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Thank Bahamut for Moogles

  • Kaempfer
  • 04/06/2019 05:15 PM
  • 1066 views
I haven't written a real review in eight years, but I felt like Final Fantasy: Blackmoon Prophecy 2 definitely deserves one.

The game is a sequel to the well-received RM2k3 game of the same name (without the 2, because that's how numbering systems work). The fact that it is a sequel seems to work against itself at times, but I'll get to that a little later. First, let me say that I'm a huge fan of the early FFs, FF6 being my favourite. How could I not be drawn to something that targets me, specifically, right in the nostalgia center of my brain? From the world map to the caves to the towns, much of this game comes straight from FF6, and that's enough to lure me, a notorious sucker, into playing it.

Before going any further, I should point out that I didn't finish the game. I'm currently 10 hours in, and I likely won't get much further for the next little while. I might pick it up again down the line, but I feel like I've played it sufficiently to comment on what my gripes with it were. If you'd like to yell at me about not finishing the game first, please do so in the comments. Also, there will be some minor spoilers for the first... fifth? Quarter? of the game, so be warned.

Blackmoon Prophecy 2 is about Zephyr, a lazy doofus from a small town who has recently (?) applied to become an Augurer, who are this game's summoners, although they don't work quite like summoners normally do in FF games. Instead, Augurers summon minor monsters instead of huge, unique ones (which is a neat twist and one that I appreciate the mechanics of, even if a lot of the monsters aren't very useful). Opposed to Zephyr and his grumpy friend Reiner, who is also a junior Augurer (maybe?) are the creatures most FF games give you as summons: the Espers. They've turned evil for a mysterious reason and are attacking human settlements the world over. From there, you're sent on a series of escalatingly long return journeys to collect information and shiny stones and sometimes information FROM shiny stones. Pretty standard FF fare, which I imagine is the guiding principle of the story.

Remember how I said the fact that this was a sequel worked against it? That rears its head immediately in the introduction. We've given two dozen Proper Nouns within about thirty seconds, many of which are pretty meaningless to the story we're about to actually play through, doubly so if you haven't played the first game to completion (which I haven't). It's totally fogivable, of course. UPRC obviously wanted to get everyone up to date in a hurry. The question I have is... why? From what I've seen, when characters/events from the first game are introduced, there's usually some explanation given, anyway. It's double-dipping into the previous story, and I felt it detracted from BP2's ability to stand on is own legs.

Speaking of standing on its own legs, BP2 gets off to a pretty shaky start. We're thrust into the boots of our main character/layabout without a concrete idea of what the hell his standing in the world is. It seems like he's a recruit in a pretty important military organization, but he also seems to have absolutely no idea what he's doing or even what an Augurer is. He lives in a small town nowhere close to the Augurer HQ, and it's never really addressed what he's doing at home. Generally, if you join a military organization you're not sent to your bed, several days journey away, with no training or instructions and made to wait until some guy shows up at your house to take you on a very dangerous mission.

After that, we're treated to some pretty bland maps. They're definitely not bad- they hit all the checkboxes. The houses look like houses, the town looks like a town, and the cave looks like a cave. Everything is fine, but it's only just barely fine. One thing that annoyed me right away about BP2 and continued to annoy me was the complete lack of attention paid to what should block movement and what should be above the player. The ceiling, which the player should be able to walk under and be partially obscured by, blocks all movement. Tree bases that take up more than one tile in width block player movement. Some rocks block movement, but others partially obscure the player when he's behind them. What the hell are UPRC's criteria for what should block and what shouldn't? It's more mysterious than why the Espers have turned against us~~~

So, we've got some bland mapping, a cutscene in a cave where the cave gets darker when a campfire is lit in it (I understand this is a byproduct of emulating similar scenes that take place outside, but the logic of this campfire scene baffles the brain) and then we get to a town where Reiner specifically describes something as being *not* a unicorn because it doesn't have a horn. Except it definitely has a horn, so why did he go out of his way to lie to the player? These gripes have been covered at great length in another review, and they certainly didn't bother me very much past a bit of confusion, but they did set a tone of... odd choices that continues going forward.


This is a nice little map. I hope you like it, because you're going to see it at least two dozen times.

After this section, we come to Lindblum City, which acts as a hub for the next section of the game, and this is where some endemic problems really become apparent. If this review sounds pretty negative so far, stick with me- I promise there's some light somewhere down this tunnel. Anyway, upon entering Lindblum City, I noticed a few things: 1) The trees had an obvious tile of miscoloured grass around their base that didn't match the grass around them. 2) more crazy decisions on what blocks movement and what doesn't and 3) the song choice was... bad. All the music up until this point had been pretty nice, but the Lindblum theme is awful and it makes me sad.


