inclined may think of them as Limit Breaks and Overdrives.) Powerful 5 and 6-star relics can come with a variety of useful Soul Breaks on them for specific characters, who can equip the item to use them, and, after gaining enough experience, learn how to use the skill without the item equipped at all! These skills become vital to clearing late-game content, as their uses range from massive damage potential, to crucial healing and support abilities. Naturally, in a gacha game, this means that this is where ‘power creep’ comes into play; Soul Breaks have been steadily powered up over time from their earlier versions, coming in ‘Unique’ (plain, but better than default), ‘Super’ (permanently boosts stats), ‘Burst’ (temporarily replaces Attack and Defend with two useful skills), ‘Overstrike’ (can hit for over 9999 damage), and ‘Ultra’ (??? Honestly, how do you top the last one?) over time, with the later ones being much more sought-out and useful to the player.
Having a lot of Soul Breaks means having a lot of options!
Of course, randomization can be quite the touchy subject in gaming, often with good cause. Nobody wants to feel that they are just inherently at a drastic disadvantage to other players simply because of the gear they’re dealt. Record Keeper has done a fantastic job of trying to keep everybody up to a minimum standard of gear progress, from occasionally handing out free 5-stars, to featuring discounted or themed banners to fill in the blank spots of your roster. Feel as though you just can’t take on bosses anymore because you don’t have a healer with access to a good party-wide cure? There’s been banners exclusively with relics for that. Needed more support Soul Breaks to power up your party in a hard fight? The Buff banner had you covered. Even something as oddly specific as ‘Burst Soul Breaks with elemental attacks’ had its own special banner. Oftentimes, these coincide with events or celebrations that are giving out handfuls of mythril, so the player usually isn’t left reaching for a credit card to get such a basic, but useful ability on their side.
And, boy, do they love any excuse to have a 50% off banner.
The most interesting part about the earlier days of FFRK and the randomness of your gear was how it shaped your party. Nowadays, at 200~ characters, it seems like you would have to dip into secondary characters and villains to find a new face to add to the game, but, that wasn’t always the case. For example, when I started playing, there were only about 20 ‘named’ characters. The only FFVI characters at the time were Cyan and Terra, with Celes popping out a few weeks after. The only dragoon in the entire game was IV’s Kain (with VII’s Cid and II’s Ricard taking months to appear), and certain Final Fantasy titles didn’t even have any characters or dungeons in RK to begin with! This made for a party that was less fashioned out of your absolute favorites, and more one that was composed by what was even available at the time, much less viable to use. FFV’s Lenna might not be everybody’s go-to White Mage in the fandom, but she certainly was popular here due to being the only named White Mage in the game for some time, until the other games steadily introduced their own. Gun-type items might be easy to grab now, but back then, only VIII’s Irvine’s existed- as a 5-star, no less. Good luck fielding any gunners on your team when you don’t have guns!
Believe me, this fellow is not frontline material.
In a way, this made the game more interesting to play as time went on- your inventory wasn’t going to be the same as another, and more than likely, neither was your party. There was no one single ‘winning’ strategy with this many variables to account for, and a community grew because of it. From GameFAQs to Reddit, FFRK communities popped up near-overnight, hosting helpful materials, strategies, and, thanks to the Japanese version being a few months ahead, preparation guides and suggestions for future events. Despite all the randomness the game might have thrown your way, there was often a player with a similar set-up or focus in equipment and characters, and several more who could at least point your team in the right direction. Community projects followed soon after, from a comprehensive PDF guide of almost everything in the game, to artwork, speedruns, community challenge threads- even memes.
“Your (x) against mine!” became a popular derision of Issaru’s FFX fight.
Future updates only added even more to the community aspect the game spurred. ‘Roaming Warriors’ allowed players to befriend others, and summon their ally’s chosen character to assist with a Soul Break in the middle of a battle. Limited-time minigames and promotions set a certain goal of points or users participating, awarding items and mythril upon completion. But the most anticipated of them all: Multiplayer. Now, your fellow keepers weren’t just helpful mentors and occasional summons- they were real-time allies in a 4-player, 8-character match against powered-up versions of the game’s bosses. Select two characters, place one in front row and one in back, and find three other teams to challenge the boss. A successful run nets rewards far more valuable than their single-player counterparts- a failure costs nothing, save for a bit of your time. Refine your strategy, regroup, and try again!
