By now, the social RPG genre has found a pretty comfortable groove. Take some kind of battle mechanic, staple the now-standard collect, fuse, evolve leveling system onto it, and make sure you have an ever-expanding line-up of desirable goodies for players to chase after. The recipe is simple enough, though finding success with it is another matter. There's a lot of competition, and players have got to be getting a little tired of the same old. That's likely as good an explanation as any for why the social RPG genre has started to stretch its legs out a little. If there's one company that has been trying seemingly every permutation of features to try to score a hit, it's Square Enix. Very few of their efforts have ever left the shores of Japan, but that might be starting to change. Not long ago, we saw a wide release for Kingdom Hearts Unchained Chi [Free], and now we've got one for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius [Free], Square's collaboration with Brave Frontier [Free] developers Alim.

As team-ups go, it's a wise one. Although the social RPG genre is massive in Asia, few games have managed to make much of a dent in the worldwide market. The most successful ones have been Puzzle & Dragons [Free], Final Fantasy Record Keeper [Free], and Brave Frontier. Square's done a few guest events with the first and obviously had a lot to do with the second, so why not complete the hat trick? After all, if Brave Frontier was a hit, surely Brave Frontier with Final Fantasy characters will do even better? But Brave Exvius takes things a few steps farther than a mere reskin. The battle system offers a bit more depth, and you can now explore towns and dungeon-like areas filled with treasures and random battles. They're not particularly complex dungeons, but it's certainly more than we usually get from this genre.

Photo 2016-07-06, 20 24 51The end result is something that is neither fish nor fowl, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. In a sub-genre mostly known for short and sweet experiences, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius often feels positively plodding in its pacing. It's dialogue-heavy, and the towns and dungeons are just long enough that it can take a few minutes to navigate them. If you're at a point where you just need to battle a few rounds, then you'll be just fine, but in other situations, this isn't the best choice for a quick time-killer. The game fares better as something to sit down with when you have some time to devote to it, but taken from that angle, the free-to-play hooks greatly detract from the experience. Your session only lasts as long as your stamina meter, and while it's initially generous, you'll eventually hit a point where you can't do more than a few missions with a full meter.

I suppose this is what growing pains look like. I appreciate that, like Kingdom Hearts, Brave Exvius is trying to put a little more JRPG into the social RPG framework. It just feels like we're not quite there yet. It doesn't help that although many of the important elements are present, they're just not all that well-done. The dialogue and banter between the characters is the main vehicle for telling the game's story, but it's dreadful stuff even by JRPG standards. The dungeons, while realistically more complicated than about half of the ones found in Final Fantasy 13, don't involve much more than working your way through a simple layout pushing against the walls to try to find hidden passages. And while the battle system offers strategic options, it rarely presses you to use them. Which isn't to say that there aren't some tough battles, but more often than not, brute force wins the day.

Photo 2016-07-06, 20 25 02At the very least, it's a more fully-featured game than Brave Frontier is. Characters have more options in battle, and you have more options for decking each of them out in terms of gear. The exploration aspects are interesting enough, and the game feels on the whole a bit gentler in its balancing. Most of Brave Frontier's strengths have survived the transition, too. The battle graphics are wonderful. Not that I don't have a nostalgic love for the classic pixel art of the Final Fantasy games, but it's interesting to see a larger, more detailed take on characters we know and love. The visuals outside of battle don't impress quite as much, but they're competent enough. The basic combat mechanic of turn-based tapping is easy to use, and the overblown effects from big attacks are exciting.

Almost all of the usual social RPG stuff is in Brave Exvius, of course. You have a stamina meter, limited inventory space, the ability to use your friend's character in battle, a billion and one ingredients to collect for crafting and evolving, random gatcha draws, and a premium currency that is doled out frequently enough for a free-play gamer to get by, if not much more than that. Even with new ideas like dungeons and towns, the structure is mostly familiar. You'll enter a new stage, fight a series of battles with a tougher boss-type battle at the end, then head to the next stage. Once you've cleared all the stages in an area, exploration mode opens up, which allows you to wander around, look for treasure, and get in as many fights as you like. The occasional town allows you pick up new gear and solve sub-quests. Outside of the story mode, there are limited-time stages that help you earn gil, experience, or crafting ingredients, and a colosseum. It's all quite standard, and if you've played a social RPG before, you'll feel pretty comfortable.