This grass miscolouration looks really bad and would have taken less than ten seconds to fix.

I've already addressed point 2, and point 3 is probably a matter of personal opinion so I won't dwell on it for two long. But point 1 highlights something that happens everywhere in BP2, and that's an apparently lack of concern over small details. Zephyr and Reiner's outline colours are different shades of grey, for instance. Some sprites are off by 1-2 pixels, so they don't line up when facing the characters. Certain tiles are used where they don't really belong (like trees with the wrong colour grass, or the mage's tower stairs being used in a town later on, even though you can see books behind them). There are also counters everywhere where you can't talk to the shopkeeper from the side, despite him being a single tile away. I know UPRC put a lot of love and effort into this project, and it shines through in lots of places. I just don't understand skimping out on the small stuff- the stuff that's easy and not particularly time consuming to fix. I mean, there's a great series of scenes where different people are annoying the regent of Lindblum depending on when you visit that's both genuinely funny and a mark of real quality and care. And then you have a flashback where Reiner uses a "Reiner in the past" sprite, but then his outfit changes to his modern armour for a second when he strikes a pose (and then back again to his "Reiner in the past" outfit when the pose is done). Greater quality control would have gone a long way.


You can't talk to this guy from the right, which is the only direction it looks like you can talk to him from. Also, that beam clearly requires a limbo expert to get under.

I'm going to skip ahead, now, and summarize the next huge chunk of the game with a single word: backtracking. This, too, has been covered elsewhere. I used the chocobo extensively, and made use of the moogles, too, so it didn't bother me that much. I just don't understand why so much of it exists when a lot of it easily avoidable. Retracing your steps isn't fun if there's nothing to do on the way back. It isn't exploration, or treasure hunting, or adventuring. It's driving home from the supermarket. I want to give an example, but this is a somewhat specific geographical spoiler, so read it at your own risk!

In Kaipo, we gain access to the tunnel to the Echo Temple. After that, it's all the way back to Lindblum, then all the way back, past Kaipo, to Altair, where we gain access to another tunnel. Then it's all the way back to Lindblum. It's like a mean joke. All you had to do to alleviate this was to have a second exit from either the Kaipo cave or the underground tunnel come out in/near Lantz, which is in the right place and also a dead-end. Voila, a circuit instead of a series of dead-end backtracking. You might even see something new on the way home (Lantz) and pick up marks you might have missed.


In addition to backtracking, there's one other major problem with this first section of the game: you have to constantly find which specific NPC you have to talk to next to advance the plot in Lindblum City. Sometimes it's Cid, sometimes it's Godot. Sometimes it's Cid then Godot. Sometimes it's Cid then Godot then Cid. Sometimes it's Godot then Cid then someone else then it's Cid again. You see the problem? Just let me go to one place to report back. Please, please, please.

Alright, so that's the first section of the game, right? Sounds pretty dire. "Why would you keep playing this game, after all these complaints?" I hear you ask. "Nostalgia can't be that powerful!". Well a) you're wrong, it is and b) hold on to your pants, because the game is about to do a 180.
The rest of the review will contain minor location spoilers, but nothing story related. Read on at your own risk.

The first taste I had of something interesting was the reef- suddenly, we shift from ripped FF6 graphics to interesting, unique stuff, and it's great. It looks great, it sounds great and, apart from a miniboss with a cheap one-hit KO move, it plays great, too. And then, suddenly, we're in Alexandria, and everything gets GOOD (which is somehow better than great). There are more secrets to find, the shops have NEW STUFF to buy in them instead of the same shop we've been visiting for the last five hours, the mapping is interesting and there is a sudden abundance of custom graphics and edits. Alexandria was a treat to explore, and I wish the game had started here instead of Lindblum. As an added bonus, the next set of missions are all right next to each other. There's even an optional dungeon that's pretty swell! It's great, and it shouldn't be hidden behind six-odd hours of stumbling around, trying to figure out how to force you to backtrack some more. Hell, even the characters we get here start to really feed the story in a meaningful, immediate way. We get some mystery, some suspense, some real foreshadowing. There are hints that the story isn't just contriving a way to get the player to flail about in another out-of-the-way dungeon. Everything picks up simultaneously, and it's like a wonderful gift to all the people who slogged through the slow start. Zen (not be confused with Tzen) is beautiful and would have knocked everyone's socks off had something of equal quality been the first town in the game.

Unfortunately, not long after is where I stopped. After this glorious section of close-proximity questing and lovely mapping we're treated to another massive backtrack. This one was especially an egregious offender. You're supposed to go back to an intriguing-looking area you saw earlier: If you try to visit the area before you're supposed to, guards block it off. No problemo, even "NPC in armour standing in your way" is way overused in BP2. When you're told to go back, the guards are gone. Makes sense, they've been ordered to leave. Except... you also have to go and get a key at a nearby town to get in. There's literally nothing to this: you go and get the key and that's it. There's no challenge, or interesting dialogue, or challenge (or fun). You just walk over there and get it. Why does this dungeon need a key and guards? Why, UPRC? WHY?

