Some gamers know Hironobu Sakaguchi's name. Others do not. Just about everyone is familiar with his work, however. He's the creator of the Final Fantasy series of games, the director of Final Fantasy 1 through 5, one of the designers of Chrono Trigger, the producer or executive producer of Final Fantasy 6 through 12, and unfortunately, the director of the feature film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. In 2003, he resigned from the company built on his efforts to strike out on his own, just before the merger that created Square Enix. His new company, Mistwalker, debuted with a bang, releasing two great RPGs on the Xbox 360, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. These titles were backed by Microsoft money, and it was hoped they would give the 360 what it needed to compete in the Japanese market. Unfortunately, they didn't go over quite the way Microsoft had hoped.
Having already teamed with Nintendo on a DS title, Mistwalker moved their fortunes to that system, working with a few different publishers to somewhat middling financial results. Sakaguchi then made his return to consoles with The Last Story, created in partnership with Nintendo for the Wii. The title appeared to have been prophetic thanks to its somewhat weak sales results, and for a while the only things we heard out of Mistwalker were the unusual Party Wave [$1.99], a bizarre little trifle focused on Sakaguchi's real love, surfing, which was followed soon after by a relatively unexciting strategy game called Blade Guardian [$0.99].
But you can't keep a good man down, especially one with such an iconic mustache. It appears we have not heard the last story or the final fantasy from Hironobu Sakaguchi, because he's back with a new fantasy-themed social RPG called Terra Battle [Free], and though he might have set out to make a money-making game riffing off of Puzzle & Dragons [Free], he just couldn't help himself from making a fine game out of it.
Terra Battle is a free-to-play social RPG, and like most social RPGs from Japan, its basic structure is heavily informed by Puzzle & Dragons. You'll form a party from characters and monsters you collect to take on each chapter of the story. Within each chapter are a number of stages, and each stage has a set number of battles. You need to clear all of the battles in a stage without losing all of your party members to finish it. Finish all of the stages in a chapter and you'll be rewarded with some energy and access to the next chapter. You'll occasionally earn new characters from battles, but your main source of new blood comes from the tavern, where you can put up some easily-earned coins or hard-earned energy to get a random character or monster. Typically, coins earn you generic characters, while energy earns you powerful named characters. You can bring up to six members into battle with you at one time.
As you might expect, the story has a bit more work put into it than we usually see in this type of game. The game takes place in a world on the brink of destruction, populated by three races that don't see eye-to-eye. Each of the groups seeks their Maker, said to be resting deep within the planet. Your group sets out to explore this mystery and hopefully find some hope for your doomed world. The story is told in small text pieces before each stage, and although it's very minimal, it's quite effective. I'm not sure if we'll ever get a resolution to the story, with the game being what it is, but the effort is still appreciated. I also enjoyed the well-written profiles accompanying each character's art.