Photo 2016-07-06, 20 25 16Realistically, however, most players are going to be here for the fanservice, and that aspect is done well. Most of the games in the series are represented in Brave Exvius, and the enemies are almost entirely drawn from franchise mainstays. As you play through the game, you'll unlock familiar summons, and the music naturally contains the familiar riffs and melodies that have echoed through the franchise. Your first set of pulls from the game's premium gatcha draw will almost certainly include someone familiar, and their stats and abilities are largely faithful to their original forms. Also, there's white text on a blue dialogue bubble, which means this officially satisfies the requirements of the series creator of being a Final Fantasy game. If you just want your Final Fantasy fan-belly scratched, Brave Exvius will happily do that for you.

If you're not a Final Fantasy fan, Brave Exvius will likely come off the same as any other social RPG. Other than its flirtations with pulling in more JRPG traditions, it's a fairly unremarkable example of the genre. It's well-made, and fairer than Brave Frontier was over the long haul, but in hewing as closely as it does to that years-old game, it ends up feeling a little out-of-date. I appreciate the olive branch it seems to be extending to fans of classic JRPGs, but those aspects feel a bit half-baked, dragging down the pace of the game and causing it to feel somewhat dull at times. It's worth a shot if you're a fan of Square's classic RPG series, but in trying to stretch out to two different camps, I fear it may not entirely please either.

TouchArcade Rating

  • nezuja

    Good review. I'm not sure about others but it's getting harder and harder to jump into these new social RPGs after already putting so much time into earlier iterations of these types of games.

    • Eli Hodapp

      I have that problem with most of these F2P genres. I'm months and months into Clash of Clans, and really just have zero desire to hop over to other (allegedly better) base building/attacking games because I've got so much time/effort dumped into one already. Makes you wonder if retention isn't going to become a bigger and bigger issue as more and more people are like, "Eh I've already played this exact kind of game."

      • Jerutix

        I think that's where good licensing comes in. I went from match-3 to match-3 for a long time, but I've landed at Futurama because I'm a huge fan of the property. I'm playing Avengers Academy because I love Marvel. I keep playing Disney Crossy Road because Disney. I like Final Fantasy well enough to play this, but there are definitely other brands that could make me jump there. Taking risks on random studios with random characters seems to be fizzling, at least personally.

      • Vanessa8541

        I basically profit about 6-8 thousand dollars /a month from freelancing at home. Anyone looking to work basic freelance jobs for few h daily from your house and get solid payment in the same time... This is a work for you... OW.LY/pDkq30239Rj

      • Booch138

        Saaaaame boat. And have thought the same exact thing. I've been playing CoC for too long and have progressed SO FAR that I started a couple others, even some that had mechanics I enjoyed (like Seigefall) and I just can't do it. Too daunting. Same exact situation with Final Fantasy Record Keeper and this game. It's hard to want to go back to the start when your characters are 80 maxed with all 5/6 star gear doing level 140 stuff. This game is fun but, like I mentioned, it's too daunting to want to keep up and consider "fun".

      • planetmidgar

        Same problem I have, only I've been sticking to Dominations. It's a good game, but I can't fathom sinking the same amount of time into a game with near identical mechanics. I understand the idea of playing a few of these games at the same time because of timers, but it's almost kind of redundant. Also, because of the volatility of the iOS app scene I'm starting to believe iOS is a non-legitimate platform. The amount of broken games is starting to get embarrassing/alarming.

      • RinoaHeartily

        What's your arena Eli? Reached legendary yet?

  • Chao Liang

    The music, animations and production values are enough to justify a day or 2 spent with this game.

    See if you get hooked. I know I am.

  • fabell

    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go on a road trip, scripted by Kemco writers and starring almost every cliche in the RPG database, from rebellious royalty to stern bodyguard trying to rescue the magical girl who doesn't know who she is but carries great power inside her. For all its' faults, though, Exvius is just darn addictive. The best part for me is when you finish an area you are sometimes rewarded with an exploration zone, places you can go back into and spend as much time as you want, grinding, item hunting, looking for secret chests, completing sidequests, or generally killing time and getting more powerful while you are waiting for your stamina gauge to recharge. Big cons would include sometimes crashes at the end of exploration zones, a stamina gauge that empties too quickly, a lack of PvP, and a colosseum mode that doesn't catch up quick enough and doesn't seem to carry much inherent reward and seems to have been wasted potential. Pros would be amazing level design, inspiring pixel models of both characters and enemies (especially if you are a FF fan), a huge world to dip your feet into, and lots and lots of replay value.