This review is extremely long in the tooth already, but I want to address the battle system before I wrap up. From what I've read, it seems like every person had a completely different experience with the battle system. I did no grinding. None. I skipped most of the backtracking on my chocobo, except where I could ravage enemies with X-spells due to the enemy's elemental weaknesses. However, because the game gives you some neat combat options, this was my experience with the fights: 80% of the time, the enemy groups didn't even move before they were wiped out (due to my masterful tactics, no doubt). 20% of the time, they would absolutely squish my squad because, it turns out, when they can act they were dealing 50%+ to my team's HP in damage per attack. Whoops. As a result, the bosses tended to be harmless until they suddenly OHKOed a team member, which isn't great. That might have been my own fault? I don't know. Balancing a massive game is hard work, and I think, overall, BP2 does a very serviceable job, despite a few gaps.

The battles might not be perfectly balanced, but they're fast and pretty fun. The animations aren't too long and are mostly pretty good (although that flash after each summon is objectively terrible). There aren't many gimmicks in the fights, but thwacking enemies with Pipstrike after softening them up with armour debuffs and feeding Reiner HP up shards was very satisfying. There was some synergy in the attacks, which was great, and overall I'd say the combat is a strong point, which is extremely critical to a game like this. If the battles hadn't been fun, I wouldn't have kept coming back to the game.

Another spoiler warning, this one regarding potential characters (if you somehow haven't looked at the screenshots, which reveal far more than this):
The character system, which lets you change them on the fly, is an interesting concept. I'm a big fan of large rosters, myself. Here's the problem, though: while my party (Zephyr, Reiner, Hautley and Trigger) were all awesome, some of the characters (at least where I am now, level 16 across the board), are not that useful by comparison. Edric is a cool old dude until you realize everything he can do, Trigger can do better. The ninja girl uses an item for every skill, which means using her to fight random battles is an unacceptable drain on your economy. The white mage is useful, but Trigger's all-heal is amazing and relegates her to a mobile mana pool for healing. Bolt's steal ability is no doubt useful too, but it missed almost everytime I used it and eventually I got tired of getting my ass handed to me while he wasted his turns. Jasmine seems like she might be useful thanks to that Holy Elemental attack, but she's got crud for MP and isn't better than anyone in my main party except maybe Zephyr, who is more flexible by far. As a result, there isn't much competition for the A-team. I didn't get to the forced character splits, but it's not my fault they're hidden so deep in the story!


OK, so this is the part where I summarize my experience with the game, and it might surprise you after reading the rest of this review. I think BP2 is a good game underneath a layer of jankiness and grime. Polish is mostly absent, but it's got HEART and CHARM and things like that, which are deceptively important and hard to quantify. It's a fan game, so it leans into that pretty hard, which isn't everyone's cup of tea. It also leans in the previous game really hard sometimes, which has mixed results. It's got a lot of fun ideas, some of which work better than others. It's got a lot of problems, but they're mostly small and mostly forgivable. Unfortunately, the game seems to be EXTREMELY back-loaded when it comes to content. Looking through screenshots, it's obvious there's so much cool stuff to explore and find. But I'm ten hours in, and I've only scratched the surface in the worst way. My characters have a paltry array of spells and skills and, while I know for a fact they get lots later on, that doesn't help me have fun with the hundreds of encounters I have to deal with now. Still, I'm looking forward to eventually picking the game up again and grinding through the less interesting stuff to get to the real meat of the game, which I am confident is there. If the Alexandria section is any indicator, then UPRC is capable of stringing together really solid chunks of gameplay when he's not forcing players to backtrack to the same area for the third time and laughing maniacally as he watches us cross the FRIGGING GRAN CROSS EAST FOR THE FIFTIETH TIME.

It's also got a fully fleshed-out card game you can enjoy. Like, with AI and everything, it's quite an impressive feat. I don't really enjoy playing Tetra Master, myself, but that doesn't mean it's not cool as heck that it's in the game. If you like Tetra Master, it might be worth playing BP2 just to hunt down the cards. It's that good.


10GP for 1BP. You'd have to win 100 battles in the arena to break even for the cost of admission. That is insane. C'mon, UPRC.