Okay, time, and maybe a small tribute of salt.
Multiplayer served to bring out everybody’s best characters and equipment in a way that even the most niche of players had battles where they could be valuable teammates. Whether damage, support, or healing seems to be your thing when drawing for relics from the game, it’s more than easy enough to find players lacking your advantage, who also have everything needed to cover your disadvantages. Whether by random lobby or a special friend code that can be used to add others to your party, the multiplayer battles of FFRK are definitely one of the bigger draws of the game. Who wouldn’t love the very idea at a glance? It’s 4-player Final Fantasy with your favorite characters, being hero-y and doing hero-y things, even if they’re villains. It’s playable fanfiction, and everybody is in on it, and its free.
FFRK has validated at least 70% of all FF fanfiction.
The game is not without its faults, of course. Many have chided the repetitive nature of recent events, which abandoned the more varied styles of the earlier game in favor of steady ‘challenge’ events with increasingly powerful enemies, only deviating from this model for anniversary and celebration dungeons. DeNA does commonly patch and address issues with certain characters falling behind the curve, raising them through stats, skill versatility, and gear availability to make them more viable to use; yet still, many characters are left behind in one form or another, lacking the current endgame level cap, useful soul breaks, or appropriate skillset to balance them out. Certain games have had much more attention and content to play through than others, while certain entries have a paltry number of events and equipment to offer; FFI being a solid example at just a mere 11 dungeons, paused right before the final battle, compared to FFV’s staggering count at 49 dungeons. Character interaction is at an absolute minimum, save for one event where certain combinations could prompt a bit of battle dialog between them- which kind of misses the point of wanting to see all of these casts together. And multiplayer, while fun, has more than a few connectivity issues that can occasionally turn a 4-player stroll into 4-player bedlam, disconnecting one or more members mid-battle, lagging extraordinarily on older devices, and throwing the fight out of sync, making cooperation particularly difficult when it happens.
And to top it all off, there’s still no Blue Magic!
[F] to pay respects.
All in all, however, Record Keeper shows the results of steady, well-intended polish, from fantastic, FFRK-borne remixes of classic tunes, to the ever charming pixelization and sprites of the 3D franchises-turned-retro, a detail of the game that still astounds me to this day. For everything to mesh well and not look out of place, it wasn’t just the characters that had to fit the theme, but the enemies, bosses, and backdrops as well- some of which are just plain neat when you consider how hard it is to translate something meant for an HD-TV to the tiny screen of your phone. It is spritework at its finest, and even better, the bosses are actually animated to some degree. Some just settle for a tweening-sort of animation, but it doesn’t seem to take away from the game at all, when you see boss sprites like XIII’s Anima. Beyond the gorgeous spritework, there are small cues here and there that rewards fans of the franchise for applying their knowledge of the main games to Record Keeper. Little details that may go unnoticed to the majority of players, but are still delightful to come across. Occasionally bringing along a native party of heroes to a particular boss fight, only to find that they have their dialog from the original games, or discovering an alternative way to defeat an enemy that was available from that entry.
Want an easy win here? “A true paladin will sheathe his sword.”
DeNA’s additions to the game over the year have all been for the better, balancing fun progression with your characters and the need for more difficult challenges as they grow stronger, always finding new ways to power up the player’s party without just exponentially adding to the grind of the game. There’s a noticeable difference between what you thought possible at the beginning and what you can pull off now, that makes leveling up and obtaining Level Cap-break ‘Memory Crystals’ satisfyingly worth the wait. Level caps increased from 50 to 65, then 80, then 99, effectively preventing any one party from becoming too strong before they were meant to be at certain points in the game. Record Materia allowed much more diverse options in party building, providing bonuses to a character once equipped. They also fulfilled the role of ensuring players will want to level many characters instead of just a few, since specific materia come from specific allies. Record Spheres provide even more permanent bonuses to a character in exchange for special ‘motes’, raising different strengths along various paths at your choosing; a miniature upgrade mechanic similar to FFX’s Sphere Grid. The latest in Legend Spheres and Legend Materia raise your characters even further, permitting your five-hero team of Lv. 99’s to take on even harsher enemies than before. The progression feels natural, not burdensome, and maintaining multiple parties of characters gets easier the more you raise them, thanks to EXP dungeons. If that still isn’t fast enough for your party needs, there are always a wealth of ‘Growth Eggs’ you can obtain from playing the game, which are usable packs of EXP that you can toss at any character to give them that boost they need. They are so plentiful, you can eventually just boost any newly obtained character to their first level cap at your leisure, taking away the tediousness of having to level that 200-strong cast through the easier stages.