    • kirito_irl

      There will be PvP, but not real time though. You can control all actions of your units, but enemy team is AI based. There will be a coin flip every turn for which team will attack first.

    • Rattyfus

      This is actually a fairer review than Shaun's, much closer to my experience. We'll have to see if the game has longevity, but if I play it longer than Record Keeper, which was reviewed 5 star, but grates on me now, then I'll seem it success.

      Each to their own, as they say.

  • Michal Hochmajer

    Mediocre f2p game at best, saved by Final Fantasy settings.

  • Ragnar Dragonfyre

    This reads like a review of a typical Final Fantasy game. When was the last time Final Fantasy had a "good" story? When was the last time a Final Fantasy game was actually challenging? From what I've played thus far, this game is a better Final Fantasy (and more challenging) than FFXIII. Not only that but the characters have personality. For an F2P game, this is a great offering.

  • dbagga84

    The energy system is terrible. He's right it's starts out fine then all of a sudden you get to a point 3 runs and you're done. 3 frickin runs! I've played a lot leveled up quite a bit have a max of 29 energy when the exploration level I recently opened takes 10 to go in. If you do take the time to run around for a while to farm xp you will gain some of the energy back I think its 5 minutes to restore 1 energy. Also the vortex levels require you spend real cash currency to open for 24 hrs when every other game out there opens these kinds of dungeons on a daily basis. It wouldn't be that big of a deal except the only pay to get premium summons Is by using the same currency. You don't find characters or scrolls for summons you can however use friend points for standard 1-3* characters but if you want that chance for a 4-5* it costs 500 lapis (the in game currency you buy with real money or get as rewards every once in a while) they've had a weekend event though which opened 1 vortex dungeon and I believe there will be more. Just some negative feedback but i stil like the game 🙂

    • falco26

      You can open one vortex type for free each day. It costs cash currency to open a second.

  • tpianca

    That was a good review, Shaun, but I had hopes you would get into comparing it to Record Keeper, since they seem to share the same premises. I mean would a FFRK player jump into this one, and why?
    BTW I was thinking of writing you to see if you are still playing FFRK? I dropped out of it last September and lately I really tried to get back to it but somehow I can't. The battles seem like a chore to me.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      I stopped playing RK a while ago. I think I stuck with the JP version for about a year, the NA version maybe four months? As for a comparison, I think RK's battles are more exciting thanks to the real-time component and grading system. I also think it's the more authentic Final Fantasy experience due to ATB, more closely-matched boss patterns, and so on. BE is less a Final Fantasy game and more of a flavored Brave Frontier. Stamina is a bigger issue in BE than it is in RK, too. But I dunno, I guess I think RK is slightly better than BE both as a game and as an FF experience. But only slightly.

      • tpianca

        Thanks, that's exactly what I wanted to know!

      • Michal Hochmajer

        RK is better.
        BE lack same depth in strategy as RK. Authors try to do more traditional games like things (exploration missions, cutscenes) which feels somehow heavy for this kind of games. But they do that on top of the most typical f2p gameplay which feels blunt, almost stupid.
        Where as RK is doing exact opposite. RK contains all things from FF worlds in light form (stories in text form, all characters reachable and easily leveled, music during events etc.) but battle mechanics are fairly complex inside (great bosses design, many different strategies, abilities and hated equipment).
        RK is winner here, just because it is good game. And I rearly say that about f2p game.
        I will give BE few more weeks and will see. Maybe I am wrong.

  • RinoaHeartily

    Shaun what units did u play with when u did this review lol

  • Design by Adrian

    Great music, above average story, great sprites of old characters, but in the end, it's just another card game. Deleted after a day.

  • John Lee

    The reviewer obviously didn't make it past the initial learning curve.
    Once you've started adding friends, through the very simple interface, the game rewards with with overkill points to spend exploring.
    I woke up this morning with 130/20 points. That carried me through most of the day. You almost can't spend enough points.

  • Christopher Kenney

    Boring, cheesy dialogue, lacks challenge. FF fan here, not feeling it after 20hrs. Feels more like effort to stay interested. Would rather spend time on something else.

FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 3.5