So, should you play it? If you like fangames or the previous game in the series, absolutely. It's got plenty of fan service to keep you going through the slow bits. If you just want a good RPG? Also yes, probably. The game is hampered by a slow, bland introduction, but past that point is hidden a lot of interesting stuff. There's tonnes to see and do, even if it is doled out at a questionable pace. Overall, I'd say that there's a good game here, maybe even a great game depending on what you're looking for. I think that if the game was scaled down to half its size, the condensation of all the good bits would be fantastic. It's a testament to its quality that I put so many hours into it in just a few days and thoroughly enjoyed myself, but ultimately the game, much like this long-winded review, stretches itself a bit thin.

Graphics
7/10

This was a hard one to score. The first couple hours of the game would earn it a 4 or 5, but the next couple of hours would be an 8 or a 9, so I've got to split the difference. More attention to detail would have pushed this score a lot higher, and introducing some of the better edits and customs earlier would have served as a great hook. If you don't like rips, you'll hate the graphics. But I liked rips, so nyeh~

Sound
8/10

Most of the sound comes from FF7, which I think fits the FF6 graphics better than FF6 sounds do, somehow. There are a few unfortunate song choices, but mostly everything works well here. There are a few songs which don't sound quite right, as UPRC chose very overproduced versions of them which don't quite fit the rest of the package. The Gilgamesh song sticks out in my mind as an example of this.

Gameplay
7/10

There's not that much variation in gameplay, but what exists is well crafted. Only a handful of the dungeons felt like a slog (looking at you, Lindblum Armoury with your copy/pasted rooms) and most of them had a minor additional task (like hitting certain switches or lighting torches) that give the player something to do. The combat system is fluid and fun, even if the encounter rate is a little high in some areas. Unfortunately, having my movement blocked constantly by things that look like they shouldn't was an annoyance that hounded me throughout. Also, the font is aliased weirdly and I did not care for it, although I eventually got used to how blurry it looked.

Immersion
6/10

Reasonably solid characterization and an easy-to-follow storyline are plusses, but contrived reasons to rubberband the player around the world detract from this score quite a bit. A weak opening belies much more interesting story elements later on. I'm sure I'm missing a lot of the best story-stuff because I'm only ten hours in, but having a long game isn't an excuse for making the player wait to become enthralled in the story. The worldbuilding tends to come in spurts rather than being evenly spread out, which makes it easier to ignore than it deserves.

Design
7/10

There are lots of custom scripts which all work more as less as you'd expect, and it makes the game feel a lot like a classic FF* game. The magic system is easy to understand, and the Materia system makes hunting for new summonable monsters/essences very rewarding. I do wish there was more given to the player in the early/mid stages of the game, though. I'm sure a Tetra Master master wouldn't have much trouble with the AI, but the fact that they know how to play a reasonably complex card game is a very impressive addition.

Overall (not an average)
3.5/5

BP2 is a good game, and well worth a play. I think every problem I had with the game could have fixed by one thing: quality control. I would be happy with less to do if it meant what was included got the time it deserved to be refined. UPRC shows a talent for making fun games. I just wish he could show a little restraint when it came to adding in more and more content. A single human only has so much time, and every new thing added means an old thing doesn't get fixed. I look forward to seeing what UPRC offers up next; I just hope he'll invite someone in to scrutinize his grand plans before he sets them in motion, to make sure we get the best he has to offer.

Verdict: If you can ignore the myriad minor problems (and a boring introduction) then there's hours and hours of fun to be had. Just remember your Moogle Charm and your Chocobo Saddle, as they make the backtracking takes minutes instead of hours. I definitely recommend this to all fans of classic SNES RPGs.

Posts

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UPRC
Exciting, but ultimately pointless.
6186
Good review!

Honestly, I think a lot of the minor graphical issues involving colours just boils down to the fact that I'm colour blind. I thought I fixed the issue with the grass colour before, but maybe that was elsewhere in the game. I was squinting at the screenshot trying to differentiate the mismatched shades of green from one another and failing to be able to tell them apart, so I'm definitely pinning the blame for this one on my vision.

I think that this game suffers from the same issue as the first game in that the first few hours are just "kind of okay", but then gets much better (at least this is what most people seem to say about the first game). Judging from your comments, I think the same thing is going on here. When making an RPG, I think that the early game is my weakest area.
I was wondering if some of the colour wonkiness might be a result of colour blindness! There's a pretty simple solution to that issue though: ask someone. The BP series has lots of adoring fans who would jump at the chance to be a part of refining its rough edges.

I think a lot of RMers and writers (myself included) suffer from the notion that the story has to start at the absolute beginning of the adventure as we watch our plucky level 1 characters fight rats and slimes (or their equivalent). Honestly, I think if we'd just been dropped in on a mission-in-progress as Zephyr and Reiner arrived at Alexandria that might have better served the story. It's obviously one thing to play through a game and say 'oh you shoulda done this!!!' and another to have the foresight to look at a blank page and come up with the same idea, though.
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