Inside Pulse 12

Review: Fossil Fighters: Champions (Nintendo DS)

Fossil Fighters: Champions
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Red Entertainment
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 11/18/2011

Two years ago, I reviewed the original Fossil Fighters. At first glance, it appeared to be little more than a Pokemon clone with a dinosaur twist, and I didn’t go in expecting much. As it turns out, it was my sleeper hit of the year, and easily placed in my top ten for 2009. It was an addicting RPG with a surprisingly deep battle mechanic. There was room for improvement, however, and that is why I’m glad that Champions got made.

Seeking to fully establish themselves as quality RPG developers, Red Entertainment took a lot of the criticisms of their game to heart. While it may not seem like it at first glance, Fossil Fighters: Champions takes everything the first game did and kicks it up a level. In some cases, it kicks it up several levels.

With new changes in tow, can FFC make a claim as one of the last great DS titles?

Story

In the world of Fossil Fighters, technology has allowed archaeologists to revive ancient beasts from fossils. These revivals, dubbed Vivosaurs, are prehistoric monsters from various ages of the past. Most notably, dinosaurs once more walk the earth. Vivosaurs can be stored in “dino-medals” for safe keeping, and the fossilization/revival process has somehow granted them new powers, such as breathing fire, creating huge gusts of wind, and even regenerating health. Naturally, this led to the creation of the Fossil Fighters. This group of people are dedicated to reviving new Vivosaurs and battling them for fame and glory.

Our tale starts with two young children wandering off in the woods, only to be attacked by a wild Allosaurus. After Joe Wildwest, the greatest Fossil Fighter of the time, shows up to save them, they’re inspired to become top notch fighters themselves. Interestingly enough, you can play as either a boy or a girl this time around. Both have equally disturbing haircuts and lack the ability to speak, but that’s pretty much typical for this kind of thing. At the very least, it let’s you play as a female, as all of these games should.

The driving force behind the plot is the Caliosteo Cup. This tournament, hosted by Wildwest, is set to determine a champion, as well as hand the reigns of the Fossil Park over to a worthy soul. This park contains three islands full of fossils and all kinds of environments. The character you play as joins this tournament, and the goal is to work your way up the ladder. Meanwhile, a group known as the Bone Brigade works to halt the tournament at any costs, leading to conflict.

The whole story is basically a kid’s show. You have goofy characters with personality quirks. For example, your best friend Todd gets a sudden stomachache whenever bravery is required, and a pretty young girl is too shy to speak without a mask. Even the bad guys aren’t so bad. One tries to ruin the tournament by kidnapping all of the girls and pampering them endlessly. The logic here is that the girls will enjoy the pampering so much that they’ll forget about battling. The boys, with no girls to impress, will follow suit. Another guy simply plans to trap everyone in grape jelly. If you take this story seriously, then something is clearly wrong with you. It hits all of the typical themes, from the power of friendship to importance of courage and self-confidence. It even preaches humility in the face of fame and fortune. The story is no epic, but the characters are likeable enough. Honestly, it was nice to have a narrative in a game like this.

Multiplayer has returned, but it’s seen a slew of upgrades. There is now support for actual online play, allowing you to test your creations against people all over the world. You can even register your team so that others can check them out. In addition, you can trade, clean, and battle your fossils through local wireless play as well. There are gigantic fossils that are hard to for one to clean on their own, so hooking up with a friend or two to get the work done is a lifesaver. There’s even a tag mode available that allows you to hook up to other DS’s and trade fossils. This is a fully featured title, which ushers the series into the modern age of handheld gaming.

For those looking for a great story, they won’t find it. However, the light-hearted tale with it’s lessons is nonetheless enjoyable. Add in a fully featured suite of multiplayer options, and this is a pretty darn solid package altogether.

Graphics

When you compare this game’s visuals to those of the original Fossil Fighters, it’s almost night and day. With this game, Red decided to follow the path of the Final Fantasy remakes and transition to 3D. That choice was the right one, as the game is one of the better examples of the format on the DS. Backgrounds are rich in color and full of minute details that create a believable world. Character designs are stronger across the board, and small things like knees bending when you run have been improved upon.

