Where do I even begin in covering this game’s problems? I guess to start with: it’s basically a better, more competently-designed clone of Final Fantasy Tactics… which itself was a less-competently designed clone of the original Tactics Ogre, and without a doubt the worst game I’ve had the misfortune of playing. (Don’t listen to the irrational fanboys who are blinded by nostalgia and are unable to recognize the numerous flaws with FFT; it’s a thoroughly horrendous game.)
There are many reasons why SRPG Academy will never feature any games with “Final Fantasy Tactics” in the title. One such reason is that FFT is the single worst thing to happen to the SRPG genre. Its wide-reaching influence can unfortunately be felt throughout Fell Seal; so with that being said, let’s go through Fell Seal’s many problems.
Problem #1: Like FFT, Fell Seal is simply not strategic. Compared to FFT’s limit of 4 barebones units in your party (lol), Fell Seal at least increases this to 6, so there’s slightly more involvement here… too bad the core systems are so basic. The only things you really need to heed are elemental matchups and what direction your units are facing. Hardly a “rich, tactical experience” in any way whatsoever.
Problem #2: Map design. Because of the limited scope, maps devolve into skirmishes that don’t utilize 90% of the playing field; you don’t have side objectives or multiple conflicts happening in several different places on the map. Terrain isn’t a factor. Maps are basic, featureless expanses which would all be indiscernible from one another if not for the different tilesets in each map.
Problem #3: The class system taken from Final Fantasy 5. I get that reclassing can be fun in other genres of games, but this system – at least the way it’s implemented in FFT and Fell Seal – has no business in a strategy game:
⦁ It requires excessive grind in order to get the most out of it. Grind is antithetical to strategy.
⦁ The system turns the game into a drab, Communist sandbox where every unit is the same. One of the great things about SRPGs is how units’ individual characteristics shine through. You get none of that here because every unit can become any combination of any classes.
⦁ It only offers superficial depth, just like in Tactics Ogre PSP (where >80% of your learnable skills are completely pointless). In Fell Seal, take any class and you’ll notice that most skills just aren’t very useful. Most classes exist merely to provide extra grind. And so that the developers could advertise “hey guys look, tWenTy ClAsSeS tO MaStEr!”
Also in Fell Seal’s implementation, you won’t even be reclassing most of the time. The game’s structure encourages you to just pick a combination of two classes and stick with it. Why bother reclassing into another class when you’re going to gimp yourself by losing your skills?
Problem #4: Filler. Over half of the game’s battles do nothing to progress the narrative in any meaningful way. Most battles are simply “kill some beasts in the wilderness” or “fend off some bandits.” Sounds awfully like Tactics Ogre/FFT, doesn’t it?
Problem #5: Grind-based gameplay. This is mostly a relic of the misguided class system, but there are also a few points where you’ll be hit by drastic difficulty spikes… just like in FFT for Dorter Slums or the dumb Wiegraf fight. Fell Seal’s “Injury” system also encourages you to grind. If a unit falls to 0 HP in a battle, it’ll be left with an injury. The only way to cure an injury is to bench that unit for one battle. Naturally, the best way to do this is to get into a grind battle. This sort of thing adds nothing to the gameplay except pad it out with tedium. Just like most things in FFT.
Problem #6: Apparently, the enemy can push you off a tall building, but you can’t do likewise with them. That’s totally fair and balanced.
Problem #7: The story is lackluster. It’s not obviously awful or anything, but it’s just… uninspired and disappointing. Characters and ideas get introduced early on, only for them to never receive any resolution. One such example is Yates, a healer who has a checkered history with one of your units, Rainer. This could’ve made for some interesting backstory, but the game never tells you what happened between the two of them. Once Yates joins your party, he barely gets any screentime and he’s mostly forgotten – sort of like Mustadio in FFT. (Rainer himself hardly gets any characterization either.) As another example, the Council of Immortals is introduced very early on as an important political edifice… but then they swiftly get forgotten and the game barely mentions them ever again. Most of your journey in Fell Seal involves traveling around the continent, fighting bandits and monsters that have nothing to do with whatever story the writers had envisioned. It all feels rather unconnected and aimless, like FE7’s story. Kouhei Maeda, did you secretly ghostwrite Fell Seal’s story…?
Problem #8: Equipment is nonsensically-designed. Why should I be able to equip four boots at once? Four rings I can understand, but how on earth does four freakin’ boots work?
I’d also add that it’s superficial “customization” that belongs in a traditional RPG, not a SRPG. You’re not afforded any true options for customizing your layout, since no equipment really offers anything unique; upgrading your equipment simply becomes a matter of what gives me the highest stats? Contrast this to equipment in Langrisser 2, where you’d make a meaningful choice between a Speedboot (+mobility) or an Amulet (+resistance). Or Front Mission, where different loadouts had different specializations and tradeoffs. All equipment provides in Fell Seal is needless tedium. Again: it’s something that better befits a linear journey-based progression in a traditional RPG. Not a system that belongs in a SRPG. Just like most things in FFT.
Problem #9, the biggest of them all: It’s a clone of Final Fantasy Tactics. It was doomed from the start.
Fortunately, there are some ways in which Fell Seal improved over FFT. Although still a bad game, it’s undeniably a much more competent version of FFT. The developers at 6 Eyes Studio deserve credit for this – for succeeding where Square failed.
Animations can be set faster, so you’re wasting even less time on the game. Camera issues aren’t as common. Despite Fell Seal definitely encouraging you to grind, it’s not as grindy as Tactics Ogre or FFT. Classes are better-balanced. There’s no badly-done persuade system. Controls are better. There’s no way to softlock your game. Recruiting units is much smoother, since here, you can choose to what level your recruited units start at, just like in Tactics Ogre GBA (the only great Tactics Ogre game, probably because Matsuno had nothing to do with it).
Map graphics are also a real joy to behold. Fell Seal features some truly beautiful scenery.
However, the game’s superficial improvements over FFT do nothing to alleviate how horrendous its core gameplay was. There’s that saying, “you can’t polish a turd.” I’d say it certainly applies here. When it comes to QoL stuff and basic presentation, Fell Seal does the job well. It’s just unfortunate that the developers decided to uncreatively copy FFT. Doing so is a surefire way to guarantee that your game is not enjoyable, strategic, or worth playing.
Fell Seal isn’t completely bad (unlike FFT), but it definitely is a bad game, and it’s entirely due to the FFT influence. Here’s the tragic thing about Fell Seal: the devs at 6 Eye Studios are clearly talented. I have no doubts whatsoever that they could’ve produced an enjoyable game if they had simply looked elsewhere for inspiration. Unfortunately, this cancerous FFT influence has dragged down Fell Seal, alongside countless other SRPGs, permanently harming the genre in doing so. The genre would be a in a much better place if FFT never existed; for this reason, alongside many others, FFT undoubtedly remains the worst game I’ve ever played, as well as the most pernicious SRPG in history.
Indie SRPG devs, take note. Copying a preexisting game can potentially result in a good game (note how I didn’t say great; I don’t believe an uncreative clone ever can be great). But if you are going to copy someone else’s homework, please, for the love of God: pick a more competent game director than Yasumi Matsuno.
Console: Switch, PC, PS4
Developers: 6 Eyes Studios