by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings & r & & r & Rated Everyone 10+ & r & & r & Nintendo DS & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & ive tiny anim & eacute; adventurers explore the cavern of the Underfane of Huin Qul. Purple stone walls twist around in the dark labyrinth, the ground rising and falling with slopes and carved steps. An inky twilight shines from pillars topped with glowing flames. The Underfane has been hewn from the bedrock of a levitating continent, and deep within it is carved a shrine to the treasure that keeps the land above hovering in the air.
But treasures tend to summon evil-intentioned monsters as much as righteous adventurers. In a narrow passageway ahead, several horned, dog-like demons patrol the path. Before they can be spotted, I bring my party to a halt. Each of the adventurers is accompanied by a few monsters that have been swayed to the side of good. Tapping the touch screen to expand a roster of the group, I select a few creatures and send them ahead.
The lamia I selected are pink person-sized serpents with women's faces below cobra hoods, and from a distance they cast spells that cause the demons to attack each other. When one of the beasts has reduced the other to a pile of bone, I slide the stylus across my entire group of adventurers, and send the lot of them, all clustered close together, down the pathway to deal with the remaining demon.
The battles in Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings take place on dozens of similarly detailed sprawling maps, requiring much menu navigation and touch-screen tapping to steer my party through the game's 81 missions. Like its PlayStation 2 prequel, Revenant Wings takes place in real time, with my characters acting in battle based on pre-programmed decisions as they defend their base camp, explore new areas and protect allies they find along the way.
More customizable than their actions, however, are the creatures accompanying each adventurer into battle. The monsters that join them take the place of special powers and weapons, with some casting healing spells, others shooting bolts of magic from above, and others joining the fray on the ground. More like a real-time strategy game than a role-playing adventure, Revenant Wings lets me summon these creatures on the battlefield, creating an army of miniscule adventurers on the fly.
THE GOOD: Revenant Wings is a sequel to last year's Final Fantasy XII, with some of the same locations and events as frames of reference. Recognizably converting familiar and beloved characters from the TV-mounted PlayStation 2 to the handheld Nintendo DS, with settings, designs and tunes undiminished, is as much an accomplishment as the creation of a new original game.
THE BAD: Even the creative conversion of characters from 3D anim & eacute; models to tiny sprites with big eyes doesn't get around the problem inherent in the DS: The system is small, and all the game's action takes place on the machine's Post-It Note-sized screens. As a result, the battles become a muddle of pixels, eliminating all design finesse as the sprites and icons cram together in low resolution.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With its bittersweet story and lavish design, Revenant Wings is a familiar-feeling Final Fantasy game that takes the series' role-playing gameplay in an innovative but fussy real-time strategy direction.