Powering your party up through every means will see you through those boss fights!
To their credit, for whatever small, minute detail they might have missed in a dungeon’s description, or a character’s bio, DeNA has addressed so many problems relating to gameplay that FFRK now hardly resembles FFRK then. What used to be a laborious process in switching realms was made much easier with the introduction of team presets- 20 at first, and then 60 slots- allowing you to have your teams ready for any dungeon at a few taps. Daily grinding dungeons were modified from their earlier, annoying incarnations to the current breezy, accessible dungeons that make looking for any particular upgrade material a fair endeavor. Frequent ‘Orb Festival’ and anniversary dungeons make joining the game and catching up to current content easy for newer players, allowing them to hop into most but the hardest of events easily.
“What kind of a madman needs 60 parties?” – people who don’t know me
FFRK began modestly, but merrily turned into its own recognized entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. Tyro isn’t the only Record Keeper asset to see popularity elsewhere- of the several remixed melodies to debut in the game, FFRK’s very own Clash at the Big Bridge is set to play in the new Dissidia, while other songs make up medleys of arrangements from the FFRK soundtrack- all of them absolutely living up to the original songs. I’m certain all of the pleasant holiday remixes will not be forgotten, either- from the spooky Halloween ‘Mystic Mysidia’, to the Christmas-y FFVI Aria. Tyro’s home title has most definitely worked hard to be a part of Final Fantasy, its plucky little protagonist appearing more and more in other works. Whether he be a Triple Triad card, a Mobius boss, or even a character in Theatrhythm All-Star Carnival, it’s safe to say that the tiny librarian is far from the least known protagonist in the series.
Nobody tell Benjamin. We’re just glad Square even remembers who that guy is.
As with all mobile games, FFRK will end sooner or later. And, worryingly, we’ve just barely begun to explore more of Tyro’s world and story, this long into the game’s run. With the San Francisco based DeNA Global dissolving, the natural lifespan of mobile gachas to consider, character rosters nearing their limits, and the increasingly slimmer ways to evolve FFRK’s gameplay into harder challenges, it may not be many more years until Keepers go the way of ‘All the Bravest’. Yet, looking at the community surrounding this game, the beautiful music and lovingly created graphics that wrap much of the Final Fantasy universe into one cohesive world, and the surprising amount of work that went into documenting every minute facet of the game by the wonderful folk over at the subreddit, I believe it is safe to say Record Keeper turned out to be more than what we all went in expecting from a freemium mobile title.
A modest game that turned into a guilty pleasure- a Final Fantasy that I’ve spent more time excitedly talking about online and off, than any other entry from Square. It’s a playthrough that was just a casual hobby, yet one I’ll still remember the highlights of just as much as the other main games. My starting Black Mage being a surprisingly good tank when he was stuck in the back row, defending after running out of spells. Lenna smacking XIII’s Anima for 43 damage a whack, out of Cure uses, the only member still standing, and holding out for that close victory with just a pixel of health left. The joy of pulling yet another weapon for Gilgamesh, who I’ve always kept on the team out of personal pride after his FFV appearance. And most of all, I’ll definitely remember me and my friends laughing at our own disastrous multiplayer failures, and cheering even more after finally defeating that one Tactics boss after a score of attempts and at least a dozen avoidable screw-ups on our end. Record Keeper is a simple game, but what it represents to some of its players is anything but. Its negligible plot might have just been a small excuse towards bringing together all sorts of familiar faces, but in a way, it catered to that exact glee of seeing those casts in the same game. It’s symbolic of the 30-year franchise, a tiny appetizer of all the years of Final Fantasy we’ve experienced- a game about bringing together heroes across dozens of worlds, that wound up bringing together players from all over this one.
The Dapper Zaffre Mage is a beleaguered purveyor of positive vibes and merry thoughts, who was once described as a cinnamon roll for reasons beyond his ken. Occasional exasperated ramblings and odder oddities can be found over at his Twitter.
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