The battles are actually pretty much the same. The battlefield is presented on the bottom screen as a 2D field with grainy models, but the top screen has fully rendered dinos ready to kick butt. Each Vivosaur has several animations depending on what attack they use, and the inclusion of elemental attacks leads to some impressive moments. The only thing that would make it better would if Vivosaurs could actually physically interact. Still, this is MILES above what Pokemon is doing. A new addition is the inclusion of several CGI cutscenes throughout the story. These are a little grainy due to compression, but they’re pretty impressive looking. The mouths don’t match the words, which is annoying, but when an Allosaurus breaks through the treeline and charges towards the main characters, it’s worth the few annoyances.

There are some minor grievances dealing with blocky characters and grainy images, but this is still a pretty good looking game. Chalk that up to attention to detail and a pretty decent art style. Oh, and big dinosaurs doing dinosaur stuff. That’s just always cool.

Audio

The music for this game is standard MIDI fare. Not a single tune will stick with you, but it fits the game well enough. Heck, I even find myself with the theme for the first games stuck in my head whilst playing, which says a lot. I certainly had no problems with any of the tunes, and the little ditty that plays when you revive a Vivosaur is suitably epic. It’s just not as strong as the last game. That’s the only time I’ll be saying that for this entire review.

The sound effects are simply fantastic. Each Vivosaur has its own distinct roar, which helps bring these prehistoric monsters to life. Perhaps the best thing you can say is that the effects are essential to the gameplay in a good way. The ping of sonar alerts you to nearby fossils, the drill sounds different when you’re getting to bone, and the terrifying sound of fossils being destroyed will force you to rethink what you’re doing. You rely on the sound almost as much as you do your eyes.

The music might be generic, but the rest of the audio package picks up the slack. There are no voices in the game, but that is probably for the best. Games like this don’t have the best track record when it comes to voice acting. As is, this is a pretty decent aural experience.

Gameplay

The framework might be the same, but this game has seen a pretty stark overhaul in all the important places. With no exception, every facet of the gameplay has been improved.

Let’s start with the digging. When at a fossil site, you can tap a shoulder button to activate your sonar on the top screen. Using this sonar, you locate underground fossils and head over. Unearthing them is as simple as tapping the indicated spot or pressing a button. After some upgrades, you’ll be able to tell what attribute the fossil is, as well as pinpoint potential contested fossils. When you dig up a contested fossil, you’ll have to win a battle to keep it. The reward for winning is often a rare fossil, but using this system, you can ignore these if you so wish. Early on, you can start purchasing masks that allow you to search for specific elemental attributes in your fossils. This allows you to narrow your search and makes finding that last stubborn fossil much easier.

The cleaning of fossils was a surprisingly addictive feature of the first game. In fact, it takes up the bulk of the game, yet still delivers a satisfying experience. Basically, you have two types of tools: drills and hammers. The hammer breaks a lot of rock in a wide area, while the drill is weaker and more focused. Using these tools, you need to clear rock and reveal fossils. The goal is to fill a meter by revealing fossils, while not damaging the fossil. If you score enough, the cleaning is a success, whilst too much damage permanently destroys the fossil. Most Vivosaurs have four different fossils you can collect, and you can revive them once you find the head. Special dark fossils are harder to get through, but often contain red bones that add twenty-five to your score. These are always worth the effort.

The first new addition to the cleaning are consumables. There are two of these. The first simply adds thirty seconds to your timer, which is often a godsend. The other consumable allows you to see the breaking points on the fossil. When you activate a breaking point, you’ll enter a quick time event of sorts where you need to quickly and accurately tap the next points. If you get them all, you’ll instantly clear a huge amount of rock, making the remaining cleaning a breeze. You can find these points by accident sometimes, but the consumable allows you to see them instantly. To balance the power of this item, they’re really expensive.

There are also four new fossil types to consider. Curious fossils contain a single fossil Vivosaur inside, but you have to flip the fossil over and clean both sides. Gigantic fossils fill up the screen, but contain a complete skeleton inside. The game includes the ability to clean these with friends via multiplayer, but you often you’ll simply use consumables to tackle these monsters. The final fossil types are wondrous and miraculous. Wondrous fossils are special silver fossils that can be equipped to add stat bonuses to any Vivosaur. They also change the color design. Miraculous fossils can do the same, but they also have the ability to evolve some Vivosaurs. These create whole new monsters with different attacks and represent the strongest creatures in the game. These fossils are extremely rare and always exciting to get.

