Pokémon mimics aren't always bad...
Fossil Fighters is an interesting series. It’s only on its second iteration of games but I still feel like it’s searching for an identity. One of the first things people probably think of when they see Fossil Fighters is clearly the Pokémon series. With all sorts of things that mimic the series, the game was most certainly inspired by and designed to mimic the success of Nintendo’s most heralded Pocket Monster franchise. Right on the box, you’ll see that the game features “collecting over 140 vivosaurs and commanding them in strategic battles!” Sounds a bit familiar don’t you think?
The difficult part of pulling off a game such as this one, however, is that you can only go so far with the style of gameplay but must have strong differentiation in certain portions of the game to warrant a purchase. The series will no doubt appeal to the younger children who want to see dinosaurs battling it out on their DS but can it appeal to a wider range of gamers like Pokémon so masterfully does?
Pokémon meets Final Fantasy (DS) remakes
Any gamer who receives the game will most definitely be thinking of Pokémon and to begin the experience, the game also mirrors several of its characteristics. First of all, you choose your gender and name and are thrown into the adventure. However, the style of graphics featured in the game reminded me more of those from the Final Fantasy remakes we saw on the DS (III & IV). Featuring blocky 3D characters and environments, I found the environment and sprites to be something that might be a little much for the DS’s processor to handle, especially in this newer age of handheld gaming (these graphics were ok during the time of the Final Fantasy remakes but even then, I still preferred 2D graphics to 3D ones on the DS).
As the game continued, the parallels to Pokémon were extremely obvious. You and your friend Todd are scaling a mountain where vivosaurs lived. After running into an allosaurus, a man named Joe Wildwest saves you. This pterodactyl riding hero happens to be “the greatest fossil fighter in the world” according to your pal Todd. Soon after, an awkward cut scene ensues, featuring 3D cartoon caricatures but no sound effects to go along with the music.
To go along with the traditional Pokémon format, Joe asks you to help subdue the vivosaur by using one of his own that you borrow. He gives you a choice of four different vivosaurs to use, each with different element affiliation and battle style as well as different stats (LP, attack, defense, accuracy, speed, and support): Aerosteon, Toba Titanosaur, Tsintaosaurus, and Dimetrodon. Right off the bat, I noticed that these vivosaurs at least lacked the endearing namesakes of those in the Pokémon universe with these lengthy, nondescript names. Nonetheless, I chose the Dimetrodon, a fire vivosaur with medium range attacks that relies on trickery to defeat its opponents.
After defeating the vivosaur in battle, I was reassured with the generic line I could have sworn I’d heard before in another series: “The strength of a fossil fighter depends upon how much of a bond you have. So make sure y’all trust each other, and try to have some fun. If you love yer vivosaurs and share their passion for Fossil Battles, then y’all can accomplish anything.” Feels pretty similar to the advice given by the many professors of the Pokémon world if I don’t say so myself.
After fast-forwarding 2 years, you and Todd are on your way to becoming Fossil Fighter champions and have been invited to a great championship with all of the best Fossil Fighters in the world. Unfortunately, though, your team still remains with the one vivosaur Joe Wildwest left you with so not only will you have to learn the in-depth aspects of battling, but you’ll also have to embark on a quest to find and train the best vivosaurs you can find.
Tiered off from the main hubs (there are three hubs in all), are several different areas to explore. These areas are different based upon the environment and there are different vivosaurs to find in each of the areas. You can check out the ones you’ve already collected in your Fossilary (Pokédex). Along the way, though, you’ll have to help solve the problems of others you meet along the way. And, to add to the mirroring plot line, throw in a sinister group known as the Bone Brigade, bent on using vivosaurs for their own sinister plans to win the tournament as well as the grand prize, a chance to own the great island it is being housed upon. All in all, the story felt quite generic and never seemed to pick up (though Pokémon isn’t known for its story either, so it’s not a damning trait to have a lacking story if you’re looking for an enjoyable experience.
