I bought Revenant Wings on a whim while I was over in America abusing the dollar to pound exchange rate. Knowing very little about the game- I was under the impression that it was going to be something similar to the tactics series -it was a pleasant surprise to discover that not only is it an RTS, it's also quite good. As the latest spin off of Square-Enix's flagship franchise, Revenant Wings kicks off a year after the conclusion of the previous game. Vaan and Penelo are now living the dream as sky pirates, cavorting around Ivalice in their very own airship.
The core of the game is divided into a series of missions, with your airship operating as a main hub. Missions start with you in control of your team of characters, each with their own unique abilities. Alongside them are the espers, which make up the bulk of your force. Espers are magical creatures that can be summoned to your side and assigned to individual characters, forming a group. It's quite simple to order your forces around the map; each group has its own tab on the top of the touch screen that allows you to quickly select the entire group, or the individual units. Every character and esper has a unit type, either flying, melee, or ranged, with each one being effective against one of the others. There's also a fourth healing type that is weak against the other three, but provides essential support to your front line troops. As well as this, most espers have their own elemental strengths and weaknesses, and since you are limited to only five different esper types it makes it really important to select the right ones for the mission. Handily, you can see the types of epsers you'll be facing before a mission and can plan accordingly.
One thing that stands out is that Revenant Wings is not a cruel game. The learning curve is fairly smooth, with the basic mechanics being introduced over the course of the first half a dozen missions. It gets you used to using the individual characters before giving you espers, and after that introduces the different element types. Despite some hard missions, it's generally an easy game, but not to the point that it's insulting. When you fail a mission there's no progress lost, your characters even gain a little experience, and the short length of the missions means you can quickly reorganise and try again. It's a gentle, if sometimes hectic, experience.
It's not with out its flaws though. Revenant Wings is guilty of pre-fight cut scenes that can't be skipped, and have to be played every time you start the fight. While mercifully short to begin with, the later, and harder, battles generally involve the longer scenes. There are also certain features that would have been really welcome, such as the ability to pause the game for issuing orders and a way to target enemies without using the stylus. Selecting characters in a melee is fine thanks to the tabs on the touch screen, but targeting specific enemies is really troublesome and can make the fights a little clumsy. Multiplayer is also notably absent, which is a real shame.
Despite these flaws, they don't detract from what is, essentially, a wonderful game. Revenant Wings feels quite at home on the DS; the stylus is excellent for ordering units around, while the top screen map gives you a helpful overview of the battlefield. The graphics are simplistic and cute, but not offensively so, using the same style as the Tactics Advance series (even reusing the same enemy graphics at some points). As well as the variety of missions that make up the main story there are also a lot of optional side quests that are definitely worth doing in order to unlock the most powerful epsers. As an RTS on the DS Revenant Wings is something a bit different, and although it may scare off some people looking for a more traditional rpg, or turn based experience, I can't help but recommend it.