Once again, you have a robot helper that can clean fossils for you, so long as you’ve already cleaned one of that type before. He levels as you clean, and can’t clean special fossils, but he comes in handy. Repeated fossils don’t create Vivosaur copies, but instead get donated. You earn points for each donation that can be spent on new fossils, battle points, and masks. However, this game thankfully decided to add the ability to have multiples of a specific Vivosaur. By placing one of your dino-medals in a bank, you reopen the slot and can revive that Vivosaur again. The catch is that banked Vivosaurs can’t have new fossils added to them. Still, this opens up the game in a great way, allowing near infinite team combinations. If you want three T-Rexes, you can finally have them.

The combat has seen the biggest overhaul, and it has become a fantastic tactical battle system full on strategy and nuance. You still have an attack zone and support zone, but the escape zone is gone. Also, you now choose from two different formations to start with. The Jurassic formation is the classic one, with one monster in the AZ while two sit back in the SZ. The Cambrian formation reverses this. Also, you can rotate your team freely at the cost of Fossil Points, with support effects taking effect immediately instead of on the next turn. While there are only two formations, you can rotate your team to to fill those slots in any way.

The basics work the same. A team’s total speed determines who goes first. Each turn, a player receives a number of FP based on their level and any special effects. FP is used to perform attacks. You can choose how much to use, or whether to use any at all. When a Vivosaur perishes, that team gets a huge FP boost, allowing the chance for a comeback. However, unlike the last game, no one is automatically rotated to the AZ. They stay where they are. This is huge, as I’ll show next.

New to the game, Vivosaurs have one of three different effective ranges. These are long, close, and medium. The ranges reflect the attack effectiveness, but do not limit your ability to attack. Close range fighters are built for the Jurassic system, whist long range fighters thrive in the Cambrian. Mid-range fighters are special in that they can be useful in either formation, but often aren’t as powerful. Since a Vivosaur doesn’t always have to be in the AZ, it changes the game’s strategy completely. Before, it was always wise to have a huge monster in the AZ and to take out the opponent’s AZ first so as to force the weaker SZ characters up front. Here, however, a big guy in the front most part of the grid will still be mostly ineffective against a far away monster. Long range characters will little health are no longer simply fodder for the big carnivores. This means you have to rethink how you build your team. If you make nothing but close range fighters, you can screw yourself over. A balanced team is more important then ever.

Each Vivosaur has an elemental attribute, and these work on a simple rock, paper, scissors mentality. Fire beats earth, earth beats wind, wind beats water, and water beats fire. There’s also a neutral element for good measure. Vivosaurs gain BP through battle and by adding fossils. As they gain BP, they rank up, adding new moves and stats. This much has remained untouched, though the ability to buy BP with donation points allows you to get low rank Vivosaurs up to speed faster than normal. This is especially useful in the end game, where most enemies have max level fighters.

I haven’t touched on everything, but it is pretty clear that we’re looking at deeper, more rewarding game from top to bottom. I thought the battle system in the last game was good, but I don’t think I can go back to it after playing through Champions. This battle system is unique, fits the style of the game like a glove, and is perfect for competitive play. This is one of the finer RPG experiences I’ve played on the DS, and it uses the touch screen to great effect in the cleaning sections. I can find very little to improve on here.

Replayability

The story itself isn’t too long compared to most RPGs, but realistically that’s because the game keeps a quick pace. You won’t spend nearly as much time wandering about wondering what to do. I beat the game proper in about twenty hours. Even then, I had barely scratched the surface of side missions, and only had about half of the available Vivosaurs. Out of the ones I did have, few were leveled up. I didn’t even attempt the multiplayer until after I had beaten it as well.

With all of that, it should come as no surprise that the game offers plenty of content for players to get into. I’ve already added close to ten extra hours, and I can easily see myself getting somewhere between fifty to sixty hours before I’m personally done. I tend to not go as far as other people.

After you’ve beaten the game, plenty of extra content opens up. A new tournament becomes available that tasks you with creating specialized teams, you can have rematches against major characters in order to unlock exclusive Vivosaurs, and chances are you’ll still have dozens of Vivosaurs still to collect even just from the dig sites. If you get into the multiplayer, you could easily get sucked into fighting friends and people from around the world. The tactical battle system and sheer number of team combinations keep things interesting.

The previous game offered plenty of content to players, and this game is no exception. The inclusion of online functionality only adds to that, creating an even grander experience.

Balance

I found the first game to be too easy. Once you took the time to level up a big carnivore for your front line, everyone fell beneath its jaws. The game only opened up in difficulty during post-game content. However, Champions avoids that fate. Because of the changes to the battle system, one big monster isn’t enough to win out. Enemies will gleefully take advantage of that strategy by launching long ranged attacks designed to destroy your support zone and leave your big guy vulnerable. Huge health bars and differing strategies also help balance the game. I found myself in a struggle often, and won more than a few battles by the skin of my teeth.