Unique differences to build on
What I can say about the game, though, is that despite its overall similarities in style and story to Pokémon, the game definitely has some major differences to help build its own brand. For one, battles are quite different than those of the Pokémon world, featuring a battle field and turn based battles more akin to a mesh of tactics game and RPG. I first thought of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor but rather than a tactics field with turn based battles, the battles themselves have a small battlefield where players take turns commanding their 3-vivosaur team.
The basics of a battle are as follows: The battle field is divided into two different zones, one for you and one for your opponent. These zones are both shaped like large hexagons and are split into 6 separate hexagons forming a ring. Different vivosaurs feature different skill sets, with varying ranges of attacks (short, medium, and long range), as well as different roles (support, attack, etc.). Based upon the vivosaurs you choose, each excels better in certain parts of the battlefield. Thus, the support style pteranodon class of vivosaurs are best at long range attacks but lack in LP (life points) and defense so are best suited for the support zone of the battlefield.
You choose your team of 3 from 5 different vivosaurs in your party. The team is then arranged according to your liking with two different battle formations to choose from (Jurassic & Cambrian). In the Cambrian formation, there are 2 vivosaurs in the support zone of your 6 hexagon field on your side of the battlefield while the third vivosaur is in the attack zone (the front line). Jurassic, on the other hand places two vivosaurs in the attack zone and one in the support zone.
As the battle ensues, the team with the greatest combined speed stat will go first. Each turn, your team regains a certain amount of FP and then that FP is used to perform all actions on the battlefield. First of all, each vivosaur has a certain amount of attacks (and can learn more as they gain levels) and each attack costs a certain amount of FP to perform. Thus, you may want to use an attack at the beginning or save up for stronger attacks. Also, at any time, you can rotate your formation by 1/6 or a full rotation in either direction at a cost of 5 FP. This helps to move your vivosaurs in range for optimal attack distance or out of range of your opponent’s attacks.
As was mentioned before, different vivosaurs also have different elemental affinities (four different and a neutral one) but their moves don’t vary in affinity like in Pokémon. Each affinity is effective and weak against another affinity in a rock/paper/scissors formula: fire beats earth, earth beats wind, wind beats water, and water beats fire, where the neutral affinity is neither weak nor effective against any affinity. Thus, the team of vivosaurs that you have in battle needs to constantly change based upon the affinity of your opponents’ lineup to have the best advantage before battles begin.
Vivosaurs also have the ability to change the stats of those vivosaurs on their team or those of the other teams. By placing vivosaurs in the support zone, they not only fortify the back line of the battlefield but also add these bonuses or detriments to the battlefield. Thus, if my Dimetrodon is placed in the support zone, he negatively affects the speed and accuracy of any of the opponents’ vivosaurs in their attack zone by a certain percentage. Likewise, I own vivosaurs that improve various stats of my own vivosaurs in the attack zone by a certain percentage. Thus, the positioning as well as the vivosaurs chosen for battle are extremely important aspects of creating a successful team in battle.
Though vivosaurs can gain levels to improve their overall stats and move-sets, the main character can also gain levels in battling to increase the amount of FP recharged per turn as well as the maximum amount of FP you can accumulate at any given time. These levels are capped based upon events in the main storyline, however, so that you actually have something that keeps increasing as the game moves on, rather than something that can be exploited by level grinding. This helps to add to the amount of flexibility you can add to your team and helps to build the experience as you progess through the game.
Anthropological accumulation of various vivosaurs
As for collecting the vivosaurs, the game plays on a Pokémon mechanic that has served it extremely well: the lottery type of monster-hunting where each thing you run into is randomized and you never know what you’ll receive. Thus, you could receive extremely rare creatures amongst the typical common ones you encounter. Rather than battling random encounters with these vivosaurs, however, Fossil Fighters has you find fossil rocks by digging throughout the many environments you explore. By using sonar very similar to that of the Pokémon series when finding items, you can locate areas where a rock lies and dig the rock up. However, you won’t know what’s in the rock until you’ve taken it back to the fossil cleaning room back at the hub and cleaned it off.
