Playing Final Fantasy XV: War for Eos is an exercise in franchise-undermining misery - but it isn’t all bad

We might now live in a world where Final Fantasy XVI is avaiable - but that doesn't mean that Final Fantasy XV is over. At least, it's not over if Square Enix partner Machine Zone has anything to do with it. There’s a new FF15 spin-off in town, with War for Eos now available on mobile in pretty much every major territory.

Final Fantasy XV: War for Eos follows in the footsteps of A New Empire, Machine Zone’s previous foray into stretching the credibility of the FF series to its limits. Square Enix isn’t really involved, other than accepting a big fat check in exchange for the right for mobile specialist Machine Zone to use the FF15 property and characters and a hefty chunk of Final Fantasy’s soul.

If you don’t know Machine Zone - well, you do, but you just don’t realize it. This is the company behind games like ‘Game of War’ and ‘Mobile Strike’, those aggressively monetized mobile games that have enjoyed Superbowl commercials starring the likes of Mariah Carey and Arnold Schwarznegger. This company is the origin of those mobile game ad memes where a hot lady stands in front of some isometric city-builder landscape. “We are under attack!” That meme? It was actually based on an ad for FF15: A New Empire.

So, anyway, War for Eos is a new game, a sort of replacement for New Empire. It’s miserable in a lot of the same ways, though it is a different game. 

You do battle in the small scale as a party of iconic heroes from the FF15 world - not just the core four boys, but some other characters too, like Lunafreya. These battles are largely automatic, but you can choose when you trigger Limit Break style special moves for each character present. Progression here comes through improving and leveling up each of the party members. 

A secondary battle component sees you put together a small army and send it into battle, which again is largely automatic. It’s a rock-paper-scissors sort of deal, where the types of troops you send in and their numbers will determine your chances of success. Progression here is attained by simply getting more troops - more types, more powerful, and so on. A lot of this requires troops to be ‘trained’, which takes time, money, or both.

This is where they get you. In the game’s city-building phase, everything takes both time and resources. This is the norm for a game of this kind, of course. Want to build a farm, a mine, or a barracks? Or upgrade one? That’ll cost X, and take Y. 

Early on, the game lures you into a false sense of security by making early upgrades instant… but soon, you’ll be encouraged to ‘boost’ in order to keep up the pace of play, and boosting requires in-app purchases - and away you go.

There is depth here - but almost by necessity, in order to encourage you to get to spending. There’s guilds where you’ll partner with other players, and submenu piles upon sub menu. There is a hell of a lot to do. Quests stack up to the point where sometimes you’re completing them without even realizing it until the UI flags up that there's a meager reward to pick up. Featured here are the same designerly principles deployed in slot machines - the goal being to keep you playing, a steady drip of subtle dopamine rushes - big, but not big enough to leave you truly satisfied. True satisfaction can only come by opening up your wallet. 

All of this is standard-issue mobile game stuff, of course. Whatever you think of it we have to accept it as the norm now. What makes the difference, though, is the cadence of it. Like A New Empire before it, War for Eos gets aggressive in requiring cash to progress at a good rate. And that’s how these games work. It’s death by a thousand cuts, chipping away at you to get you to pay. There’s a lot of bad gacha games out there, of course, but most of them aren’t anywhere near as generic, exploitative, and gross as this.

But… It has to be said, this game is interesting. As a historical curiosity, if nothing else. Square Enix has sold its soul, but Machine Zone is nevertheless trying to position this as a genuine piece of FF15 in its own right. 

Voice actors have been recalled to their roles, laying down a bunch of exclusive dialogue for this new story. The story is presented as an alternate-universe take on the events of FF15 - a flimsy framework to justify the city builder aspect of the game, but one that nevertheless delivers some tantalizing possibilities.

For one, Lunafreya is alive, and an active participant both in the story and in battle. She feels more like a traditional female lead for the franchise here than in FF15 proper. It does feel like whoever has been slaving away on this game’s writing has paid attention to the original game and makes an effort to do the characterization of FF15’s cast justice - which is an interesting bright spot in a rather cynical and depressing experience. 

It’s all wrapped up in this awful, exploitative package, though - and it still feels like a rather sorry state of affairs that Square Enix signed over its most precious property - its crown jewels - in this way. Make no mistake: it sucks. But it’s interesting.