The reason this game is so well balanced is for two main reasons. The inclusion of the range system gives smaller, weaker Vivosaurs a greater chance to fight with the tanks. Also, there are around fifty new monsters to deal with. Adding more to the mix only furthers the balance. Then, you take into account that bigger monsters have more expensive moves, it all starts to add up.

The last game required nothing more than one or two giants. This game demands you play with strategy to win.

Originality

Now, this is a sequel to a game that wasn’t particularly original to begin with. Fossil Fighters was very similar to Pokemon in so many ways, but this game has taken some serious steps to showcase the differences between the two.

For starters, the characters aren’t obvious ripoffs. There is no Professor Oak type character to teach you the ropes. Also, the further the battle system evolves, the less it can be realistically compared to something like Pokemon. The game has seen a true evolution.

What it really boils down to is that I’m sick of originality being a deciding factor in what score a game receives, and for a game to do so much to improve upon its forebear, I have to reward it. This is no simple cash grabbing, carbon copy sequel. For that it should be rewarded.

Addictiveness

So let’s say you boot this game up. The first thing you do is go digging for fossils. You clear the entire area, but your case isn’t full. You figure that there’s no point in going back without a full case, you exit, come back, and fill your case. Now, it’s time to clean them. Some of these fossils are copies, and you want to hand them off to your robot right away. However, it takes him awhile to clean, so you’re worried that you’ll find doubles in your new batch. This means you’ll clean all of your available fossils first, then drop them off. Then you’ll discover that you still need a fossil for one of your Vivosaurs, so you head back out. Once again, there’s no point going back until you’ve filled your case, and if you’ve filled your case, you might as well clean the fossils before you stop playing. Then maybe you get a new Vivosaur, and you’ll want to go try him out. He’s good, but he’d be better if you had all of the parts for him. So, you go back out for more fossils.

What I’m getting at is this game sucks you in and makes your rationalize playing hours on end when you didn’t intend to. Every time I pick this game up, I end up playing for hours. If I have something I need to do, I avoid the hell out of Fossil Fighters. The thrill of discovering new fossils, completing skeletons, and trying out new Vivosaur combinations is something that will suck pretty much everyone in. When you turn on this game, you’d better turn off the rest of your life.

Appeal Factor

People love these kinds of games. Actually, people love these kinds of games when they’re done well. If you haven’t surmised that FFC is done well when I’ve been throwing so much praise at it, then maybe you have a problem with reading comprehension.

This is a deep, accessible RPG that allows you to collect dinosaurs. The only people that I can see not going for this game are those who’ll find the story too childish. To those people, I say grow up. Being mature isn’t abandoning quality for the sake of blood, booze, and bullets. Don’t let some hangup keep you from a great game.

Miscellaneous

Once again, I’d just like to say how impressed I am with how many improvements were put into this game. Everything is better, except maybe the music. If every sequel made this kind of improvement from one game to the next, the world of gaming would be so much better.

Beyond that, I don’t think there’s anything left to say about this game. If you like RPGs, particularly the collect-them-all variety, then you will love this game. There are so many games out there on the DS that try and make something with dinosaurs, but none of them hold a candle to this.

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Good
Audio: Enjoyable
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Great
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Classic
Final Score: Very Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:

Fossil Fighters Champions is easily one of my favorite games this year. It is the rare sequel that greatly improves upon it’s predecessor, but it also has some of the best gameplay out of any DS game I’ve played. It isn’t original, and the presentation could use some work, but this is a great title for your DS. If there’s any justice in this world, this game will sell like crazy and turn this budding franchise into a bonafide hit.

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  • It’s funny. In Japan – Red Entertainment is considered to be one of, if not the best companies for RPGs in terms of ensuring quality. Sakura Wars (back when they MADE THEM) actually outsold Final Fantasy and Persona games easily. So Red + Pokemon format should automatically equal quality. Now if only they’d get back to the franchise I love the most…

  • If every game in this series can continue the level of improvement, they can keep making Fossil Fighters for all eternity and I’ll be happy. If this sucker gets an update for the 3DS, I’ll have to go buy one.

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  • PaPierre

    How’d I miss this blog?! Anyhoo, I totally agree with you regarding the Fossil Fighters franchise…it is terribly overlooked and underrated.

    Can’t wait for Fossil Fighters Frontier!