The fossil cleaning game can become a little repetitive but it’s fun nonetheless and also evolves as the game plays on. The game features a time limit that you must clean the fossil in before the round ends. Two different tools help to unearth the fossil while X-Rays can show a silhouette of the treasure under the rocky exterior. The hammer is used to eliminate large areas of the rock while the drill is for precise removal. You have to be extremely careful, however, as the hammer can easily damage the treasure if you are careless and pound away at the wrong parts whereas the drill can also cause damage if you drill for too long in one area. The goal is to uncover at least 50 percent of the treasure before the time runs out and without damaging it too much.
Based upon your results, you’ll end up with a stronger fossil an these fossils can be used to revive vivosaurs. Though a few of the vivosaurs only feature one fossil to revive them fully, others have four different fossil parts that you can acquire to bolster their strength (you only need the head fossil to revive the vivosaur). Based upon the success of your fossil unearthing, your fossil is ranked between 50-100 (you can acquire ones higher than 100 later) and the sum of points from each of the fossil parts of a vivosaur go towards the total points that lead to their overall level. Thus, unearthing the fossils successfully is an important part to building a strong team (though if you’re skills aren’t as strong, you can make up for it by gaining levels by acquiring battle points during the battles you fight, that also go towards your vivosaurs’ levels).
Fossil rocks also can yield items to sell for money and as you progress, you can find several different types of fossil rocks. First of all, dark fossil rocks have a much harder exterior that must be hammered away before you can reach the fossil (the drill doesn’t work on the exterior). Also, you can’t use the X-Ray feature to see what’s inside the fossil rock. The reward, however, is that any score you achieve on these fossils gets a bonus +25 to its points, allowing for scores of up to 125 points.
Next, there are curious fossil rocks. These yield fossils that can be revived into the vivosaurs that only have one fossil part. The difference in fossil unearthing here is that the fossil can be turned over and both sides of the rock must be unearthed to obtain the fossil. Finally, there are giant fossil rocks that span more than the screen of the DS. These contain all four fossil pieces of a vivosaur within them but take a long amount of time to finish (thus it’s important to have several time boosting items before embarking in one of these extractions). You can also benefit from multiplayer by team-cleaning. Up to four people can clean a rock (whether they own the game or not) and this makes the large rocks much easier to tackle. And, to make the complexity of fossil rocks even larger, any of the previous rarities can be stacked to make for even greater difficulty. Thus, you can have a curious dark rock or a dark giant rock.
There are two different forms of currency introduced to the game. First there is regular money that is obtained by extracting jewels and gems. This can be used to spend on a number of different things including new fossils, expendable items (within fossil extraction), and even to upgrade tools. First you can upgrade your fossil extraction tools (you can get a hyper hammer and a super drill but these are both very expensive to buy). Also, you can upgrade your carrying case so that you can hold more fossils (and subsequently you won’t have to run back to the town as often to clean them and empty your case). Finally, you can upgrade the sonar system to have up to two different filters (improves success rate when finding fossils), chips (improves rate of finding rare fossils), and upgrades (improves range of detection) to improve your fossil finding skills. Finally, you can buy masks to wear, though I found these to be a little pointless and not worth the money.
The other form of currency is donation points. These are earned when you unearth a fossil that you already own and you are awarded more based upon the quality of the fossil that you donate. These are more difficult to accumulate but they can be spent on more rare fossils and dark fossils as well as used to buy battle points to add to your vivosaurs’ experience.
Finally, multiplayer is an important addition to the game because it not only allows you to battle your vivosaurs against others who own the game over Nintendo Wi-Fi but it also allows you to earn helpful items and donation points based upon the battles you fight in. Battling can be done via friend code or against a random opponent.