Final Fantasy has been an extremely profitable multimedia juggernaut for Square Enix for a long time. With the release of the highly anticipated Final Fantasy XV in November 2016, the property was in the forefront of the nerdy pop culture. So it made sense that they timed the release of their new Trading Card Game the fall while the brand was directly in the media spotlight. For Australia, the FF TCG was officially launched at PAX AUS 2016 in Melbourne. We at ATGN were there to have some hands-on time with the game and we liked what we saw. We even recorded a video tutorial for you live from the show floor. Watch it below to learn the rules and get a brief overview of the game’s mechanics.
Ever since its launch, FF TCG has been selling like hot cakes with most retailers in Australia having just managed to get restocked recently. But is it the hype of the Final Fantasy property fuelling the demand or do we have a bona fide hit on our hands? I posit the truth lies somewhere in the middle. After gathering a decent collection and getting a lot of games in since its launch, I decided to give my opinion on the game so far. The main draw of the FF TCG is that it’s pretty easy to learn. If you watched our tutorial, I’d say you are pretty much ready to start playing as long as you have the rule book handy. Square Enix knows exactly what market they are going after with its elegant designs, making it easy to recommend to Final Fantasy fans who are not really familiar with the TCG scene. And if you are familiar with the big names in TCGs (like Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh!) learning the FF TCG will be a breeze to you.
That is not to say the game completely lacks depth. It’s still going to be a hard game to master. However, there is a simplicity at the core of FF TCG that that will be a draw to some and turn off to others. This is because, as it stands now, the key to winning a game is completely centered around tricks to get past or take out the opponent’s defenders. Now, I know that is the case in a lot of other TCGs as well and therefore sounds reductive. However, some of the particulars of FF TCG’s mechanics make it more prevalent in this game. You see, in this game an attack deals exactly one damage to you regardless of whether it came from a 9000 power Cloud or a 4000 power Onion Knight. This fact makes it more of a numbers game when it comes to defending. They tried to offset this by not requiring a frontline character to dull (tap) to defend, meaning it can defend multiple times. However, damage accumulates until the end of the turn so you can’t keep that up forever. Moreover, this gives tremendous value to control cards that can deal with opponent’s defending units. A well timed summon (spell) against your 9000 power unit left to defend against three 3000 power attackers will suddenly see you taking three damage. This doesn’t make the game bad, but it does make it an arms race of control and removal spells and abilities, especially towards the end game. This back and forth is certainly interactive and can be fun, but it could turn off some competitive players as being a bit too ‘top trump’. An alternate win condition could alleviate this somewhat since decking an opponent out is the only other one and it’s not really a viable strategy at the moment. Of course, we are also still at the very beginning of the game here and more sets and accompanying new mechanics could very well open up the metagame.
Another double edged sword of the FF TCG is its ‘EX’ mechanic. Similar to the Triggers in Cardfight Vanguard, EX cards are cards that activate the EX portion of its effects, not just when you play them, but also when that particular card is flipped as damage. Now this gives the game a great comeback mechanic, and deepens its deck building strategies. However, it definitely adds a layer of luck to the game that will inevitably turn off some of the more competitive players. A lucky flip of an EX card will win or lose you games as some are powerful enough to incapacitate all of your units. For better or worse, this also adds another learning curve to the game at competitive level by makes card knowledge more important since you need to be able to predict which EX cards are likely to be in which types of deck. This also leads to my personal pet peeve, which is that some of these EX effects are terribly costed to play from hand but a huge boon if you get for free when flipped as damage. I strongly dislike the idea of including cards in your deck that you don’t want to draw and I hope this trend of balancing strong EX effects with a big cost doesn’t continue. The EX cards also make me curious about when the card pool is going to be large enough that you can make most of your deck out of EX cards. If they are not too careful with the design, I can see a deck where most of the damage you take is guaranteed to be from EX cards becoming really powerful.
By far my favourite part about the game is its resource system. You can play and dull (tap) ‘backups’ to generate crystals, the resource for this game. However, these backups have costs to play, and you can discard a card at anytime to generate two crystals. Couple this with the fact that a lot of backups have powerful effects and that you can only have five backups total, and it leads to a very interesting resource system. Most of the time you spend the early turns trying to balance between having some forwards on the board and investing in some backups to have reliable resources for the late game. The ability to commit to discarding most of your hand to get either a lot of units or a powerful unit out early adds a lot of depth to the minutia of strategic decision-making. This also makes the opportunity cost of playing powerful and costly cards a lot higher. Most important of all, it drastically reduces instances of being ‘mana screwed’ and having too many dead cards in your hand as they can always be discarded to create resources.
Here is some practical advice for those looking to get into FF TCG. The starter decks are really good and a single copy will give you the back bones of a solid deck. You have three to choose from each representing Final Fantasy VII, X, and XIII respectively. While I personally believe X to be slightly stronger, they are all playable. The stumbling block comes when you decide to venture beyond the starter deck and build your own deck. This game doesn’t really lend itself to the casual approach of buying loose boosters and slowly updating your decks with the cards opened. In fact the game doesn’t really lend itself to casual deck building at all as it is really combo heavy, with the characters from each individual game designed to synergise well with each other. You would also want consistency from your EX cards and Backups, and this fact discourages casual deck building. So if you are not willing to commit to picking up a few boxes to build a bona fide collection, I recommend building a deck online and buying the individual cards. This makes it a steep barrier of entry between the starter deck and a competitive deck but luckily you can go pretty far with updating the starter decks if you are not so picky about your first deck.
While I voiced a lot of detractions, the simple matter is this game is a lot of fun. Its low barrier of entry will certainly attract fans of the property that are new to TCGs. While I wouldn’t call the game too simple, its accessibility and some luck-based mechanics like the EX cards will turn off the ultra-competitive players among us. All in all it’s a game worth at least checking out if you are someone who think using a Sephiroth card to destroy an Areith is funny.